What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang
English | April 28th, 2020 | ISBN: 052551239X | 288 pages | EPUB | 1.46 MB
“A gorgeous memoir about mothers, daughters, and the tenacity of the love that grows between what is said and what is left unspoken.”—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk
If our family stories shape us, what happens when we learn those stories were never true? Who do we become when we shed our illusions about the past?
Maya Shanbhag Lang grew up idolizing her brilliant mother, an accomplished physician who immigrated to the United States from India and completed her residency all while raising her children and keeping a traditional Indian home. Maya’s mother had always been a source of support—until Maya became a mother herself. Then the parent who had once been so capable and attentive became suddenly and inexplicably unavailable. Struggling to understand this abrupt change while raising her own young child, Maya searches for answers and soon learns that her mother is living with Alzheimer’s.
Unable to remember or keep track of the stories she once told her daughter—stories about her life in India, why she immigrated, and her experience of motherhood—Maya’s mother divulges secrets about her past that force Maya to reexamine their relationship. It becomes clear that Maya never really knew her mother, despite their close bond. Absorbing, moving, and raw, What We Carry is a memoir about mothers and daughters, lies and truths, receiving and giving care, and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. It is a beautiful examination of the weight we shoulder as women and an exploration of how to finally set our burdens down.
“Mayudi, I want to tell you a story,” my mother told me.
My daughter was nine days old. Overwhelmed by the new demands of motherhood, I had turned to my mom for support. I wanted her to listen in her sympathetic way, to take up my feelings, to murmur in agreement as she did. Always, after talking to my mom, I felt better.
“Once,” she began, “there was a woman in a river. She held a child in her arms, her son—”
“Wait,” I interrupted, puzzled, “is this an Indian story? A myth?” I wondered if my mom was about to launch into a Hindu legend involving Lakshmi or some other goddess struggling in the Ganges.
“Just listen,” my mom admonished. She cleared her throat.
“Once,” she began again, “there was a woman in a river. She held a child in her arms. Her son. She needed to cross the river, but it was much deeper than expected. As the water reached her chest, she panicked.
“She saw that she had a choice. She could save herself or she could save her child. They would not both make it. What does she do?”
Listening, I felt restless. I didn’t know what this riddle had to do with me or why my mom was telling it. Besides, I knew the answer without having to give it much thought. The woman would sacrifice herself for her child. It was how all stories of motherhood went, particularly Indian myths. I said so to my mother, expecting her to agree. But she surprised me.
“We do not know the outcome,” she told me. “We do not know what the woman in the river chooses. Until we are in the river, up to our shoulders—until we are in that position ourselves, we cannot know the answer. We tell ourselves we will sacrifice ourselves for our children, but the will to live is very strong.”