My Sweetest Child

I was never the kind of girl, who would stop in the middle of a mall to play with babies. I refrained from being around those little chubby beings who usually ended up getting a lot of attention for just being themselves. I was too scared to even hold one.

A big part in me, changed when I found out there was a life growing inside of me. While growing up, I had to beat my brains out to maintain the rat’s nest growing on my head and ensure the nail paint stays well within its boundary. “What kind of a mother will I be?” I would imagine and feel sorry for my future daughter with messy ponytails. I often had nightmares. But thankfully, I was blessed with a son. And soon I realised it comes with additional responsibilities!!

As the maternal instincts started to kick in, I made a mission to learn new things in those nine months. I learnt cooking and read tons of articles about babies and child psychology. During those nine months, many women rubbed my growing round belly and threw in some great, not so great advices. It often sounded like, “If you do ….. your child will grow up like mine.”. Most of the times, my brains would go “ok!! I don’t like your children.” I was confused all the time.

Society looks with disdain on moms who don’t do everything perfectly. After the child is born, for most of the women its a dark, lonely, scary, and uncertain time. And of course the guilt creeps in when the journey is a little far from perfect ! 

I was given a big fat ‘F’ in this course called motherhood because my son was a little skinny (not underweight) and wasn’t fair (he had a wheatish complexion).

It went on till my son began to understand the words. I would fill with rage when few so called ‘cultured’ women, spoke about my son’s appearance in front of him.

Then I decided to take things in my hands. I never answered back to them. Instead I started telling my son stories of Nelson Mandela and racism. I engrained in his mind the concept of unconditional love and respect. I taught him the importance of good heart and an open mind over a superficial appearance.

My Sweetest Child !!

Once, over the dinner table, there was a comment passed by an elder about a woman looking older than her age. Jokes were made and after reaching home, my six year old son asked me, “Mummy, was that the correct way to talk about some ones appearance? I think that was very rude.”, I was proud. I knew I had done something right.

All the labels and grade, I was put in, suddenly disappeared and I hugged him very tight. He is naughty and does pick up fights in school. He is a regular boy and I let him be. He can become brutally honest sometimes. Well, I am working on that.

Since then, there have been numerous occasions where my son took me by surprise. Another incident took place when my friend came home with her daughter. She wanted to leave early, when I insisted her to stay a little longer she said, “My husband is going to yell at me if I am late”. After she left, my son said, “Durga maa (a Hindu Goddess) is going to be very upset with her husband”. He remembered the stories I would tell him about how women should be respected and their place in the society. He respects the fact that I work and appreciates me for my achievements. I never shy away from apologising to him when I do something wrong. So he is never afraid to tell the truth.

We cannot protect our children all the time. They will come across such atrocities at every turn as they grow up. I tell him stories about lot of different concepts. It does take time to frame the right words but in the end it is worth it.  I refrain from using adjectives like pretty, fair or slim. I don’t read him books where women are only pretty and men are only strong. I teach him to assess more and judge less.

I cannot change the world, but I can groom a boy to become a man with wisdom and do my part as a mother. 

Cookie Memories

To unwind, after numerous attempts to achieve the sales target, my team and I would go for chai and poha in the late afternoon. On an usual afternoon, we stepped out of the office building to find a new place set up just outside the premises.  ‘Shivis’ read the brand new board. The beautiful paintings on the lilac walls were so inviting. The place looked expensive but, we wanted to give it a try.

After all, how much a plate of poha could cost!” We thought to ourselves.

We entered and ordered our normal snack. Poha and a cutting chai !! We saw a middle aged man with a huge head full of dark hair reading a book at the cash counter. I couldn’t help notice the lines on his face. It seemed like, each line, spoke a different story of his days, sang a different song of his victory. I squinted to see the title of the book, “The Wealth of Nations”. I remembered reading the book in college.
I went up to speak to him. “Hello” I said.
He replied with a smile, “Hi.. How may I help?”.

His voice was heavy and his speech had a slight accent. “I love the book you are reading.” I said. 

“Oh its my favourite too. I love the author’s outlook about the modern economics. It makes sense even in today’s world.” We ended up having a very long chat about our favourite books and movies.
This man is a delight.” I thought to myself.

Days went by, ‘Vishal Bhaiya’ and I became great pals. He was once married to his high school sweetheart named Shivani. He opened this place for the love of his wife. But the marriage didn’t last for more than 6 years.

My friends found our friendship to be bizarre because of the age difference. From my experience I can say one thing for sure, friendships with older and younger people help broaden your perspective. From elders, you will always get great advices, because more likely than not – they’ve already experienced them.

We would have our meals together. To my surprise, he was a wonderful chef. He learnt baking in his 20’s. He baked the best chocolate fudge cupcake, I ever tasted. He taught me how to bake cookies and he ate my half burnt cookies with the same zeal. I knew I was evolving personally and emotionally.

Many times, I saw him popping colourful pills from a box. I never thought of inquiring about it. Once after lunch, I just blurted the words,

“Are those multivitamins to keep you younger”, followed by a hysterical laughter.    

“Oh! these, are just to keep me alive a little longer”, he said with a wide grin on his pale face.

 I couldn’t really process that information. My laughter turned to a distraught expression. 

“I have been wanting to tell you this from a long time now”, as he started to speak, I knew I didn’t want to hear the words that followed. 

“I am HIV positive”. 

My heart stopped and I found myself rooted to my chair. I found out that he had come to terms with his imminent death. His calm and cool look, concealed his pain and the fact he was shunned by his friends and family after the virus was detected. His grieving wife, left when she could not handle the pressure of being married to an HIV patient.

Stigma of this virus has its own pathway; it starts with labelling, separation, status loss, and ends up in discrimination. To see the HIV stigma flaunt itself in the mainstream – after so much effort, and so many years dedicated to overcoming it – is depressing indeed. People are facing social ostracism, while many are increasingly facing the situation with fortitude and courage.The virus turned off his immunity but the society, made him immune to love and care. But one thing I know for sure, the kindness that resided in his heart, made him forgive everyone. 

Death of a friend is like losing a limb. The pain and the anguish goes away after a while, but the feeling of loss still lingers forever. Sometimes, it feels like you’ll never get over the grief. It can feel all-encompassing. It’s funny to think, that best friends attend each other’s birthday, anniversary but never the funeral. 

Sometime friends separate due to job priorities, family etc. But when they see each other after a long time, the conversations start right, where you left the last time. For true friendships, the connection isn’t very difficult to reset. 

My friend left me behind. In my case, I wish I could unpause the silence. I looked for him in the crowded places. I knew it was impossible, but grief, is never governed by logic. The misery often takes away the happy memories, but is it worth it? I needed closure. It took some time but I, came up with a copping mechanism. I cherished every memory of his, I celebrate his birthday every year since then and I tried to become more like him. The scar he left behind is deep and so was the bond we shared.

But I will always carry his love and all that he taught me in my heart. How lucky am I to have someone, who make goodbyes so hard!!

A Soldier’s Agony

For an unemployed boy from a  poor family, it isn’t about ‘having a career’ or having a five year plan. It is about getting a job that pays well. The Indian Army provides such an opportunity to young men, who need not be highly educated but should be physically fit.

No soldier was ever born a patriot. The training they go through completely changes their outlook. The boys become stronger and focused men. This manhood exposes the fissure between philosophy and the truth. The cracks in this masonry of reality gets filled with the grout of love for the nation first, then the fellow men and lastly his own life. 

A boy who was raised with love is now in a war. The tourniquet is dripping red and fatigue in every inch of his body. This deracinated being, is now emotionally detached. He possesses the raw power to face the danger with grace, to follow every command and protect the motherland. He has to kill. He has to serve. And if at all he survives, has to feed his family back home. A soldier never kills a man, he eliminates a possible threat to his nation.

To honour these men, there are dedicated monuments, movies and many printed pages. Very often some candle marches are organised too.

Then what? What next?

The soldier climbs down the mountains where he once sprawled from exhaustion, to the society we call our homes. He finds people of his country fighting and arguing over issues like religion, language and caste.

My father adorned stars and our national emblem on his shoulders. I have not stayed in one place for more than 2 years. I have spent my childhood in more than 8 states with all different languages. My mother has collected handicrafts from all over the country and her recipe book has recipes for mutton rogan josh to vangi bhaat, from dhokla to rosogolla and the Assamese dish, fish tenge. In the process, it didn’t make sense to love just one state, speak just one language and embrace just one culture.

But, today when I attend the parties where the polished educated lot, sit with their champagne glasses, I am judged more than often for not knowing the local language and a few call me an outsider. Am I an outsider in the country for which my father went to the battlefield?

I have an eight years old son. He knows about the Bhagwan Gita, the Holy Quran and a little about Jesus and Guru Nanak ji too. I wish he grows in society where he is not questioned about his caste or what language he speaks. I wish he is celebrated for his kindness and not his financial status. I don’t want him to go to a foreign university because I want to be sure that opportunities are present in my country. For freedom of opportunity is the foundation for all other freedoms. 

Many warriors have bled to keep our country safe. But if our thoughts don’t change, every soldier who died ; died for nothing. Every sacrifices made are in vain. Mothers lost their sons for whom? For us, who are too busy vandalising the country’s property in the name of religion. Let’s make a nation where we are able to live happily and prosper together because we belong together. Let’s make the world of that limbless soldier or that war widow a better place and making their sacrifice worth it.

Because It Was You.. Part 3

After Mukul left, the room was painfully silent except for the sound of my beating heart. He left me with words that kept wandering in my head. In the weekend, with not much to do at home, I kept thinking about the last few weeks of knowing him, spending time with him and figuring out this guy, who was so adamant to reboot my heart. We never spent any time alone. Every evening our little gang would go to the park and sit on the those wet muddy benches and just talk. Looking at the bamboo trees shining in the evening glow, we all had chai, served by a withered and ragged woman, in her rusty kettle with a half broken spout. She could scare all the notorious children in the park. Those little spaces in time created by teatime rituals were filled with conversation about our lives, dreams and ambitions.

Anger is the mother of all sins. It not only eats away the real you, but effects the people around us too. I was angry. I was angry all the time. I was angry at God, angry at him for breaking my heart and most of all, I was angry at myself. Now, I was not a “typical girl” if there even is such a thing. I loved myself. Sure, there were things I wanted to improve, but I didn’t have a problem with what my body looked like or my personality. I was focused. But then I found myself lost in a long trench. I would ask myself, “For a guy?”. It did take time, but then I was prepared to cautiously pull myself up.

Sunday afternoon, I had a very good time with my family. I kept playing scenes in my head about the next day. I envisioned myself making an impassioned speech to Mukul about how my emotions were messy and I had tucked it in the bottom like my least favourite shirt. I had no idea, the rack, was soon going to stumble. I also thought of the speech I would give Varun when I see him in Pune. I wanted to tell him, that he was not going to get away with stumbling over my pride and crushing my spirits. For a long time, after the fight, he asked for my forgiveness.

There is no calendar to define an old end or to mark a new beginning. There are big or small events that give us hope. What’s more important is that, we should stop looking for our beginnings and happy endings. We usually let go. But amid all the crap, there are certain things that are worth holding on to. I remembered one beautiful evening, as we walked through the park with our Chai, a light drizzle began to fall. I pulled out an umbrella from my bag and Mukul pulled up his hood and hunched his shoulders. The cream coloured hood was stained with Chai and his brylcreemed hair was a mess. But he still looked flawless with all the gentleness in his eyes. We all walked to kaku’s cafe to finish our daily dose of chit chats. “ Do you ever wonder why things have to turn out the way they do?” He suddenly asked gave a big smile and answered his own question before I could say anything. “Because its all destined. It was destiny, that I found you.” Was I so naive to understand his feelings that day !! I cannot adequately describe the intensity of what I was feeling at that moment.

Next morning, I was all prepared to talk to him. I needed a reason. I needed a sign that things will be okay! I just needed something to happen. As I reached work, it was all a big mess. There was no time to sit and talk. The event was in 15 days and everyone were working day and night. So was Mukul. I saw the excitement in his face. This project could make or break his career. I only had 8 more days to get all my work done before leaving for Pune. Mukul was mostly out meeting the sponsors and I was stuck at my desk, busy writing speeches for everyone. But a few times we crossed path and when he saw me, I blushed like an idiot. I don’t know if actually things were this crazy, or I just made it to seem that way. I was scared. May be this was the sign. Two days left for me to go to Mumbai and Pune, and yet there was no talk. After careful consideration and many sleepless nights, here’s what I decided to do.., I called Varun. He picked up the call and said “Hi”, with a dandy voice. Few months back, all my calls went unanswered because apparently he was always in the library.

I said, very firmly, “I am coming to Mumbai in three days for a meeting”. There was a complete silence for a while. “Can we meet?” , I could sense an inquisitiveness in his voice. “Sure” I said. “I have to leave for Pune, as soon as I land in Mumbai. The first meeting is scheduled in Pune.” I informed him my plans and I made sure he knew, there was not much time in my hand. He interrupted me saying, “I will be there in the Mumbai airport. We can travel to Pune together. We can talk in the bus. I can get all the college forms you wanted.” I agreed to the plan and I kept the phone down.

The last morning before leaving, I saw Mukul through the glass door of the conference room. He looked better than I remembered and I remembered him a lot in the last few days. He was sitting alone so I went in. I gathered all the courage my heart could possibly hold and said, “I am leaving tomorrow evening”. He looked up straight into my eyes and there was no talking. He got up and walked towards me. I wanted to tell him my thoughts, but the sound of his voice suddenly silenced the emotions inside me. “You are not going anywhere. This is where you belong..!.” He held my hands close to his chest. “I know you are scared. Listen to your heart. This is a small battle, before you go in, better decide how much you’re willing to lose. Go there, take your time and I promise you will always find me next to you.” Well, he lied.. Eventually, he did leave me alone, even after I won the battle. I lost him to an illness and the void still exists.

PART 4… Coming On August 20. Stay tuned!!

Is that your goodbye !!

Every now and then, comes a storm. The trees get uprooted, the windows are shattered, roofs are blown off, the birds lose their home and we are left in darkness. Bad things happen !! We have to move past it. We need to leave it behind, sooner the better. Or else, it is going to eat away at you and stop you from moving forward.

A failed business, unsatisfied parents and a broken relationship are basic triggers that have made a few people lift a blade and mark their body with a scar. In my profession, I get a chance to interact with lot of young minds. I usually love these moments because I learn about the human psyche. However, hearing about the suicide attempts by an intelligent, promising young girl, set a gray tone I couldn’t shake. She expressed a continued “sense of loneliness,” and some days suicidal.

Suicide in teens is usually correlated with factors such as depression; anxiety; school pressures and exposure to violence, trauma, mass media and cyberbullying. Even television has been suggested as an influencing factor. After the release Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a show about a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves behind the 13 reasons she did it, Hannah Baker was a name I heard a lot in the usual chit chat in between my class sessions. Since I wasn’t aware of the show, one day I intervened in a very serious conversation happening within some students about it. When I heard about the theme of the show, I was taken aback. Not because I found the theme atrocious, but because my teenage students were actually justifying the reasons of the suicide. One said to me, “Ma’am, she didn’t have a choice. You have to see it to understand”.

I didn’t utter a word. I read the plot of the show online. I did feel sorry about Hannah Baker, but I certainly did not find my Hero in her. Not somebody I would look upto. May be I would copy her hairstyle. Life gives you 1300 reasons to give up. We struggle and moan. We end up hurting ourselves with the fear within us.

I was slut shamed in college, was made fun of because of my frizzy hair, was body shamed by relatives in a family gathering and failed in my catering business. It ripped me apart for a long time. After a while, I remember not worrying.

Hope is recurrent thing for me. No matter what happens it will creep in back into my life and give me a reason. It feels good to get rid of things. I feel powerful to strip down all that crap to first survive, and then, thrive. I love to try harder when the barriers are a little higher and the odds are low.

After all the destruction that has happened and the winds have hushed, the rain has stopped, the sun will still come to give you hope. You will have your silent moments to pick up the broken pieces after which, you will emerge stronger than ever.