THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE AND THOSE I CAN

It wasn’t this way when I was working full time.  Then, I needed everything in place and functional.  I pushed myself to be on top of my job, often responding to emails at odd hours at night to ensure I was on top of my work.  In spite of this endeavor to not slacken at work, I was constantly trying to make certain that everything in the house was in order. How can something, anything, even the smallest of things not be in place and why are not all gadgets, switches and machinery working?  I was obviously overworked in office and was also trying hard to ensure that the home didn’t suffer because I wasn’t physically present. Given the paucity of time, and rush to accomplish all that required my attention, I was obviously stretching myself.

Undoubtedly, this was stressful, if multiplied with the important task of bringing up two kids.  I struggled, as most working mothers do.  In hindsight, however, I think I got my priorities mixed up. I was so busy providing my kids a physically comfortable environment, I overlooked the fact that what they really needed was more of my time and attention.  In my robot-like efficiency, I didn’t quite catch at the time that I was creating an emotional disconnect.  But what’s done is done and I’m trying hard to make up.

My responses and reactions to several things changed when I wasn’t going to office every morning and when I no longer needed to squeeze domestic chores and to-do-lists into my schedule along with all the demands of my work.  Today, I am calmer and more patient while dealing with day-to-day malfunctions, including things like the fridge not cooling, lights that won’t come on, or the unavailability of specific domestic requirements. I’ve learnt while staying at home that commitments household fixers make are flexible and so I’d better be too.  It’s mostly working fine, but it’s taken a bit of adjustment!

Now, I have time and flexibility, and although my domestic life is running smoothly, I’m unsettled in some other aspects of my life.  I’ve had time to read, think, pause and to consider what is going on around me.  And so, I’ve been reacting to things other than those that consumed my time, mind and interest while working.

There’s a bit, or perhaps quite a bit, of me that’s unwilling to accept extreme right and left-wing views.  It riles me to read about excessive reactions, and even worse responses, particularly if they pertain to religion, caste and class.  I am very disturbed to read about rape, honor killings and the murder of senior citizens by people they trusted.  It bothers me a lot when I know about the immediate and long-term impact of environmental damages.  I can’t stand the sound of dripping water, let alone seeing it wasted on even half-drunk glasses.  It irks me to see plastic bottles regularly used, discarded and re-fueled with adulterated water and meals ordered online delivered in plastic containers.  My concern is exacerbated when I think about the food chain supply and the hazards of what we are imbuing.  I feel terrible when I see water collected on streets that cause traffic jams soon after I’ve read about a special train going to deliver water to Tamil Nadu.  I am ashamed of overusing water to wash my hair when I think, while doing so, of those who don’t even have enough water to drink.

So, while I believe I might have mellowed in some areas, I am troubled by all of these issues that I now have time to closely follow through several media outlets.  In addition to what I have always espoused–honesty, freedom of speech, righteousness, fighting corruption, women’s rights and several other issues that I increasingly feel strongly about, I now feel a great desire to contribute to any of all of these issues in any way I can.

Perhaps it’s an evolutionary process.  Now, I may be driven more by things that touch our lives every day.  I also strongly believe that the younger generation is well aware and proactive about most of these problems that they actively espouse, support and try to make a difference. I feel a sense of fortification.

Even as I feel strongly about these problems and wish to contribute, I believe I must choose some and know where I can really make an impact.  There’s a small black, square placard that I bought several years ago that inscribes in gold:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference!

Now that’s the challenge.  While I am clearer about where I can make an impact, I’m still learning to let go of what I cannot change and where I cannot make a difference.

This is as much true at home as it is outside of it.

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IT’S NOW ABOUT SURVIVAL: WASTING IT BRINGS US A DAY CLOSER TO DEATH

I’m not an environmental activist, and don’t espouse to be an expert in this area, But I’m a survivalist and a mother, and I’d like to not see shortages just because we overspent and didn’t think about tomorrow. For the record, I feel the same way about investments and money.  In this case, I’d change the cliche to: ‘Save for a non-rainy day.’

‘The Rhyme of Ancient Mariner’ inadvertently captured our current crisis quite aptly. The widely quoted part of this epic poem has been:

 

‘Water, Water everywhere, and all the boards did sink

Water, Water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.’

But the stanza that highlights our plight today for me is this:

‘‘With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,

We could nor laugh nor wail;

Through utter drought all dumb we stood!

I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,

And cried, A sail! a sail!’

For some time now, I’ve been increasingly concerned about the declining water table in Gurgaon.  Warnings of this ominously fast catching-up catastrophe, and the increasingly declining water table have been portended for a while.  But several of us who inhabit spaces that ensure basic essentials, like back-up power and continual supply of water in this quickly-developing corporate center city, haven’t felt the direct impact of water scarcity. There are seamless systems like water pumps, that ensure that  high-rises get water, there’s back-up electricity that ascertains the continual purring of air conditioners, all contributing to a false sense of good living.  So, at least for the present, we are safely ensconced in our living spaces, and while we read about these crises in newspapers, research reports and even hear from our school-going children, enlightened to save our non-renewable resources, strongly campaigning to educate us to be conservative about our water consumption, we are mostly inactive and unresponsive.  Our myopic understanding, or our inertness in spite of it, is portentously disastrous.

Our impending water plight disturbs me.  Media reports suggest that water scarcity is fast escalating into a national crisis.  Netflix film, “Leila” had me completely worried.  I’ve only watched 2 episodes so  far, but it highlighted several of my other concerns, including right-wing fascism, women’s rights, child labor, pollution and subjugation of women’s rights, all issues close to my heart.   All of these warrant separate engagements, given their import and impact on our lives. For now, I’ll focus on water, one that really bothers me, particularly because it’s taking too long for people to realize the implications of the lack of it, given that for now it is cheap and freely available.

Oops, no it is not available in several households, let alone freely.  I despair at the mentality of those who have it to not realize its expend-ability and their abuse and overuse of it so that everyone gets at least a basic amount. Such shortsightedness and selfishness.

Recent news has highlighted the crisis of water scarcity in Tamil Nadu.  The Prime Minister has pledged to supply tap water to each Indian village.  A crisis, and an acknowledgement of it, is what it took to recognize the problem.  I await its implementation.

Meanwhile, I believe water is running out and we need to very seriously consider our relationship with this elixir of life, the way we use and abuse it and our inability to comprehend the disastrous consequences of having not understood its unavailability.  It still flows through our taps and we cannot comprehend what would happen when they run dry and we cannot continue to perform basic functions like bathing, washing clothes, or watering our plants, but are faced with a thirsty, water-less future where we yearn for drops of water to drink or die. If we wait to reach cancer 4 stage, we haven’t a chance.  So, it’s got to be us, saving every drop, glass and bucket of the way.

It’s disconcerting to see educated, informed people, aware of this problem, forget about its import.  It’s even more disturbing when one notices that most people are only concerned about keeping their immediate surroundings clean, using bucket-fulls of water, even as they neglect the immediate environment threat. Clean inside with no concern about what is going on outside or the impending doom!

I guess we are deaf and blind to most things until they stare us in the face—much like the rest of the environment that is begging us to reconsider her abuse before she sets forth her fury. She’s tested us enough times, particularly during the past few years, but we and paying little heed to her warnings.  We haven’t really done much to capture rainwater through harvesting it and helping placate the problem. It’s quite paradoxical to see roads flooded and traffic stalling in the monsoon because water has clogged the roads. We have monsoons each year, with water going down the drain, literally and metaphorically.  Ironically, because we haven’t yet learnt how to use instead of abuse our resources.  So, we also have water shortages!!

 

DOGGAMIT: IT HURTS

Tipu, the Sultan of my heart, my growing up companion, my comfort fluff and my ever-faithful dog, whom I loved so much that I could never love any other like him, died of cancer.  I didn’t discover this until a week ago.  I didn’t have the courage to ask what happened, what caused it and how my parents handled it.  I was, even after all these years, not prepared to hear the details.

When he died, they just told me he had.  I remember crying for a long time, distraught and with a strong sense of loss. It took a lot out of me to accept his departure.  We had shared many a comforting, silent hugs in my childhood.  He was my go-to guy when things got bad at home.  He was my most welcoming, enthused wagtail when I came home from vacations.  We shared so much.

Over the years, I didn’t loose my affection for dogs.  I just lost the ability to love them so dearly.  Loving Tipu had cost me a lot of heartache and I wasn’t willing to go through it again.

So, when I found my growing children very fond of dogs, I got two, much to my consternation and not completely in sync to my wishes.  Nevertheless, having felt strongly about Tipu, I thought they deserve to experience this kind of affection and attachment in their lives.  I had greatly benefited from the kind of joy, comfort, companionship and love through Tipu, so how could I deny them that.

Taz and Coco, mixed Labradors have been with us for over 12 years.  During that time, the kids have loved them greatly, but I have kept my heart intact, caring for them intermittently, but never feeling the fierce attachment and love I felt for Tipu.  I’ve been called out about this occasionally.  But the heart is what it is.

Now, I discover that both our dogs also have cancer.  And they may have just some time to spend with us.  I don’t know whether its discovering that Tipu too had cancer that is driving me to take more care for them or whether I see Tipu in them writhing in pain.  I wasn’t there to help him.  Am I trying to find my nemesis through Taz and Coco?

Either way, it hurts.

“IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE, LIVING LIFE IN PEACE”

Most of my postings have thus far been about reflecting about my life, my experiences and what I’ve retrospectively garnered from them.  Although I’ve spent most of my career delving into political, economic, social, environmental and other issues about my country, complex and diverse as it is, to make foreigners, particularly Americans, comprehend its often dichotomous, yet unifying, trends, I haven’t yet posted a blog that reflects my take on this varied, yet analogous country and its issues.

That’s partly because my career required a certain discernment in disseminating information.  It didn’t begin this way.  In fact, my first job was as a journalist, and I expended time and energy learning to question why things were the way they were, and what possibly drove, or continues to drive them, to be as they are. And then, I moved on to not question so much, professionally at least.  I joined Public Affairs and wasn’t that free to voice my own opinions.  It was my job to engage with and impart information about the organizations I was working for.  It was different to be sitting on the other side of the table and be cautious about every word I wrote or spoke.

But there’s been a decent cooling period since I worked full time, and I think I can say exactly what I believe now.  Also, I’m getting on in years and if I don’t say it now, when will I?

At the outset, I’m unabashedly going to say that I love my country and, in spite of its inconveniences and faults, wouldn’t consider living elsewhere. Nevertheless, there are several things about it that bother me.  They are not unique to India, in fact I cannot imagine them not being universally prevalent.  But, apart from news that I read, and the information I absorb from my own travels and from those who have done so, I’m not best placed to comment about the extent of their impact on their people.

Here, in India, I’m particularly concerned about issues that affect our day-to-day lives.  These include, but are not limited to, safety of women, pollution, water shortage, our educational system that is way below international standards, particularly in government schools and rural areas, our wide economic gap between the haves that those that don’t and our unempathetic attitude toward those that have less, and our basic, increasing intolerance for each other’s beliefs and lifestyles, including whom we pray to, what we eat, wear or even, to some extent, to freely voice our dissent.

I could go on, but I’ll stop for now. Suffice it to say, that these trends portent the ill-health of a democracy, particularly as demographically diverse as ours, that needs more than most doses of tolerance for peaceful co-existence. What worries me even more in the escalating global trend toward isolationism, and lack of acceptance of people based on nationality, color, sex and religion.

Where did the concept of global village get lost?  It seemed worth striving for.  What happened to humaneness, humanity and working toward co-habiting and co-existing.  Unfortunately, we’ve sealed our hearts and our borders.  We’ve got just one world and we’re tearing it apart, not just by our misuse of it in the literal sense, but also by pitching people against each other, so those that inhabit it are also as ravaged as she is. A wounded, pillaged planet with people suffering likewise.

Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed.  Terrorism is terrible and has made us, rightly to some extent, extra cautious.  I believe it’s the extent of our suspicion and paranoia that might have stretched too far.  I’m too naïve to offer solutions to this ubiquitous phenomenon and do believe measures to ensure the safety of innocents should be taken.  It does, however, sadden to me see that this has so sharpened the divide, and so increased our levels of distrust, that we are no longer able to, no matter how hard we try, meet people on neutral grounds.  Our preconditioning, and our fears, are driving us to further widen the increasing gap. I despair and believe this will only exacerbate the situation.

And in the circuitous quagmire, I can only advocate, hope and wish for tolerance and peace. As a human race, we’re done for, if we don’t embrace these.

 

COMMUNICATION THAT IS AND ISN’T

I don’t believe I’m technophobic or a luddite.  In fact, I’m earnestly learning to explore and connect through varied new apps that are indefatigably evolving today.  I say ‘learning’ because my messages and posts are not nearly as savvy as those of the younger generation. I write blogs that have no pictures to go with it. I am on Instagram, but barely post stuff, using it mostly to see what friends and family are doing, particularly my kids, especially when they are traveling and forget to inform me that they are safe and healthy. Photo-posts tell me their story and it’s fine to discover their journey this way.  Their postings reassure me.

Whatsapp helps me connect quite instantaneously with family, friends and groups that share similar interests.  I quite like this mode of communication for informative and quick exchanges. It also affords a way to reach people without disturbing them through a call, and if it isn’t urgent it works rather perfectly. I’m not much of a twitter, although I do follow tweets of people whose words and work interest me.  So there, I’ve covered most of the widely known social media communication channels!  There are several others, I know, but that’s about all I can keep up with.

Today, multifarious online communication channels enable me to reach far more people through the click of a button.  Quite robot-like.  And while I can discern that my online messages or posts have been delivered and read there is, apart from the correspondence, through a now widely acknowledged unsterilized channel that has currently exposed that my transmissions can be overt and public, no way for me to see, absorb, internalize and figure out the nuances behind the words that appear on my screen, particularly if the exchange is sensitive, argumentative and discordant, given that we are communicating through an ephemeral space that cannot capture the true, entire content and meaning of our messages.

I do believe that what is communicated through these channels is not the complete, or perhaps, on occasion, the true picture.  For example, my kids Instagram posts are a snapshot and don’t offer deep insights into their true being, because they are mostly upbeat. I haven’t yet viewed a post that is despondent.  So, while I recognize the power, influence and capabilities to reach people through these, now dominant, ways of connecting, I also lament about this mode of communication that doesn’t often reveal the real picture and/or help establish honest, real-life connections.

In spite of the advantages these numerous electronic communication ways offer, there’s been a fallout, as many studies have extrapolated. I am anxious about the fact that the new, techno-savvy, generation is passing out on, or and is getting increasingly oblivious of, the import and advantages of physically connecting with people because I believe nothing can replace that.  Often, they miss out on eye contact, body language, the unsaid word, the subtle gesture, the nuances behind exchanges, and the feeling of really having met and connected with a person.

I’ve accepted that this generation is exploring and finding friends online.  I’d be dumb to think I could stop that. I do however, worry about the extent of their dependence on these modes and their ability to discern and make wise decisions about whom they are connecting and conversing with, sometimes an evanescent, online figure, and their capability to decide a cut-off point to disconnect. Most kids believe they know best and, in spite of advice given that they would dismiss precisely because of this, there’s little else one can do.

In the short run, I believe social media, and obsessions with it, is increasingly alienating people instead of connecting them, perhaps contributing to unreal situations, and denying us real-time conversations. The medium has enhanced stress, alienation and anxiety in youth and parents, increasingly quantifying, qualifying and measuring their lives through over-usage of online communication.  Parents are struggling to keep up with new modes of connectivity and technology, learning as fast as they can, but not completely doing so, even as they strive to reach out to their children who are, now just like them, becoming increasingly absorbed with what is delivered on their mobile phones, at the expense of real conversations. Today, it’s tough to imagine going with family or friends without anyone reaching out to their phones.  What is happening online, subterfuges our attempts to meet and talk. Mostly, the physical, real-time space, pauses for people to finish responding to messages, overtaking conversations and eating.

The truth is parents are as much caught up in this online world and cannot, in all honesty, complain about their kids constantly being absorbed with their mobile phones. It’s a vicious circle, although I think parents are better placed to blink first.

There are other hazards to online communication. Often, I get e-mails, spam messages and telephone calls that are outrageous. These are difficult to figure out. The spam numbers are indecipherable. So, now, I’ve, through trial and error, learnt not to respond to random emails or pick up calls from unknown numbers. As exposures to hazards of online communication are increasing, I’m feeling more strongly about the lack of real-time connectivity and the hollow online methods of communication.

In spite of my concerns, I think online connectivity has advantages.  It offers me options of easy connections with family and friends, given our absorbed lives.  And, as much as I find the method cold and remote, I accept, and sort of appreciate, these connectivity modes. I don’t know how my relationship with my parents would have panned out if we had these communication channels then.  It might have been different. Maybe, in spite of the relatively conservative times we lived in, I might just have been able to strike a more ‘open’ relationship with them, sharing more.

Perhaps, it might sound self-contradictory for me to state that while I’m not opposed to the new methods of communication, I find them debilitating and obstacles to forming real relationships and have honest conversations. I believe what’s lacking here is a sense of balance that is currently heavily tilted toward to online communication. It’s overshadowing the fact that we don’t really physically meet and talk so much anymore and even when we do, we are distracted.

Walk out, reach out, meet and really connect. As for me, while I’m a believer in all of this, I’m getting increasingly sucked into learning not to be technophobic or a luddite.

And find a balance.

 

NOT MARRIED? YOU HAVEN’T SETTLED DOWN

As a young girl in India, my parents and relatives frequently suggested I ‘settle down.’ That, here, commonly translates into getting married. If I was not betrothed, I was unsettled.  What I found most disturbing about this phrase, and its expectations, particularly for a girl who had dreams and ambitions of doing something meaningful with her life, was that implicit in this, and reiterated incessantly, ironically and most vehemently by my own people until I started feeling inadequate and insecure, was that I must not just ‘settle,’ but ‘settle down.’

I must ‘settle,’ implying that I make compromises and ‘adjust,’ an oft-used, favourite word in India, that mainly implies that I physically and emotionally compromise to fit into the established norms and practices of my marital home and family and let go of my own proclivities.  The ‘down,’ part of the phrase is, in my opinion, even more loaded, obviously intending and requiring that I must scale down my professional ambitions and desires and accept the traditionally defined role of what women are supposed to be—subservient, accommodating, keeping house and hearth and playing the predominant role in the upbringing of children.

All of this went against my being! Although, in defence of my parents, and in spite of the continual pressure they put on me to get married, they hoped I’d find someone who understood this.

The Webster dictionary describes ‘setting down’ as ‘to begin to live a quiet and steady life by getting a regular job, getting married, etc.’  The definition doesn’t distinguish between men and women and, although this is a generic explanation, perhaps that’s the irony.  It certainly implies different things for men and women.

For men it maybe suggests that they’ve ‘sowed their wild oats,’ and become more monogamous, responsible etc.  And that’s fine.  But when said to women who refuse to be defined by the stamp of marriage, including me, at an age when I was evolving to become my own person and when my parents, for whom it wasn’t enough that I had found my feet, and were desperately looking for someone I could marry, it had a rancorous ring. Definitions are relative, and cultural and sex-based interpretations of the same phase elicit different, sometimes completely opposing responses.  For most Indian women brought up in traditional, conservative households, who believe it’s important to get married, it’s not a phrase they take umbrage to.

But I did.

Why did they feel I wasn’t settled when I had a great job with one of the world’s widely read, acknowledged, appreciated, recognized and admired magazine?  I mean how many people my age would have been excited to be part of Time-Life News Service, South Asia Bureau, New Delhi.  I thought getting that job was a coup of sorts and felt very fortunate to have gotten the break. Having become part of it, I learnt many things and celebrated my first byline with friends.  I felt good.  My name displayed under a story published in TIME magazine. Wow! I thought I’d made it and had ‘settled up.”

What was it that still made me so vulnerable in the eyes of my parents who thought that, in spite of this, being married was the ultimate way to establish that I was going to be fine? Why would they think getting married would settle me?  I had this discussion ad nauseum with them, and ultimately, in spite of their sort of liberal stance, knew that this issue would not be ‘settled’ for them unless I was married.

So, that was their stance. But to be fair, and in spite of my resistance for not being defined by my marital status, and what might appear to be contradictory, I did want to have a family and children.  I just didn’t want my entire existence to be defined by this parameter.

Admittedly, I was doing well at work, but I was enmeshed in a sense of loneliness.  During that time, I felt strongly about motherhood and a longing to belong. I might have espoused many thoughts about women’s liberation, but, I wasn’t strong enough to have kids out of wedlock.

As life, and my parents, would have it, I did get married.  I was fortunate to have a husband who didn’t expect me to compromise on my career and just ‘settle down.’ That was great. So, I didn’t really ‘settle’ or ‘down’ in my marriage.  But there were other issues and perhaps because of my inability to compromise, my marriage, as most of ours do, went through some turbulent times.

I continued to work and, through that, tried, gently and sometimes aggressively, to tell my husband about the import of him learning and taking responsibility for some domestic chores that are conventionally regarded as women’s domain. I was striving hard at work in this basic ‘man’s world’ doing and competing against, what they think they do best, and defying that conviction with my contribution to work. So, while we both ideologically believed in equality, I didn’t see that translated much at home. I was the primary provider and the nurturer.

Many women have now spoken up about how difficult it is to balance home and still succeed  in what is widely acknowledged as a male dominated work place. That was partially true for me in the latter part of my career, but I strongly believe that’s the case. At home, although the sex-based power dynamics were not that stark, I felt the lack of support in day-to-day chores that were important to ensure the smooth running of the lives of our kids and the home.  Over time, and after several discussions, it became apparent to me that while my husband broadly believed in equality, he just hasn’t had the training or exposure during his growing up years to be able to translate this into action.  I was, however, upset with the fact that he didn’t try hard enough to pick up some domestic skills that would have helped somewhat.

That was, and continues to be, the core of our disagreements.  While I had made the leap to take on the world and prove that women are as good as, if not better than men, at work, at home, the story was moving at a tortoise pace and the rabbit was often running out of patience.

In real life mostly, the end of the rabbit-tortoise story doesn’t end the way it has been traditionally espoused.  The rabbit doesn’t take a nap! And when that happens, she races ahead and the tortoise must increase his pace or be so left behind. Otherwise that distance just cannot be covered and can lead to resentment and unhappiness.

I think it’s time for men to wake up and run! Women are moving at an exponential pace. If men want to keep abreast, they need to dramatically change their attitude, lifestyle and maybe footwear. Just do it!

And while we are at it, just truly settle down!

 

 

DEPRESSION WASN’T RECOGNIZED OR ACKNOWLEDGED WHEN I WAS GROWING UP

When I was in college, I remember making a half-hearted attempt at slashing my wrists.  If I think back, it wasn’t so much about killing myself as it was that I wanted someone to reach out to me, someone to speak to and someone who would give me some TLC. This acronym might have changed over the years, but I mean Tender Loving Care.

Several factors converged for me to feel desolate, helpless and lonely.  I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing and where I was going.  Add to that the emotional turmoil that adolescence brings, not all of one’s making, that takes its toll on your already frail being.  The combination can become quite overbearing. But questions, concerns and apprehensions don’t really stop there.

Growing up years are fun and exciting, mostly, but also fraught with anxiety, challenges and testing times. Having thus far being ensconced in the relatively safe environment of school and, to some extent, college, transgressing that leap into the real world is perhaps the biggest one makes where decisions about careers, directions, aptitudes and opportunities offered are overwhelming.  Then there’s the emotional space, raw and beckoning, as you seek endorsements and reassurances for your physical appearances and yearn for company that will provide sustenance for your need for intellectual and emotional connectivity, hoping to meet someone who, as confused as you are, will provide you these.

That’s quite a handful of expectations and desires, particularly when you are befuddled and looking for some sort of direction.  In my case, I pretty much handled these on my own.  Although I had the support of my parents, I didn’t share my problems with them and so I didn’t have recourse to any advice they could have offered to help navigate me through those tumultuous years. It was then that I experimented with living the most, sometimes dangerously so, felt lonely and shaky about my future. My home life contributed to the strife.  It was unconventional, in the true sense of how families live, and that clashed with my then very strong beliefs and ideology of, what I thought was fair.  My only three years spent at home were disruptive, for me and for my parents for sure, but also a poignant phase in my growing up years, albeit in retrospect.

Then I moved on, came to Delhi for further education.  Post that, my first job had me rent a flat and live by myself.  My job took a large part of my day and sometimes even nights, given the time difference between India and the US, and the archaic communication channels of that time, and I struggled just to live—the domestic chores that were required to keep a semi-functional house, friends who knew I was by myself dropping in for fun, and my body that yearned for rest even as I sought to keep up my social calendar to fill days of loneliness.

So, parties would happen, we would drink ourselves silly, dance and sing, and then everyone would go home.  They were fine while they lasted. Post that, cleaning up the house and getting it in some semblance left me exhausted and empty.  There was also a huge emotional fallout.  A strong sense of loneliness and feeling low. Everyone had enjoyed themselves and now I was by myself.  No one called the next day, probably nursing hangovers.  I suffered major post-party blues. And even as I pushed myself to clean up, I had this weight on my chest that made me not want to get out of bed and not go to work.   I felt depressed and unworthy, wondering what exactly I was doing with my life. At times, I didn’t eat sometimes and had to push myself out of bed to get to work. I was emotionally fraught and physically exhausted.

Even today, I don’t know if what I went through counts for depression.  In any case, at the time I was uninformed and therefore, didn’t seek help.  I just trudged and fumbled along and, at some point, things just got sorted.  At the end of it all, I didn’t do too bad.  I went through my grind, heartaches and sorrow and found my way, somewhat.

And so, because I had handled things on my own, I failed to recognize my daughter struggling through a dark phase in her life while at school, thinking she’d snap out of it.  She did try to reach out to me, seeking help, but I didn’t hear her and I didn’t see it, busy as I was trying to succeed in my job.

I regret that.

Having gone through something similar, I should have recognized it, more so because times have changed, marital relationships have become more complex, and there are increasing pressures around all the issues we went through, in addition to more varied channels of communication and information that could exacerbate the problem. Perhaps I took too long as a parent to understand the changing world that, in spite of claiming to be more connected, is creating people who feel quite the opposite.

Therefore, I’m glad there is an increasing recognition and awareness about depression and the recourses that exist today to address it.

Seeking help for depression is so very important.

 

OPEN, HONEST COMMUNICATION IS IMPERATIVE

Whenever I’m concerned about some things my kids do that could border on the ‘unconventional’ or are ‘risk-prone,’ I try to think, for perspective, of some of the ‘gutsy’ things I did while growing up.  Post my schooling years, if I were rated and judged by socially acceptable norms of that time, I’d say, I quite defied them.  I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit to doing things that, if my parents ever found out about, would have upset them.

I lived away from them, in hostels, most of my growing up years and my parents hadn’t much knowledge, apart from the basic, about what I was up to. I shared ‘highlights’ of my academic record, some of my accomplishments, but never my anxieties and apprehensions.  That was also the age of limited communication modes and connectivity.   We ran down two flights of stairs when our parents called, to talk to, or try to make semblance of what they were saying through a static-induced telephone lines that often went dead. Our communication, metaphorically, and in reality, was long distance through inaudible telephones, muted and selective.  I told them about stuff that would appease them, deliberately skipping, or circumventing, topics that, in spite of taking up large spaces of my emotional well, or unwell, being, partly because I thought they wouldn’t understand and be judgemental about what I had done, creating a semi-truth kind of relationship.  So, I was busy doing, or undoing, my thing, away from parents. But, even while growing up, and perhaps because of my relationship with my parents, I knew that’s not the kind of communication I wanted with my kids.

The thing is that, in spite of my firm belief that my parents stood steadfast behind me and would support me throughout, this disconnect that I shared with them about not being able to tell them about incidents that might have impacted me tremendously but were beyond, what I had at that time thought, their ability to comprehend without being shocked created a chasm between us.  Over this brief growing up period that space widened, along with my stretching established norms.  With my increasing independence and desire to be my own person, I did many things that I hid from them, going through some very choppy adolescent years without much advice.  The fault was both ways–their attitude, as I understood, or, in retrospect, misunderstood it, and my own, perhaps unfounded, doubts.   I never really tested their ability.  I was living life, making mistakes and, what I thought, learning along. Nevertheless, the perceptions fed on each other and I couldn’t get myself to break the cycle.

With motherhood, however, and given my experience, I wanted to change the way I communicated with my kids and visa versa. It wasn’t easy initially, particularly when my kids were young, because I valued honesty earnestly.  I didn’t know how to handle their confession with appropriate punishment. Balancing the fact that they had shared their misdemeanour with me, I also had to consider, like most of us do, what kind of consequence they should face. Admittedly, for some years, my moral and ineluctable belief in honesty over-shadowed my ability to appreciate them telling me the truth and I might have been harsh, punishing them for the wrong they did rather than appreciating them for being honest.

I’m sure my conduct and reprimands impacted their spontaneity to speak out. The un-intended fallout of instilling an important value and maybe not getting it right.  Parental hazardous. So, I might have screwed up on balance. But over time, I tried to rectify this, valuing their honesty, because I wanted to know what they were doing, rather than being judgemental, and they started to share more and more with me.  Admittedly, sometimes I struggled to strike the right balance between appreciating honesty with concerns about the direction my kids are taking.

Our conversations through some of these confessions have been, and still are, difficult.  But I’ve tried hard to accept a lot and attempted to guide them through some, now widely practiced, but contentious issues.  Given our more or less, open relationship where we can, somewhat discuss most things has led to its own dynamics.  We argue a lot more and sometimes I feel they’ve crossed the line, becoming judgemental, (they could say the same for me, I suppose) obstinate, sticking to their beliefs in an ideological space.

That’s good sometimes, but occasionally, I think back of how I wouldn’t have done this ever with my parents! I guess it’s a price you pay for honest, open communication with your kids. Nevertheless, I do strongly believe that just like we are trying to bridge this communication gap, our kids also need to make a concerted effort in trying to do so. Somehow, we must try and meet mid-way.  Respect for viewpoints must be acceptable both ways.

It’s not going to work otherwise.

VOICES FROM THE PAST: IT’S TAKES AGES TO ACTUALLY HEAR THEM

I believe, and am told by those who know me well, that I’ve toned down, but broadly I have been, and ideologically still am, quite a strong-willed, sometimes much to others chagrin, a liberated woman who’s pretty much espoused the cause of, and tried to live up to, in addition to influencing my daughter, to be an independent, fortitude person.  At times, I could have stretched my beliefs to extremes for those close to me who  think I am hard-headed, inflexible and micro-manage.

I’ve accepted these admonishments and tried to work on some that I think are justified.  Today, my decision about what areas I must improve are mostly driven by my belief that I no longer wish to expend time and emotion on people who don’t really matter,  partly because I’ve realised, and appreciate, the import, and acceptability of diversity of thought and action in people.

Sometimes, however, now that I have the time, I think about what might have caused me to become what I am.

Recognisance and reflection, and the need to discover what contributed to my persona and absorb, or dismiss, important events and influences in me provide fleeting rays of light that may or may not really reflect the true contours of my life.  When, and at what stage, you start to take stock of what happened to you in yesteryears and then write about your life and experiences is also determined by when you choose to open up and tell it as you see it.  Time plays a crucial role in the way we perceive things. There are, undoubtedly, other truths of those who have shared my life that also might change when told with age and time.  Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon,’ that I watched while in college, best exemplifies this.  But I’ll tell it as I know it best.

My life could be documented and perceived in several different ways depending not just on who is telling the story, but also on when they choose to tell it, in addition to the part of the story I or they wish to share.  There are parts that are private and then there are those that, in spite of being so, influence the way they might tell my story by the choice of words they and I use.

For me, and for the way I was and somewhat am, I think I’d be able to tell it best when I think about my mother mostly.  I miss her a lot and that’s a little bit unusual when I measure it with my relationship with my daughter.   We weren’t, my mom and I, very close and I didn’t share confidences with her.  Having lived in a boarding school through most of my formative years we didn’t share a special bond in the literal sense.  When I lived with her for 3 years of my under-graduation, we had strong, conflicting opinions about how I was living, and my frequent rebellious outbursts.  In retrospect, I must have been one helluva daughter to handle, causing her anguish because, I believed she wouldn’t understand what I was going through, and I was self-absorbed, insouciant, and impatient–not spending time explaining my actions and anxieties and dis-engaging with her. I think, because I thought her emotional dependence on my Dad was a weakness, I overlooked her tremendous strength as a person. She had her own tribulations that she handled admirably.  But as a young, ideologically driven girl, I didn’t make allowances for our different approaches to her problems, absorbed as I was in my own growing up angst.

Perhaps because I couldn’t stand, and sought escape routes by absconding, the pain my mother was enduring, although I must admit I contributed to it as a teenager stepping into adulthood, I was a rebel, I can look back and know that I should have been around much more. Although we were temperamentally diametrically the opposite, my biggest inspiration, and my effort to calm down, comes from my mother’s advice that I dismissed during my growing up years.

I miss the sound of her voice, her wisdom and advice.  Voices from the past come back later, not when you should have heard them in the first place. It’s the tragedy of a lot of advice we receive. We don’t hear it when we should and we’re wiser, mostly, when afterthoughts and things said come back from the past, echoing in our mind and when, years later, we encounter similar situations.  That’s when I mostly say:  I get you Mom.  Now I do!

COMING CLEAN: SOMETIMES IT TAKES TIME

Last week-end, while sitting around after lunch, I discovered, through casual confessional conversations, how, several years ago, one of my children had blamed the other for my broken mobile phone, for which the wrong kid got admonished. While they were looking out for each other or had secret pacts and deals, I had scolded the innocent child for this expensive aberration.  Through the talk, although I felt bad about my misguided rebuke, I appreciated the fact that they had each other’s back and shared confidences and a good relationship while growing up.

The conversation, as it proceeded with increasing confidence to share confidences, made easier, I guess, because much time had distant the event, and delayed reactions are mostly subdued, however, revealed two things.  That this was not an isolated incident, there had been several others where the innocent stood guilty, and had borne my ire, reprimanded for wrong reasons, and second, more important, that I hadn’t expended adequate time, and therefore failed to garner insights that would have helped figure out where and with whom the problem lay and resolve it meaningfully and fairly.  Both are intertwined.

I’m not going to admonish myself too much on what happened then because I believed what I was told, a recipient of information and, given that, responded the best way I could. Nevertheless, I could have spent more time to figure out what was really going on, given the different temperament of my kids, caught it, and changed the way subsequent aberrations were handled.

My accepting as truth of what I was told and reprimanding the innocent confessor, my occasional lackadaisical responses to follow-up queries and proclivity to brush the event aside and move on, possibly festered the continuity of this situation.  As it was want to be. If things are going undiscovered, then it’s safe to continue.

Parents strive hard to instil basic ethical values in kids through their formative years.  Honesty, fairness, equality, tolerance and respect were some that I tried to emphasise. These are important to me, probably driven down by my parents and my adolescent experiences, and I wanted to instil them in my kids as well. While that’s good, I think it’s also important to create an environment and space where these are evident, regularly displayed and encouraged through action.  I believe I showed these through my actions—at work and at home—but in retrospect, while I was doing so, hoping my kids would pick these up, it wasn’t enough.

And maybe that’s where I could have added more value!  When I aggressively voiced my disapproval for telling untruths, I created an unsafe space for them to feel encouraged to tell the truth.  A negative approach to a positive attitude.  And maybe, out of fear of being yelled at for telling me what exactly happened, they sought each other’s support to admit to their mistakes and make amends. If one believed that they were going to get more flak than the other, they’d switch roles.  Now it’s clear that the kid who just looked down, and apologized through the diatribe, was more easily forgiven. That child wasn’t necessarily the perpetrator!  This revelation would have come to me, but the exercise obviously required time, and I didn’t have so much of it then. I was well intentioned but lacked the patience to arrive at fair judgements.

In spite of the regrets, I obviously got some things right.  It might have taken time, but if they could confess their follies years later, they got the essence of the basic ethical values I had tried to instil.  They weighed their confession against many other considerations that they might have struggled with during that time.  You cannot rat on someone, least of all your sibling. You take the blame because it’s easier if you do.

Moral values are absolute, or so I thought, particularly through my adolescent years, and to a great extent still do so.  For me, they’ve been black or white. I stuck to this notion for the longest time, until I understood that my honesty may not reflect another’s perspective of the same situation, driven, and influenced as they might be, by what they perceive to be real. Although I’ve understood this to a point, trying hard to give even honesty some flexibility, I am still working on figuring out the line between the two.

Confessions that afternoon made me feel good. And although I felt cheated and remorseful for a while, I understood their perspective and needs, driven through internal and external circumstances.

While I get that somewhat on a personal level, I’m still struggling with how this can be professionally devastating and boomerang.

Flexibility of core values is a dangerous thing because it doesn’t know how far to stretch if you’ve started to do so. And if extended too far, and who knows what that length is, it might snap.