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India@75: Reflections on How I was Inspired by My Mother and Mother India

India@75: Reflections on How I was Inspired by My Mother and Mother India

  • I draw inspiration from my parents and the pluralism in the Indian ethos, and hope my political journey elevates people back in Bharat.

When a family emergency called me to Hyderabad, I cleared my calendar to make a brief but urgent trip, missing local India Day events across Michigan. I was there for India’s Independence Day, where millions of people celebrated 75 years of freedom from British colonial rule. As I sat by mom’s hospital bedside on Aug 15, I was able to reflect on her fortitude and how she and India set an example for me. 

While the U.S. is represented by Uncle Sam, Mother India symbolizes India. Even as the patriarchy at home is also found in this former British colony, moms and matriarchs are truly the foundation for India’s strength. Perseverance is the hallmark of what I take from both the country where I was born and the woman who gave me birth. 

With mom and dad.

During my stay, my mom’s sisters reminded me of their nickname for her: Jhansi ki Rani. Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, was a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for Indian freedom fighters in the late 1800s, as a leader in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In the modern era, my mother resisted the restrictions on women of her generation and background, achieving the highest education level of her siblings, with a Ph.D. in biology from SUNY Stony Brook. She was a role model, balancing career and family life – and served her country by returning to work at a major Indian research center in Hyderabad. After retirement as a director-level scientist, she even helped develop a hepatitis B vaccine at a major Indian biotech corporation. Her patriotism is not as vocal as my father’s but serves to remind me that actions speak louder than words. This lesson translated into my decades of volunteering and now, into my work as a state representative.

While I never followed or understood India’s multi-party-political system, I learned the importance of building coalitions from both my mother and from Mother India, where the mantra “unity in diversity” is a constant. 

Growing up, I saw the challenges my mom faced, ones that working women face around the world: achieving work-life balance, fighting for pay equity, and dealing with (unconscious) gender bias. My mom and my years in India taught me that patience and persistence provide the payoff – and that seeking a seat at the table is the first step to advocating for change. My mom went back to work after a 6-week maternity leave when my baby brother was born and worked to implement onsite childcare at her research institution in Hyderabad a few years later so that others didn’t have to face the hurdles she did. I am fortunate to have her example of how to give back to society, to improve the lives of others. I started by serving as co-chair for the Equal Pay Task Force in 2019 and more recently elevated this critical issue for working moms.

While I never followed or understood India’s multi-party-political system, I learned the importance of building coalitions from both my mother and from Mother India, where the mantra “unity in diversity” is a constant. In my first term, I began attending the monthly House Breakfast Group, where members from both sides of the aisle share their personal narratives, to find common ground and camaraderie. In 2021, I became the co-chair of this long-standing bipartisan group. In 2022, I worked with the Michigan’s Women Commission to inaugurate a bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Women’s Council.

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In all her years in the U.S., my mom never swerved from wearing saris, a classic and classy Indian outfit – and the smart one, according to fellow Indian American Indu Vishwanathan. She taught me to cherish the art of handloom weavers and support local women-owned businesses. This shaped my purchasing habits and my efforts as a legislator – each month, we recognize a small business in my House district. I have also found ways to showcase my own sari collection, dressing up in a sari for the Governor’s annual State of the State address and the annual Indian American Legislative Day in Lansing. 

I draw inspiration from my parents and the pluralism in the Indian ethos and hope my political journey elevates people back in Bharat. It’s why I agreed to this recent interview with the Times of India and was excited that a major Telugu newspaper placed my photograph alongside Biden’s, reporting our 2020 victories on their front page. Perhaps people living in these two great democracies can learn from one another, just as I have learned so much from my mom and Mother India.


Padma Kuppa, the State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District serving her second term, is the Democratic candidate for the Michigan State Senate in District 9. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at padmakuppa@house.mi.gov. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.

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