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. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

I wish you bliss!

I remember days when my colleagues/well-wishers would pester me to get married. The sessions would start as a joke, escalate to levels which could be easily sample cases of sexual harassment by co-workers, and would invariably end in one of them wise ladies saying, ‘Jokes apart. I want to see you happy. Don’t get married if you don’t want to but be in a relationship with a wonderful guy.’ The hysteria would die and others would sober up and nod in chorus. The conversations would keep me thinking long afterwards. Somethings that were spoken about, I would share with my mother; doubts I would clear up with one of best friends—P; and the parts that I understood but was too embarrassed to share with anyone I would try to forget. Even though I laughed with everyone during the late afternoon sessions when all of us would be taking a break, to the horror of our male colleagues, these talks left me feeling a little lonely and thinking that I was missing something vital. There would be days when I would be busy in some social engagement or the other and would not have enough time to brood over what was said. Those were good days. However, days when time was a plenty, I would start by laughing to myself remembering something that was said. Invariably I would then move on to being depressed thinking that maybe such bliss was not my cup of tea.

There were many, who, through my twenties told me I was old enough to be married. Others warned, ‘If you pass the marriageable age, all the good guys will be off the market.’ I responded with nervous laughter sometimes. On other occasions I would cheekily quip, ‘Achi cheez banne mein time lagta hai. The boy is getting ready to match up to my expectations.’ I believed in the statement only 5% of the time. I hated everyone who told me to lower my expectations and to not be too choosy. Some would think that telling me that my mother was a cancer patient and might not be around long enough to see me tie the knot was the best way to convince me to cross the threshold. As if that thought did not haunt me every minute of every day.

Now, I live with a man. The world and I call him my husband. He takes care of me. Loves me to the point of cherishing me. I understand the bliss that my colleagues and friends so oft spoke about. Having pop-corn while watching a movie in our house, tucked in the cushions of the sofa, suddenly I get transported in time and I think about what L had said or V had remarked. A smile spreads across my face as I realize all that they wished for me has come true. And how!

I wish the same bliss for my unmarried/single friends. I wish that they find someone they can bully into buying a chocolate for them at the end of the day. Someone they can ask to cook for them on a lazy Saturday. I wish they find someone who makes them laugh and whose eyes well up when he sees them cry. I wish them bliss.

But I want them to wait for the guy who makes the world go round for them. I don’t want anyone to lower their standards or expectations. Finding love in your thirties is better. You can share all the mischief and misfortune of your twenties with your partner. They weren’t there so the bag of stories remains sufficiently full to entertain each other on long, never-ending drives. Since you missed each other during the troubling twenties, you end up valuing each other much more. Doing silly things doesn’t seem too silly if it makes the other smile. I want my closest friends to experience all this and more.

I might sound full of mush. Some might be squiggling their noses at what I have written. Some might agree to what I say and others might define love and marriage based on their experiences. To each his/her own. But for my closest friends I wish bliss. The kind of bliss where you fight bitterly with a person and then rest your head on their shoulder while your tears soak their favourite t-shirt.