13 May Surjit Singh Flora’s story of Niranjan Kaur
My Mother Niranjan Kaur Flora was born in the town of Ramghar Punjab India, on July 12, 1941, the second of four girls and one brother: Jaswinder Kaur, Niranjan Kaur, Gurbax Kaur, Jasvir Kaur and Mohan Singh. In Sikh families all girls are named Kaur as all boys are named Singh. Her father was a carpenter, working as future builder, and her mother was a housewife who died soon after her son was born when Niranjan was five. At that time there were not many education facilities and her village only had a small school that went up to grade five. That’s the highest education she got in Punjab. My mother was never allowed to go further in school or encouraged to find a job.
In 1957, when she turned 16, her father announced he had chosen a man for her to marry. After the wedding, she moved in with her husband’s family in the same village. She was never asked if she was happy to live in a stranger’s house, although declining wasn’t an option: she would have been thrown out of her father’s home either way. With his last daughter married, her Dad took this opportunity to move to the UK with his son. My mother rarely saw her father again and only spoke to her brother a few times by phone.
“I moved to his house and, at that time, the whole family lived together in huts – his parents, his brothers and their wives,” recalls Mrs. Flora, who is now in her mid-70s and living with her eldest son, his wife and two children.
“Suddenly I had new duties,” says my mother. “I was expected to cook and make sure everyone got their food on time. That’s the life of every woman, in the past isn’t it?”
She enjoyed spending time with her friends where they often visited each other in the 15-20 houses on the street. All of the families knew each other and every other day they used to have Tea parties at each other’s houses.
She was 19 years old when she had her first child, my elder sister Manjit Kaur, who is 55 now. In the next twelve years she had five more for a total of 6 kids – four daughters, 2 sons. I am the 4th youngest.
Many times, we joked with my mother that if Dad had never gone to Canada after my younger sister was born, they might have had a soccer team of 11! She just laughs and says probably, you never know!
So, what happened was my Dad always wanted to move to Canada so he could provide a better education and a better life for his family. My mother’s sister Jaswinder Kaur and her husband had moved to Canada and my uncle submitted the papers and got my father his Visa. In 1976 when I was five years old Dad flew to Canada in pursuit of our better future.
My mother called them huts but thinking back on our life in India, before we came to Canada, I recall a modest-sized house with four rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a little room my Dad used as a post office. He was a postmaster.
I lived in that house with my parents, brother, and four sisters -we weren’t rich or poor — just a sweet, happy, loving family. But my Dad always believed a real future for his family could not be found in India, but rather in Canada.
It took 11 years until Dad was granted landed immigrant status. He would send us 1000 to 1500 rupees a month which was not enough but my mother managed to feed and clothe us all. Whenever my dad was late with a payment friends on the street would lend my mother money and she would pay them back. When my brother started working as a carpenter things got a bit better.
We were optimistic about our success in a new country. Like so many other families separated by distance, modern communication was a blessing, despite the time differences, but in our situation we never saw each other again.
My father wrote to us saying he was coming back for us and we were finally all moving to Canada. But his visit back home never came. By the time my father received approval for his family to immigrate to Canada, the stress he experienced during that long wait, the constant worry about being sent home, his worrying about his family back home in India — it all took a toll on him. He became quite ill. He suffered high blood pressure and developed a heart problem and diabetes. Sadly, he died of a heart attack before he could bring us to our new home in a new country.
My uncle in Canada called relatives in the city who came to our village to tell my mother the sad news. We were all in tears with no idea where we would land. I was 16, my oldest sister was 23 and my youngest sister was 11 so we were not young but we were also not independent.
My mother now was not only left to raise her children alone, but she had to find a way to help and guide her six children through the grief and pain of our father’s death, as well as dealing with her own grief.
My mother went to Canada for her husband’s funeral and stayed with her sister for six months as they figured out what to do. The rest of us stayed with my Dad’s parents. We knew we all wanted to come to Canada, to follow my father’s dream.
Again my uncle was helpful. His close friend had a son the right age to marry my sister Manjit Kaur. She came to Canada first and then sponsored the rest of us to come.
My sisters and brother are all married now with their own homes and one boy and one girl each. Whenever she wants, my mother comes to visit. W
I was five years old when my Dad left us and 16 when he died. My memories of my Dad are the vague, foggy memories of a small child. Today, I’m 47 years old, and Canada has been my home for almost 30 years. To this day, whenever I experience difficulties in life or my career, I feel sadness and regret at not having my father to help me through the difficult times. Only recently have I realized that my mother has been with us all through all this time. This woman has spent her 76 years of life working tirelessly to make sure that I have the best quality of life that she can give. I only realized how difficult it is to manage this balancing act between quality and quantity of life after I moved out on my own after getting married. I have a new respect for my mother. She has given up so much without expecting anything in return beyond me being happy.
In the end, I didn’t know how to thank you enough for everything you have done for me, but I want to Thank you mom, for my siblings. Thank you for finding within yourself the ability to love all of us equally yet differently. And thank you for instilling in our respect for and allegiance to one another.
Thank you for teaching us that taking turns is one of the most essential and universally necessary skills to have. And thanks for teaching us manners, for instilling in us respect for every living thing and showing us how to be compassionate.
Thanks for the prayers you whispered and the tears I’m sure you shed, mom, in quiet moments after losing your patience. Thank you for somehow hanging onto the belief that parenting is a journey and a process, not a test we pass or fail.
Thank you for caring for me when I needed you again.
I know that I can never repay everything you have done for me, but I will be forever grateful that I am lucky enough to call you “mom.”
Happy Mother’s Day!