Remembering my Dearly Departed “Sister” Babsie on Mother’s Day

An unforgettable moment: Wishing my sister a Happy 77th Birthday!

By Sham Samaroo

(May 13, 2023) – Blessed is the hand that rocks the cradle, for indeed it rules the world. It’s that time again when we pay tribute to mothers; honoring the mothers in our lives: birth mothers, grandmothers, spiritual mothers. Of all the rights of women, perhaps the greatest is to be a mother. Oh, what sentimental yearning that word evokes: yearnings of childhood, unforgettable memories of long ago and far away. In the eyes of our parents lies the purest love that one will ever know. On this Mother’s Day, and with Father’s Day on the horizon, I honor and celebrate my parents, Houston and Doris Samaroo, and remember fondly my eldest sister, Pulmati “Babsie” Persaud, affectionately known as Auntie Bhawani, and my dearest brother-in-law, Bhawani “Buddy” Persaud, two very special people, both of whom passed away a year ago.

On Mother’s Day, please join me on a nostalgic, bittersweet journey down memory lane as we, each of us, remember the mothers in our lives. From time immemorial, in every culture, religion, creed, mothers were venerated, and every woman knows that her child is a gift from God; that she is a partner in creation. For Christians, every conception is a miracle, and Mother Mary is the very embodiment of motherhood. From the Magnificat, a Prayer of Mary: “From this day all generations will call me blessed”. Our Muslim friends will remember the words of the Prophet: “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers”, and from the Quran: “We have commanded people to be good to their parents”. In the Indian culture, God as mother is given, perhaps, it’s most vivid of expression: Birth mother, Divine Mother, Mother Earth, and the country’s national anthem pay homage to Mother India. My Sister Babsie was a devout Hindu – a legacy of our mother, Doris Samaroo.

Happier times: 1979 with my sister Babsie and brother-in-law on the morning of my departure for Russia

My mother passed away when I was in 3rd form (10th grade), but from her I learned so much that has sustained me through the years. Perhaps her greatest lesson was the power of faith. As a child, I watched her each morning. She would get up, put the coffee on, shower, pick flowers and retire to her altar to offer praise, thanks, and solicitation to the Deities. My mother was the moral, ethical, and spiritual foundation of the Samaroo family and in Sister Babsie, the Persaud family had the same. Her grandson, Ajay, told me that in her final moments, Sister Babsie had the words of the Gayatri mantra on her lips. It is believed that if one dies with that mantra on their lips, their soul ascends directly to heaven. My dear sister, like our mother, you were a paragon of virtue, the embodiment of motherhood, wife, and lady. You both walked with dignity and integrity.

I would like to share a wonderful memory of my mom and her flowers. In Belair, flowers lined both sides of our walkway from the gate all the way to the backyard, and we had one of the largest family dairy farms in Georgetown. Every morning when the cows returned home, my siblings and I had to patrol the walkway to make sure that the cows did not help themselves to a delicious serving of mom’s flowers. When, as sometimes happened, one managed to grab a mouthful, heaven help us. Oh, my dad got an earful too!! Mom was funny when she feigned indignation, but sometimes it was hard to tell.

From my parents we also learned generosity, compassion, and the importance of family. But they did not focus solely on their family; my parents had that wonderful ability to assist relatives and friends in need. In primary school, very often two of my classmates would stop by after lunch on their way back to school. I would watch my mother give them the same amount of pocket money (small piece) that she would give to me to buy snacks. Sister Babsie was the same. Whenever we visited Guyana, she would never ask anything for herself. But she always solicited you to leave a “small piece” for a relative, neighbour, or family friend. Sister Babsie was selfless to a fault.

As kind and generous as my mom was, please don’t think for a moment that she was a pushover. Mom did not spare the rod, not even for me, though I was the baby and spoiled. From her I learned that consequence might well be the best lesson of the day. In fact, she had two switches (wild canes), one upstairs and one downstairs. But she was never abusive. You always got your fair share and believe me; my brothers and I deserved every bit of it. We fractured quite a few house rules back in the day, and then some. And that’s another thing. Whenever we broke a rule, mom always promised to give us our “share”. Share? She made it sound like she was giving us something real nice when, in fact, it was a royal “cuttarse” she was talking about. I am confidentially informed that my Sister Babsie also inherited that trait!

My mom died at 47. I was 13 years old, and in many ways my dad became both mother and father to me. I was always closer to my mother (the baby, remember), but with her passing, I came to see the gentle giant that was my father. They shared a love that was indescribably beautiful. That generation, unlike today’s, never talked love. Instead, they showed it in so many ways. Dad treated my mother like his Rani. But it was not about showering her with gifts. Besides, mom bought whatever she wanted anyway! The woman was forever buying stuff – custom-made furniture, new sets of blinds, dishes, dining room set, holiday ornaments. Speaking of holidays, even though ours was a Hindu home; at Christmas time our house was one of the most decorated in Belair. I guess that kind of independence was simply a manifestation of my dad’s unspoken love, and my mother reciprocated in kind. She loved and respected him, and reprimanded him too, sometimes! Mom had a good sense of humour, and, as I shared earlier, her fake indignation was quite divine.

Friday was market day and Mama (she was Mama to all in the neighbourhood) had goodies for everyone. But Saturday evenings were very special; that was when Mama shared her home-made ice cream using fresh cow’s milk. I can still remember my older siblings churning the ice-cream maker – lots of elbow grease and all were invited. Those were the examples my parents set for us. Many talk of generosity, my parents lived it. To this day, childhood friends still talk of Mama’s generosity and kindness.

Giving thanks to Lord Krishna on her birthday at the Vreed-en-Hoop Mandir, 2021

In 1979, I was leaving on scholarship to Russia. Twenty years old and all excited. But as the day approached, the thought of leaving the comforts of home brought some misgivings. My dad sensed it. I remember him coming to my room days before my departure and saying to me: “My son, you don’t have to go, if you don’t want to. Go to the Ministry tomorrow and tell them you changed your mind”. Such was the unconditional love that my parents showered upon us. Mom could be spirited at times, but I never heard my dad utter a harsh word to anyone. Everyone in Belair knew and loved him: his generous nature, his kind and gentle demeanor, and his fierce loyalty to truth and to what was right. Whenever there was a disagreement in the extended family, my uncles, aunts, all came to dad for advice because “Big Sam” never played favourites. Dad’s famous adage was, ‘wrong things can never be right’. I have lived by that adage my entire life. Thank you, daddy! Over the years, I have often heard my cousins, from both sides of the family, speak admirably about my parents. In 1997, my cricket team was on tour to Toronto. I took the opportunity to visit my eldest paternal cousin, Cousin Mahadeo. He inquired about my siblings and I told him that, thankfully, everyone was doing well. His remark to me was that our father and mother were very good people and that their blessings were falling upon us. That touched me deeply.

After my mom passed, the following two summers, (school holidays) were spent at Harlem on the West Coast with my Sister Babsie and her family. What a wonderful time that was. Watching her gentle, loving ways; her warmth and kindness; her thoughtfulness and generosity to one and all, reminded me often of our mother. My brother-in-law’s youngest brother, Deodat, was my age and we hit it off. All summer, we went fishing, fruit picking, drank coconuts and set traps to catch fire red (pet birds). But we had one special chore. My brother-in-law drove a hire car with the words “Teenagers’ Choice” emblazoned on the back. Don’t hold me to it but if memory serves correctly the license plate was 6737. Each day when he came in for lunch, it was our “job” to give the car “a sponge down”, as he called it. We took great pride in doing it too. Deodat did one side and I, the other, a bit of rivalry to outdo each other – it’s a guy thing! In the 70s, “Teenagers’ Choice” was the bomb, the hottest car on the Vreed-en-Hoop to Parika run. Sometimes Deodat and I would be on the roadside when my brother-in-law drove by. He would always beep the horn and, at thirteen years old, we felt like we were on top of the world.

Before going further, I must share another tidbit. In New York, whenever I talked about “Sister” Babsie, and I often did, friends would remark: Oh, your sister is a Nun. I would smile and then explain that it was a cultural thing; that “sister” and “brother” was a sign of respect to the eldest sibling. All my siblings, even the ones just a year or two her junior, called her “Sister” Babsie. We better had, or mom would be handing out shares again! Oh, and before I forget, Sister Babsie bought me my first long pants, tailor-made! Now, back in the day, getting your first long pants was somewhat of a rite of passage.

Sister Babsie was an elegant and sophisticated dresser and she expected no less from you. Whenever one visits Guyana, one generally wants to chill – jeans and tee shirt, right? But that’s a no-no for Sister Babsie. Her famous remark was: “Ah dah yuh guh wear?” (Is that you are going to wear?). I learned quickly, and each time I visited Guyana we had this playful routine. I would take her by the hand upstairs and mischievously ask: “My sister what should I wear?” Sister Babsie would flash me that disarming smile, then casually pick out my outfit, and patiently proceed to iron it including my under shirt. She was one of a kind, wasn’t she! Indeed, some of my fondest memories are wrapped up with my Sister Babsie.

In the fall of 2021, I went to Guyana to surprise her on her 77th birthday. Little did I know that that would be the last time I would see them both alive. The Vreed-en-Hoop Mandir, where Sister Babsie was the Vice-President, was honouring her with a Katha service for her birthday, and she invited me to join her. I was not knowledgeable in the rituals, but Sister Babsie patiently helped me through. Of all the things in my life of which I am extremely proud and happy, that has to be one of the most memorable. I took the opportunity to remind her of my love, respect, and appreciation; to tell her how grateful I was for her unconditional love through the years, and just how much she has meant, and continues to mean to me. Many in the congregation chuckled when I said that even today, she still corrects me. I got the feeling that a few of them may have “benefitted” from her wisdom over the years! A dear friend once told me that one should not wait until a person passes to send wreaths and say wonderful things about them. Let them smell the flowers while they are still alive. I feel blessed that Providence gave me the opportunity to let my sister smell the flowers on her birthday. She was so happy that day! A few days later, with my brother-in-law, we went to dinner with family and friends. It is of great comfort to me that those are among my final and lasting memories of them.

Those 10 days with Sister Babsie and my brother-in-law was blissfully relaxing – full of joy and laughter – Like having hot roti for breakfast every morning; chatting away and falling asleep in the hammock with my sister; watching cricket on tele with my brother-in-law: Memories to last a lifetime. One day, I was in Georgetown with some classmates and got home around 10 pm. My brother-in-law and sister were sitting patiently outside waiting for me to get home. Now, anyone who knows my brother-in-law knows that by 7 pm he is inside, doors locked and bolted. Sister Babsie later told me that all evening my brother-in-law kept fussing: “baby, why you make that boy stay out so late?” This, mind you, after I called to reassure them that a friend was bringing me home, and Sister Babsie reminding him, “that boy grew up in Georgetown”. By the way, “that boy” was 63 years old! Such was the love, caring and concern, consideration and thoughtfulness that we shared for each other. Reminiscing still brings a tear and a smile to my face. On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate the lives of four wonderful souls, and remember them with warmth, love, and tears of joy.