Saturday, 22 April 2017

Dear Aunty,

It's been a year since you left and not a day has gone by when I don't think of you. On some days it can be a fleeting thought, but on others it can leave me sobbing. I've spent a year trying to understand this connect to you, trying to understand whether I'm imagining the closeness we shared. I still have no answers, other than to know that when I miss you it leaves me gutted.

I missed you when your grandson broke his arm, when he went to grade big 1, when he read his first sentence and when today he played his first chess tournament. I know how much you loved him. You would have been proud and you would have laughed when I told you about how he calls himself a potty launcher (he totally loves potty conversations, just like you.) You would have annoyed me to death asking about what he eats now, what he's playing, what he's saying. You always had a million questions to ask about him whenever you called. I hate that you won't see him grow. I hate that he will not know you, or love you, or miss you like I do. I hate that he will miss out on having you in his life. He will never see you cooking with a whiskey soda in hand, a little tipsy and a little giggly.

He won't know the incredible will you had. I cannot imagine what your life must have been like. To love a man so passionately that you gave yourself up for him. And then to have to share him, to have to split that love for the rest of your life. I cannot imagine your loneliness and your heartbreak. I only saw what it did to you. We look for role models and inspirational people who have gone out and done big things in life. But I feel it's people like you, who fought every day to make life just a little bit worth living. You fought the people you loved most and you fought the demons raging inside your head. And on some days you won, and those days were worth it all. I wish you'd fought harder to still be here today. It was not yet your time to go.

I remember hating you when I got married. But I was young and foolish and I didn't understand you. I think I made up for it in the last few years. I wish we had more such years together. I miss you, so much. I miss the pride you would've felt in seeing me in a documentary, in seeing my name on screen, in seeing me turn my life around. I miss you when I hear people bitch about their mothers-in-law, because honestly, I had one of the coolest. You never asked me to be anyone else.

There are a thousand memories of you that swirl through my head and almost all of them are hilarious. Your laughter was infectious and your love was so pure. You were like a little child, no boundaries. It could piss the hell out of me at times, but it also made you the large-hearted person you were. I still remember the time you raged at me and I had to call your son back from office because it was the most bizarre thing I had ever witnessed. But I also remember how genuinely apologetic you were when the storm inside your head was over. I wish I could have helped you more, so that you could have been happier, more at peace.

I thought long and hard about how to mark today for your grandson and myself. You weren't religious and neither am I. I thought of all the things that meant the most to you, and I came up with biscuits from Frontier. You and I, we're both foodies, but the passion with which you loved those biscuits, I've never seen that, before or after. So that's what we did Aunty, we bought lots of biscuits and gave them to the kids on the street. I think you would've been happy if you knew that.

I miss you Aunty, every single day. There's still so much we had to do together. And you never gave me that recipe of baingan with dahi. And I still think of you every time I break a cucumber in half so that it's not bitter. Or when I open the wallet you gifted me by mistake.

I don't know how to reconcile myself with the fact that you're gone. I still keep thinking that if I get on the metro I'll find you at home or at the hospital where I last held your hand as you slipped away. Maybe, that's why, I haven't been able to go to your house for the last year.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

As I turn 35...

Five years ago, on the eve of my birthday, on an international call I told my husband I wanted a divorce. The two years preceding that, I'd lived in my own personal hell, going back and forth, trying to decide whether it was time to pull the plug on my marriage. I was brought up to believe that marriage is forever and you don't give up on it. But I kept thinking, do I really want my forever to look like this? Yet the part of me that held back was screaming that I won't survive the split. And as I made my decision that night, I was convinced I wouldn't survive. That I hadn't just decided to end my marriage, I had decided to end my life. It was the last time I celebrated my birthday till this year, after half a decade.

As I brought in my birthday, surrounded by my closest friends I realized how wrong I was. I didn't just survive, I thrived. From the girl who didn't know how to write a cheque, I became the girl who now has fun with stocks. From the woman who felt all her dreams had turned to dust, I became the woman who pushed and fought to make my dreams come true, even if in a different way than I had imagined. And from a mother who felt resentful and tied down by her child, I became the mother who understood that her child makes her a better, happier person every day.

Was it easy? Hell no! The last five years have been the hardest of my life. I started out broke, unhealthy and unhappier than I had ever been. I spent a large chunk of the first few months getting drunk out of my wits and crying on the bathroom floor. I didn't know what the next day would bring. Would I ever earn enough to sustain my child and I? Did I have what it takes to be a mother, a good one? I was a broken human being. I just wanted to hide in a corner and ignore everything that came my way. And then, bit by bit hope started trickling in. People who were somewhat my friends came forward in unimaginable ways, offering unconditional support that I hadn't expected. I realized that if I wanted a healthy, happy child I was going to have to get my shit together and be the kickass role model he needed. And so I started to get my shit together. From shitty jobs, sleepless nights and complete cluelessness, I started heading towards something more meaningful in life.

The last five years have been hard and depressing and sometimes I've just wanted to quit. I've cried in the most unexpected places and moments. I have raged and screamed and asked why me a million times. But they have also been immensely rewarding and empowering. I have grown, as a woman, as a mother, as a friend. I have started discovering who I am, and I've started falling in love with who I am discovering. When people tell me that the good old college days were the best, I can't help but cringe and feel no. I loved that time, for the fun and the parties and the drunkenness. But this, this is the time I am loving the most. I am making my own decisions, decisions that take me closer to where and who I want to be. I am learning that life is rarely what you planned for, but the unplanned craziness that comes your way is just as good, if not better. And in these moments of finding myself, my voice, of being authentic, I am finding new ways of making my dreams come true.

So as I turn 35, I can't help but be full of love and gratitude for everyone who has come into my life. The support and love I have received from expected and totally unexpected quarters has been heartwarming. Never had I imagined that I would reach a place of such happiness in my life, professionally and personally. Thank you.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

To My Son's Grandmother

All I want to do right now is pick up the phone and give you a call. To hear your strangely nasal, halting voice. It is the voice that grated on my nerves while I was married. The voice I avoided and mocked. And yet in the last four years it became the voice I started to associate with comfort and understanding.
It is that need for comfort and understanding that makes me yearn to talk to you now. Not a day has gone by when you haven't entered my thoughts. My brain cannot wrap itself around the idea that you will never call me again. That I will not see your name flickering on my phone screen. I feel like an epic failure as a mother right now. You were the only one who would reassure me that I am not, without giving me any 'gyaan'.
That's what connected me to you - your authenticity. No one could ever doubt your intentions or say you were put on. When you disliked me or were pissed off, it was in my face. When you supported me, it was unconditional.
Every time I think of you, I wish things had been different. I wish so many years hadn't been wasted, shrouded in misunderstandings and unhappiness. I wish I'd had more time with you, that your grandson had more time with you. I know you loved him with all your heart, and I am so so sorry that he wasn't a bigger part of your life.
I see so much of you in me. I know you saw it too. You saw me make the decision you hadn't been able to. And you supported me through it, even though that meant you had to acknowledge your son's shortcomings. As a mother, I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you. But as a woman, I know you respected my choice, and it brought both of us closer.
We are so similar, you and I. Both scared, broken and lonely little children. Willing to give up so much of ourselves just to be loved, to be needed. I saw what it did to you, and I wish I could have helped you more. I'd like to think I did a little, just by listening to you and visiting you. But I wish I could have done more. I was trying so hard to save myself, I didn't think of you till much later.
I miss our long conversations, I miss how you always rooted for me. I wish I'd had more of them. I wish I'd visited more and stayed over a few days like you kept asking me to do. I kept thinking I would do it this summer vacation, but it's too late now.
I wish I'd spoken to you before you left the house. I hope you weren't still angry with me for not calling, when you left. I hope you know I came and met you and brought your grandson too. I hope that gave you some peace and happiness.
I can't bear to be in that house without you. It was your house. You were it's heart, it's life source. Even if you were alone there, it was never empty. But without you, no matter how many people are there, it's vacant. I feel like I'm betraying you, when I go there now. You were the link for me, the connect. Now that you're gone, I don't belong.
You always complained that I never wore the clothes you gave me, I hope you know I was wearing the salwar suit you gave when I came to meet you, the day you left.
I can't explain the connect between you and I. It's hard to explain. You weren't just my ex-mother-in-law (I was rarely able to call you that). You and I, our lives mirrored each other at so many levels. Was that it? Was that what connected us? What made us understand each other so deeply?
I don't know. All I know is that I feel your loss, at a visceral level. Life will go on. And sadly you were not a part of my world, in a daily way. So it's easy to think I've healed. But when I think of you, there is still an aching hole,
Am I glorifying you, our relationship, just because you're gone? No. You were a flawed person, by no means perfect, as am I. And you had in the past made my life hell, time and again. But that paled in comparison to what you gave me in the last few years. I never shared it before, because I didn't know how to. I didn't think anyone would understand. I don't know if they will now. But I had to write this, because I can't say it to you anymore.
Sorry for all the years we lost, the pain, the misunderstandings. And thank you, for being a part of our lives. You will always be with us.
I will always remember you. And I will talk of you often to my son. To let him know that his grandmother loved him immensely, unconditionally.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Still searching for me...

Every morning I wake up and struggle to define who I am. Am I the sad divorcee in a melee of perfect couples? Am I the girl on the verge of living her life on her own terms? Am I the person who chickened out and made the easier choices? Or am I the woman who's carving her own path, one little step at a time?

You'd think I'd know by now. I'm 33. You'd think I'd have it sorted out by now, but I don't. There are days when I can't even answer the basic question of whether I want to live at all or not.

And that's where I have been this last week. Wondering if I wanted to live at all. If it wouldn't just be easier to pack my bags and call it a day. To melt away slowly into the dark silences and not have to face another day. It's been a while since I was here. And it scared the hell out of me. After all, what kind of a mother is willing to leave her child behind in that most absolute, most scarring way?

A mother who isn't perfect. A woman who isn't always feeling strong. A girl who doesn't feel all that brave when the bright sun shines in her eyes every morning. I thrived on being told how strong I was. On how beautifully I had sailed through my divorce. What a brilliant job I was doing of raising my son. And as each compliment healed a wound, it also inflicted another one. I had to live up to that image of the strong, perfect mother. Whether I felt it or not. So much pressure built around it that I tried my best to brush aside all the little dark spots, all the lapses into sadness. I had to be little miss sunshine after all and ride away on my pink bicycle with my son sitting on the carrier and happy little puppies chasing us. I had to be the golden sample, the one who got it right.

That's a lot of pressure to put on anyone. To put it on yourself borders on madness.

Since one of the mandates I set for myself when I started this blog has been to be 100% honest, I'll say at the outset that I have considered packing my bags and taking the road out of life before. But it was different. In my younger days it was an inability to handle life. When I finally realized I would have to leave my marriage it was the feeling that I would not be able to face another day with my sense of self shattering into a thousand pieces.

This time it was a wake up call. Letting me know it's ok. It's ok to not be a perfect mom. It's ok to hate your kid for a while. It's ok to hate that your life is so different from what you'd wanted. It's ok that sometimes you're such a stark raving lunatic that your son looks scared shitless when he sees you. It's ok to cry as if every breath is draining out of your body. It's ok to curl up and feel a depth of sadness that you never knew existed. And it's ok to stay there for days, as many days as you need. It's ok to hear Everybody Hurts on loop. You don't have to be strong. You don't have to have your shit together. You don't have to be there for everyone. You just need to show up for you. And the rest is ok.

When all the drama was stripped away, all my body and mind were saying was TAKE A BREAK. Sit down. Breathe. Just leave everything else behind for a while. And a week later, slowly, I am crawling out from under the covers. Have I figured it all out? Do I have all the answers? No. But I know this, the search never ends. Every day I will redefine who I am. Each day I will be someone new, and that's also OK.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My son's grandfather

It was barely a year after my sister's wedding that her father in-law called me aside at a family gathering and sat me down. 'Humne tumhari poems padhi', I read your poems he said. After a brief moment of confusion about what he was referring to I felt a hot, red blush spread over my face. I hadn't given him any poems. I'd given my sister a bunch of poems which I'd hoped to publish as a book. Words and phrases came back in flashes to my 21 year old brain. These poems weren't meant for him. Among other scribbling I remembered there was one about two lovers tangled together. Could the earth please just split and swallow me whole right now I thought? I was ready for him to deliver a scathing speech on the rubbish youngsters write.

'Tum bahut acha likhti ho', you write very well he said. You have a talent. It's your duty to keep writing. I was stunned. Definitely not what I had expected from a 77 year old white-haired man who swore by Swami Vivekanand!

Over the years as I came to know my son's Baba, he became one of my biggest cheerleaders where writing was concerned. Every single time we met, he asked me if I was writing. During the years of my divorce, when I met him less and had virtually stopped writing, he insisted that I must write every day. He told me to read as much as I can, and I in turn tried to introduce him to my favored genre of books. He may not have agreed with them but he always read what I gave him and then had lively debates with me, providing counterpoints to my views. Everyone would stand around saying 'tumhari class le li Pitaji ne', but those were the moments I enjoyed most in my brother in-laws house.

As my son started visiting there more often he became his grandfather, his Baba. He laughed when my son made a birthday card with a blob of paint calling it kauve ki potty. He saw his willfulness before I did. He empathized with what I was going through.

I couldn't meet him half as much as I wanted to. And now that he's gone, I keep seeing him sitting there telling me 'likha karo'. His laugh was infectious. It's what I miss most. It's what my son misses most too. My son used to say 'bhagwan ji mujhse baat karte hain'. Now he says that his Baba talks to him from the sky, tells him he's ok up there, flying and free.

Many people talk of how well-read my son's Baba was. How learned and evolved. I don't doubt it. Yet what I always saw was a man with an incredible spirit, a love for life, a refusal to let anything bring him down. Someone with an innate sense of right and wrong, of fairness. A person who could empathize with everyone. A man who didn't judge anyone. It was interesting that he was one of the few people with whom I could be myself and feel that he saw me, for who I really was.

I wanted to write to him when our chances to meet reduced. I wish I had started sooner. I only got one letter across to him before he left and there was no time for a reply. I know that with time his memory will fade, no matter how hard I try to hold on. I figure the best thing I can do to honour him, to honour what he meant to me and my son is to write. To write everyday, to live my life honestly, to be the best person I can be. If I can be 1/10th the person he was, that will be my tribute to him. I am grateful that I had the chance to know someone like him. I am blessed that he was my son's grandfather, his Baba. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Fat Girl In The Corner

Recently I've been coming across some interesting things around bodies and stereotypes. I have hardly spoken about such things because I have spent my life being the "fat" girl and always thought if I voiced my opinion people would think I'm being too sensitive. Yet I would find myself incensed by the fact that everyone in the universe thought it was okay for them to laugh at me, to crack a joke, to tell me for my "own good" how important it was for me to lose weight. Friends, colleagues, strangers, lovers.

When did I start thinking of myself as fat and ugly I wonder? I know I didn't think it as a kid. Was it in 8th grade when the guy I had a massive crush on rejected me saying I was too fat for him? Was it when my sister's well meaning friend told me while helping me dress up for my birthday that I was so pretty I could be a model if only I lost weight? Or when the ex said I wasn't good enough cos heads didn't turn when I entered a room? Was I fat because I ate too much or did I eat too much because people had told me I'm fat so many times that I had started to believe it at a deep gut level?

I know only that most of my social life was an agonizing debacle of trying to find outfits that hid my fat and made me look good. Of going from pillar to post putting every face pack and night cream I could on my face to get rid of the angry red blotches of acne. Smiling at every fat joke. Some times even cracking some before someone else could hoping that would be less humiliating. Telling every man in my life that I was ashamed of my body, trying to hide it. I remember feeling grateful if they chose to be accepting. Grateful if a man was interested in me. I spent a lifetime undermining everything I have to offer in a relationship and settling for any man who was willing to accept my ugliness.

Movies, television, advertisements, books, all of them only speak of the fat, the ugly, the acne ridden as bumbling idiots or tragic heroes. There are the geeks who turned into beauties or just fumbled upon a good looking partner. There is never a person with a different face/body type who is the main protagonist with no excuses. I saw a movie recently in which an actress tells the hero that she can torment him and take revenge now for what he did to her twelve years ago because "tab main moti aur bechaari thi, ab main sexy aur powerful hoon". Those are the messages sent out to us every second of every day. We don't even realize it. I've had friends talk about their ideal woman and size was always a consideration. When did we as a society get so obsessed with how a person looks? To the point that its become one of the highest causes of depression and eating disorders. Where we have multi-million dollar industries to help us change how we look in every conceivable way.

Every day I see an article helping me define my body shape, pear, apple etc etc. Or one telling me how to get a bikini body. Or what kind of pants I should wear to minimize the debilitating effects of my shortness and wide waistline. And then I saw a line that said How to get a bikini body - Take your body, put a bikini on it. A switch flicked in my head. I was done with the bullshit.

I went on a holiday and I tried my best to wear what I WANTED to wear. Not what I should or what looked better. It was terrifying and liberating. It is time that people get over who's fat, short, dark, ugly. Really. I'm sure you have something better to worry about.

Here's Saif Ali Khan telling us his fascinating take on "ugly" actors. Saif, I'm ready to see a film about real people, however fat or ugly they are!

So, your wife told you that looking beautiful in Bollywood is more important than acting.
That’s a joke. She can afford to say that because she is beautiful and a good actor. Actually, I do think that it is equally important if not more. Because everyone is so fit, It is a visual medium. And I don’t think anyone wants to see a film about an ugly guy who is giving a great performance. We are not so mature as an industry yet. We are still trying to make beautiful films about beautiful people, unless it’s a niche film.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The voters who couldn't vote

I wanted to vote today. I started out at 9:30 am, found my election booth and stood in line. For the next hour I was shunted from one person to the other who told me my name is not on the list. I'd gotten a new card made last year at my new residential address. Yet my name was not on the list. I was asked if I had gone online and checked if my name was on the list. I hadn't, and that I admit was my mistake. I had voted several times before and didn't think my name could have gone off the list. But it had.

"Jahan pehle rehte the wahan ke booth par naam hoga aapka, transfer nahin hua hoga". So off I went to the booth I had always voted at. Found my mum, dad and sister. But my name was nowhere to be found. I had filled up my form, submitted it, picked up my election card. My name had been removed from the previous address but not been put on the list for my current address. I was not on the voters list.

I came back to my current poll booth and asked what can be done. How can we address this issue so that I may be allowed to vote? It had been 3.5 hours of running around and I was really frustrated. I really wanted to vote. I was given numbers of the SDM, sector officer and a bunch of other people. I called them. None of them could help me. No one had the discretionary powers to issue a letter allowing me to vote. One person asked me to come to him after 15th December.

By now I was at my wits end. In the last few hours I had seen innumerable cases of peoples names not being on the voter's list. Someone people had valid election cards and were standing there but their records had mysteriously been deleted, without any intimation or action undertaken by them. One old man had been voting for the last 40 years but was told his name was not on the list this time. He had stayed in the same house and voted in the same place. There was no reason his name wasn't on the list.

The only explanation repeatedly given to me was that someone must have come to your house to confirm you address. I said they hadn't. I was told I must have been out of the house. Is that valid reason to strike my name off a voters list? Even Flipkart and courier delivery guys call and come or come back again. Shouldn't I have been given a call, or had someone return or even leave a note telling me how to take it forward? I should have gone online and checked, but what about the scores of people in our country who don't have access to the internet? Don't they deserve to be on a voters list?

I saw so many people being turned away today, rich, poor, old, young, all out to exercise their right to vote. All people with valid election cards in their hands. Shouldn't there be some authority that can consider these cases and allow them to vote?

How do names mysteriously go off the list or get deleted? I got my card a year ago, why doesn't that ensure my place on the list? There were reporters from a prominent daily newspaper at the polling station who came to ask me what happened. Apparently it's happening across the city they said. They'd seen the same situation at all the booths they had visited. If I saw over a hundred such cases happen in front of me over a few hours at two polling stations I can't imagine the total number across the city.

There are so many campaigns urging us to vote. Yet here were hundreds of voters being turned away due to errors in the functioning of the electoral offices. Is that then a fair election? Is it not possible to make this system easier?

I spent a total of 5 hours doing this. Not everyone would. I really wanted to vote.