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.

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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.

Great expectations

Expectations – Buddhism believes that they are the cause of great suffering. The expectation that your friends will always remain your friends, that they will be loyal to you, that the feeling of companionship will remain to the same extent over time. That the people you love will love you back.

We are only human, so we love the status quo. And can live within it for an infinite amount of time. But life is a great teacher, untiringly and consistently teaching us what we need to know. And life shows that us that nothing remains. Eventually, you do lose your friends, loved ones, the image you have of your body, and lastly your memories. Everything that makes you the person you are.  And only then do expectations cease to be.

When a star explodes

A star exploding is so much like heartbreak. It is something tragic, yet beautiful…you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s tremendous in scale, scattering shards  far and wide, painful to watch even. And we are made of the same material as the stars. Perhaps if we could witness a heart breaking, it would look just the same. At least, it feels the same.

Lost child

When I was a child, I would often unthinkingly drift off on the way home from school. In an era when telephones were not yet common at home, it caused my mom a great deal of palpitation. By the time I returned, she would be livid with rage, but also with concern.

I understand those feelings better now, and without being a mother myself. It’s the cycle of evolution that makes you unable to understand basic truths until the time is right.

At age 31, I feel like I am playing catch up with her, her worries, her feelings, her hopes… all the things she experienced. Which is why it drives me mad not knowing where she is.

In the larger scheme of things, she is somewhere out there, but she is irretrievably lost to me forever, like a child lost on her way home. She left
without telling me anything, without any last words, any advice, without forgiving me. And no force on earth can ever return her to me. I am livid, worried and utterly helpless.

Unfinished business

My mom could never take being ignored, not heard or noticed. As one among seven siblings, she knew how to make herself heard albeit that skill came much later in life. In life as in death, she seems to want to be heard.

On some days, we wake up to see a footprint on the  living room floor. It’s red in colour and reminds me of the time when her toes used to bleed. She had diabetes but also a leg infection that she battled for most two decades. So blood stains on the floor is very familiar to me. Perhaps, that’s why I am not as alarmed to see the stain.

A friend recommended I speak to someone from a paranormal society. And while I did give it thought, I was very reluctant to do so. I question myself and I realise I don’t want to get rid of her. I do want her to go in peace but not to drive her away. I want to talk to her to tell her I miss her. She does come in my dreams but I never recognise her and she seems very disinterested even when she appears.  There’s so much unfinished business between us, that I feel we have to work out before we can move on.

The game

Years ago, in one of those obligatory office parties, we were playing a game where we could ask random questions to the other person. Someone asked my ex-boss when was the last time she was happy. And she replied saying she couldn’t remember the last time when.

This was at the start of my career, and I found that answer unbelievable. Though that workplace was nothing short of a boot camp, it was also where I was learning the craft of writing, the first job closer to the kind of writing I wanted to do. And I was happy in so many small and big things everyday, that I found her answer very strange.

When you grow up the ladder, you view the person above you as the embodiment of growth and happiness, I used to think that what I had was great but if I was a rank higher, it would be the very best thing in the world. But as you go up, the burden grows, the interactions get more mechanical and fake, and the insecurity rises. What if someone topples you or replaces you?

The fall from top seems a greater fall than when you had nothing to lose. And today, I realised with a start that much like my previous editor, I, too, am reaching a stage where I can’t seem to remember when I was last at peace and happy, what I feel is rock bottom. The time is ripe for change.

The fault in our actions

We say one thing but our actions reek of something else. At work, we say we want someone who will work hard, shoulder responsibilities and be accountable. But then how many bosses really value that? Isn’t it all about personal equations, preference, bias?

At the end of the day, as long as there are  people heading teams, there will be subjective assessment. And as I find myself, in a messed up workspace equation, nursing a fever and facing one of the worst days ever, I crave for a sense of home, a workplace where people like you for what you bring and don’t deride you for the kind of phone you have or the non-branded clothes you wear or for not speaking in a hip accent.

I have found some of these things in every office, to an extent. Every workspace starts off in the same way – an attempt to build a good equation- and eventually, it seems, ends up in the same way – with harassment, unrecognised efforts and verbal whiplash. Perhaps the fault lies in me, perhaps I don’t appreciate myself enough to put myself in these situations again and again. Maybe it is the times we live in when social media and telephones mean you can never be away from your job.

My father, a veteran of many workspace battles understands even without my saying a word. Today being Mahasaptami, the worship of the goddess who vanquishes evil, he made me accompany him to the temple. And he gently told me, she will ease all the tiny, niggling worries and the niggling, bothersome people who bring so much chaos to our lives. I have seen many such days to retain hope in miraculous intervention but just for today, I will retain hope and pray for the best.

The missing person

While we are not a close-knit family, social media has erased many boundaries. So while I have not attended my cousin’s wedding, I get to glance through her photos and relive the experience.

One photo that stayed with me was a photo of my cousin sister and her dad. She lost her mom as well a few years back and is a single child like me. She looks similar to me, in a way which I am not used to and find hard to accept.

There is also something achingly sad about the photo, about a wedding where only a father and daughter are there, and the mother is missing on this happy occasion. A mother who never gets to see her daughter as a bride or to gift her jewels for her wedding. The loneliness in the air is all the more poignant. And I can’t help thinking of dad and me in a similar situation.