Soulmates, the Entire Universe Conspired to Bring Together

Remember Om Kapoor (Shahrukh) in Om Shanti Om, “agar kisi cheez ko shiddat se chaho to saari kaynat use tumse milane mein lag jati hai” or the original from The Alchemist “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

So what chance do you think a girl can have against a boy who decides at age 7 that she is his best friend and he wants to spend his life with her? Practically none. At least I didn’t. That’s our story – A match – the Universe conspired to bring together.

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We started school together – in class 1. Our families knew each other and therefore so did we. As far as I was concerned that’s the reason he was invited to my birthday parties. We became close friends in teenage and stayed so till end of school – at which point he decided to come clean with his real feelings – which were quite strong and took me by surprise. (As always like the clueless girl in movies). I was however, quite sure that a) this is no age for a relationship and b) he was definitely not the prince charming I wanted – quite the opposite in fact. (NOT tall, NOT dashing, NOT the extrovert, actually nothing that I expected!) He was more of the guide who advised me on boys and relationships (not surprisingly he always warned me off any of my crushes!!!) (also now I realise, why he advocated the merits of marriage when I was in the “marriage is bad” phase.)

So long story short – I said Sorry, this is not the time and you are not the one I am looking for. BUT we can remain friends, if you want. (Only now I realise how traumatic friendzoning is!) So sure was I that he is not the right guy, I told my dad that IF EVER I fall for him in the future, my dad will remind me and tell me not to marry him!

And then both of us went to Delhi to our different colleges, with a promise to stay in touch. I realized too soon that this fake sort of a friendship wasn’t going to work – it just made him feel worse and so we decided not to meet anymore. And I thought that is THAT!

But what I had not accounted for was the UNIVERSE. The universe that was conspiring behind my back. After two years of not meeting, not talking, we met by a chance. And then he said those magic words, (No, not I love you) – he said, “I have gotten over you”. This sentence had a profound impact on me and I felt like a free bird after years. The guilt that had enveloped me, evaporated instantly.

Next, we met at a friend’s place those summer holidays and to THIS DATE, I don’t know why I told him that I would like to be friends again. We travelled back to Delhi together, with a promise to meet again. And by the time we met the next day, I had fallen in love. (I know, this sounds ridiculous even to me, but that’s how it was – when it is the universe, you can’t really question it).

And that was the start of a relationship so deep and intense – I had not known anything like that before. Busy with our studies, we did not have the luxury of time, and met for a few short hours. These meetings were desperately awaited – and I remember the instant grins that covered our faces, as soon as we sighted each other. Even now, whenever we meet, we cannot hold back the grin!

There was so much to say and so little time! I started to write to him in a notebook, pouring in every little feeling and thought, which I would read out when we met. Emotions so raw and pure and that I find it difficult to read that notebook again. He expressed through his verse. He would give me scraps of paper he wrote on and I would painstakingly copy it out in another diary, dotting it with little flowers and leaves I habitually collected. The two notebooks are now our little treasure – a souvenir of the first year of our relationship – both written in Hindi. Hindi – I know now, is the language of my heart – and English the language of my brain.

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After that one year of pure bliss we had to face the reality of separation – I had to go for further studies. So on I went, both of us realizing that many relationships do not survive the distance. And there were many friends who assured us, this would not last. However, we survived and not for one or two years – but for all of six years as we studied and worked in different cities. And now today, we celebrate our thirteenth Wedding anniversary.

After years of separation and longing, finally we started on our marital journey. (to be fair, my dad did remind me of my earlier wishes!!) As our love matured, we also realized that we were two very different persons. In fact one can say entirely opposite! Starting from food, to choice of entertainment to our right and left brain differences! He loves eating out, I am the daal roti person, he prefers to act on impulse, I can barely move without planning, being on time is sacrosanct for me – an inconvenience for him, he loves to shop, I only bother when I really need something, he likes to spend, I prefer to save, he loves the room chilled, I prefer being warm and cozy (except, on days I want lower temperatures, he is mysteriously feeling cold!)

But we adjusted to each other – adapting and respecting each other’s view point. Our differences and our ability to think beyond them has become our strength. We have, I believe become the wind beneath each other’s wings. Looking not at each other, but towards the same direction.

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I was always pretty sure of never marrying an entrepreneur. But when he decided to tread the tough path of an entrepreneur, I supported him and my job brought the much needed security. When I was offered a good role in Mumbai, he was the one who insisted I take it and that we could manage living separately. Even now, when I think about international positions, he is the one who says go ahead, we will manage. Despite being a compulsive planner, I am learning from him that once you tread a path solutions may follow. The lack of an answer should not stop us from moving ahead.

Our differences make us a stronger unit. When we heard Anvay’s diagnosis, it was he who lifted me. His ability to take it in his stride, brought me out of my sorrow. When he cried bitterly at my father’s passing, I held him and when I wept alone for my father, he held my hand.

Like any couple, we have had our share of differences. In fact we irritate each other all the time. My father used to say that we are like two daggers always pointed at each other – except that the daggers are made of butter. We have also had some big fights. But at the end of the day, when we met after work, neither could suppress the grin that suffused our faces.

So I live comfortably in the knowledge – till the grin remains, we are doing fine.

 

Why is it SO Important to Know and Understand CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The number of child abuse cases coming to light seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, 4 children in India suffer from abuse. Often, in the same day’s newspaper, more than one child abuse incident is reported. Moreover, these cases are not restricted to a particular gender or economic class. In fact, contrary to popular perception, young boys are at a higher risk of sexual abuse than girls.

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No parent feels secure today. Many parents are worried when they leave their child alone even in safe or secure places. I have an eight year old son, and whenever he goes down to play in our apartment complex, one part of me is always worried. This is despite the fact that I live in a gated community, where strangers are not allowed in without permission and small children are not allowed to go out on their own. This is in such stark contrast to our own childhoods, where we played outside our homes fearlessly and our parents were assured of our safe return.

Living in such times, the FIRST THING that we as parents should know is WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. Most people erroneously believe it be only physical abuse. Inappropriate gestures or sounds with sexual intent, making a child watch objectionable content, all come under the category of abuse. It involves mental, physical and emotional abuse of a child through overt and covert sexual acts.

The NEXT most important thing is to MAKE YOUR CHILD AWARE OF ABUSE. Even a small child can understand the difference between private parts of the body and good and bad touch. I attended a workshop on sexuality during my college days, where during a session on child abuse, someone shared a very interesting anecdote. One of her friends had taught their young child about private parts and told her that if anyone other than her own parents touched her there, she should just yell, “Don’t touch my booboo”!!! Admittedly, it led to some fun and embarrassing moments, but the parents were at least secure in the knowledge that their child could scream out if required. Next, tell your child not to keep any secrets from mommy and daddy. This is important because typically, the perpetrator convinces the child that this is a secret between the two of them. Finally, parents should always keep channels of communication very strong between them and their children. It is only then that children will feel secure sharing their fears or negative experiences and emotions. For slightly older children – preteens and teens, it is important that parents start discussing sensitive issues such as attraction, crushes, relationships, sex and abuse. Children need to know that they have a right to say no when they are not comfortable in any situation. And also to not give in to peer pressure.

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THIRDLY, be able to recognize any signs of sexual abuse in your child. I think it is important to be aware of any cues the child may be giving – any change in behavior, refusal to go to any particular place or meet a certain person, any kind of pain or any bruises on the body should not be ignored. Other symptoms could include insomnia, bed wetting, a clingier than normal child, or a child who is withdrawn. Guilt and shame or confusion are very common feelings a child might go through. A parent, sensitive to the child’s subtle changes will be able to recognize such feelings more easily.

It is also important to be aware that the ‘abuser’ can be lurking anywhere – in our homes, in our housing complexes, in schools or in public places – in the form of friendly uncles, household help, guards, conductors, even friends or older peers – you name it. It is well known that most cases of sexual abuse happen with people whom the child knows.

In this scenario schools and day care centres become very important in partners in children’s safety and security. A child spends more time at these institutions than at home. It is natural for parents to want to ensure that the safety measures being taken are sufficient. There are a number of things that schools can do safeguard their students against child abuse.

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The first and foremost and also the easiest is to put in place physical infrastructure that can prevent abuse. Simple measures such as CCTV cameras in various parts of the school can be an obvious deterrent. Ensuring that support staff such as drivers, conductors, administrative department etc. are not allowed access to the school wing and have facilities that are separate from those of the students can also go a long way in enhancing security. Ideally there should also be a separation between senior students and the younger ones. Many young teenagers can also become perpetrators. School buses can also have CCTV cameras and any change in bus staff should be duly informed to the parents. A lot of the newer schools already have many of these facilities in place. Many day care centres allow parents access to live footage of the babies. Moreover, schools should have a no tolerance policy in cases of child abuse.

Secondly, it is important to educate both teachers and students about sexual abuse. This should be taught in all classes and children should be encouraged to reach out to an elder in times of difficulty. There should be anonymous helplines in place as well as counsellors in school. Schools should also put posters across the school, so that the issue of child sexual abuse does not become taboo to talk about. Teachers should also be trained about recognizing potential perpetrators as well as how to respond if a child approaches them or they observe a case of child abuse.

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Finally, as a society, it is important that we act in a concerted manner against the menace of child abuse – be gentle and responsive parents, alert citizens and responsible educators and care givers. It is important to break the silence around the issue and mainstream the discussion so that more and more parents and therefore their children become aware of child abuse and prevent such cases. As a society we should be able to raise confident and secure children, children who live in safety and are free to reach their true potential.

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This article was first published in April 2018 issue of The Education Insights

The first child – our experiments with Parenthood

Let me start by modifying an old adage – “The moment a child is born, parents are also born”. Both the mother and father step into parenthood together – an exciting but unknown journey. New parents are keen to do everything correctly, by the book and give their best shot at parenting.

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As parents, we believe that we are the ones imparting knowledge, but it is also equally true, that we are being taught by our children. Parenthood is a journey we undertake with our children, and the first child teaches us those first steps. He leads us on a path we have never tread before and he provides us the first opportunity to experiment our parenting skills! With this child, we learn how to be parents and simultaneously evolve as human beings.

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Arnav, our first born, gave us the gift of parenthood. It has been eight years, and the journey has been fantastic, peppered with fun, laughter, learning and not to mention, a fair share of challenges. Arnav evoked in us feelings we didn’t know existed. I will never forget my first look of the little pink creature. Tenderness assumed a whole new meaning! The little tidda – completely dependent on me for his every need. And he was my little doll!

And dad? He admitted that only now he really and truly understood the meaning of the word DARLING. (hmph, and I thought WE had a special thing going between us!!%*&#^%#%^). In office, he would go over and over again his little baby’s pics!! And let me break a stereotype here – supposedly men complain that their wives do not pay as much attention to them after the baby, in our case, I am the one who should file a complaint of negligence!

During pregnancy, I had naturally done a lot of googling on bringing up a baby, and even compiled it all in a book. But after Arnav was born, we ended up learning on the job, the book forgotten. I remember being scared of even holding him – he was so tiny and fragile! At the same time, I couldn’t imagine not co sleeping with him and overcame the fear of crushing him! And while we are on the subject of co sleeping – I would like to confess publicly how soppy we are as parents. Even as we moved Arnav to a separate room, we missed him a lot and kept bringing him back to our bed! And now with three kids – many times we still end up sleeping together! Yes, yes, I know three is a crowd and five is a railway platform!!

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Arnav was like an ideal baby, with a lovely temperament, didn’t make us stay up at nights, no howling, no colic, no tantrums. A hyperactive baby, but very easy to manage (unlike his bratty brother). The two’s were never terrible – we never had to use safety locks or clear away bottom drawers. We also let him be – apart from being conscious about his safety, we never really cared too much about where he was roaming or what he was licking and our floors were never mopped with Dettol. After all, we surmised, if he has to live in India, he might as well make peace with all the germs around!

We also agreed not to fuss too much about this new entrant and take life as it comes. We did not stop doing any of the things we did as a couple before. Consequently, he saw his first movie under the age of two months, went out with us everywhere, including a trip to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in freezing December at 10 months, getting wet in the first monsoon rains and numerous trips to Jaipur to meet his grandparents. Our unsaid belief being that a child will adapt to the surroundings he is brought up in. Be careful before you fuss for total silence while the baby is sleeping – you are likely creating a problem for your own self. Let him learn to sleep wherever he is regardless of whatever noise there may be. No point constraining ourselves or mollycoddling the babies. In fact I think they are better off for it. My uncle and aunt who were in the television industry carried their infant daughter around everywhere – at shoots, on a scooter, in freezing cold, at unearthly hours… and she adjusted fine – and has grown up into a smart young woman.

Similarly with Arnav. I joined work when he was four months, and dad took on the primary responsibility. Dad would take Arnav to his workplace in his little baby basket, armed with his diapers and milk and our helper. He would coo his way through the day, drawing admiration from dad’s many employees! He also spent some time with grandparents in Jaipur (sans mum and dad) without any fuss! And then at eleven months he started going to a crèche, which also he adapted to pretty quickly.

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Kapil is totally right brain and I love reading. So naturally we were keen that Arnav picks up at least one of these attributes from us! We started buying him a lot of books pretty early and by age six, he was a voracious reader – both fiction and non fiction. Now he tells us facts we were never aware of – for example we had no idea that the word Google derives from Googolplex which is a number nearing infinity. (btw we are not the only clueless ones – a number of adults we checked with did not know this!!).

We also started doing theme birthday parties for him, starting his on 4th. These birthdays have become an annual event, where soon after one birthday ends, we all start planning for the next. Both dad and mum and even nana- nani have gone overboard, planning and executing these birthdays, and these have really worked wonders developing Arnav’s imagination and knowledge. For every theme, he gets books and gifts related to that theme and so do his little guests. As a result, Arnav (read geeky child) now has some awesome knowledge about various things such as dinosaurs, space, pirates and detectives! (and deadly combination of reading and theme parties has resulted in the demand for a Harry Potter theme next year combined with a wish list of potion books, spell books… you get the point!)

We also decided to expose him to various activities to let him explore and find out his interest areas. We sent him for dancing, for cricket etc. to see if he found a passion. (he didn’t). It is very easy for parents to expect the child to be interested in things that they love or think are right. A small example – Arnav had to choose an extra curricular activity this year – choice being a lot of things like music, dance, drama, IT, robotics, home science etc. I was quite sure he would choose either one of the performing arts (these are things I loved) or robotics (which I assumed he loved). He chose home science instead – because he loves to bake!

Another friend told me how he worked his daughter hard on karate and now she is a black belt at age 8. But despite this achievement, he will probably not push his second daughter as much. I think the key is to keep ourselves open to the child’s wishes and not impose our own.

We were also quite clear that our parent child relationship would be based on mutual respect. So Arnav was always given due respect as an individual and treated as an equal (even at age 3!). (That does not mean that I have never screamed at him for driving me crazy). Basically this meant that we gave his choice and voice equal importance. My sister and I could share anything with our parents without fear. This is what we would want too. So we have kept our channels of communication open. This would ensure he comes to us when in doubt or difficulty and would not hesitate to trust our opinion.

I would like to believe that our approach has helped create a strong bond of friendship between us. (When Arnav’s nursery teacher asked him who his best friend was, he said Kapil. It took her very long to figure out that he meant his dad!) It has also helped Arnav adjust to his new brothers with ease. (after being an only child for 7 years – it might have been tough on him.) Dad increased his father-son time with Arnav, taking him out in the evenings (to Reader’s Cafe) , having heart to heart chats etc. And thankfully Arnav has transitioned very well into the role of the older brother – more than happy to take care of his siblings (including wanting to tag along one of them to school!)

So far, so good. But it isn’t always this hunky dory. I feel sometimes that we may have carried on this buddy relationship too far! Meaning, that there are times when we find it difficult to discipline him regarding work, he also seems to have developed the idea that he knows everything, and is not always ready to listen to us. I also feel that we may have given him too much choice in all matters, something that is now boomeranging on us! There are some values, that I think are missing  – such as focus, diligence and commitment. But maybe that is too much to ask of an eight year old!

I have also learnt that parenting style needs to be tailored to the child’s personality. I have seen both my mother and mother in law practice this. Both Kapil and I have siblings very different from ourselves. And I have seen how in both cases our mothers adopted a different style with each sibling – grooming and guiding them. I am still trying to figure out my child’s personality and this is evolving.

So for now I feel we have the work cut out for us – it is a question of how much to steer him and how much to let him evolve on his own. How much to discipline vs how much to let him free. When to be firm? How firm? How strict? I am not yet sure I know the right balance.

But as we continue trying our best, I do remember that we are just the bows from which we have sent forth our children…

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