It was the first time I’ve seen my maternal grandmother in over 8 years. It was my first visit to Sri Lanka since I was 20 years old. She looked so small, much smaller than I remembered. But she had such a sparkling gleam in her eyes, the same gleam that I’ve always remembered and admired, which assured me nothing had really changed. She excitedly showed me what she has been working on, her newest project - an ebook this time - and how she had to barter with the publisher to get a better price (something all South Asian grandmas love to do!). She proudly told me that she bought a laptop, wrote the story and now it will be available on a ebook app (much like amazon kindle). To say I was impressed is an understatement, especially considering my grandma was 82 at the time. My grandmother has always lived her life on her own rules. I do not know what or when she decided to live this way, what I know for sure is that it has had an amazing impact on myself, my mother and her sisters.
When I think of my mother’s side of the family, I can’t help but admire the strength and courage of the women. I also admire my late grandfather. Without his encouragement my mother and her sisters would not have grown up with so much freedom, and capitalized on the opportunities that they were given. Both of my maternal grandparents were scholars; my grandmother is a teacher turned school principal turned author. My grandfather was a journalist turned professor turned author. They raised their children (three daughters and one son) with so much freedom and never considered their daughters should be given less opportunities, or treated any differently than their only son. My grandmother was a school principal at that time. Her authority was not questioned at school nor at home. She raised her daughters with the same expectation that they will someday become like her. As a testament to her will, all three of them grew up to be successful in such varying professions; my mother went on to become successful in the textile industry, my older aunt became a famous Ayurvedic doctor and health commissioner in Sri Lanka, and my younger aunt became an executive at the electrical board. They all inherited her headstrong characteristics and ‘no can do’ attitude. I don’t think my grandmother intended to raise feminists, or even knew what that meant, but she did nonetheless.
I remember my mother telling me that each day she would wake up to go to school at 4 a.m. walk alone to the bus stop and take the bus to go to school. This was back in the 1980s. The school was a long way off, a prestigious girls school that she was chosen into. She would often be the only student on the bus and would come back home very late. She never doubted she couldn’t do it, because she was raised to never think that a girl couldn’t walk by herself. And she continued to ‘walk’ by herself, all the way to earning a scholarship to study fabric technology for a year at Leeds University, UK. When my mother came back from her studies abroad, it was all but settled that she would run her life the way she wanted to, just like my grandmother and aunts.
When I went back to Sri Lanka this past March, I was older, and looking for something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I had just started my career as a naturopathic doctor, after 10 years of post secondary school I was no longer a student. I was on the precipice of starting the next chapter of my life. I felt anxious, scared, nervous, as if I was staring down from the top of a cliff at an unknown. I kept asking myself, in 10 years when I look back at the 27 year old me, would I have been happy with my decisions? I felt uncomfortable confronting this because when I was a student, everything was laid out in front of me. As long as I passed the exams, studied hard enough, did all the presentations I knew I would graduate. But now that I have graduated, the path seemed unclear - I had to make up the path as I went along. That realization felt incredibly nerve wracking.I was so out of my comfort zone, and had to wrestle with my fear of failure every day. But a small recess in my mind knew that what I was experiencing was a sign of transformation within me; a new part of my identity was about to be formalized and added to my tapestry. In this time of discomfort, what gave me the most reassurance and confidence was watching and listening to the stories of my grandmother, my aunts and my mother. I saw in them what I would become. In them I saw the generations of strength, resilience and wisdom that I have also inherited. I saw that each of them had looked down a cliff of their own and forged ahead. Hearing their story brought me enormous comfort and confidence knowing that I, as my mother’s daughter, would also do what she has done and (perhaps!) more.
Post by: Dr. Udani Senaviratna
Edited by: Dr. Roopali Chaudhary