CA Results Were Announced, And I Went Back In Time

This is a picture of Chartered Accountancy (“CA”) exam results. These are not my results. I qualified a long time ago. This is just something I found on Google.

What triggered this post?

CA results were announced recently. Some people I knew passed the exam this time and became a Chartered Accountant. I congratulated them. But I could not help but feel sad for the ones who did not pass. It also transported me back to time to my own CA days. The time spent in preparing for the exams, studying close to 12-15 hours a day. For the benefit of those who do not know, CA exams are very tough to clear and they are conducted in three levels. The passing percentage is very low.

This picture is of the website where results are declared. This screen, this colour combination, the buzz around the expected date of results, it all still gives me the horrors. I still have nightmares that I have failed the exams although it has been years since I passed.

What was it like to fail?

How hopeless I had felt! How I felt like I would be able to achieve nothing in life! I felt like it defined me. I felt like I was a loser. When you fail an exam you also think of all the sacrifices you make to study and how it all becomes a waste. The times that I could have been out, partying, enjoying, traveling was spent in isolation in books and what did I get in return?

Some people around me qualified before me. It hurt. I also wondered what would happen if I never qualify? What if it was just not meant to be?

How I look back in time

I used to be stressed during that phase of life. I was living alone in Bombay.   I had a job in a Big Four company where people took pride at leaving at 1 am 2 am on a daily basis. I was living in a PG accommodation.  I did not have a lot of friends. I was not a star at work. I was probably nothing. I was struggling.

But when I look back at that time now, I look back with fondness. I think about things now which I did not think meant anything then.

How I shampooed my hair in the morning so that my curly hair looked good

How I bought my first matt lip gloss from my salary which Kareena Kapoor advertised for

How I wore branded shirts and skirts, and kurtas. I loved my formal wear collection

How I wore sneakers for the commute in the local train and how I changed to heels in office

How I went to Carter Road and enjoyed a Frankie

How I went to Juhu Chowpatti and had pao bhaji

How I went to Bandra linking road and did street shopping

How everyone in the city was always running around. It was so vibrant.

How I was so thin when I started articleship and how chubby I became by the time I was living alone eating from ‘dabbas’

How I travelled overnight on Fridays even though my father didn’t like me night travelling, just so that I could see my parents Saturday morning

I was lonely. But then there was the sea…

The sea… It was calm. It was infinite. Sometimes it got wild… But is was always there. It remained despite everything it endured….

But when I look back today, I feel good.

I feel good because it was a part of my youth. My precious youth. A precious part of my precious life.

Why I say it is the not the same anymore

I am older. I have lost interest in the things I did that time.

Shampoo hair in the morning? Nah! Too much effort! I do it after work. Who cares about my hair anyway? I know ways to hide it…

I can go to a big restaurant and order more expensive food. But there was something satisfying about having a small lunch and saving money. Saving money for something big….. Surely life must have something bigger and better to offer in the future right?

There was something about that time.. The time when you are full of dreams. Full of hope. When you thought your life could be so much more…

What I want to say to the students who did not pass the exam

Should you try try until you succeed? Should you give up? If you leave, all the time and effort you invested will be wasted. But if you keep trying and it still doesn’t happen then what? Isn’t is wiser to move on to something else?

It is quite a dilemma. And it applies not just to CA exams but to other competitive exams also. It even applies to other things in life.

Should you try more because you already tried so much?

Should you not try anymore because you already tried so much?

Are you closer to success than you think? But what is success anyway? 

I would like to say this to all the students who didn’t pass this time

  • Pursue your dream. But remember that your dream will change with time as you change. And that’s okay
  • There is always a tradeoff in life. Everything comes at a cost.
  • Don’t wait for you to pass to enjoy your life. You will never be 21 again. Or 25. Or 33. Or even 58. Your life is happening now. And you are missing out on it.
  • No one thing defines your life. When one opportunity closes, another one opens. You just have to be positive and remain open minded.
  • No matter what happens, you always have the power to change your life. Only you have the power. Yes you will go through the cycle of bad exam results, bad appraisals, heartbreak, humiliation, hurt but you will make it.

It also got me thinking… In my 20s I thought it was not that great, but when I look back now, I wish I was more relaxed. I could have done so many things.

I will probably feel the same when I look back at my 30s that it could have been so much more….

I think we all owe it ourselves to make our lives better. I wont say be happy, because honestly I don’t know how to just be happy. It sounds like a forcible action, when it is instead just a nudge to take that one step that you are afraid to take for fear of unknown. Maybe the better way to say it is don’t wait for anything great or different or drastic to happen for you to do something that you want to do.

Time runs out…. Good or bad this is the only life we have…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Dreams And A Thought

Dream 1

Few days ago, I was tensed about something at work.

It was not such a big deal, yet I was nervous. The night before, I dreamt that I was going somewhere in a car, and my late Dadi was sitting with me. Except that there was not one Dadi, but two Dadis! One was old Dadi, the way she was before she passed away, the way I remember her. The other one was a younger Dadi, the one I have seen in pictures. (She may have been that young when I was a child, but somehow my memory of her now is the way she was in her last decade).

Now, the two Dadis were dropping me off to school! Yes. Not office, but school!! It was like a Sports Day or something! Anyway, when I looked at the older Dadi, I remembered that she was no more. So I asked the younger Dadi, “Didn’t we bury her?”

Then the older Dadi replied. “Yes you did. But whenever you need me, I will always be there.”

Dadi was quite cheerful and playful the way she usually was. It was a strange dream. But a happy dream! Two Dadis! One young, one old. Dropping a 30 something me to school! And why did I say bury when it should have been cremated? Dreams are not supposed to be logical. But the takeaway was clear.  

Dadi will always be with me when I need her.

When I woke up I realized that maybe I was so stressed about the work thing,  (or stressed in general) that Dadi had to come in my dream to tell me everything will be okay.

Dream 2

I dreamt that a relative of mine had passed away, and her portrait was lying with us on a study table. I could not see the portrait as it was facing the wall. But it was assumed that it was of the relative. My father informed the spouse of the relative that the person has passed away.

The spouse was distraught. But he said he would not be able to travel / attend anything. This was strange because the relative and spouse live together in another city, and my father in a different city. Why would the spouse be required to travel when the couple lived together?

Like the first dream, this dream was quite low on logic.

Anyway, I was feeling sad that the dear relative had passed away. I was trying to wonder why the spouse could not travel. In between somewhere the spouse was informing the children.

Then, suddenly the portrait was turned. It was not a portrait of the relative. It was a portrait of me! (There is a large print canvas print of my photo in my wedding attire, which my husband had got done for my birthday two years ago). It was the same picture.

It was then that I realized that it was not the relative who had died, it was me! Then it all made sense. My father being the one informing. The relative unable to travel…

Just then, I saw Dadi smiling and holding her arms out to welcome me. She looked happy. The smile was big because she was wearing her denture in the dream (which she wore for a very brief period in her life)! The dream ended.

Of course this was a very creepy dream. But there was something so nice  about her smile – so genuine and full of love.  As if  it’ll not just be okay, but in fact great!!

When I woke up, I had a thought:

Everybody who goes has someone very close, very dear on the other side.

Maybe someone who has been waiting for long.

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In Loving Memory Of My Brother-In-Law (Devar)

Some people enter our lives and we feel like we have known them forever. My brother-in-law (husband’s cousin) was one of them. I met him at my wedding, which happened three years ago.

I cannot believe I have known him for only three years.

I grew up watching movies like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun so of course, I was very happy to have a devar and someone calling me Bhabhi. He was the most affectionate devar I could ask for.

In this time and age, everybody is busy. Even people who are not busy pretend to be busy. But he called and messaged me regularly. He sent voice messages. He even stayed in touch with my parents, my sister, my Jeejaji and my aunts and uncles. He remembered everybody’s birthdays not just in his family but my family too, and was one of the first people to call. He had created a group called, ‘Tannu di family’ which had my side of the family. He called me Didi sometimes.

Maybe he also felt that I was more like a Didi, like his cousins who he grew up with.

One time, he randomly dialled a WhatsApp call on the group he had created with my family members. A video call that too! We were all caught off guard. Some were finishing dinner. Some were in the kitchen. Some were watching TV wearing a nightie. But everybody picked up.  He was excited to see us all. The call went on for quite some time. A pleasant surprise. He loved bringing people together. It was some time last year, when zoom calls had become so popular, and everybody would send an invite to log in. Everybody would look for a weekend ‘slot’ when people would be free, sometimes coordinating people from different time zones. He simply picked up the phone and called on the group!

It is that easy to talk to people!

He made his presence felt. He was not like most people we meet today – full of ego. People who hesitate to call because they feel why should I. Or worse – people who keep track of who called the last time, who said what, who did what etc. He was innocent and child-like! He introduced himself to new people. He was just happy talking to people. He loved posting pictures of himself. He named all his albums ‘fun times’.

He was that simple. Or that special!

He was about to get vaccinated the day he ended up going for the covid test. He wanted to post his picture taking the vaccine the way he had seen others. I was texting him throughout the time he was in the hospital. He replied he was weak but he kept asking about everyone in my family. I kept saying:

Come Home Soon.

He had been in the hospital before. He has had surgeries before. I did not know him then, but I had seen his photos and heard stories. I was hoping this would be like that too. He would be back and post pictures and tell stories. I did not call him while he was in the hospital, although I texted regularly. I thought he would be weak so its better not to make him talk. I thought I would call him once he comes home.

Everything becomes a story. It doesn’t matter how bad things are, as long as you are alive to tell your story. You have survived! The difference between a story and a tragedy is just that, one breath.

Few days ago before he had got covid, he had shared a status of how we should not hold grudges against anyone, we should be kind to everyone. Who knows when it would be the last time when we speak to someone? My husband read that message and said, ‘Why is he getting all senti?’

This is what cousins are supposed to do. They are supposed to make fun of each other. Laugh together. Tease each other. Fight. Make up. Have fun.

Nobody is supposed to give an obituary of a cousin so young!

Even as I write this, I feel he was too good for this world. I had heard that God takes the best. I saw it happen. But I cannot help but think, and I know it is not a nice thing to say, but there are many bad people in the world who God could have taken.

Why him!

When my husband wished him on his birthday last year, he said Bhabhi already wished me! She already called in the morning! I was telling my husband, I can imagine him saying Bhabhi wrote an article about me! He would have been proud.

How I wish that I was posting something else. He got married. He got a car. Doesn’t matter. Anything. But this.

There are stories of tragedy everywhere. In 2020 we had thought that we have almost dealt with covid.  March 2021, the horror began. I dread to think there could be a third wave.

Is this the beginning of the end?

I want to say stay home. Stay safe. But people have been staying home and yet the virus has gone inside the homes, pulled them out of their homes into the hospitals and they have not got a chance to go back home, even one last time. The isolation and loneliness of this illness in addition to its suddenness makes it truly horrific.

I don’t want to say rest in peace, or he is in a better place. He wanted to be right here! He was a happy guy! He had a lot of time left before he needed to rest! I don’t know how to end this article. This is an unspeakable tragedy. There is nothing right about this.

Why should I find the right words?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horror That 2021 Is…

 

I had written ‘lockdown’ posts in 2020. Lockdown 1, lockdown 2, lockdown 3, lockdown 4 and so on. These posts revolved around sanitizing milk packets, Maggi not being available in the market,  Zoom calls with family as boredom relief and complaining about doing housework without maids.

March 2020, my parents and so many other people their age received their first dose of vaccine. Maa Papa should stay home for another three months after getting the second dose, to be on the safer side. Sister should be able to visit from the US during niece’s summer vacation. I will start working from office….

The worst is over…This is what we all had thought.

Now, when I look back at my posts from 2020, I feel they were such a joke. What can we say of the past month and half? Numbers became people we knew. Covid hit home. And it hit hard.  People have died even when they did not have Covid. There are horror stories everywhere. In 2021, people just seem to die!  With the blink of an eye! Age is no bar. Fitness is not bar. People old and young have died.

I witnessed the first cremation of my life in February at my grandmother’s death. Yes, I was very  lucky to have seen something so devastating only at an ‘older’ age of someone old. But it has given me a whole new sense of perspective when I hear of someone’s death. Earlier I would think of the loss. The pain of not seeing your loved one ever again. The realization that you would never hear their voice, never hold them and never feel them again. The only way this nightmare would end is with your own death. Not anytime before that.

But now when I hear someone has died, and we are hearing so much now it’s almost unbelievable, the first thought that comes to my mind is that they have to deal with the ‘body’. Such a horrible term. Such a painful procedure. Such long rituals. Such empty 13 days or 4 days.

And yet to think that even that has become a privilege?

I watched the movie, ‘Ram Prasad Ki Terahvi’ and ‘Paglait’ recently. Both were good. My take here on the movies is death, nothing else. I don’t think any other movies have captured the ‘days that follow’. In Paglait, the mother talks about obtaining the death certificate of her son.  A death certificate of course has legal significance. But it is again such a painful thing – A piece of paper that states something so brutal. As if you don’t already know! The landscape of your entire life has changed! You do not need a piece of paper reminding you of it!

Back in February at the time of grandmother’s death, I was thinking that if someone dies, you should be able to close your eyes and not do anything for a long, long time. What you are getting is a lifelong punishment anyway. You should be allowed to shut your self down. There should not be any ‘body’, any rituals, any legal obligations, any funerals to be planned, any  anything. But then again, if you could wish for something, wouldn’t you wish that the death itself did not happen…

As a child, I went to a Catholic convent. We prayed before every ‘period’.   I was into the habit of praying before going to sleep at night. I prayed for the well-being of my family. My family was my father, mother, sister and me. I used to worry about my grandmother because she had to worry about so many people – her four children, their spouses, and their two kids each. Sixteen people is a lot to pray for!

I also had some concepts around death. Like if a whole family dies in a plane crash, that is not so bad. But if a person dies alone leaving behind a whole family that is bad. I used to reason that if at all there must be a concept of death, there should be some logic to it. Like people should die in families. Or there should be some pain / sadness threshold that should determine who should die. Bad people should die first. Death should make some sense!

I remember when I was very young, my father’s friend’s daughter (barely 14-15 years old) who went to my school died by suicide.   My father who visited the family the same day told me that Uncle looked so broken that he was afraid that Uncle may have a heart attack and die too. I immediately put my logic in place and thought that if the young girl and Uncle are both gone, how will Aunty and the other sister live? All of them should be gone… But wait.. what about the parents of Uncle and Aunty? Surely they should not be made to survive this? What about their siblings?

Someone has rightly said. Nobody dies alone.

People are changing jobs. People are getting married. People are having babies. I don’t know how any of that is happening. All I do is manage to get up in the morning, feel scared to look at my phone, skip a heartbeat when I receive any call or a message, somehow function through the day, pray before sleeping and go to bed only to have nightmares.

If there is a God, please have mercy!

Rest in Peace Dadi.

Some two weeks ago

I was reading a book about grief. It was written by a woman who lost her husband and her son within a span of 10 months. The author who was a spiritual person  shared her thoughts on moments before death, death itself and coping with it.

The author said that people who are about to die, or in a coma do understand everything that we say. She narrated the time when her mother-in-law was very sick and in terrible pain. The doctors had given up on her. Yet, she was surviving, days after days. Months after months. She asked the frail woman, why she does not want to be relieved of her pain. The mother-in-law told her that she was worried about her son who loves her so much, and would not be able to manage without her.  The author told her that her son was grown up and capable of taking care of himself.

‘He will be fine.  It is okay for you to let go..’ She assured her.  The mother-in-law passed soon after.

The author narrated similar incidents with her grandparents. People who had been sick for a while, clinging on to life. How she held their hands, and told them it is okay to let go.  The people left behind will be fine.

While I was reading, I thought of my Dadi (grandmother) who is 89 years old.  She has been critically ill in the past five years, but she always bounced back.  Doctors have termed it as a miracle. A thought came to my mind.

Nobody ever told Dadi she could let go. No one held her hand and told her she would be fine. We would be fine. She was a woman who lost her husband when she was 36, leaving behind four young children. How could she let go? She knew she was all they had. She knew she had to take care of them single-handedly.  

Three days after I had this thought, I came to know that Dadi (living with my uncle and aunt in another city) was critical  and in the ICU.

“It’s all my fault.” I told my husband. “You know, I had this thought, I put it in the universe and  somehow it  reached Dadi, and now she is ready to let go.”

I don’t know why we ordinary mortals think we are powerful enough to determine life and death. But in such situations we do. I was full of regret. I prayed to God that Dadi should not suffer.

Dadi was discharged from the hospital the next day. A miracle yet again.

1st February 2021: The premonition

I called my husband at the regular lunch time. He disconnected the call. This is usual because he always disconnects when he is in a meeting. I fell asleep in the afternoon,  feeling very tired all of a sudden. When I woke up there was a missed call from my husband and a message, ‘Kahan ho?’.  My parents had also left a message, saying that my husband had called them saying that I was not picking up the phone and he was worried.

Now, this is highly unlikely of my husband.  He doesn’t worry so easily. This is the kind of thing I would do.  I called him back. He said that he thought that there was some news of Dadi, and I was driving to my parents and that is why I did not pick his call.

“Dadi is fine.. Don’t worry,” I told him.

“Yeah… I just got this feeling that something happened to Dadi, and you were trying to tell me but I missed your call. That is why I called Papa to get a sense of things.” He said.

“Dadi is getting better actually!”

“Hmm.. Dadi the warrior.”

One hour later, we got the news that Dadi had breathed her last.

Who was my Dadi

I have blogged about Dadi before.. Dadi was born into a family where all babies died shortly after birth. With no surviving children in the family, the distraught expecting parents went to visit a Pandit. The Pandit suggested that the child should be named, ‘Ram’ then only it would survive. So even though Dadi was a girl, she was named Ram in the hope that she would live.

‘Ram’ survived. Being the only child in the entire family, she was pampered by all. She attended a reputed convent, she was good at studies, and was married to a boy who in her own words “was very handsome, much better looking than her”. She had four children and they were living a good life until her husband passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Dadi was 36.

Dadi’s mother, and her Chachi who had raised her could not accept the shock of seeing their young child as a widow. They both died within a year too.  Dadi had lost her husband,  her mother, and her Chachi, her three most beloved within 12 months.

Being a widow, she was denied eating non-vegetarian food, something she loved.   Of course, colours were denied too and she had to wear plain clothes.  The grief was immense. But Dadi was a warrior. With the support of her father-in-law, she completed her M.A. and B.Ed. She got herself a job as a Professor in Psychology and went on to teach till her retirement. She was well-respected by all. Her four children did well professionally, got married and had families.

Dadi became an inspiration of strength and courage.

What Dadi meant to me

This part is hard to explain. I have spent a significant part of my life living with my parents, and so has Dadi. My father retired from a transferable job, and there were numerous times that my father and mother travelled for my father’s job, or to meet my sister, or to attend a wedding or for any other work.  They always left me with Dadi.  Dadi and Tanu. Tanu and Dadi.  We were a team.

I have shared rooms with Dadi on vacations. She is the person with whom I have lived the longest after my parents.  I watched movies with her that I could not watch with my parents.  I showed her pictures of boys  and she rated them in looks. She was my partner in crime. She was my friend.

In fact, when I finally started living on my own in Bombay, it was very tough for me. I was lonely. I wished why couldn’t it be like earlier, that if my parents could not stay with me, at least Dadi could. I literally dreamt of Dadi living with me in my PG in Bombay!!

I have inherited a lot of my traits from Dadi.

Wearing clothes ulta in a hurry.

Taking out 3-5 clothes from the wardrobe before going out. Rejecting them one by one. Leaving them all crumpled and unfolded.

Checking the gas stove again before leaving the house, checking the purse to make sure the phone is there.

Washing the dishes again before using even though the maid has cleaned it.

The obsession with ‘running water’. Dadi could never take a bath from water lying in a bucket.

Washing the feet every time you come home from anywhere

Fearing that any electrical appliances are capable of catching fire unguarded while you are sleeping alone at home

Sitting on the dining chair with the legs folded up when with family.  But the moment a guest arrived, the ability to transform into a sideways, cross legged stylish posture as if a more sophisticated person did not exist.

Lying in her room, complaining about leg pain or stomach pain, and being ‘low’. But when guests come over, her face lights up and she gets excited.  She talks, she laughs,  she jokes and loves telling stories.

Since the time I have got married, I have realized we have even more similarities. Dadi was never interested in household work.  She liked to read the newspaper, and do jumble words and crosswords. She was very sharp and  until few years ago, I had given her an article of mine to edit and she found mistakes in it that I had missed.

Once when I was in school I was watching ‘Roadies’ auditions on television. It was the coolest thing that time. It had  inappropriate content though (for that age).  My father overheard something (abuse words) and told me I should not  watch such rubbish shows. Throwing the typical attitude of a teenager, I switched off the TV, started crying and ran to my room.

Dadi witnessed the entire incident. She later went to my father and told him that all kids watch ‘Roody’. She said that she has stayed with my uncles and aunts and their kids also watch Roody. She told my father that he cannot scold me for something that all kids my age do, and that it just a matter of generation gap.

That was my Dadi. She always supported me.

One time, I think back when I was in 12th grade,  Dadi and I were home alone.   My parents were in another city for some work.  Knowing that we were by ourselves, a lady from the society, the wife of my dad’s colleague came over to our house with home-cooked chicken roast for me.  The Aunty was from Andhra Pradesh and she could not speak or understand Hindi. Dadi knows English very well but she did not have much English speaking practice.  I had to leave for tuitions, after introducing Dadi and Aunty. I thought it would be interesting to know what they talked about with the language gap.

When I returned, I asked Dadi how it went with Aunty. “She left just some half an hour back. Dadi replied. “Oh, she stayed for so long!” I was surprised. I thought Aunty must  have left within 10 minutes.

“She must have thought I am some old, dumb budhiya but when she started talking to me, she realized how knowledgeable I am. She was so impressed with me that she stayed.” Dadi said with a lot of swag and a big smile.

That was my Dadi. She was intelligent. She knew it. She took pride in it.

Three years ago, my friends from work had come home for Holi lunch. I took them to Dadi’s room. One of them was about to get married.  I introduced the friend to Dadi as the ‘bride to be’. The first thing Dadi said was not Congratulations. Instead she asked her, “Padhai likhai complete ki ho ki nahi?”  The rest of us burst out laughing.

Another time, my parents had hosted lunch following some puja and lots of women from the society were invited. Dadi was not keeping well that time.   I had come directly from work and was wondering if Dadi was still in her room. To my surprise, as soon as I entered the house, I saw a group of very entertained women crowded around a beaming Dadi, listening intently to her stories.  Dadi was sitting in her sophisticated, cross legged posture reserved for outsiders.

She asked one of the ladies randomly. “Tum kya karti ho?”

The lady replied, “Dadiji main job nahi karti hoon. Ghar ke kaam mein hi time nikal jata hai.”

Dadi told her, “Dono karna chahiye. Maine bhi to kiya itne saal.”  This immediately triggered a discussion among the women about ‘SAHM vs working moms’. Dadi was enjoying the attention and her ability to stay relevant in conversations with people four to five decades apart from her.

Dadi was especially fond of my husband. She called him, ‘mera bauwa’ (bauwa meaning baby). Babies in Bihar are called bauwa but as they grow up,  they are referred to by their actual names. Dadi was the only one who continued to refer to all her grandchildren as bauwa.

 

In the last two years, Dadi was not keeping well. Whenever I would visit my parents, I would go to her room.

“Mera bauwa bhi aaya hai?” She would inquire about my husband.

“Abhi nahi Dadi. Humko lene aayenge.” I would respond.

“Theek hai, humko bata dena to hum ayenge.”

She would continue to lie down in bed, save her energy and come to the living room once my husband arrived. While in her room, she would only be complaining ‘pet dard, par dard, dawa de do.’ But once in the living room, seeing him she would  transform into a very bubbly, lively, pleasant person who would talk, joke, laugh and tell stories.

Nobody will call me bauwa ever again

Throughout the years that I was doing C.A. , I stayed up all night to study. Dadi would get up in the middle of the night at least 3-4 times to use the washroom. She would see me awake.

Tanu bauwa, abhi tak jagi ho?” She would ask.

“Haan Dadi.” I would say.

Kuch khaogi?”

“Nahi Dadi.”

“Kuch chahiye?”

“Nahi Dadi.”

“To hum so jayen?”

“Haan Dadi.”

This same conversation happened every night for years, each time she got up for the washroom. My mother always kept some snacks for me. Or I would make Maggi.  I would never ask my Dadi to cook for me, since I was old enough to cook on my own. Still Dadi always asked. Every time.

When I was living in the U.S. I once showed a picture of me with Dadi taken when I was about 1 to a friend of mine.  Dadi was pointing towards me,  a big smile on her face. “Your grandmother looks delighted. She has loved you for so long!” The friend remarked. I always assumed that everybody had grandparents who loved them. This friend had met her grandparents once in her life and had no connection with them.  I realized that day I was indeed lucky.

Accepting death

When I hear someone else passing away at a very old age I do not consider it a tragedy. I feel they have lived a long life . The body gives up with age. It is better to go than to suffer. Mukti mil gayi. As we say in our Hindu dharma.

However, this was different. It was different because she was my Dadi. It is always different when it’s your own. Everything you hear means nothing to you.

 She lived a long life.

She is in a better place.

No more suffering for her. 

She would be reunited with Dadaji.

All this is overshadowed by the D letter word. The D word is final and cruel. It is irreversible. She died! She just died!

One person’s death reminds of every other death that has happened before in the family. The shock of receiving the news. Remembering that the ‘last time’ you saw them will be the last time you will ever see them. Trying to book tickets in desperation. Getting on a flight in that state of mind.  Unke time aise hua tha. The mind remembers another deceased loved one. It is also a horrifying reminder  that every other person you love and cannot live without will also leave you one day.

Seeing someone’s lifeless body reminds us that we are all ‘bodies’. We are shallow people.  We care about our eye brows, we care about our blackheads,  we care about our body hair. But in the end, we are just a body. A body that is capable of giving us a lot of pain.  A body that is capable of non functioning. A body that is capable of being no more. A body capable of turning into ashes.

When I saw Dadi lifeless she was wearing the same  grey socks with pink dots that I wear. It must be something my mother had purchased for all the family members. She was wearing the same shawl in which I have seen her so many times. Seeing her quiet was so strange. She was never a quiet person. She was loud. She was noisy.  I had a feeling that she would get up any minute and yell at us for leaving her alone and cold.

When they were taking her away, I remembered a conversation I had with her when I was a child.

“Dadi, when people die and they are getting burnt, are their clothes removed?” I had asked.  Of course I asked Dadi. She was my ‘go to’ person for all questions that I could not ask my parents.

“I don’t know.” She had replied.

“How can you not know? You are an adult!!”

“They don’t allow women there. They probably remove all the clothes!” She said dramatically without giving much thought.

I  was horrified. “No Dadi!! I will never let that happen to you. I will make sure you are properly dressed.”

I remembered this conversation as I watched her being taken away forever. I ran to join my father and the other men as they took her for the cremation.

I had to keep my promise to Dadi. She would be mad at me for leaving her alone with the men folk.

2020 was horrible. But 2021 has already scarred me

My grandfather died in February long long time ago. Since then Dadi hated February. She considered the month jinxed. She never travelled in February. She didn’t like any of her kids travelling in February.  And the fact that she died on 1st February… It was as if she was waiting for February to start.

Dadi never tolerated anyone saying anything depressing. She was strong. She was wise. “Nirashawadi nahi bano. Aashawadi bano.”  She would say. I hate being so nirashawadi right now.   I know Dadi wouldn’t like it.

I can go on and talking about Dadi. My heart goes out to my father and his siblings who have spent 60-70 years with Dadi and now have to learn to live without her. My heart goes out to everybody who has lost a loved one. When I am taking this so hard, what must it be like to lose a parent, a spouse, a sibling or a child? Is there really any point to life?  We have all these people we love and then one day we have to learn to live without them? If this is life, it sucks!!

Dadi spoke about death quite frequently. She did not believe in life after death because she said that ‘nobody has come back to tell what it is like.’ Even though she did not believe in it, I still hope she is somewhere, peaceful and happy.

I hate saying ‘rest in peace’. I don’t know why I titled this article rest in peace. It is funny because Dadi never rested in peace. She made a lot of noise. She spoke to herself. She banged the door hard at night and she had the ability to keep the whole household awake!

Goodbye Dadi. Part of me has died with you. But part of you lives with me.

P.S. I can imagine my extremely looks conscious  Dadi saying, ‘Dikhao to mera kaisa photo lagayi ho?’

 

 

 

 

In Our Hearts, Forever.

Not too long ago, my sister had forwarded this picture to us in our family WhatsApp group with a caption ‘Meet Cuddles’!

‘Wow!’ – Me

‘Is he real or a toy!’ – My mom

‘Diya (niece’s name changed) must have gone crazy to get such a cute puppy!! – My dad

My niece had been asking for a puppy for a long time. My sister in an attempt to distract her had got her fish, rabbit, turtle! Any other pet that could be low maintenance! But nothing can replace a dog…

 As a kid, we had dogs.  We loved them. We played with them. They became part of our family. And then we watched them die. We grieved. We cried. We swore to never put ourselves through that pain again. But then again, we would get another dog….

When I met my sister recently ,  she seemed ready to get a puppy. The niece was more than delighted. And so came Cuddles into their life….

Cuddles’ video was circulated in our extended family groups also.   Every kid who saw him said the same thing – ‘I want it!’

My mother and I loved to show his pictures to our friends too. Sure, I was not the one who had it in my home. But someone so close to me had this cutie!! I loved to flaunt him too!!

My sister’s routine overnight turned into that of a new mother.  Cuddles was after all, just a baby. He could not sleep alone. He would cry. She would move to the carpet to be next to him. He would wake up in the middle of the night. She would wake up with him.

But just like a baby, with all the work, and cleaning, and sleepless nights came  great moments of joys, and milestones. Cuddles’ first long jump! Cuddles’ first meal with lamb! Cuddles’ first chew toy!

Soon, all discussions in the family revolved around Cuddles. Because of the time difference and work timings, my sister and I are not able to speak frequently. I get to know about her through my mother, and so does she. My mother would keep me updated on Cuddles’ adventures.. But it was not enough for me…

I so badly wanted to see him.  My sister has always loved video calls.  I have always hated it. I don’t like the thought of someone calling me in the middle of something, when I am in pyjamas, or worse at work with no privacy. Also, I feel the face looks so funny in those calls.  Whenever my sister would call me, instead of looking at her I would look at myself. I am obsessed with teeth cleanliness.  While talking, I would open my mouth wide, and start checking my teeth. I guess for me that was the only advantage of a video call! Closer teeth view!! Needless to say, this irritated my sister a lot.

But now things were different. I was the one requesting her for a video call. Only to see Cuddles…

Cuddles had now even made a trip to my niece’s school and the supermarket. He was a star everywhere he went.  People wanted to hold him, touch him and make sure he is for real.  He loved licking everyone. He loved everybody. And he surely got a lot of love in return.

Tuesday evening,  I spoke to my sister. Usual, mundane things. I had just come back from office. For her it was  morning.  Her day had just started.  After dinner I called my mother. She and my father had gone to watch Manikarnika and I could not wait to hear if she liked it as much as I liked it.

After talking to all my family members, watching an episode of Seinfeld (highly recommended to husband), I was cleaning the kitchen when my mom texted me to call her.  I did.

Cuddles is no more!’ She said.

‘No!!’

‘There was an accident …..…’

‘What!!  How!!  I just spoke to Didi some time back!’

‘I know… It just happened.. They took him to the hospital. But he was gone by then’.

No matter who dies when we get that call, the first reaction is always disbelief. I was trying to convince my mother that I had spoken to my sister few hours back and this had not happened then.

Was there some possibility it really had not happened?

She then went on to tell me how it happened. My heart broke into a hundred pieces.  Imagining it gave palpitations. I felt a knot in my stomach. I went to the wash room. The palpitation continued…

I called my sister.  Heard her cry. Heard her describe the events of the morning. A usual morning.  He was playing. He got hurt. He let out a scream. And stopped moving.

She thought he has fainted. She insisted they take him to the hospital. They did. The nurse said what nobody wants to hear. It all happened in a few minutes.

And just like that, this little person who had become everybody’s favourite was gone!  Before anyone could even understand what had happened.

I asked her if he suffered. She said no. He died within seconds. We both found comfort in that thought.  We talked about the dog we had when we were kids. He was bitten by a snake / scorpio. We never found out. His wails continue to haunt us even today. I have locked up the memory of his death somewhere in my mind.  It does come back again every time I hear another dog screaming in pain.

We were most concerned about my niece who lost her best friend. She has been taking it well. She is trying to be brave. Her teacher asked her to write about it. She wrote that she wishes that morning could be erased…

When my sister had got this puppy, the lady who handed him over had told her that the life expectancy was 19 years.  She had thought her daughter would be off to college in eight years! He would be the one with her….

I thought about how cute, innocent and adorable the little puppy was. Why was his life so short? He did not deserve this!  Was it destiny? Three people in this world who decided to take him home, absolutely adored him, loved him and took care of him. They would have done anything to protect him! Why were they not given a chance! What good came out of this! We read about freak accidents every day. We see videos. Not all have a tragic ending. Some survive. Could he not be one of them?

There are no answers. Death makes us understand how fragile our existence is. Anything could happen. Anytime. To anyone.

We have decided to keep talking about him. Just because he is not there, does not mean he is forgotten. However, his death is something we would not bring up.

We would talk about how much we learnt from him:

Finding happiness in little things.

Being happy for no reason.

Greeting everyone with love.

Thinking that everyone is his friend.

Fighting to be with people he loved..

Rest in peace, dear Cuddles. We would like to believe you had some other purpose. Some other form of existence. Something better. We would also like to believe that you are very happy wherever you are. You are being loved. And everyone is in love with you too.

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Beauty And The Beast Within

The cute child

“Bachche Chacha Nehru se pyaar karte the! Chacha Nehru khoobsurat the. Bachche har khoobsurat cheez se pyaar karte hain!”

I listened, admiring my beautiful Hindi teacher reading out a chapter on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  The teacher was very fond of me. “You look like a doll!” She would say. I would blush.

An attractive teacher talking about a charismatic personality.  A reasonably cute looking child listening intently.  The beautiful atmosphere was interrupted as a girl in shabby clothes and slippers walked in along with our class teacher.  Her hair was brown, with knots, lacking any kind of nourishment.  Her complexion was dull.  She looked dazed as if she woke up on another planet. Her skirt looked more like a lehenga reaching her calf, matched with a miserable, baggy, shirt. It must be her father’s, I thought.

“This is Champa. She would be joining your class today.” The teacher said hurriedly. “Let her sit next to the class monitor for few weeks till we assign her another place. Meghna, you sit next to Komal for now.  Tanvi, Champa will be sitting next to you.  Please help her with the books, uniform etc.”

I was horrified! Champa’s admission was part of a reach out program, wherein a child from a nearby slum would be selected for education free of cost.  Some of us had heard about this proposal. We had no idea it would be implemented. I had no idea it would affect me. Directly!

The next few days were difficult for me.  But how difficult was it for Champa to fit in? Kids made fun of her brutally.  They asked her if she ever showered.   There was an outbreak of lice soon after she joined. She was alleged to be the origin. Guilty until proven innocent. She bought chapati or chuda for lunch.  She ate alone. She was different.

I was conscious of my behavior at school. I was never mean to her. But deep down I found her repulsive. I hated sitting next to her.

One day, after lunch I was playing with friends. Tag. Then on the Merry Go Around. The first bell rang as an indication to us to go back to our classrooms. As I was running, I felt a weird sensation. Within a few seconds even before I realized, I had vomited. In front of everyone.

There was some vomit on my perfectly ironed white shirt. And probably some drool on my face.

One teacher commented, “Such a big girl! Cannot even control herself!! Don’t you know there is a toilet?”

Some kids laughed. Others said “Ewww” and moved away in disgust.

I had tears in my eyes.  As I made the walk of shame towards the washroom, someone held my hand.  I turned in surprise.

There she was. Champa.  As expressionless as ever.  But holding me tight and safe. She held my hand and helped me clean up. She did not say a word. But stayed with me throughout.

Few days later, she stopped coming to school.  She disappeared as abruptly as she had appeared. Some people said that parents had complained about the reach out program. Others said the management felt it was not working out. Some said her parents had decided that studies would not do her any good. Nobody knew for sure.  I never saw her again.

The ugly duckling

Few years later, my father got transferred to the United States. I was a teenager by now studying in a junior high school at New York City. One of the poshest cities in the world. With people from all over the world.  All races.  There were blonde beauties. And Hispanic beauties. And Asian beauties. Girls my age had voluptuous bodies.  My breasts had refused to show up. My buttocks were also equally flat. I wore glasses. And braces.  I had round chipmunk cheeks. I was one of the shortest people in the class.

Kids were at the age where they bully. My school was no exception.  Some desi kids like me who did not fit in were told ‘You stink’  to our faces.  Some would express reluctance to sit next to us. While walking home, there was this once particularly big guy from a senior grade who would scream at me every day, ‘You are UGLY!!!’  just in case I had forgotten.

For the first time in life I felt what it feels like to feel inferior. In every way. I felt like I was at the absolute lowest strata of society.  Being popular, being liked by the opposite sex, getting proposals on Valentine’s Day could only be a dream. I would be grateful if the day passed without any major humiliation.

Is this how Champa felt..?

I became quiet.  I was still a very good student. Being intelligent was my pride.  The few people who got to know me said I was a ‘very nice girl’.  I had few friends.  But they would all vouch for me.

A transformation

Another few years passed.  I was back in India.  I blossomed late. But I finally blossomed. I looked much better in college and in my 20’s. I was now on the better-looking side. This ‘above average’ spectrum had its own set of issues. Women felt jealous and made mean comments, totally unwarranted.  Random people thought that if a girl  is  into her looks and puts on makeup it means she is dumb and shallow. I got attention from boys who were not at all serious and I had to deal with their obnoxious attitude at feeling rejected.  Some people found me arrogant when it fact I was just an introvert.

Was this still better than being on the other side of beauty…?

I have been on different sides of ‘beauty’ at different phases of life. Here are my thoughts:

Lessons learnt

Beauty is never isolated. It is not just about the shape of your eyes or the symmetry of your face. It is about what is considered acceptable.  It is a combination of other related factors such as social, financial, racial privileges. Someone who has features from another part of the world may be different therefore considered not good looking. People who have more money have access to fashion and cosmetology and end up looking the best possible versions of themselves.

When you HATE what you see in the mirror, nothing else matters much.  Most of the times you do not see what is truly there, but what others have told you about yourself.  You see your insecurities. For someone it is a big nose.  For someone it could a dark skin-tone.  For someone it is the weight. And it takes years, and years to become comfortable with it.  I used to pray regularly as a child, having studied in a convent school. The last wish in my prayers (after well-being and health of parents and sibling) was ‘God, please make me pretty!’ Like most kids, my prayer was memorized.   Even today, at 31, when I am distressed and start praying, this ‘wish’ repeats in my mind involuntarily in the sequence.

 When a lot of people find many different ways of telling you that you do not look good, you give up on your looks completely. You deliberately decide not to put in any effort.  Loose clothes, pony tail, no make-up- Beauty becomes a game one that we choose not to play. You cannot lose when you are not playing, can you?

Champa’s face haunts me still

We may have been treated badly. But that is no excuse for how we treat others. A lesson I learnt from Champa.  A lesson I would like to convey to young people. Hang in there. There are people who will see you for your inner beauty.  But first you need to see it.  Be kind to others. And yourself.  The people we like to talk to, hold on to ultimately are the ones who are pleasant and positive. We also need to become that person first.

A happy face looks beautiful and is a culmination of peace with self and others.

Author’s Note

This article has been written for a contest organized by Women’s Web for the Naturals Salon.

I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.

Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.

Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Grief And Tragedy

A woman I know through blogging had lost her daughter who must be about 20. People were commenting on her post:

It is all destiny.

She is in a better place.

It is karma.

It is karma?? Whose karma? The young girl got hit by a speeding car who did not care to stop. He is roaming free. She is dead. She or her family has not done anything to deserve this. I guess the lady who commented meant that this had something to do with past life sins…

I hear some funny things about divorce too. A friend of mine is 28. She is in a relationship. She is not some child who cannot understand that sometimes things don’t work out. Whenever she hears about anyone’s divorce, she says:

Why did they get married if they wanted a divorce.

No, but what was the main reason?

Reason. Logic. Meaning. As humans we find it very difficult to comprehend tragedy and even more difficult to understand grief. We would like to think that there should be some reason. Haven’t we heard, Everything happens for a reason. We have also heard , Shit happens. But we do not like to believe it (for others). Because it defies our faith in the universe.

Another friend of mine and her boyfriend who is from another religion want to get married. They are facing objections from the boy’s family. She had asked the boy in the initial dating days if he intends to marry her. He had said yes. If some other woman gets dumped by a guy, she likes to say, ‘Told you so. You never asked him if he was serious.’ But when she is told that ‘You knew this was coming’, she says that since she had asked the man in the beginning, she was totally right about her choice.

Yes. Everybody’s grief is unique. It is therefore a painful and lonely journey. We refuse to accept that bad things simply happen… To people who did not deserve it!

A perfect couple who was together since college split.

We refuse to believe that one person outgrew the other. We put on our detective hats and try to analyze. Something else must have happened…. We do not want to lose our faith in ‘true love’

A nice caring girlfriend gets dumped without a warning.

We become therapists. She knew the signs coming. She should have known his intentions. She ignored. She was too foolish.

A young woman loses her life on the road.

We would like to think that there was some hidden meaning in it. We do not like to believe that something so cruel could happen just life that.  If it could happen to them, it could happen to us.

And that is scary.

Shashikala – The Unknown Feminist

For the past few minutes the doorbell was incorporated as part of my dream. Finally, after it rang for some time, I realized it is not a dream and I need to get up and open the door.

Shashikala walked in.

“Goodmorning Didi.” She said in her usual chirpy voice.

“Hmm.” I replied coldly. She had not come to work the day before. I was giving her the silence treatment.

“Didi, I will make chicken for you today,” she said trying to lure me with my favourite food.

“No need! There is a lot of leftover from yesterday!” I gave a cold reply again.

“Ok Didi!”

The silent treatment did not seem to be working. She either did not understand I was mad or she did not care. I broke my cold war and blurted out:

“Look at all those dirty dishes! I had guests over yesterday! And you just ditched me! I had told you not to take an off for these two days! Your work is the last priority for you. You took an off to look after your friend!! She does not have anyone? You have to disrupt your work to attend to her?”

“No Didi.  She is not my friend.”

“Oh so what neighbor? Stranger! Even better! You come to work only after you have solved all of humanity’s problems.”

“She is his first wife….”

Shashikala was married off when she was about 18. Her husband was abusive. He used to take all her money for alcohol and beat her up.  In the next five years, she had two sons until one fine day he just left.  After a couple of years he showed up again, asking for his children.  Shashikala refused to give them up. He told her he is doing well in life and would be in a better position to support the kids. She said she does not want to live with him.  A compromise was made. The husband took her elder son. She kept the younger one.

A kind aunt of hers thought that it is time she remarried.  The prospective groom was okay with having her son around. So Shashikala agreed. Once the marriage was solemnized, she was in for another shock. This man was already married, something she had no idea about.  The first wife was still living there.  Shashikala left him and came back with her son.

Now, she lives with her younger son. The elder son (who is with his father) is in a hostel and he visits her sometimes. Both the husbands show up at her house once in a while to create some drama!

Her story came flashing back in my mind.

What happened to her!” I asked her. The anger was now replaced with curiosity.

“He came the night before to eat. He said that she has not been keeping well so there is no one to cook for him. You know he is very selfish Didi. He did not even take her to the doctor. She was in pain. So I went there. Took her to the hospital. Got her the medicines. Cleaned her house. And cooked some food.”

“Why do you care so much about her?”

“Unknowingly I did her wrong Didi! I married her husband and hurt her! This is the least I can do.”

I read a lot of articles online. The latest trend is romanticizing cheating. I have seen a lot of reputed publications publish articles on cheating and how it is all about “being in the moment”, “living your life”,  “love and sex are different things”, “it just happens” and other such excuses. When I express my disgust in the comments some cool people respond,“Why are being so judgmental”, “To each to his own”. It seems we have no idea how to be progressive.

Here is a woman who did not exactly have a smooth life. One bad marriage is enough to break a person. She had two! It could have been convenient for her to bitter. But she chose not to. She had self-respect. She did not take back her first husband when he came back. She left the second husband the moment she found out he is already married.

But these things did not change who she is as a person. It did not change the kindness within her. The kindness that made her feel the physical and emotional pain of another woman.

Yes, good women uplift other women. They hold their head high in times of turmoil. They do not let the unhappiness in their lives change their judgment, and conscience.

Shashikala, you are a feminist to me.  You may not get any recognition.  But you have taught me one thing:

We are who we are. No matter what happens in life, there is no excuse to cause someone pain. There is no reason to not live by our principles.

 

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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