What Did You Pray For Today?

My first school was a convent. We used to pray before every lesson (which was called period), before lunch, and during the morning assembly.  Other than this, my friend and I would visit the chapel inside the school before any exam. This was easily praying about 10 times a day. If a fellow class student was sick, we prayed.  If there was an earthquake anywhere in the world we prayed.  We also had a daily lesion of “Moral science” in which we were taught to become better human beings.  I therefore had a very God-fearing childhood.

The habit of praying for everything continued throughout my childhood and teenage years. The prayer would be very specific such as ‘Please God let me get a 100 on the Math exam.’ One of the strongest prayers of my childhood was when I prayed for my pet dog when he was sick. He died.  It was the first time my innocent mind had to come to terms to the fact that you could close your eyes, pray with sincerity, be a good girl and yet bad things happened.    The dog had died during Navratri. My aunt had told me he went directly to God. I believed her. Prayers continued.

During my teenage years, prayers became more and more shallow. From becoming beautiful and tall, to having my crush ask me out. One time,  I was taking part in an international drama festival on historical fiction in New York City. I was representing my school. It was my dream to win the award. This prayer was added to my list. In fact, it topped my list for few months. One day, I asked my sister (seven years elder) to also pray that I win the contest.

I wish that you win! But I am not going to pray to God for it!”

“What!! You don’t want me to win! It is just one small prayer!”

“I never pray to God for such things. I only pray for the life and health of our family. To keep us all well and safe. That’s all.”

“What do you mean? You don’t pray that you get the highest grade in college! Or that you get an internship in NYSE!”

“Absolutely not! I just pray that we are all healthy and happy. How do you know that winning this contest is the best thing for you?”

“What can be better than winning the international history day competition?”

“You don’t know anything beyond that! God obviously does! And anyway none of these things matter in life.”

This was a shocking revelation for me at 10 years old. Was this how everyone prayed? Non-specific prayer for life and health? What if everyone else listed everything in their prayers and I did not? Wouldn’t I be left out? How would God even know if I did not ask!

As I grew up I started following my sister’s way of praying. God knew the best. And I believed in him. In between I think there were some phases of specific prayers, in addition to the regular one for health and wellness. Please save my job! Please save my relationship!

But as life has unfolded, I have realized God’s plan has certainly been better.

Thank God I lost that job! Thank God I am no more with that person!

I hate preaching. I do not follow religion although I believe in God. But I am talking from experience.

For all those having a rough day, or going through a tough phase, this prayer is for you.

 

Image source

Mistake Or Crime?

This story is set in the year 2009.

***

“So, you willingly emailed your private picture to Vicky? The pot-bellied Officer asked Ria with a smirk. Mr. and Mehta bowed their head down in shame.

“Umm…I had just sent it to Vicky on yahoo messenger…. He sent it to Rishi. Rishi sent it to Ashir…. No not Ashir, Yash”. Ria paused and looked at the ceiling. She closed her eyes and recollected, “Yash mailed it to a group of boys from our school including Ashir. One of the guys from that group created a fake profile on Orkut and uploaded it! Someone saw it another site also.” Ria struggled to look at the Officer in the eye. “That is what Vicky said. He thinks it is Ashir.”

“It is a chain accident! Abhi highway pe hua tha na,” The officer looked at his colleague and laughed. “Ab woh sab chod kar madam ka photo dhoondo! These teenagers have all the fun. Then blame the police! Kaam hamara badhta hai!”

“Sir please do something.” Mrs. Mehta pleaded, her voice coarse from crying.

“Madam, here. Please go to the cyber cell with a copy of this FIR.”

The ride home was dreadful. Nobody spoke. As the Mehtas reached home, Ria’s Dadi was waiting for them.

“Tea is ready! I will get some biscuits for Riya. My poor baby must be hungry! I have made…”

“She is not a poor baby Mummy!” Mr. Mehta interrupted.  She is a stupid, shameless girl. She has made a joke of our reputation. Now her whole life is ruined!”

“What are you saying! Don’t talk like that,” Dadi growled. “She is 17! She has a long life ahead! One thing will not ruin it!”

“It will Mummy!” Mrs. Mehta broke down. “All her classmates have seen it. It is on the internet! We gave her the best childhood. Best toys. Best vacations. Best school! And this is how she repaid us! Everyone is laughing at us! Who will marry this girl with no morals and no sense! I can’t believe she is MY child!”

Ria stormed out of the room in tears and locked herself. Dadi looked at Mrs. Mehta.

“How can you be so harsh, Janice! It is a difficult time for her. She needs support! What if she does something to herself?

“Mummy, you know I have always supported her.  Remember, when she was selected for that competition in Singapore, she was only 13! All parents were worried about sending their children abroad. But I was not! I always trusted her. She was so sensible! But today, I have failed as a mother! What kind of a girl sends such a picture! A class topper can be so something like this?

“Janice, you and I would not know. In our times, we did not have computers and mobile-phones! These kids have access to everything. They make poor judgment in peer pressure. If we had all those things in our times, who knows we would have done something stupid too!”

“I can’t believe it Mummy. You are supporting her!”

“I supported you too! You and my son eloped to get married! Papa had initially objected to your marriage. If Jaymin had given me time, I would have convinced him.  But you guys ran away before that! People had laughed at me too. They had said you stole my son from me. But I accepted you with open arms. You both were important to me. Not random people who have nothing better to do than talk!”

“That was different, Mummy! How can you compare!”

“It is the same Beta. I supported my children then. I am supporting them now. You have to do the same. She is your child. She has not hurt or harmed anyone. She trusted someone. She made a mistake, not a crime. Now go, solve this problem.”

“I don’t have any strength Mummy. I am broken. I can’t believe this is happening to my child. I am tired!” Janice put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes.

“This is not about you. This is about justice! Think about Ria. And other girls who become victims of such crimes. They are victims of their own judgment to some extent. Don’t you think that boy should get traced? His parents should not feel ashamed that they did not teach the right values to their son? Is it only your daughter who did something wrong?

“We may not even be able to trace it! God knows where you all he has put it! Internet is a very vast place Mummy. It is like… like so many websites..I don’t know how to explain to you!”

“Then all the more reasons to fight. We should have better laws to protect our girls from technology! Stop crying. And I do know about internet! Mrs. Shukla’s daughter, Anuradha is a lawyer. Talk to her. She will suggest something. They will take the computers of all the children and hack into their accounts. They can locate the IT address. They do these things. They will know! They can even create fake account and try to frame the boy!”

“It is not IT address! It is IP address. And how do you know so much Mummy!!”

“I watch Crime Patrol! Now go! Get to work. Time to be a parent. Protect your child. And make sure you fight so hard that those kids never do this to anyone ever again!”

The Mehtas got in touch with Anuradha. Anuradha worked hard on the case. It took time, but the cyber cell managed to remove the pictures. The uploader was traced. It was a 15-year-old boy from Ria’s school. His parents apologized to the Mehtas, and begged them to not take the case further.

Since he was a minor, the Mehtas decided that they should forgive him and move on. Moving on was important for their peace, and Ria’s peace also.

What was important was to teach the right values. All the kids involved were in an impressionable age. The school took the responsibility of counselling them about cyber vulnerability and creating awareness. They held workshops for both girls and boys on how one moment of thrill for them could have grave consequences. Was it worth the risk?

Ria’s case was a starting point for Anuradha. She was herself a mother of two daughters. She felt that the laws need to be reformed to keep up with the technological threats. She continued to specialize in cyber law cases. There were still so many loopholes in the laws. When the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed to consider voyeurism as an offence, she felt a certain sense of achievement.

Ria is doing well now. With the support of her mother, Dadi and professional counseling, she was able to put the trauma past her and focus on her future. She graduated from a well-known law school.

On her graduation day, she was awarded valedictorian of the class.

She started her acceptance speech with a quote by Benjamin Franklin:

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fight Your Inner Demons! Happy Diwali

Wish all of you a very Happy Diwali!! Some are celebrating it today. Some are celebrating it tomorrow.  But the festivities have started. I have fond memories of Diwali from when I was younger.

When I was growing up, and I think even when most of you were growing up we did not know / care much about pollution. We played with patakas, anaar, phooljhadi, and rockets in all its glory. Diwali was about going out with my dad and shopping for fire crackers. My mother would make me wear jeans, shirt and a jacket so that I am fully covered and safe from blisters. I would want to dress up in a pretty lehenga with a dupatta like the older girls. I was scared of most patakas but I would watch my dad, brothers, neighbors burst it. I would scream and run away when they would burst it, then look back, laugh and clap. Jump around like a monkey. We would also go the roof of the house from where we could see the whole town lit up. We would never be able to use up everything we bought. So the leftover patakas would be used up in the days following Diwali. If there was a cricket match coming up in the next week, then even better use of the leftovers. For me, it was a consolation. I did not want the fun and the excitement to be over. Leftover patakas meant that there was something to look forward to.

I don’t know what growing up does to you! No excitement for anything! Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, non-fulfillment, loneliness, bitterness, jealousy, regret!

Diwali is a celebration of victory and winning over demons. But what about our inner demons? Aren’t they the most difficult to conquer?

If you ever want to tame your inner demons, you must consciously choose never to become too attached to any particular life plan – and always remain open to the idea that there might be an even better life plan for you. –  Karen Salmansohn

                                                                 ***

I woke up feeling a sense of emptiness. It is hard to describe it. It is not the same as sadness. When you are sad, you at least manage to cry. When you are angry, you yell or be rude to someone. But it’s not that. It is a feeling of nothingness.  It just is. It is the fear of not knowing how you may feel the next moment yet trying hard to control it. It is trying not to break up. As if you are a balloon that can burst any moment.  There are so many triggers. It cannot be explained.

Me: Life is beautiful. Life is full of surprises. I should be positive.

Inner demon: Life is beautiful. Yours is not! You have nothing.

Me: Hey, can’t say nothing! I am doing alright.

Inner demon: It depends what alright means! In your case it means just surviving!

Me: I am very grateful. There are people around me dealing with so much more!

Inner demon: Like who? The ones who are earning more than you? The ones who have a family? The ones who are on vacation in some pretty place enjoying while you sit here writing some bitter piece which no one will even read! Hahha!

Me: We should never compare our life with others’.

Inner demon: Then let’s compare your life now with this time last year! Last Diwali you were so happy. You know why. This year started out well for you too. You had high hopes. You were doing well. But now? Nothing that you had planned for yourself turned out the way you wanted. And I think this is how it will be for you from now on. Worse and worse..

Inner demon was winning. I texted a friend. She is always understanding. She asked me to cheer up. She said I should meet her in the evening. But I knew that was not the solution. I would be okay when I meet her. But once I am back, it would be just me and inner demon.

I was sure I would break down. I was sure I would have an outburst. I felt helpless. Like my thoughts are not in my control. My emotions are not in my control. And ofcourse life is not in my control.

Then something happened. I thought of what I had written a few days back. Don’t underestimate the power of little things in life.  Little moments of joy help in healing. Be greedy and grab them all. When you laugh you laugh. It does not matter if you were sad a moment before.  

I decided to distract myself.

  • Saw a KFC styled chicken recipe on youtube and made it. (It was awesome)
  • Watched a movie on Netflix – The Invisible Guest. It was in Spanish with subtitles. Crisp and gripping thriller.
  • Tried out some tests online for improving my English. Brushed up on some mathematical concepts. Nothing helps heal like learning new things. It makes you humble. There is so much to learn!!
  • My domestic helper wore glasses for the first time today. I was surprised. She claimed that she always had it. She does not bother wearing it because she wants to look pretty. I teased her that no wonder her work is so bad! She cannot see dust and dirt! She laughed too. She made the Rangoli outside the house.
  • I took a picture of the Rangoli and sent it to my sister. Also sent to her a picture of my homemade KFC chicken.
  • Searched Halloween costumes online for my niece. Have shortlisted some. Will talk to her soon.
  • Got a call from an old friend. Shared a lame joke.

None of the above involved doing anything drastic. But I am feeling good. More importantly, feeling in charge of my emotions.  There is no outburst. No breaking down.

I have beaten the inner demon. She may be there. But it is my choice whether I listen to her or not. I am not her slave…

It is indeed a Happy Diwali! It is a victory of me over my inner demons. Wish you all the same!

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.

– Lord Buddha

Image source

Quotes source

 

 

 

 

Life Is A Rollercoaster – Journey Of A Strong Woman

One day, I received a friend request on Facebook from Shomi Pandey. Shomi Pandey was a classmate of my elder sister. We attended the same school. It so happened that one of our mutual friends had tagged some old pictures of a school picnic.  The picture included my sister and Shomi among many other young girls, not more than 15-16 years old.  It was fun commenting on the album, reminiscing on those carefree days. That is how I reconnected with Shomi Didi after maybe some 20 odd years.

Shomi Didi soon started topping my news feed on Facebook. She would post regularly. Most of her posts were positive, inspiring quotes. Sometime she would post pictures of herself and her lovely daughter.  A few times she would be live, singing an old Bollywood song. Her chirpiness is hard to miss. She smiles in every picture. She is just one of those people who are always happy, I thought. Happy, lucky and blessed.

This is what we all think about people who post happy pictures on Facebook right? That their life is so perfect.  We then take a moment of silence to mourn for our own not so smooth life, and how God has chosen us for all hardships.

I was blissfully living with my misconceptions until one day, I came across a post of hers. It was about wishing a happy birthday to a certain Sandeep, followed by ‘Hope you are happy wherever you are’.

What? I thought. It could not possibly be for husband!  She is too young to lose him!

I reread the post. There were comments that confirmed my fear. Condolences. Sympathies. It seemed she had lost her husband three years ago. She must have been only 33 then, with a 10-year-old child.

It seemed so unfair!  But what struck me was her positive outlook, and her determination to share strength with others.

Over the next days, I was intrigued by some more posts of her:

You see, life can be very harsh. It tests your patience till you reach your breaking point. My husband was drowned in an ocean of depression and job insecurity during those days. He was undergoing treatment for the same. He lost control of his own will power. He had created a wall of sadness and negativity around him. I never wanted to work until it became a necessity for me. That was the moment that I decided to step up.  I had to earn bread and better for my family. I started teaching in a school nearby.  I used to take tuitions in the evenings, along with taking care of my daughter’s studies.  I tried everything in my capacity to be the best nurse to my husband, a patient listener, an understanding friend and a doting wife.  But it did not matter how much I tried. God had something else stored for him. 

That day still haunts me. I get goosebumps recalling that disastrous day.

It started out being a usual day. I was busy with the daily chores of early morning. Brushing, freshening up, getting ready for work, helping my daughter to get ready for school, preparing breakfast for my husband, packing two tiffins. The most important part was feeding my ailing husband, and making him feel comfortable. But there was something eerie about that morning. Even the gushing wind, and the sun seemed to be different. I could not identify what exactly made me feel that way. It was just a feeling. I was in no mood to go to school. But went ahead anyway. My colleagues asked me if everything was okay. I had no answer. I was unusually quiet.  The silence was interrupted as there was an announcement on the public announcement system.

Shomi Pandey, there is a call for you at the reception.

It was my mother- in- law. Words fumbled out of her mouth. She asked me to come home immediately. There was an urgency in her voice. I could not process much, and did not know what to do. I informed the Principal, took my bag and left.

When I reached home, I could not believe what I saw. The houseflies, the thin white sheet covering his ice-cold body, the incense sticks waving off the germs. His body was blue. But there was a certain serenity on his face. The peace that life had cruelly deprived him.

This could not be happening. It better be a nightmare..

I felt so insecure and helpless at that moment. I wanted to be hugged. But who was left to protect me? What about my 10-year-old daughter? How will I explain to her what I could barely accept? The fleet of people visiting our home only made the nightmare more real. I was lost. I had unanswered questions.

Why? How? Now what?”

Shomi had met her husband at a consultant’s office in Patna. She had got married early, despite the initial hesitation from both families. With her partner of nearly a decade gone at such an early age, life had become a big question mark.

In the past three years, Shomi has picked herself up and emerged strong. She is now teaching in one of the best schools in Varanasi.  I asked her what kept her going. I knew the answer.

“It was my daughter. She reminds me everyday that I should not waste my tears in thinking about my past. She hates it when I cry. She wants be to vibrant always, with a smile.

Financial independence is very important in today’s world if one has to survive. I am not the kind of person who would think of ending my life. There was no option but to keep moving forward. I think one has to be focused towards one’s own future. We should be first emotionally and then physically strong enough to raise our kids. 

Empathy and sympathy will last for just few days and then no one will bother so why to be so weak. Can’t we raise our kids normally when we are educated enough to get a job? I had the support of my parents and my brother, and they were my pillars of strength.”

Life rarely turns out the way we expect it to be. Some tragedies are visible – losing a loved one, an illness, a divorce, financial problems. Then there are people who seem to be living a good enough life from a distance. The pain is not so visible. I asked Shomi what she would like to say to so many people out there who are on the verge of losing hope.

“Life has taught me many things in quite an early stage. Life is full of surprises. It may be good or bad but this is what is life all about. Don’t fear of losing or hardships. I can just say that believe in yourself and God is there to do the rest. And please remember, we have no right to take back our life. Time does make things better. Life is very short and we should always live to the fullest. Start loving yourself. Take baby steps towards life. You will soon be in the path of triumph. All the best! ”

 Note

This article has been published with Shomi Pandey’ permission. When I approached her for sharing her story she readily agreed. It must have been painful for her to revisit parts of her life, that she would have locked up somewhere in the corner of her mind to avoid triggers of pain.  But she said if she can inspire even one person, it would be worth it.

Thank you Shomi Didi. Stay strong and blessed. Much love to you and your daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ray of Hope

Somebody has joined my workplace who has the same car as me (same model, same color). Today, he asked me when did I purchase the car. About a year ago I replied. When the conversation got over, I realized that it can’t be one year. I had got the car in June 2015.  It has been two years! And then I looked at the date in the calendar. Why did I say one year?

29th June. How could I just forget this time last year?

A year ago – On 29th June

30th June 2016 was to be my last day at my old job. I did not have another job at hand.  I was a single woman, living alone paying the rent for a 2 bhk apartment, and paying all my expenses trying to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be unemployed. How had I reached such a stage?

By the time my first year at that job had got over, I had got a promotion. Things were looking up. But too many things changed in the next year. I made a series of poor choices and mistakes professionally. It included team change requests, rejecting a good offer from another company, a disastrous appraisal, and a resignation without having another job at hand.

When we face bad situations in life, there are two emotions that we feel (among many others):

  1. The victim feeling.

Why does everything happen to me! Why can’t I ever be happy!

This kind of self-pity makes us feel like we are such a victim of our circumstances. Things always happen to us. We are the chosen ones for misery. And people who do not seem all that great get to live their life just fine.

  1. Regret

We torture ourselves over the things that we could have done differently. I kept blaming myself for every professional decision I had taken in the last year.  I would replay each and every event in my mind. I would imagine myself going back in the past and changing things. The term ‘don’t beat yourself up’ can be quite literal.

I really don’t know which feeling is worse. I had somehow expected that I would end up finding a job in the notice period. But on 29th June, I knew that tomorrow would be my last working day. There was no job. No offer. I would have to pay the rent and other expenses through my savings.  And the worst part was the uncertainty. How long would I be unemployed? Three months? Six months? One year? How will I support myself and pay my bills? My parents were more than happy to support me but I was ashamed to be at this place, at this age.

How would I deal with the stress? What would I do all day? Won’t I go mad? My friends would be working all day. And what will I do meeting friends anyway? Taking a cab, going to expensive restaurants when I am not even earning a penny?

My mother had decided to come and stay with me till I could find a job. I guess everybody was worried about my mental state. That was very nice of her. It made a lot of difference.

While I was searching for jobs, preparing for interviews, people were trying to say the clichéd things that is often said to someone to make them feel better.

Don’t worry. You will find something. It is just a matter of time.

It’s not like you are poor! So don’t overreact! Your parents will support you!

You still have so much to be grateful for! People are fighting cancer! This is not such a big deal!

The last one is very popular. When a person is in physical pain, let’s say someone burns their finger, or cuts it, we don’t tell the bleeding person, ‘Relax, be grateful that your other finger is not cut!’

But emotional pain is very different. Nobody can see it. Nobody can assess the magnitude of it. Only we know what we are feeling. I remember getting up every morning, with a moment of blissful peace until it struck me that I was unemployed. I remember the pain in the stomach.  I remember going out with friends, laughing, relaxing, pretending to forget that there is such a big problem lurking behind. The getting up in the morning part, and the time of going to bed were the most difficult times. I wanted the ‘bad’ feeling to go away magically.

This is what I learnt during that phase:

  1. You need not love your job. As long as you love the things it brings you – bread, butter, pizza, Mojito, dresses, vacation. No matter how unfulfilling it is, no matter how pathetic you are made to feel at every appraisal, no matter how much your boss yells at you,  you are there for a reason and that reason is money.
  1. I remember talking to my friend, who told me about another friend in awe who was earning X amount. You know how much she earns!! No wonder she dresses so well! The amount she mentioned was less than what I was getting at my old job. The girl she was talking about was older than me.

At my old job, I always felt like a loser because everybody else seemed to getting better bonuses and promotions. But that day, I realised how ungrateful I had been.

  1. I had thought I could utilize this time to write a book. Who knows I could become J K Rowling!

But forget about writing a book, I was not able to even write articles or blogs. All I did was search for jobs day and night. (I am not discouraging anyone. There is always a dilemma whether we should pursue our passion, or be practical. But it is usually never that black and white). 

  1. People were saying enjoy this time too. Soon you will get a job, and miss ‘these’ days. Go and travel! Some were more practical to say try ‘budget travelling’. 
  1. I used to try to be positive and hopeful. There were a lot of disappointments, as not every interview turned into an offer. I had some idea of the kind of profile I was looking for. But I also felt desperate and thought I should just take up whatever comes. One person offered me a job at a lower CTC than what I was getting in my old job. That was like reaching a new low altogether. I felt like the biggest failure that day – both professionally and personally.

I was trying my best to still keep it together. I am unemployed. I reminded myself. I cannot afford to get depressed, and certainly cannot afford therapy!

You know how long the employment phase lasted? A month. I started working again on August 1st. So many feelings. So much of self-doubt. So much of regret.

All very temporary. Things turned out just fine.

I like my current job more than any of my previous jobs. I am better suited for this role. I was struggling at the kind of profile I was in, and the gap helped me find something much more apt for my skill-set (or the lack of it). 🙂 I have good friends here also. When I get any calls for a job opportunity now, I say thank you I am not looking for a job change. And I mean it.

Do I think about that phase now and cry? Of course not. But were those few months of uncertainty stressful? Hell yes!

Today, I know that this is where I was meant to be. I would not change anything. Maybe the path that reached me here was a little rocky.

When people were trying to console me at that time, it didn’t help much. But the fact is when something goes against the way we had planned, we get so upset and confused that it is very difficult to accept that anything good can come out of it. We may not immediately appreciate that something better is in store for us because we are busy mourning over the loss. The feelings of regret and uncertainly can be overpowering.

I would like to share some quotes that I had posted on my page during that time, trying my best to keep hope.

 ‘Dear God, I ‘ve tried my best but if today I lose my hope please tell me that your plans are better than my dreams. Amen’

 ‘Sometimes the bad things, that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the most wonderful things that will ever happen to us.’

‘When God takes away something from your hand, don’t think he is punishing you, he is merely emptying your hand for you to receive something better. Have faith.

It all makes sense now.

I would like to end with Shri Amitabh Bachchan’s famous quote:

Man ka ho toh achcha .Na ho toh zyada achcha !! Kyun ki phir wo ishwar ke man ka hota hai, aur ishwar aap ka hamesha achcha chahega !!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody Can Be Happy. It Is So Simple.

The other day I went to sit by the pool side after returning from gym.  I was feeling very depressed.  It is difficult to identify what exactly was the trigger. Recent death of a relative, talking to a friend who is initiating divorce, reading about a young married woman committing suicide, cribbing to another single friend how there are no good men any more (left for us), or following up with my friend on her mother’s chemotherapy. Was I upset because relationships are so fragile? Or because of the cruel reminder that our health can betray us any time?  The only thought that had pretty much built a home in my mind (Please excuse my Hindi to English translation) was that life is unfair and meaningless.

My apartment building has those beach like benches by the pool side. I love sitting there after working out. It gives me some peace. At that time of the night, nobody comes there.  I like to look at the reflection of the moon in the water.

But that day my blissful ‘me time’ was suddenly interrupted.

A woman barged in with her toddler. He would have jumped right into the water, had she not stopped him. It seemed the kid had just started walking. I am assuming he had been on a walker before. He was running around without much control. It was as if there should have been a break button on him. I think he had not yet fully understood that he was not on a walker anymore.  The mother was running after him.

He looked at me. There were  tears on my face I had not bothered to wipe. I ignored him.  I was avoiding making eye contact. The mother also looked at me with a smile. I ignored her too.  Usually, when any person looks at a baby / kid they do smile. The mother must have thought I am such a rude (kharoos) person. She had put her sling bag next to my bench. But then I guess my disinterest made her change her mind.  Had she seen my tears? She moved to the bench farthest away from me.

The kid had too many questions. He was talking about himself in third person.

‘Rishi go in pool!’

‘Rishabh you cannot just go inside the pool. You have to know how to swim!’

‘Rishi go sim!’

‘No you can’t go swimming. You have to learn it first.’

‘Mamma go sim!’

‘Mamma also needs to learn first.’

After saying some more random things, the kid gave up the thought of being in the water. He thought of a new game. He would run all the way from his mother’s bench to my bench, touch it, jump, go back and repeat the same ritual on the other side.  While on the other side, his mother would greet him an adoring look, on this side I would ignore him looking blankly at the sky.  By now, the mother was sure that I wanted to be left alone. She would tell her son to not come towards my bench. But why would he listen? He continued to hold my bench and jump each time looking at me for some reaction.

Finally, I think the fifth time he did it, I looked up at him and smiled.  He immediately looked away, shyly but not without a sense of triumph.  He did this for another few minutes until his father came to take them home. At first, I was smiling at him politely, out of an obligation.  But soon, the smile turned genuine. He was quite amusing to watch!

The whole day, or for a few days, I had been talking to people who were trying to make me feel better.  But the problem with adults is they are too logical. Words do not help sometimes.  Maybe, a small child’s persistent efforts to make a disinterested stranger smile does.  He does not know anything. Cannot even pronounce his name. Does not understand the concept of swimming. Does not see tears.

But he thinks that everybody can be happy. What is so difficult? Just like he can walk right into the pool. So simple. Why complicate things?

Thank you unknown kid. The brief interaction I had with you made me feel better. Better than the well-meaning advice of mature adults.

 

 

I Wish I Could Write My Child’s Destiny

It was sometime in 2012. I had just started living by myself in a PG in Bombay. This was the first time I was living away from my parents. I was 24. Not that young. Still, it was very tough for me.

My parents had found a PG close to my office. My mother was thrilled to discover that in the same apartment complex, there was a lady who had her own catering business. She had personally met that lady and fixed my breakfast and lunch dabbas with her. She said she felt relieved that my “food problem” would be solved.

I hated my job. I was terribly homesick. I wanted to go back to the comforts of my home, and the affection of my parents. I would call my father, pleading to leave my job and come back home. His response?

“Small towns don’t have opportunities like Bombay. It is a great company. Work hard, build you career. This is life..You have to be strong! ”

I recently read a quote somewhere, that “Behind every independent woman, there is a father who believed in her, and not the society.”

Today, I am so grateful that my father made me independent and strong, brave enough to face everything that happened in life thereafter….

Coming back to Bombay. I had some good friends, but I was pretty much lonely and missed my family badly. Amidst all this, food was a big solace. The dabba system that my mother had fixed for me turned out to be pretty good. The owner who my mother had met was Divya Aunty. Despite living in the same complex, I only interacted with her on the phone while placing orders. She was an extremely kind, compassionate person. She would ask her staff to put a plastic spoon in my breakfast, knowing that I rushed to work and ate in the cab. When I would be unwell, she would send something light like khichdi, along with nimbu paani. Sometimes when I would get bored of the regular Indian food, she would send pasta or noodles. It was not just a business for her. She was a motherly figure. She truly cared.

I was going home for holidays. I thought I’ll personally tell Aunty to discontinue my dabba for the next week. I wanted to meet her, since she had been so good to me. I did not know much about her, except that her husband was usually away on business travel and that she had two grown up sons – probably in their early 30s.

The delivery boys who I saw everyday let me in the house. Her house was aesthetically decorated, much bigger than the place my landlady had. It seemed they were quite well off. Aunty greeted me with a warm smile. I had an image of her, based on our interactions on the phone. I had imagined a sweet, cheerful, voluptuous lady in a salwar kamiz. Instead, she was very thin, almost pale. She wore a formal shirt, and three-quarters.

I thanked her and told her how I absolutely loved her food. She asked about my mother. We engaged in some small talk. Whenever I talked to her on the phone I always thought she would be an upbeat person. But in person, she looked sad. It was the first time I was meeting her. I was not sure if I she was unwell, tired or stressed. Was she just having a bad day?

“Everything okay, Aunty?” I asked. A question probably too intrusive for a first meeting.

“I am fine beta.”

I immediately regretted asking her. Even if there was something bothering her, she would not tell me – a customer whom she supplied dabbas in the very first face-to-face meeting.

“Somebody asked me recently beta, what is it that you want.”

I was surprised at the conversation I thought had ended but listened intently.

“If someone could make a wish of mine come true, beta I would ask God to be able to write my child’s destiny. We want the best for them. We do the best for them. Still we can’t protect them from what they would face…”

Her words pierced me. So deep. So painful. What was the reason behind such a profound thought? What was her son going through that she so desperately wanted to fix, with all the fierce protection of a mother, and yet utmost helplessness?

I never found out. Why I am writing about this now?

It has been one year since Pratyusha Banerjee committed suicide. Watching the video of her mother’s advice to other girls and boys on her death anniversary was heartbreaking. Another boy in Mumbai recently killed himself, allegedly because of failing in exams and failure to launch his start-up.

What must these parents be going through? The child who they raised and loved, and taught everything about life decided to give up on it? They must have done everything they could, but could they write their child’s destiny in Divya Aunty’s words or rather change it?

No. No parent can write their child’s destiny. The child will fail at something at some point or another. It is inevitable. Be it an exam, a job, a relationship or worse. But is it really a failure or just a phase? Is there any person who has always been successful, at everything? We get to know them after the point they became successful. Do we know what they went through before that and how much they struggled?

Children must learn to be strong. If not for them, atleast for their parents. There will always be problems, but they can choose how much empowered they want to be, by the obstacles life throws at them. It is not a philosophical thought, but the ONLY way to survive.

And the only way parents like Divya Aunty can live without carrying the unfair burden of fixing their adult children’s lives on their feeble shoulders.

Not By Blood!

Originally published on yourstoryclub

“Charu, were you touching my make -up? Look, you closed it without rotating it and now it is broken,” said Sadhna holding the misshaped lipstick.

“Sorry Didi, I was just looking,” said Charu sincerely. “Look, I have made your favourite upma today. Just like Kakimaa!”

Sadhna’ heart melted as the 13-year girl served her upma. She tasted a bite, her eyes welling up.

“Please don’t send me away,” Charu started crying.

Sadhana put the spoon back in the dish and stormed to her bedroom. Why God? Why?

5 years ago

Sadhna, a sales manager lived with her widowed mother, Neerjala in a posh apartment complex. Sadhna’s job involved travelling and she needed a trustworthy person to take care of her mother and stay overnight in her absence. She found that trust in Chhaya. Chhaya was a hard-working and devoted housemaid, who would slog to earn two square meals a day for herself and her little daughter, Charu, only to get beaten up by her drunkard husband. Charu was a sweet kid, and Chhaya brought her to work regularly. Neerjala had taken an instant liking towards her. While Sadhna was away on business travel, Chhaya and Charu would keep her company in their otherwise lonely 3 bedroom apartment. The trio would watch movies together, go for walks, and chat and laugh about little nothings.

Chhaya wanted her little girl to live a life of dignity, and was struggling to give her an education. Neerjala would assist her financially in any way she could, being an emotional and compassionate person. Sadhna did not mind as she was earning well, and her father had also left enough money for them to live comfortably. She did not care what it cost her to retain Chhaya. She just wanted her mother, her only family left to be healthy and happy. But one mundane Tuesday night, when Sadhna was outstation for work, their lives changed forever.

There was a sudden power cut. Neerjala called out to Chhaya who along with Charu was sleeping in the servant’s room. Chaaya found a candle but could not figure out why there was no electricity when all other flats seemed to be fine. She called the security guard, who had been hired recently, to come and check. He told them that the invertor seemed damaged. It could not be fixed unless they pay Rs 8,000 for repair. This was a big amount and Neerjala refused to give it to him unless he called the electrician. He seemed drunk and started abusing Neerjala, forcing her to pay her atleast some money. Chhaya intervened, seeing Neerjala being disrespected and they got into a scuffle. The guy refused to leave the house. Neerjala struggled to find the estate manager’s number who lived in the same building. Sadhna had sent it to her through an sms. But she never understood how to save a contact, despite Sadhna teaching her repeatedly. Frantically, she called Sadhna who contacted the estate manager.

The guy finally left when Chhaya threatened to call the police. The estate manager came with the electrician and their problem got fixed in an hour. However, the two women were completely agitated. Chhaya complained against him, and he was called before the management. Chhaya accused him of cheating and misbehaving with a senior citizen. She also believed that he had deliberately switched off their main connection to extract money, seeing the vulnerability of the women. He was fired immediately.

A week later, as Chhaya was walking home alone at night, he came out of nowhere. He asked her to take the complaint back, as he was in dire need of a job. He was having difficulty finding another job in the neighborhood as people had heard that he had some “issue” at the previous job. Chhaya insisted that it was not her fault. It was his own wrongdoing and there was nothing she could do. He started calling her names and grabbed her by her hair. She screamed for help. He covered her mouth. She resisted. He strangulated her. She died on the spot.

The news of the tragic and horrendous murder spread like fire. Neerjala was shattered. How guilty she felt! The poor woman died because of her. Had she not been in her house that day, she would have been alive. She could not bear to think of the burden she would carry all her life.

Few days later, one of Chhaya’s relatives brought Charu to their home. The child looked so different from how they had known her! So weak, so malnourished. Such sad eyes! Neerjala’s heart went out to the little girl. The relative told Neerjala that Charu’s father had sold her to a 60-year-old man. He locked his house and left town. Now nobody knows his whereabouts. Charu escaped and came back to relatives but nobody wanted to take responsibility for her.

“How to leave her on the road, Kaki. She is a girl. I already have 4 children. How can I feed one more? Please put her in some orphanage,” said the woman before leaving her.

Sadhna started looking for shelter homes where they could send Charu. But Neerjala did not want to send her away.

“What is she becomes a human trafficking victim? What if she starves?”

Sadhna tried to convince her that she would look for a verified and safe place for her. But Neerjala was inconsolable.

“My Chhaya! How she died, screaming for help! I will take care of Charu like my daughter. Then only her soul will rest in peace.”

Neerjala would keep mumbling all day. Sometimes talking to herself, sometimes to Chhaya. Sadhna was worried that her mother would lose her sanity. She decided to keep Charu till the time that her mother became stable. She transferred Charu to a better school nearby.

Charu was always a well-behaved kid but a good atmosphere at home and school did wonders for her. She was smart and did reasonably well in studies. Sadhna got her good clothes and Neerjala taught her good manners. As time passed, nobody could distinguish that she was not part of their family. Sadhna continued to search for foster homes for her. But it was difficult because most people were not interested in adopting an eight-year-old girl.

A year later, Sadhna mustered up the courage to speak to her mother.

“Maa, I have got in touch with an NGO. They give a place to stay to girls like Charu and even teach some vocational courses. I am thinking…”

“Over my dead body!” interrupted Neerjala. “Her mother died because of me. She came in my dream and told me now she is at peace because I am with her. Till I am alive, she is going nowhere. She goes, I go!”

Neerjala got so hysterical that Sadhna did not dare to bring the topic again. She was annoyed, having to support another human being, who was not her blood relative. She had nothing against Charu. She was a loving child. She would have supported her financially. But was there any need to keep her in their house?

Meanwhile, Charu had become a fan of Sadhna didi. How pretty she was! What nice clothes she wore! How she went to office! How fluently she spoke English! She was always trying to impress her. Even though she was still a kid, she loved cooking and she especially loved cooking for Sadhna didi. Kakimaa, as she fondly called Neerjala would teach her to make Sadhna’s favourite dishes.

They all lived peacefully together for the next four years until tragedy stuck this home again. Neerjala passed away after a sudden cardiac arrest.

As Sadhna looked at her mother, lifeless and cold, she felt a pain so strong that she was sure she would die too. Charu clung to her like a baby as they both hugged and cried for the only person in this world who loved them true and pure, who was now gone. They were alone.

The next few days were unbearable, living in the haunting emptiness of this house without Neerjala. Sadhna would think she saw her mother or heard her only to realise that the reality was so hopeless. Her only solace was Charu.

It is surprising how intuitive kids are. She was not even a teenager yet, still she believed that now she was Sadhna’s caretaker. She would do the things that Kakimaa did for Sadhna didi. Morning she would ask her if she kept her lunch box and what time she would come back. At night she would remind her to drink milk. She would also convince her to go out for movies and shopping, something Sadhna had lost interest in. Charu was there for her, when her world had collapsed.

Present day

Life was looking up for Sadhna. She had finally found love with her boyfriend, Kunal. They were planning to get married.

“You have to get rid of that maid, okay? It is so annoying; I can’t even come back to your apartment because she is there. Just put her in some orphanage for God’s sake.”

But, how could she? Charu was like family now. They had been living together for 5 years. She was distressed because Kunal even objected to support her financially.

“You want to continue spending on her? We will have home loans and car loans and our own kids. Don’t be an emotional fool.”

Sadhna had mentioned to Charu about her marriage and that she would find her a good place where there would be other kids her age. Charu had cried and cried and begged her to let her stay.

Sadhna felt horrible. But was she being selfish? Was she not supposed to think about her future? Kunal would be her husband. She could not just disregard his opinions. She did not want to end up alone…

Kunal had arranged for Charu’s stay at an orphanage in Orissa.

“How can we send her so far? Let us find her a place in Kolkata only. Atleast I can keep visiting her.”

“Let me make it clear, Sadhna. I don’t want this maid in our lives!”

The day had arrived when Charu had to leave. Charu who had been pleading and crying was now completely silent. It was as if she had resigned to her fate. She had packed her suitcase. Kunal and Sadhna would drop her to the railway station where somebody would accompany her.

Charu looked at one of the photo frames of her, Kakimaa and Sadhna.

“Didi can I take this, please.”

Sadhna felt choked with emotion as she nodded. Charu hugged her and cried uncontrollably.

Over my dead body! Over my dead body! She goes, I go…

“Can we go now?” said Kunal irritated. “The train will not wait for her.”

“No!” Sadhna broke down. “I can’t!”

“Not again”, said Kunal shaking his head. “This girl is not even your blood relative! She is your maid’s daughter!”

“Stop calling her maid! Maa treated her like her own child! Maa wanted her to stay. If she goes, Maa goes..!”

“Your mother is dead!”

Sadhna gave him a tight slap. Charu who was still hugging her, held her even more tight.

“I don’t want to enter into new relationships with people who cannot respect my existing ties.”

“Stay with her, you *****. Remain a spinster. Which man will be willing to adopt a 13-year-old girl with you?”

“A man who is a bigger person than you. If not, this home has always had self-sufficient women. Goodbye!”

That night both Sadhna and Charu dreamt that Neerjala was in the house. She looked happy and healthy, the way they liked to remember her.

If Grandma could choose

My story that won ‘Muse of the Month’ on Women’s Web:

The cue for this month was from the movie Queen, in which Kangana’s reel granny tells her that instead staying back in the hotel and watching TV and feeling bad for herself, she should go out and meet people, go sight-seeing…who knows she might find someone interesting too!

Read more:

Picture Imperfect

A flash and a click,
And I felt sick.

My eyes darted around
In search of that terrible sound.

“Sweetheart in another pose please,
And stop being such a tease.”

I looked around at the couple with a smile,
At how love made everything seem worthwhile.

I slowly averted my gaze,
As my memories were ablaze.

When a flash and a click
And my hair I would flick.

A smile and a pout,
My heart clear, with no doubt.

He’d walk over and grin,
And say I was a beautiful sin.

A flash and a click,
It always did the trick.

I’d smile through my tears,
Unaware it would be the reason for my fears.

As I lay fast asleep,
He clicked away like a creep.

A loud thud, and a bang,
Then the door bell rang.

A click click, and a flash,
Into my room I made a dash.

I was plastered on every page,
Of every website I was the rage.

All I wanted was to die,
But I walked with my head held high.

A few months and I was forgotten,
Replaced by news more rotten.

But now a flash and a click,
And I turn into a brick.

Another flash and a click,
And I still can’t stop feeling sick.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

About the author:

Shirisha Pothapragada is an architect by profession. She is also a writer, and poetry is her forte. Shirisha has the unique talent of expressing emotions on social issues while maintaining the dichotomy in her poems.