A potted history of the life of my mother (1935-2009)

It’s two years today since my Mum died and so I’ve been thinking a lot about her today.

She was born in November 1935 in Jamnagar in India. Her family moved to Kenya and she spent most of her childhood there. Her father was a textile merchant and she had a comfortable childhood in the East African Asian community. She was quite ambitious and her family, like most Indians, placed a high value on education but girls weren’t normally encouraged to stay on at school. I think her father saw her potential (or backed down to her demands; she could be very forceful!) and she went to University in Mumbai to study Chemistry. She graduated and returned to Kenya and taught Maths and Sciences to high school students in Mombasa. She came to England on holiday in the summer of 1963 and met my Dad through a friend and never went back. My Dad had come to England from Uganda to do his A levels in Norwich; he came at 16 so it must have been quite an overwhelming experience to leave home and cross continents like that. Anyway, he integrated very well into the local community, helped in this by being a keen sportsman (hockey in winter and cricket in summer). He went on to Leeds University and studied Engineering, later becoming an Electrical Engineer for the Eastern Electricty Board. He was also Gujerati but not from the ‘right’ family; it was considered a ‘love marriage’ (I know, but these were different times) and both their families were unhappy about it for some time so they were quite isolated. They had a tiny wedding in London in 1964 (at the India Tea Centre, I think) and set up home in Cambridge where my Dad’s job was. They then moved to a tiny village 5 miles outside Cambridge which is where we were brought up. They were very unusual in having taken the decision not to live amongst the Indian community in London; they both felt that it was very important to integrate and that this wouldn’t be possible unless they did this. I was born the following year and my sister was born 2 years later. My Mum wanted to go back to work but she was not qualified to teach in the UK so she did a PGCE at Homerton College in Cambridge. She then got a full time teaching job in a primary school in a neighbouring village. My sister and I were 6 and 8 at the time. This was very unusual; none of the mothers in our little wimpy estate worked, they were all housewives. My Dad died suddenly in October 1977; he had been fit and healthy and played lots of sport but had an irregular heartbeat which no-one thought was a problem. It wasn’t treated and I guess that’s why his heart just stopped one morning. He was 39 years old. My Mum was left a widow 10 days before she turned 42 with my sister and I to care for. There were very few other single parents around at that time and so it was even harder then than it is now. She carried on working as a teacher and then as an adviser in multi-cultural education in Cambridge and Peterborough then took early retirement. She was very interested in politics and current affairs and was a Guardian-reading lefty who marched against the war in Iraq. She was a very proud and doting grandmother to her five grandchildren. She developed breast cancer in 1999 and had very aggressive chemotherapy which was very hard on her but seemed to work. Unfortunately, the cancer came back and spread to her bones 10 years later and that’s what killed her.

I wish I’d appreciated her more when she was still here.

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2 Responses to A potted history of the life of my mother (1935-2009)

  1. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing this. It’s inspired me to write something similar about my parents before they die. Your mum’s life story is truly inspiration. Steve

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