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.

 

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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

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13 Reasons Why – Suicide Prevention or Suicide Manual?

The latest show that is creating a lot of controversy internationally is Netflix’s original series – “13 Reasons Why”. It is about a high school girl who commits suicide, and leaves 13 audio tapes about the reasons why she did it. (No there is spoiler yet. This happens in the first episode).

The tapes are sent to the people who in some way or another have contributed to her suicide. There are serious issues shown in the show such as bullying, rape, cyber bullying, and of course suicide. The show is based on a book. The intent of the show was to create more awareness about suicide and the importance of being kind and sensitive to others. It sounds like a great idea. But I did not feel that the show manages to achieve this. I felt it glorifies, rationalizes, and justifies suicide.

1. First of all, nobody can call out from the grave. In the show, Hannah Baker reaches out to people after her death through the tapes. The very premise is unrealistic. The show supports the thought that once she commits suicide, people would sympathize with her and finally accept that they did her wrong. It is like a revenge strategy. The people who did her wrong in this case were her classmates. Why does the show make us believe that people will care about us after we are dead? Even if they do, does it really matter once we are gone? The only people who will suffer endlessly are parents, siblings, immediate family members, who do not deserve to suffer. The rest of the world (including classmates) may care for some time. Then they will forget and move on.

2. Hannah tries to get help from the school counselor who is not of much help. Why could she not reach out to her parents? Her parents are loving and do care for her. What kind of example is this setting? That there is no help whatsoever and suicide is the only logical option? I know that this does happen.People do not believe or support the rape / assault survivor or undermine the feelings of somebody who sounds depressed. But they could have shown her atleast put in some more effort to fix things for herself. That would have set a better example. How would assault / rape survivors / bullied teens feel after watching this show? That killing themselves is natural? Something that is expected of them?

3. Throughout the show, there are a bunch of high school kids keeping secrets in an attempt to “honour” their friendship. I found this very annoying. Some of them have supportive and approachable parents who keep asking them what is wrong. Still, none of them reach out to any responsible adults. It would have been more balanced if at least some character had sense of right and wrong.

4. I don’t even want to get into the graphic suicide scene.

5. The show puts the responsibility of Hannah’s suicide on so many of her classmates (not just the rapist) who received the tapes. “We all killed Hannah!” Does she ever mention her suicidal thoughts to anybody? Is she suffering from a mental illness? Sure, they could have behaved better with her. But were all they supposed to just know, and help her?

6. People who have appreciated the show have said that it will help start conversations on suicide, being such a tabooed topic. No, I don’t think we are still at that point in time where we should applaud each other just for initiating conversations. We should not have such low standards. We should work towards finding solutions, helpline options, feasible support groups.

Teen suicide is a very pertinent issues in the US. In India, so many students commit suicide because of academic pressure. Female celebrities have committed suicide after a break-up. Suicide is horrific and the biggest pain for the surviving family members. Recent live streaming of the video of a young man jumping to his death on a social networking site death was extremely disturbing. It was a call for help. But no help can be delivered after death.

Some people may be suffering from serious mental illnesses and their actions may not even be in their control. They need professional help.

The last thing people should be made to believe is that if they kill themselves, finally people who ignored and hurt them will realise they were in pain all along. And this would be their justice.

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.

Life does get better..

Every girl wishes to be beautiful, successful and have a loving partner. Some manage to achieve it all. So did some awesome women who were well-known faces of Indian cinema and television. They had attained the status of celebrities and people like me thought that they had it all.

Yet, they were so unhappy at some point that they felt that death would bring them comfort?

It is not just women, but so many men in India who commit suicide as well. For not performing well in studies, for not finding a job, a failed relationship, an illness and other situations that make a person feel hopeless and worthless.

Are these problems serious? Ofcourse. I am not undermining the extent of pain that any unfavourable situation could cause a person. But is any problem serious enough to end our life?

We attach so many conditions to our happiness that we spend half the time waiting for those things to happen and the rest of the time mourning in disappointment when it doesn’t.

If I pass X exam, I would be happy..
If I get X job, I would be happy..
If I become X manager, I would be happy..
If I marry X person I would be happy..

When the X event happens, we realize that it brings its own challenges.

I remember a friend of mine in school who was not as good at studies as me. She used to get poor grades, but she never seemed upset about it. While I was the kind who would get a 99 and still cry about losing a mark, she would be quite content with her almost failing grades and used to smile and laugh all the time and enjoy with her friends. Nothing could take away her smile. Back then I used to think she was so shameless celebrating her failures while I used to mourn over what others perceived as success.

The same friend is doing very well in life now. She has a very good job, and is doing well personally too. She was always right in her attitude. She knew that being happy is a choice.

Success, failures are all very subjective and even so, they do not define us. What defines us is our strength of character and the grace with which we find little moments of happiness in not so happy times.

This weekend, my grandmother visited me. She is 85 years old. She has become frail and weak with age, and forgets a lot. But is still coherent in her thoughts and words and loving to be around.

At her age, she has seen a lot. She lost both her parents at a young age. She then got married to have four children. But she became a widow when she was only 36. It was an emotional and financial disaster. She says her first thought was to end her life. But the faces of four children kept her going.

She took control of the situation and went back to complete her studies. She soon got a job as a professor in a reputed college. A short and petite woman, her small physical stature betrayed her age. When she went to college without her customary sindoor and bindi, colleagues used to ask her if she was an unmarried girl. It was painful and everything was a reminder that her happiness had been brutally cut short. The unfairness of it all would often overpower her and she could not understand what kind of life this was, where there was so much of grief. There was always a feeling that was there any point even living?

But she went on with her life, determined to give the future to her children that once she and her husband had dreamt of together. She became a respectable and popular professor. Students loved her because of the kind and strong person that she was. She retired with dignity and financial security.

She raised her children to be good humans and capable professionals. She is proud of her children and their children who are all what they are because she decided to live. She has imbibed the strength of character in all of us.

She always tells me that life may give us any card. As harsh and unfavourable as it may be, we still have to play it. With courage and hope. Hope that if good days unfortunately ended, bad days would also end. We just have to hang in there.

She also believed in being grateful. Sure, there was pain but there were a lot of reasons to be thankful for. Today she reminisces on the past events of her life, some good some not so great. Because she lived enough to see that life does get better. What seemed disastrous at one point became a story that she tells her children and grandchildren. Stories of struggle. Stories of hope. Stories of inspiration.

She is a happy woman today who is loved and admired by many. She would always be my hero..

When things fall apart, consider the possibility that life knocked it down on purpose. Not to bully you or to punish you, but to promt you to build something that better suits your personality and your purpose. Sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall together – Sandra King.

Fighting depression

Excerpts from Jiya’s diary:

Friday night

I don’t exactly remember how long I have felt depressed. It has been one long and painfully uneventful week. The monotony of the same days and the same nights. I cannot even distinguish the Tuesday from the Thursday. They were all the same. I was unhappy each day, each moment.

The high mortgage, the assignment that I pitched for and lost, the poor appraisal, the ruined relationship, the unwell parent. Everything is overwhelming me. I cannot go home directly from work. That would be too regular and sad. That is what I did all week!

Two hours of ecstasy could help me get through another week. There is nothing wrong with it. I must enjoy. I deserve it. I owe it to myself.

And so, I pick that sexy backless outfit and detour to the ATM before I hit the most posh pub in town. One stamp on my wrist and the doors of the urban paradise opens itself, and consumes me into its solace. There is euphoria around.

Yet my depression still seems to be following me. Three drinks down, I still don’t look as happy as that girl in the tiny shorts who is dancing like there is no tomorrow. Completely unaware and uninhibited. Whereas, my problems don’t seem to have escaped yet. One last drink, I tell myself.

Saturday morning

It does not get any better. I feel lethargic and meaningless. I am frustrated that even yesterday’s extended and expensive binging session did not help me. I order my favourite pizza and chocolate brownies.

2 pm

I feel the tears running down my cheeks. There are 7 missed calls. I do not want to talk to anybody. Will I feel like this forever? Will I ever be happy? The not knowing is scary…

9 pm

Day after tomorrow would be a working day. I just have today to make an attempt to feel joy or something close to it. This feeling should go away, atleast momentarily. The week would anyway be miserable.

I pick the red dress. It looks like the one Shakira wore in ‘Hips don’t lie’. I look at my image in the mirror and smile at my reflection. There is a lot of makeup on the girl staring back at me. Yet, her eyes look dead.

I hit the pub. Again. As I pay the guy at the counter, he smiles at the visible ruins of the stamp from yesterday, and places one on top of it. I stare at it blankly. Should I refund or enter? I stand there confused, feeling broke and empty.

I need it. I need to distract myself. It’s better to have stamps on my wrist than to have slitted wrists. I justify myself.

Four months later

Enough of alcohol. I will do the right thing. I will visit a therapist.

Two weeks later

I arrive at the therapist’s clinic — a small, but friendly office inside her home. She is middle aged, and empathetic. I like her instantly. I tell her my story. Stories. I cry. She listens. I cry some more. I tell her I want to die. Or maybe not. I just want to be saved. She finally speaks:

“The evils of the modern day life have reduced most of us to slaves. Slaves of corporate lives. Slaves of addictions. Slaves of the haunting memories of failed relationships. Slaves of our own regrets, mistakes, unrealistic ambitions, and loss of direction. We are lonely alone. We are lonely in a crowd.

Grief and stress is overpowering. Many of us may not connect to spirituality and religion. We are away from our families, physically or emotionally. No support groups. No true intimacy.”

She pauses. “Would you like to have some coffee?” She asks abrupty, and takes me to her kitchen, much to my surprise.

She fills three pots with water and places each on a high flame. Once the three pots begin to boil, she places potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.

“Oh, I did not want anything to eat!” She ignores me and continues.

After twenty minutes she turns off the burners. She takes the potatoes and eggs out and places them in a bowl. She then pours the coffee out in a cup.

“What do you see?”

“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” I reply, annoyed.

“Look closer,” “and touch the potatoes.” I notice that they are soft. She then asks me to take an egg and break it. I comply. Finally, she asks me to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to my face.

“What is your point?”

She then explains that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity – the boiling water.

However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which one are you, Jiya?” she asked me. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?

In life, things happen around us, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us.”

Jiya – Present day

I don’t want to be the potato. I don’t want to be lost anymore. I am strong and I have faith.

You know sometimes, you have no choice but to walk along the cliff’s edge. Everything feels intense. But I have wings. And if I feel like I am toppling over, maybe it is a nudge in the right direction to experience how amazing my wings really are.

It’s often when we think we are falling that we learn to fly. I trust my wings. They won’t and can’t let me down.

Dear God, if today I lose my hope, please remind me that your plans are better than my dreams. After all, just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.


Originally published at akkarbakkar.com on November 26, 2015.