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'She is our strength and we are hers' (Series: Women Who Inspire)

Mother's Day special on my extraordinary mother

My Mother's Day tribute

..To chart the life story of one of these unsung heroes, who with simple gestures, hard work and sacrifice made a world of difference to her children and those she encountered. An extraordinary life has seen Mohinder Kaur Dusanj battle against incredible odds as a single parent to bring up six children, fostered others and embrace life’s opportunities in a most uplifting way, including running the London marathon at the age of 61.

She may now reside in Mumbai, but Parveen Dusanj-Bedi like her siblings has an unbreakable bond with her London based mother and shared her amazing story along with the life lessons she learned along the way:

“A champion armed with kindness, love and compassion, our mother Mohinder Kaur Dusanj transformed the lives of many children whom she fostered, as well as her own. She battled against the odds with grace, dignity and determination to keep on learning, progressing, growing and inspiring all around her.

“Her remarkable journey began in rural Punjab where she was born in 1953, in the rustic village of Jandiala as the youngest of four siblings and the only girl. My grandfather, Sadhu Singh was a landowner with a strong sense of adventure and a determination to take his family abroad for a better life. He landed up in England in the early 1960s and a few years later called his family over. A noble and ethical man, he worked incredibly hard in the metal foundries of Birmingham to support his family and was revered in the community.

“My mother was 10-years-old when she had to make the difficult transition from Punjab to an English school and despite dreaming of a nursing career, her education was cut short at 16. She had an arranged marriage to my father when she was just 17-years-old.

Mohinder Dusanj

“She had been bought up as an equal to her brothers and that didn’t change her way of thinking after marriage. Married life meant moving to Kent and belonging to a large family, where my father

was one of nine children. My mother adjusted to her new surroundings and was the first Indian woman in the locality to learn how to drive, which caused quite a commotion in the early 1970s. It slowly led to other first generation Indian migrant women to do the same. My mum also made sure we all took our driving lessons as soon as legally permitted. She believes it’s important to be self-reliant and being able to drive was an important part of that. (My mum can drive anything from vans to trucks and last year even took flying lessons).

“In the early years of her marriage my mother worked. After having her six children she was a stay at home mum and my parents got their own home apart from the extended family. She didn’t rest on her laurels and helped my father, who had a successful construction business, set up a second business with his brother, which meant long hours. I often wonder how she managed and don’t ever remember her complaining, not even today when she looks back.

“By the early 1980’s when my mother was 35, my parents separated and eventually divorced. She went on to raise her six children single-handedly. The 1980’s was a time when divorce was taboo, but she took the difficult step for a better, more peaceful life with her children and left behind a troubled environment. She had little or no emotional and financial support from the extended family and was left to fend for herself. My mother went from having everything including a big home, luxury cars, extended family and a large support system to nothing overnight, but that didn’t stop her from building a new life. She just got on with it and believed in her own strength. Those were hard years as she really was left alone to fend for herself.

“Our mother worked tirelessly to ensure we had everything and made education a priority. Her famous line was, ‘you must get a good education as it’s the only thing that no one can ever take away from you’. With her strong guidance, that’s exactly what we did. Today her children work all over the world in diverse careers as investment banking, brand management, communications, accountancy, the beauty business and content creation."

“She gave us many proud moments including giving a speech and being an honorary guest for the opening of a refuge specifically for women of minority backgrounds facing domestic violence. That refuge is still functioning today and has housed countless women and children.

She made sure we all celebrated our birthdays with the yummiest cake and recorded the occasions with our big video camera. It’s such precious footage to watch now.

“We went from being an affluent family to starting again from scratch, but our childhood was happy and full of love. Our mother never showed us the hardships she went through to provide for us. With her love we adapted to the new circumstances and life carried on. She not only survived, but thrived and that is an important lesson her actions have instilled in us; we will always survive, however, the art is to ensure you thrive! Our mother also taught us that it doesn’t matter how little or how much you have as fortunes can change with the wind BUT kindness is everything.

“The community showed how they can be cruel and quick to judge a single mother, but ours was too busy making a life for us and looking at the positives. My mother was very close to her parents and they came to live with us for many years when she separated. After my grandfather passed away it was my mother who dedicatedly took care of her mother, Surjit Kaur. Their bond was incredibly special. My grandparents were a great a source of strength for my mother and to her children.

“The will to thrive led to my mother owning a fast-food business for many years, which she eventually sold it for a good profit. The stability of the business helped in providing our education. Then in the mid-90’s she went back to study at adult education and qualified to be a teachers assistant, and taught at a local primary school. That strong urge to help others led her to complete an NVQ in caring, specialising in dementia care so she could help the elderly. My mother’s compassion has no bounds and she also volunteers at the local cancer charity shop.

“By 2012 all us children had flown the nest. Instead of taking a well-earned rest my mother studied further and registered as a foster-carer. She now welcomed other children from broken homes along with mothers and babies. She helped them all find permanent homes. Helping others became a core theme of our mother’s life.

“The adventurous spirit never left her and she has always found ways to express herself. Soon after her separation she took up karate and swimming classes. She’s a very talented potter, a keen gardener and in 2014, at the age of 61 ran the London Marathon to raise money for the charity Refuge, and to keep my sister company, who was also running it.

“My mother trained to become a yoga teacher in 2015 aged 63, and teaches free local classes for women at the Gurdwara every week, as well as doing classes locally in the gyms. She enjoys sharing the benefits of a positive mind and good health with others. She truly has made an extraordinary life for herself and still continues to break down barriers. She has learned how to ski and even took plane-flying lessons. This is the spirit that is my mother, constantly learning, opening up to new experiences and adventurous at heart.

“If you ever meet my mother you will be amazed at her grace and quiet tenacity. She’s a woman of few words, but when she does open up you hang on her every word. She has inspired so many local women to want more from their lives.

“She certainly made a mark and took a huge step for the betterment of others, but I wonder sometimes the true cost of that step that she had to go through and am sure all single mothers do. I do wish she had married again, but mum says we were her priority. My mother says she is more than happy and her life is full of joy.

“We are incredibly protective of her. She is our strength and we are hers. As her children we really can call her our champion! It wasn’t easy raising six children, but she did it with love, grace and no nonsense. Her dream for us was to be happy, educate and develop successful careers, which we have all done. Our dream now for her is to live her life just the way she wants and you know what she is.”

as told to Asjad Nazir who wrote this beautifully. Thank you.

This is the core of who I am.

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