Monday, May 23, 2016

Unsolicited advice, full of love :)

The mood to not enter the kitchen in the scorching heat, the fact that we had no idea when all of us would be together again and that we had several things to celebrate seemed reasons good enough to go out and celebrate. Unlike our usual pattern, the conversations ran in a mild, entertaining manner. The 20 minutes that we had to wait for a table at the restaurant passed by quickly while we shopped for beads, bread and cheese. The food and drinks, as expected, were delicious. The usual teasing the writer of this blogpost ensued. It was a good Saturday evening. Soon enough, it was time to say our goodbyes. Akshat was to leave for Lucknow to begin the professional phase of his life the next day. As is my wont I gave Akshat a list of instructions, a duty I believe, I must fulfil. He was indulgent and kept nodding and agreeing to all my suggestions and instructions. I turned my attention to mom and fired a couple in her direction as well. At this point, Vivek had had enough. He nudged and lightly pushed me to a side, went ahead and hugged my mother saying, ‘Congratulations, aunty! It has been a long tough journey for you.’

As if on cue, I began to cry. Akshat, mom and Vivek asked in chorus, ‘Why are you crying?’ I replied, ‘What kind of a questions is that?’

I cried almost all the way on the 40-minute drive to our home, as Akshat had predicted. Vivek kept asking why I was crying. He kept reminding me that it was a happy occasion. I kept telling him, ‘I know.’ I continued crying.

Since Saturday night (today is Monday) I thought a lot about why I was crying. I had been so busy celebrating all the good things coming our way that I had forgotten to remember what a journey it has been. And the kind gesture from Vivek just opened the flood gates.

I could see the image of a few-months-shy-of-6, Akshat near the door of the house. We had shifted to this house 17 years ago after our father passed away. Akshat used to be too afraid to go out to the park alone. The new surroundings took some time to grow on him. And today, I was saying bye to this 22-year-old version of him on the eve of his moving to a new city to start his career. Hard-as-I-may-try I cannot help but see him like a little boy. And even as I type this a few tears manage to spill through. Over the last few years, I have seen Akshat rebuilding himself again and again. Conquering the obstacles on his way. But since pelting out advice to him for the last 22 odd years has been a part of who I am, his elder sister, I want to continue with the tradition.

Look at you, all grown up!

Dear kiddo!
The journey has been a long one. On more than one occasion you have made wise decisions and have made mom and me very proud. You have been living away from home for nearly two years now. So, I won’t give you any advice about adjusting to a new environment. I am sure you have a better handle on it since I never went out of Delhi to live. However, I have been working for nearly 12 years so here is my advice for you.
  1. Work smart. A lot of people can work hard. But you should aim at working smartly. I have rarely come across people who are smart at working.
  2. Talk less. Coming from me this might seem like a surprise twist akin to a Game of Thrones plot twist. But this is a learning I have acquired quite recently. The lesser you talk the lesser are the chances that someone can use your words against you.
  3. Write more. Always depend on paper. Pen down your ideas and thoughts as soon as gold strikes. With bills, office timings, commuting, etc. taking up your mind space some ideas may be lost in the daily humdrum of things.
  4. Save money. You are a smart kid. Much smarter than I was at your age. Remember to save money. Money in your hand is better than money in the credit card account.
  5. Live well. Spend money in purchasing good things. Wait if you have to but never compromise on the quality of things you purchase. Buy good clothes, gadgets, shoes, furniture, gifts for mom, Vivek and me.
  6. Set your priorities. While work is important and will be for you for a few more years to come but remember to prioritize life and important people in your life over everything else. It won’t be easy but it is very important.
  7. Travel. Whenever you get a chance, travel. Explore new places. Meet new people. Eat new and different foods.
  8. Read lots. Books will always be around giving you wisdom, entertainment, and company. (I had to tell you that!)
  9. Nurture your hobbies. Always make time to nurture your hobbies. Sing. Play the guitar. Listen to music. Learn new skills. Increase your bag of skills. Learning a new language or a skill will rejuvenate you. Trust me after a couple of years as a part of the working class, rejuvenating helps. 
  10. Make friends. Keep your eyes and heart open for good people around you. Be the best friend you can be. The right people will be around you for the right moments in your life. Some friends might part ways. It might hurt. Smile through the hurt, wish them well and continue to keep your eyes and heart open for a new crop of friends. 

I think this is the shortest lecture I have ever given you, Akshat. Here is wishing you a successful, enjoyable and fulfilling career. Welcome to this side of the world. It’s big, it’s wild but boy it’s fun!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Lessons for a lifetime

Quite a few posts on my blog since 2011 have been about cancer and I hope this is the last in the series. 

Lot of people I have met, or know, say proudly that they have not changed one bit. I feel sorry for them because change and growth are synonymous for me. If they have not changed, they have not learned anything from any life experience and have let a wonderful opportunity to grow go to waste.

Cancer, in its five appearances in the bodies of three people I love, has taught me different things. 

The first appearance was a shocker. It taught me not to take people I love for granted. It made me regret all the fights I ever had with aaji (grandmother) and all the times I travelled to exotic locations instead of visiting her. 

The second tryst with the disease taught me that people are very good. I felt this immense rush of positivity. I decided to promote, with a stubbornness that would put a well-bred mule to shame, the inherent goodness of people. I believed with all my heart that mom had cancer to ensure that I start blindly believing in the goodness of people.

The third time around, my teacher decided to take a stricter approach and ensured that I achieve, what at this point in time I perceive to be, a balanced approach to life, people and the games that these two seem to be playing with me all the time.

I’m not the only daughter in the world to see her mother suffer. I know I’m not the first or the last person to go through the gamut of emotions I am going through every day for the last 5 years. However, with all the bones in my body I’d like to believe that the way I’m processing all that is happening, in reality or otherwise, is unique and can be a attributed to only one person in the world. ME, in case I was not self-indulgent enough in the previous paragraphs and you missed who I was referring to when I said one person in the world.

Of the many things that cancer has taught me or rather I have chosen to learn from it is that the only need that is constant is the will to survive. From my mother who revived from what most of us (family and friends and friends of family and their uncles) thought were her last few days, to my younger brother and to me; we all were hell bent on surviving however we could albeit the modes of self-preservation were different. Mom concentrated on becoming better and recovering the quality of her life. Akshat decided that staying away from the situation as much as he could would help and I decided that the only way I could survive was by exhausting myself to bits. As months passed by and she became better the modes of survival became different for all of us. Mom takes on just a little bit more on her plate than any other person feels she can chew. Akshat, continues to stay away for most parts but is available to help out whenever I lift my hands in defeat. I, go out with friends, travel, read just a little bit more, use the camera lens as an extension of my eyes, mostly make the effort to enjoy life by taxing myself just a little bit more.

I have been generous enough by mentioning mom and Akshat in the previous paragraph. Don’t expect me to continue to do so. This is about what I learnt. Clearly, I did not learn much about turning away from the spotlight. I continue to bask in the limelight!

Back to things I learnt. I learnt to be patient. A virtue not many believe I possess. I became patient with people who had no idea what they were talking about because I knew their concern was genuine (at least in that moment). I became patient with people who refused to make an effort to understand what I was trying to explain because…
… well because I’m a nice person.

I have noticed, also, that I have become impatient with I’m so fat because my waist size has increased by 2 millimetres type of people. I feel that somehow by interacting with them I’m wasting precious moments of my life, which I could be spending learning something new—about the world, India, Delhi, a new word, a new way of life or learning something as mundane as which movie will come on TV the coming weekend.

I have learned that I need to learn how to not care too much. To my utter surprise, on several occasions, several people have told me that my major character flaw is that I care too much. How much is too much and how less is too less, I’m yet to learn. But over the last couple of years I have started to put myself first. Things, emotions, actions, people who make me happy continue to be a part of my life. Others, who deliberately or inadvertently make me unhappy or generally add even a pinch of negativity in my daily life, are better forgotten. I must admit, I am becoming good at it. Parle often told me that her biggest strength was that she absolved herself of the guilt that followed the act of making a mistake. I am now absolving myself of the mistakes I have made by giving everyone else’s opinions room even at the cost of my own. Respect, I have realised is a two-way street. People who disrespect me will no longer be excused for their bad behaviour. I, of course, am genetically inclined to be polite and well mannered. So that leaves me with only one option. I ignore. People and situations that do not agree with me or my ways stop existing for me. 

Cancer attacked our lives in its biggest sweep yet in 2014. Mom needed chemotherapy again. We were still trying to device a way to plan and shop for my wedding later that year along with the visits to the hospital that we found out that my mama (mother's brother) was also suffering from cancer. My mother and mama ended up being treated in the same hospital by the same set of doctors. There were days when both were being administered their chemos. Mami and I would be busy running around the hospital corridors managing the paper work and the brother-sister duo would be busy visiting each other, laughing, sharing sweets and choorans. On several occasions the hospital staff would remind them that it was a hospital and remaining silent or in the least soft was required. Seeing these two I often wondered what made them happy even in such circumstances. And another part of me would answer that they are forcing themselves to be happy to survive these circumstances. I have now learned that staying happy is a choice. You can alter your circumstances by being happy. Smiling is contagious. I also know that sadness can be infectious. So I avoid being around people who love to crib and who no matter what the circumstances have the penchant for seeing the negative.   

Cancer claimed two members of my extended family within a week’s time last year. In the wake of their deaths some old lessons were revised. Life is fragile. Staying true to who you are and ensuring your happiness in this lifetime are the most important things. The most disturbing lesson that was taught again was that life stops for no one. You laugh again, you eat again and you go back to the ‘normal’ life again. The void that the dead leave in your lives remains. But the living soon start taking more room in your daily life. The people who leave continue to be a part of your life as tars and memories.