The trail

Things which remind me of my mom are everywhere. Like markers. Like the trail of light that emanates from a lighthouse. The smell of bread, a mashed potato sandwich, every feminist I meet but also every person who has been extorted for dowry, the marketplace she visited for years, every cactus plant (the earliest plant we had was cactus), temples…

As a child, she pushed me to learn to skate, cycle, swim. I wouldn’t have bothered on my own. So in every new skill I learn it’s her that I can visualise. She learned so many things even while juggling a house and often being the only parent around when dad went away for months at a time for work. Embroidery, shorthand, typing, teaching kids, beauty parlour courses – she did it all. She just wanted to learn.

Along the way she evolved her own brand of things. She didn’t learn to cook from her mom so she cooked from her own techniques, strange experiments at times which can sadly not be recreated and something I miss so much. She kept house in her own way unlike most other housewives of the time, chose to live life as she wanted for the most part. She deserved much better, a more modern era to live in, a time when people’s viewpoints are broader, liberal people around her. 


The age of Tolerance

Tolerance is a buzzword nowadays. If we say our country or a person is not tolerant, it invites the wrath of fundamentalists.

But tolerance is not a nice word, it implies a partial understanding of people, that we are ready to tolerate them, let them live in the periphery of our understanding, but not consider them our equal.

What it is not is acceptance, the ability to empathise, meet someone midway, and respect their individuality.

Old habits

As a child, I observed a common routine of dad’s. His work as an aeronautical engineer involved different shifts.

Every day, I would find him suited and ready before time but before he left, he had a ritual. After he was dressed, he would sit and enjoy a quiet moment, savour a few minutes of peace before the chaos of the day unfolded. It taught me the importance of  slowing down before undertaking anything.

Lately, I find myself doing the same. Getting ready for work and then sitting and enjoying the last dregs of peacefulness before the day intrudes on me.

How seamlessly we turn to the habits of our parents, become like our parents without realising it. Like comfort food, it is a place we navigate easily, and doing so makes us feel enveloped by a sense of security. And no matter how much we try to be different from our parents, it’s amazing how we end up behaving just like them.

Unexpected showers

Grief can be like a thunderstorm. It will be cloudy and ominous for days. But the rain just won’t fall. But one day, the tension gets too much, and you crack. Your composed face distorts by itself and it’s raining at last. Tears trickle down, it seems like it will flood out all the emotions deep down. There are sobs and hiccups, until the flow runs dry. They say it feels better when you cry, but it actually doesn’t. It just feels barren, empty, a sky devoid of clouds, soulless.

A roller coaster ride

Buddhism tells you that change is inevitable. The Bhagvad Gita that you should not expect any results from your actions to be spared the grief. As a child, these concepts seemed so simple, hardly the precepts of two great spiritual paths.

Yet after I started working, I realised just how tough things can get if you don’t follow these rules, and just how difficult it is to imbibe them.

As my two-year-old newspaper supplement shuts down this weekend, as part of ‘organisational restructuring’, my life has turned topsy turvy. As the organisation plans to make us part of some other team, we are suddenly a rudderless bunch of people with no immediate boss, which also means no one to look after our interests.

Over the last few weeks, there has only been constant chaos, every Monday bringing yet more bad news. People have stepped up with advice, good and bad. Stay there till something worthwhile comes up, find something now, don’t panic, I had told you…

As a team, we are survivors who have brought out issues week after week. We will survive this as well. But what hurts is the lack of acknowledgement of the work that has been done. Oh but wait, Lord Krishna had told long ago something about results not being in our hands. Who knew it takes a lifetime to understand and master such simple principles.

Head in the clouds

It has been a tough couple of days. Layoffs are happening and it feels like I am a contestant in a game show. And then there were four left…

In the meanwhile, more work awaits. Work that will determine that we are more productive than XYZ and deserve to be here.

It’s better for people to know upfront what’s coming their way rather than been ambushed one fine day with ominous news. And yet, that’s not what newspapers or offices do with their employees. Every day I wake up in a cloud. I am yet to see the silver lining.

Growing up pains

As a child, one tends to think of everyone elder to us a grown-up: someone who will know how to deal with the vagaries of life, can protect us and know the solution to most problems. And our parents are the most grown-up people we know of.

And yet, it is also true that we are all in a state of constant change. So it’s not just us who are evolving but also our parents.

It takes years to realise that they didn’t know any better and did not deliberately set out to traumatise us. That they don’t have all the answers, no one does. That they were growing up along with us, learning from our collective mistakes.

If you are lucky, by the next generation they have a few more answers and a little bit more of maturity.

In the end, we are all in the same boat, trying to sail in the dark, in choppy waters, uncertain where the wind will take us.

A long winter

The start of the year has been full of small cares and worries. Accounts to be renewed, work issues to be addressed, lots of stories to be written, necessities that had to be bought.

But in between all this, running on loop in my mind, is the fact that mom is gone. One more year has passed, it’s been now three years. The grief, though, seems fresh as yesterday, even more poignant. It doesn’t even require an anniversary, every Saturday looms large and insurmountable, a remembrance of that fateful day when she passed on.

There are so many things to remind me of her, the photos I stumble upon, her letters lying around written in a language I can’t read. The things she had the foresight to buy which are standing us in good stead, the money she saved which I chance upon in strange nooks and corners like stumbling upon a rare gift.

This year is chillier than other years, weatherwise and emotionally. A lot of friendships have been put to the test and not yielded reassuring results. It’s a long winter for me. Perhaps some transformation is afoot. Change waits for none, not even a grieving soul.

The little things

Innocence lies in the small things, stuff that you didn’t realise the significance to, until you lost it forever.

The other day I was watching reruns of Modern Family, the initial seasons. And I could remember having seen them with mom. It reminded me of the carefree laugh that I had, when you seemingly laugh from deep within, pour your joy out wholeheartedly.

It’s a laugh that I don’t have anymore. I laugh much less than before and the last few days have not given me much reason to either. But I would give anything to laugh once again like that, with mom around to take care of everything.

The first feminist

My mother was one of the first feminists I met. She grew up in an unconventional family. She lost her mother at the age of 6 and at that age was the second eldest among seven siblings.

My grandfather believed that boys should be educated but girls need education even more. He would often say that a boy can get by doing even menial jobs, but for a girl, an education is her tool to survive hard times.

He also believed that a girl could do anything a boy could do and even better. That’s how my late aunt, my mother’s younger sister became a football player. She wore sarees, the attire of choice for Bengalis in those times and played with boys.

When my youngest aunt decided to get married while in school, a love marriage, grandpa was saddened that she didn’t want to complete school.

My mom went on to work as a court typist, a classical music teacher, a tuition teacher and even held classes to teach embroidery and knitting…all for some pocket money and independence.

She was perhaps not cut out for marriage and all the restrictions that it brought with it. So the happiest I have seen her as my mother were times when she did her own thing, whether it was studying French at a university in France, travelling by herself, going for Montessori classes in Mumbai, or stitching classes at our next door neighbour’s house.

There were shadows on her face the day dad went to her class and yelled at her in front of others. She had gotten late in coming home, I had to go to school and dad had to leave for work. Dad was not a bad guy, he was just a man whose work had greater priority over my mom’s. No one in that class protested or supported her, it was none of their business and something they faced themselves on a daily basis.

Mom always resented the injustices heaped on her as a woman. She hated the custom of dowry which demeans a girl and her family. She spoke up to almost anybody who would listen. She tried to convince a friend’s mother, who was marrying off her college-going daughter citing tradition, to not do so. It was easier to stay quiet but more important to speak up.

She would have been appalled by the incidents that pop up in our newspapers – the mass molestation of women in Bengaluru on New Year’s eve, the rape of an 80 year old in Haryana…

As I attended a session yesterday on feminism and surmounting abuse, I kept thinking of mom. Everyday that I go out and try to reclaim a bit of space for me, enter an uncharted territory where I am not welcome or speak up about women’s rights, I am following in her giant footsteps.