What Love and $8 Will Get You

Darshan Mehta
7 min readMar 25, 2020

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Nalini (Nikki)

My mother, Nalini, passed away in February. She was 78.

Death makes us reckon with what matters.

I remember in 2013 when her weight had mysteriously dropped. She had been 168 pounds, and now she was down to 96.

My parents had their home in Washington, DC. I was up in New York. For an entire week, I was going around, trying to figure out what it could be. Maybe a virus? Maybe celiac?

They finally told our family what it was. She had breast cancer. What’s worse: she had been battling it for 15 years.

It hurt to know they’d kept this silent.

There was no question that I would be involved with her healthcare moving forward. To get her the care needed we got her admitted into Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

It was there that the doctor told us, tears in her eyes, that my mom’s cancer was in Stage 4. If you don’t know about cancer stages, know this: there is no Stage 5. “Her cancer has metastasized everywhere except in her brain and organs,” the doctor said.

She lived for another seven years.

Though “lived” may be too strong of a word for someone in an advanced stage of cancer, she kept her positive mindset despite the diagnosis and the relentlessness of time. Now that my dad was in his mid-70s, I became very involved in her care in those final years.

When she passed on February 11, now there was a finality. Finality always comes as a surprise, and it’s a feeling you can’t prepare for. She’s left the physical world. This feeling doesn’t go away.

But her spirit is still with me. As I go about my day, as I walk into meetings, as I eat my meals, I still feel her with me. The life she lived continues to guide me in mine.

It’s a challenge to talk about my mom’s life without also talking about a man named Pinak.

Pinakin (Pinak)

They both were born in Gujarat, India. They both were the younger kids in large families. They lived across the street from each other.

Where they differ were in their families. Mom’s was reasonably well-off. Her father owned a prominent insurance business; all the businesses in a town knew him, and he knew them. She was well travelled and educated, yet a fire burned within her for more. She knew she wanted to go to America.

Pinak’s father was a station master. At one time, the whole family lived in a train car. Other times, they’d sleep on the dirt, and rats would eat at the calluses on their feet while they tried to rest, let alone dream.

Pinak was a dreamer. He grew up learning tenacity through hard work. He has a hunger, a drive. He’s deeply creative, and, man, he’s got charisma.

My mom caught his eye while riding on the bus. One day he bought her ticket when she got on board. They started to talk, hit it off, and developed a fondness for each other.

She had dreams of coming to the United States. Since she was still unmarried, her father had been trying to arrange a marriage with an Indian suitor from America.

She met a few men. None of them seemed like the right fit. More than anything, she felt pressured.

She talked with Pinak about it. He had a motto: “The solution is born before the problem.”

He asked her, “Why don’t we get married?”

In India in the 1960s, arranged marriages were the standard. A marriage of love felt like an earthquake to a family.

Despite that, they decided to elope.

Not only did they marry, but Pinak’s younger brother Kamal married my mom’s younger sister Sunita — the ultimate two for one!

Yep, two brothers eloped with two sisters! If a love marriage was an earthquake, this was an earthquake followed by a tsunami.

Within a year, Pinak and my mother had their first child: me. They both would go on to build a life together that would guide me toward what truly matters.

https://youtu.be/YGzlQJwJR2M

My mom believed in balance. I accept that as one of my core truths. I also accept as a core truth the way my father Pinak lives: if you want to live, you have to strive and thrive.

When I was four years old, my father came to the United States to prepare a life for us in this new country. My father was now thirty years old, and he had worked his way up from sleeping on dirt to becoming a lawyer in India. To practice law in the United States, he knew he had to push himself further, so he decided to expand his expertise by earning a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

In 1969, he landed in New York City at John F. Kennedy International Airport with eight dollars in his pocket, the legal maximum allowed when leaving India. Eight dollars won’t get you far, especially when you’re new to a country and need to get from New York to Washington, DC.

But Dad was never easily discouraged. In fact, he always told me his name Pinak meant “arrow” — he’s always focused on his targets. His mantra is: “The solution is born before the problem.” He took his eight dollars, put one foot in front of the other, and persevered. He would go on to earn his law degree, and then he opened his own practice in Washington, DC: an attorney in a city full of attorneys — and one of the first Indian attorneys in America’s capitol.

When it was time for me to go to college, he paid for my entire education, and I followed in his footsteps by attending The George Washington University. He also allowed me to work alongside him and witness his tenacity in his trade.

My dad has remained a constant learner and problem solver. While practicing law, he added real estate investment to his professional endeavors; recently he sold a property in excess of nine figures. He’s 80 now, and he’s working with budding entrepreneurs as an angel investor and in creating his own version of “Shark Tank.” Nothing stopped him from building the life he wanted for his family.

We can all choose to stay in one place. We can choose to stay with what’s familiar. We can choose to never be challenged.

My father could’ve chosen to stay in India and live in a rail car. He could’ve chosen not to buy my mother her ticket that day. He could’ve chosen not to marry my mother. She could’ve thanked my father for the ticket and walked away. She could’ve resigned to an arranged marriage. She could’ve led a privileged life offered by her father and not pursued her American dream.

Instead, they said yes to each other’s humanity and love. They said yes to growing together, said yes to continued conversations.

What I’ve learned from my parents is that we all need to be human. We need to experience the full range of being human.

I’ve spent my career in branding, research, and the digital world. I’ve witnessed the digital world transform people’s lives for good — and not so good. Now it can be a challenge to talk about politics without the fear of dinner being ruined or, worse, having to defriend someone on social media.

If we can’t talk, how can we come to a meeting of minds?

I strive to learn, and I thrive by listening. I believe we all benefit by having more real conversations. We humans are a force in this world, and are capable of being a positive force to overcome seemingly unsurmountable challenges. When John F. Kennedy initiated the conversation about going to the moon, he understood the power of a uniquely human ability to hope and dream of a better future. My father understood that, too, and instilled that in me. How fitting that my father’s first arrival in this country was at JFK Airport!

Time Well Spent

I know that before my dad departs this physical world, the only thing I can give him is the knowledge that he and Mom did OK. They were a heroic team who created, raised, and educated me. I am OK, and I will be OK. A life together full of striving and thriving, leaving one’s motherland and making it in America, has been time well spent. No matter what heated argument we have or whatever we do or say to each other, may we all have those memories to take with us.

Because love CAN conquer all — but, hey, having $8 does help!

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Darshan Mehta

Today’s Insights are Tomorrow’s Facts | Entrepreneur | Innovator | Brand Strategist | Educator | Traveler