The Beauty Who Wore The “M” Badge for Motherhood
* Told by Barani Krishnan, Founder & Americas Editor @ neverforget.cloud I called her Didi, using the little Hindi that I knew for "Big Sister".
Harjeet Amber, as seen here, could have passed for a Bollywood actress or even Pakistani model.
But she was neither. Born into a Sikh family in Malaysia and raised on its simple values, she cherished herself as a mother more than anything. And the two fine boys she raised herself are testimony of the amazing Mom she was.
I met her nearly 30 years back the first time my late soul brother Harpajan Singh — who taught me some of the most valuable tricks a senior journalist could a rookie — brought her to the news bureau to introduce his wife to the bunch working with him.
As the “boss’ wife” — Harp ran the bureau — Harjeet was grace personified. I remember being awestruck by her humility and gentle manners as much as her beauty.
The next morning, I did ask Harp, “whoa, brother, how do you go around with her, man? I’m sure she gets looks!” He sighed mockingly. “Tell me about it, man!”
“I can’t even leave her alone in the supermarket for a while. By the time I come back, some guy would have asked for her number,” he replied, laughing.
Years later, I was back working in my hometown and Harp, wife and sons had moved there too.
HER WORLD CRUMBLES
But work was such that we never got to meet, until that fateful day that I learned that my soul brother was no more.
That was in 1999.
Harjeet’s life, understandably, was never the same again. In her early 30s and with two young boys to raise, she could not have dreaded the future more.
I still remember coming out of their home on the day of the funeral and collapsing into the arms of Jahabar Sadiq, my other comrade in journalism, and crying till my eyes hurt. If that’s what Harp meant to me, you can imagine what he’d have meant to the woman of his life.
Years later when Harjeet met me in New York, she told me how she would lie in bed for days after Harp was gone, staring at the ceiling, unable to leave her room, unable to accept what had happened.
Then one day, her Dad came into her room.
“Your boys don’t have a father now. And the way you are going, they might not have a mother too,” he told her.
That literally woke Harjeet up.
WAKING UP FOR HER BOYS
From then, her life was all about her boys, putting them through school and college, until they became the successful young men they are today.
Along the way, she endured most of the challenges single mothers did. And more.
In many ways, Harjeet’s beauty was also her bane. Most troublesome, she found, were men who couldn’t understand that all that mattered to her were her sons and the sanctuary of the home left by her late loving husband.
After she left the hotel industry which became her second home, she ran a beauty practice. But she told me that what would really make her happy was playing “Nani” (grandma) to her boys’ kids. “A hot Nani you’d make, Didi!” I replied, and we both laughed.
THE DREADED “GROWTH”
Then, the news came. It was sometime in 2017, when she broke it to me.
“Barani, the doctors suspect that I may have a malignant growth,” she began.
“I need to check it out,” she added.
I was extremely worried upon hearing this. Her elder son was due to get married; it was a moment she had been waiting for and it was the last thing we both wanted to hear. Weeks later, she assured me that she was alright.
In the months that followed, she kept replying to my texts that all was fine.
The wedding came and went.
Harjeet looked as gorgeous as ever in the pictures, sometimes as young and pretty as the bride herself. Months later, she texted that the baby was due. “Finally, you’re going to become that rather desirable Nani!” I teased her again.
She got real busy after that with the baby, I thought, as I heard less and less from her. Sometimes, she’d reply to my text weeks later.
Then one day, her niece Upkar Bains from Australia texted to tell me that Harjeet had only a few more hours left to live.
It was like being hit by a sledgehammer between the eyes.
Harjeet had apparently been ailing for more than a year but kept it from me as she knew there was nothing I could do. And I wasn’t the only one not to know.
THE FINAL TEXT
Many of her best friends didn’t know her condition till it was too late.
I got the final text on Harjeet from Brenda Fernandez (Harp’s sister-in-law, an amazing woman herself, who was widowed in almost identical circumstances as Harjeet — one of the ironies in Harp’s family that none would understand).
As I write this, I ask myself what is it about Harjeet that I found most endearing?
And the answer it seems is that maternal quality of hers.
She lived for her boys and will continue living through them, despite joining the path long taken by her husband.
Her sons were what got her out of bed after his demise, and her sons will forever be where her soul will hover.
Oct 14 1966 – June 4 2019
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