Genetics (& A Pep Talk)

Twenty-Twenty has been a year of forgotten dreams and lost intentions. A year of stasis, and moments of deep grief in wells of unexpected sadness.

This weekend we lost an incredible leader. While I won’t hold her up as a paragon of perfection, Ruth Bader Ginsberg stood at the vanguard of fights to provide women in this country more agency and autonomy then they had ever had before. However, it is so hard to talk about the importance of her work, without acknowledging how her life was, for many, a tenuous thread holding a web of wavering hopes together.

Image of RBG at a candlelight vigil.
On September 19, while many gathered in front of courthouses around the country, I held a very small vigil outside my home. As safe as it may have been, my fears around COVID held me back from going to stand in front of the Supreme Court.

If there is one thing I’ve tried to cling to in this hellscape of year, it is that glass-half-full perception that I define my life by. And as frustrated as I have become with the world, and my personal circumstances, I am searching, constantly, for beacons to offset the fear.

And so, I wanted to write about life—not death.

In an alternate timeline, instead of a socially distanced bootcamp, and zoom “get out the vote” postcard writing parties, this past weekend I would have been at a cricket club in Mumbai, honoring the life of my grandmother—known affectionately as Hadaben—on her 90th birthday.

In those 90 years, this incredible woman raised four children, nine grandchildren, and as of today eight great-grandchildren. And while I did not have the privilege of growing up with her (living in the United States we didn’t really start regular travel to India until I was a pre-teen) she has always been a fixture in my life. In my mother, I see Hadaben’s warmth, and her ability to bring joy to those around her.

Hadaben and I in 2017, the last time I was able to see her in person. Thanks to modern technology the distance doesn’t always feel so real.

Even those few lines don’t really describe this woman who is, in a word, home, for so many. The oldest child in a large family, her flat in Mumbai (with my grandfather) welcomed the many, many, members of her extended circles of relations at different stages in their lives. Her house was, almost always, the first place we would go to after flying in to visit, and every time, without fail, she would be waiting for us on her balcony—smiling, eager, and ready to see us.

I know that there is a little piece of each of my grandparents in who I am today, and while three of them are no longer alive, I know my life is shaped by their experiences. Hadaben has lived through 90 years of change: through a World War, a country’s struggles with Independence, and significant personal losses.

So sure, this weekend was about death, but it was also about life. About two women who experienced worlds of uncertainty and found a way through.

They survived.
And so will we, to fight another day.

(For Hadaben on her 90th Birthday)

When we think of genetics
We often talk in terms
Of the heart
Of clogged arteries,
And rising pressure
Which we fear, not treasure

What we don’t talk about
(Enough) is what else we carry
Down through the generations.
Genetics that are
More ephemeral, intangible
Something we can’t label.

At its base a stalwart attitude
A firm, and determined nature
A smile that is often impish
Kindness, the prevailing feature

It is all that she holds in heart
That I see in my mother
Carrying forward that light
That has always
Kept us together

And as I live my life,
I hope I honor
That strength, that love
Of Hadaben, who is, undeniably
Like no other.

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