Rep. Shri Thanedar

My Momma was Right!

In 1929, my mother was born to a poor family in India and grew up with six sisters and a brother. She did not complete high school, because at age 18 her father arranged her marriage to a widower 14 years older than she was. 

Overnight, she became the stepmother to his two daughters, 6 and 8 years old. She raised them with the same love and guidance that she gave to her own growing family of four daughters and two sons. My father was a clerk in a government office. Our large family struggled to make ends meet on his meager salary. A great deal of the family savings were used as dowries for the marriages of the girls. In 1969, my father lost his job and the family fell on harder times. At age 14, I worked as a part-time janitor while attending school to help put food on my family’s table.

My father was a very kind man, but was unable to find a job. Times were tough, and unemployment was high. He was devastated by the financial problems, but my mama stood strong and even pawned her jewelry so we could pay for medicine, groceries and bills. One evening the family had not eaten all day and my mother cooked a paste of rice powder for our dinner. Mama always made sure we stretched and shared what we had and taught us to make the best of each challenge we faced. When I was 18, I graduated from college and got a job as a bank cashier. From that time on, I sent money home every month so my mother could take care of the family’s needs. My mom taught me the importance of helping my family. I grew up in a home where there was no running water; we managed without electricity for hours each day due to power shortages and rations. Our large family lived in a small 900-square- feet home and at night we laid our sleeping bags on the floor. We ate our dinners sitting in a circle on the floor. The bathroom was an outhouse 50 feet from the home in the backyard with no running water and no electricity. While we struggled and there were scarcities, there was no shortage of discipline, character-building, and love.

I once brought home a fancy pen set that did not belong to me. My mom made me return it, apologize, and understand my behavior. She told me stories about successful people and the importance of honesty and integrity. She encouraged me to be self-confident and use that strength to nonviolently stand up to the taunting and bullying by some kids at my school. She taught me that the value of a person should not be measured by fancy clothes, skin color, or wealth. She instead emphasized the values of kindness, respecting and giving to others, faith and trust in God, fairness, truthfulness, and compassion.

My mom also promoted the value of education to all her children. She told us in no uncertain terms, “No one can take knowledge and education from you!” She felt that education was the path to achieving success and happiness in life. I agree! Often, I would tell my mother, “One day I will earn enough so that you will never have to worry about money again.” With her blessing, I came to the U.S. to continue my studies, and then started a successful business here. When my mom visited from India, she attended the ceremony where I was honored with the Ernst and Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. She could not speak English, but was very proud of me — and I was proud that I could keep my promise to her that she would no longer have financial woes. In 2006, my mom passed away. I think about her often, her struggles and her strength in dealing with myriads of problems. She dealt with them one-by-one and taught me one of the most important of life’s lessons: “Never give up, no matter how hard things get.” The values she taught me guide my life today and help me to be a better person.