I have been profoundly influenced by one woman who continues to be a role model for me. Her photograph lies close to me. Her gaze is serene and the hint of a smile is enough to tell me that she is optimistic about my own life journey.
Diilafroze Anwar Sheikh, my late mother was a woman for all seasons. She was the eldest of nine siblings, whose desire to study medicine was thwarted to by an autocratic father. Instead she joined University as an English major and emerged as a gold medalist. A decade later as the mother of four children she sought her Master’s degree in the United States. Within the galaxy of Pakistani women of distinction she was declared a legend by the Lahore College for women and frequently celebrated in the media on International Women’s Day. She also represented her country at various International Conferences as an honoured delegate. Occasionally she would write a fiery editorial on a relevant women’s issue for the Pakistani Press.
Her contact with Canada pre-dated mine by a decade. As an International Delegate she dined with Mr. Diefenbaker and toured Canada. Once again her photographs appeared in the Women’s section of the Globe and Mail and other papers.
Yet within her accomplishments of being a Consultant on Women’s Affairs for the government and a University Professor for a while also rested the presence of a vibrant and sensitive mother. Although she lived in homes which were staffed by domestic help and enjoyed a dazzling social life with my father, who was a prominent Civil servant, her devotion to motherhood was sublime. My mother created a level of acceptance for my childhood vagaries and adolescent rebellions with great aplomb. My essays at school and my report cards were subject of lively debate. Resting within the radiance of her beauty, her immaculate dress sense and her passionate expressive nature lay an iron will. She cancelled my riding lessons on a summer holiday for Math tuition. I had brought in poor scores and done myself disservice, was her opinion. In the face of this challenge I pulled my socks up and the next report card was more than acceptable.
When I settled in Canada, she wrote letters in her flowing script reminding me to take Vitamin C. When she came for her first visit to my Canadian home she would read the Globe and Mail each morning as she sipped her breakfast tea. She independently called the University Women’s Club in Toronto and was promptly invited for tea as an international member.
My mother crept into my writing as well. I took great liberties by revealing a hidden event in my Cuisine Memoir. When I flew down to see her for five days clutching my galley proofs, I sat cross-legged on the floor by her bedside and read out the chapter on her. I looked at her as child wanting her approval and she raised herself from her bed and said “Excellent…it is excellent.” I felt as though I was seated on a carousel which would never stop.
Capturing and celebrating the essence of my mother on this day rests in the meaning of her name. Dilafroze means one who strengthens and consoles the heart.
Nazneen Sheikh has written several works of fiction and non-fiction for adult and young adult audiences, including Moon Over Marrakech: A Memoir of Loving Too Deeply in a Foreign Land, Chopin People, and Ice Bangles. Her culinary memoir, Tea and Pomegranates: A Memoir of Food, Family and Kashmir was a critically acclaimed success. Nazneen was born in Kashmir and went to school in Pakistan and Texas. She lives in Toronto.