Parneet  |  She/Her

My Mother's Stories

Chandigarh, India
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

Session 11: June 19, 2023

“Ah, just one more day to summer vacation,” I wonder as the bus halts to an abrupt stop.

The summer sun is burrowing a laziness in my eyes that I would not be able to fight off for more than ten minutes. I gingerly slide towards the window seat, resting my head on the metal bars. With my drowsy head partly sticking out, I gaze up, smiling goofily as the canopy of trees lining the street indulge me in a never-ending game of hide and seek. The flitting shadows coquettishly dance on my face, and I endear myself to the distraction until my stop arrives. The dance of sun and shadows gives way to a harsh sun staring right into my face. I jog half-panting, half-tired, eagerly awaiting the cooler’s chilly wind to hit my temples glazed with sweat. “Mama, I finished my water in the recess,” I blurt out as I flung my bag and reach for the chilled glass of lemonade.

Now that I am old, I wonder sometimes why the lemonade doesn’t taste as good as it used to in my school days.

I pace into my room impatiently, my hands still dripping wet as I furiously scrunch the faded shirt that mama had set out for me that day. I start whining about how uncomfortable it looks, to which she calmly responds, “Your shirt will start crying if you don’t wear it—it also feels sad. It will be happy once you wear it.”

And that’s how she has convinced me to not only wear clothes but also eat vegetables I dislike. Now that I look back, the seeds of all that I do had already been planted way back. Growing up, mama cultivated a deep sense of empathy in me. She would also weave marvellous tales for us about the imaginary life of plants in our veranda—how they would dance and eat and party just like us.

For the longest time I had been ignorant of the depth and beauty of these stories. It’s only when I closely observed her playfully engaging my younger cousins in her world of fantasy that I realized how critical her stories have been in making me, and everyone who had the joy of being nurtured by her, more attuned to nature.

My mother did more than just gift me with life: she poured life into everything that met her golden gaze.

That’s why she is one of the reasons as to why I write, and why I consider poetic expression to be a powerful medium for bringing people into the fold of climate action.

She made me realize that you don’t have to lead a big organization to make a difference; rather, true leadership is about inspiring even one person who has come in contact with you and igniting the spark of altruism within them.

One can nurture a deep inner sensitivity for nature, a capacity for empathy, by reconnecting with oneself first and then allowing it to translate into little acts of kindness.

When my mother told me that my clothes were going to cry, I obviously knew that it wasn’t literally true, but it made me realize that a lot of care goes into creating a piece of clothing. When my mother talks about plants having a life of their own, that is indeed true, even though they don’t hop out of their pots to party at night when the kids go to sleep. It nudged me to see deforestation not just from a profit-loss perspective for humanity, but also to feel the grief of a tree uprooted by those to whom it gives unconditionally and asks for nothing in return except the right to exist, which was never ours to confer to begin with.

Thus, the poems I write are mostly about nature. I haven’t been able to write a love poem about a human yet, but if you ask me to write a love poem about the moon, the sun, plants, I can do that without any hesitation.

It is to my mom that I owe the gift of creativity and empathy which inspired me to bring to fruition Poetry for Planet, an international youth-led movement that leverages the power of creativity and empathy to highlight the inspirational sagas of climate leaders from across the world in their mother tongue. I came up with the idea a year ago but its foundations, it seems, had been laid down way earlier.

I truly believe that we really are the product of all that we have met. I owe all my creativity to my mom and dad. (My dad also scribbles shayari on social issues. Shayari is a succinct yet deeply evocative form of poetry in India written in our native language). All that I have been able to do so far is in large part owed to my family. When I speak on panels and work for the causes that I believe in, these reflections keep me grounded and serve as a reminder to continue fighting the good fight. It really goes back to the simpler ideas that truly make us great. This story is a letter of acknowledgement, love, respect and gratitude to the hidden yet most powerful forces that have shaped me into who I am today.


As a leaf
Donned in monsoon’s crocheted
pearl sweater
I dangle from a scrawny twig,
(Which too is holding onto dear life)
As if I am on the edge of life and death
Emulating the rhythm of Earth.

For the carefree wind,
Playing peek-a-boo with my vaporising sweater,
is nothing but a mere flirtation;
A windfall gain for the wind that teases not to marry.
If I take the leap
And let her sweep me off my twig,
The kiss of death would plant itself on me way before
the wind could even catch the sniff of my perfume.

I instead choose to persevere,
Ignoring her as she jeers
I turn crisp, crackling under her coy fingers;
A mellow yellow;
Just minutes away from disintegrating,
still tethering on the edge;
Awaiting my demise in the warm autumn
To be relieved of my ordeal as the crunch under your feet.

I have no lofty aspirations
to be embalmed till posterity,
With layers and layers of blind greed and ambition
Only to be achieve a false nirvana as black gold
“Of the highest order,
In the highest service,
Much above oxygen.”
But they say power corrupts,
So, spare me and let me spare my brethren
Whose life is the cost of my distorted ambition.

Immortalize me instead,
as the soft crunch under your feet;
my soul’s true liberation.
Not as the chokehold for my brethren
Not as a gush of wind pushing my ailing mother to the precipice.
Don’t preserve me.
Unfetter me so I can unfetter my mother.

Parneet primarily works at the intersection of sustainability, gender equality and indigenous peoples rights as the Founder of two initiatives- Poetry for Planet, an international youth-led creative enterprise aimed at highlighting the stories of unsung climate leaders, and Girl Up Zubaan, a local initiative with global outreach to empower marginalized women in India.