“My son has no friends” Inclusion is not so difficult – all that one needs is intent

“My son has no friends except for my cousins”, related a colleague recently. “He is having problems at school, but I am worried if I tell them about his special needs, the school may create even more issues”. She confided in me after she read my blog and found out that I have a special needs child.

Even though my baby is still small for school, I could relate to what she was saying. My special needs parenting journey has been less than three years, but I can already see how the special needs tag immediately sets the child apart. The fact that he is just a child like any other, a person first before being disabled, somehow gets lost.

My first brush with this ‘discrimination/ differential treatment’ was when my twins Abeer and Anvay were less than a year old. A relative visited us and when she was about to leave, she handed a toy to me saying it was for Abeer. I was quite taken aback but did not ask her why there was nothing for Anvay. Or why didn’t she say this toy is for both of them? The incident still bothers me. Another relative sent toys for Abeer, he didn’t forget Anvay, but felt unable to choose something for him.  But I don’t understand why. Anvay is a toddler and any nice bright toy would do. Why the hesitation or confusion?

We have relatives who call us regularly, but they only ask about Abeer. I have to constantly remind their grandfather, that he has three grandsons – but he keeps going back to asking only about Abeer. I know he is working on it, but I feel bad that this is something that has to be worked on. At parties, lunches, dinners, Abeer runs around making friends with everyone. Anvay, ends up getting largely ignored. Few, if any, people come by to talk to him. If they did, they would see he has a beautiful smile and will give you a high five if you ask.

And these are not just my individual experiences. I am not writing this blog to vent. This is a widespread phenomenon. Every single parent of a child with special needs would have gone through a similar or worse experience regardless of countries or cultures. And this number is not small. If you do a google search, you will see that around 10% of the world’s population has some disability. It is the world’s largest minority group. And I didn’t even need these statistics to figure this out. Until I started writing about Anvay, I had no idea just how many people in my immediate circle had children with special needs. They reached out to me after reading my blog.

around 10% of the world's population, live with a disability.

I have a young cousin who is visually impaired. His mother, my aunt, says that social exclusion is the hardest. While he is provided with basic rights like the opportunity to go to school, relevant materials, a special educator, but what breaks her heart is how he gets left out of social groups. How often he ends up eating lunch alone or does not get enough invites to birthday parties. She even says she has released expectations from the children in her family – when they know he can’t see, she wonders why they don’t come to him, talk to him and tell him what is happening. She is now teaching him to deal with rejection and avoidance at all levels, to help him become strong.

Being a member of many special needs support groups on Facebook, I keep coming across agonized parents, hurt or angry at how their children get treated. They could be invisible or for that matter ignored. Or even persecuted. Recently a mother of a teenage girl lamented that she did not know what to do for her daughter’s birthday. She couldn’t have a party, because no one would come and that would hurt her daughter’s feelings. Another mother once wrote about how hurt she was when her best friend invited her younger son for her child’s party but expressed her inability to invite the older, special needs child. Another parent talked about how her family was not being invited for an all family getaway and she suspected it was probably because of her special needs child. Another parent received an anonymous letter requesting her to keep her special needs daughter away from their children.

Ellen Stumbo, an active blogger talks about how her daughter with Down’s Syndrome was turned away from a dance class. Or Carissa from the United States talks about how her son Isaac, who is severely intellectually disabled becomes a tag along with his cousins, how his birthdays are forgotten or how he gets pushed to the sidelines in extra curricular activities. Another mother, Caiti is nervous before the start of every school year – wondering how her son will be treated in the new class.

Then of course there are strangers who stare, come across and ask weird questions. There are those who may treat you like the plague and ask their children to stay away.

Sometimes, this could even work the other way around, trying to be over protective could actually backfire. I have a friend whose son is unable to walk. He attended a regular school but got really mollycoddled by his teachers being the only disabled child in his school.  This is love – but the reason he was given all this love was because of his disability. The child figured that and like any other child used this to his benefit and the teachers could not be strict with him. By the end of the academic year, his parents were asked to withdraw him from the school as they felt unable to discipline and teach him. But this is another case of disability coming before ability. Had they looked beyond his disability, they would have disciplined him as they did the other children.

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I can carry on with many more examples, but the question is how do we address this exclusion? Are people even aware that their behaviour is discriminating? Or do they not care? My friend analyses this very well, “I have understood that there are three categories of people – the first, those who are naturally sensitive, second, those who have not been exposed to disability and do not know how to react and the third, who probably just don’t care or have a very negative notion of disability.”

I think she is bang on and hope that perhaps most people fall in the second category. I mentioned my family above – I know they all love us and I love them back. They would never do anything intentionally to hurt me or my family. Perhaps they just need to realise. And be willing to make that extra effort to overcome their awkwardness.

As a parent, I know I am my child’s best advocate, and it is my job to make people understand. It is my job to create awareness and sensitivity. It is my job to fight for his rights.

Being inclusive is simple. You just need the right intent. Remember to –

  • Accept – the first step to being inclusive is to accept. Accept people of different abilities in your attitude, speech, and actions. Talk respectfully and behave respectfully.
  • Understand – people with special needs are humans too – their disability should not come before their ability. They are complex individuals with emotions, needs and wants. Just like us.
  • Communicate – someone who is different, is just that – different. Like you and I are from each other. Their difference should not set us apart – you can communicate with them with your eyes, words and hands.
  • Empathise – understand how a special needs person may feel. Don’t sympathise, do not pity. No one needs that. Share and connect.
  • Educate yourself – have a special needs person or parent around you? Don’t make your assumptions about them – talk and understand. Ask questions. Do not feel awkward – everyone can tell the difference between genuine concern and general curiosity.
  • Raise an inclusive child – teach your child to be accepting of differences and diversity. They will be a better person for it.

BEING INCLUSIVE IS SIMPLE

Being inclusive is not difficult. Despite the challenges, there are some bright days. When Carissa’s older son Aidan, asked her to let Isaac be part of his school band, she hesitated, having seen him sidelined so many times. She went to the performance expecting Isaac to be the runner boy, but literally bawled to see him play the percussion with the rest of the team, having a GREAT time!

Inclusion is easy. As my young cousin Arijeet points out. “Inclusion means treating someone very different from you, just like any other human on earth (that’s what we all have in common). Talking with them, showing what you do, the games you play or the books your read are things that you can do to make a slightly different friend welcome and the same as you!”. He is happy to have found his set of friends who understand him and stand by him.

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I will use Arijeet’s words as my parting shot. “My message would be to break the iceberg of difference between you and any peer, disabled or not, smart or dumb, short and thin or tall and fat with abs or not and make them melt into your warm friendship like water!”

Remember, just like you and me, special needs people deserve love, friendship and kindness. Let’s make this world a little more inclusive, a little more happy.

Please share this message and I look forward to your thoughts.

I Am Very Sorry – I Gave It My All. The Tough Path of Entrepreneurship.

“I have failed as an entrepreneur”. “I gave it my all – I am very sorry.” It was gut wrenching to read these words in the last letter V.G. Siddhartha wrote to his Board and employees before taking the decision to end his life. It was unbelievable that the creator of one of India’s most famous coffee brands considered himself a failure.

This letter and his consequent suicide resonated deep inside me – perhaps because I was brought up by two entrepreneurs and also married one. I grew up seeing and observing my parents’ struggles and stand right behind my husband during his tough times.

Entrepreneurship is a very hyped word today – with many governments and development institutions putting their might behind supporting entrepreneurs. But by no means is this an easy road. The road may have unexpected twists and turns, dead ends and roadblocks. The funding you need may never come through or the customer may take too long to pay. Government policies may change unannounced or the economy may start to slide just as your business has started picking up. Labour or employees may be looking for a raise when there is already a downward pressure on your margins. Or perhaps the sales projections you had made were too ambitious and now you have sunk in a lot of borrowed funds with no way to repay them. And your investors are tired of waiting for their returns. Sounds like a scary scenario, doesn’t it? Scary but highly likely that an entrepreneur will face at least one or more of these on his/her road to building (or not) a viable business.

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More than institutional support and funding, an entrepreneur needs an unbreakable spirit and a tough make of mind. “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” As Talish, Lawyer and partner at her own law firm puts it, “Forget the glamour and the fun stories, this is a journey not for the faint hearted. The highs are high, the lows heart stopping and the burden back breaking.”

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I decided to speak to some of my entrepreneur friends and see what they have learnt through the years – the mistakes they made and the challenges they faced. I didn’t realise I was in for a surprise. Despite speaking to entrepreneurs from fields as diverse as financial services consulting to event management to water proofing solutions, the key learnings that came out of them were strikingly similar. Sharing their insights, in the hope that this would encourage anyone who might be in need of encouragement today. Here goes:

Be ready to be the founder director and the peon of your company: I remember my mum always used to say that when you are running your own ship, you may have to do everything starting with sweeping your own floor. Architect Stuti echoes the same thought. She remembers the time she and her husband Vibhor were setting up their office and couldn’t afford a fully staffed office. They were the copier, the admin, the accountant and the HR. “Managing so many roles at the same time and then doing your actual work can be exhausting and is not an easy task.”

Getting the first few clients is not easy: This goes without saying. And is even more relevant if you are young and as Stuti says “without enough grey in your hair!”. Age is often equated with experience and therefore quality too. The first few assignments are key, and it is important to do the job right. Design entrepreneur Kapil agrees – “our first client was one of the biggest in the industry and once we proved our worth to them, it was much easier building relationships with other buyers.”

Sales do NOT mean profits: I know it is the sales figures that really pump up our adrenaline. But in the joy of increasing your sales – do NOT forget that your objective is profits and not sales. If your sales are growing by 10% every year but the costs by 15% – perhaps you need to look at your costs. And right when you start out – it is important to decide how long you will give your business to make profit. In most businesses a three-year horizon is good enough – and if you are not making money even after three years, you need to take a hard look at your business model and see where you are going wrong.

Debt is a double-edged sword: Liquidity crunch is a constant companion for most entrepreneurs. Even if sales are good and so are profits, you may face cash crunch in your peak season. Debt is the easy answer but how much you borrow and from where becomes very important. Too much debt in a loss scenario or a low growth scenario worsens the problem. A lesson that event manager Varun learnt the hard way. He had already set up two successful businesses in jewelry and event management, when a friend suggested they invest in a property for weddings and provide end to end solutions. They each put in significant funds and Varun ended up borrowing 3 times his net worth. The business did well in its first year, but they were stopped in their tracks when a govt drive sealed their property and they had to close their business. To pay off his debts, Varun had to sell of one of his other properties and take a loan on another. His tip, “Know your limits – do not go beyond what you can reasonably service. Also have a proper plan for managing your risks.”

Shobhit, founder Tallbird Employment Innovations, seconds this. He was just out of college when he started his business. He had his own education loans to repay and had also taken loans for his start up. When his start up failed to take off, he struggled financially and took loans from friends. He defaulted on his education loans and had to appear in court. Finally, when the personal and financial stress became too much to handle, he reached out to his family and funders and told them it is not working, and he will eventually pay them back slowly. His advice would be to borrow from the right places initially and keep investors fully informed of the risks of failure. And if there are prior liabilities and loans to pay, have a plan in place and do not compromise on that.

Act FAST in an impending slowdown: As an entrepreneur it is extremely important to spot a slowdown when it is coming. Be prepared for there is a slew of hard decisions you may have to take. Many entrepreneurs hesitate to cut down on costs (read staff and assets) in the beginning of a slowdown. They go on as normal, hoping that things would pick up. In small set ups, workforce is like your family and laying off is never an easy decision. However, a delay in taking such decisions only makes the situation worse.

Deepak, founder of M2i Consulting, recalls the year 2010 when the microfinance industry went through a major crisis. It took him and his partners Atul and Rahul to realise the full impact of the crisis and another few months to start laying off their staff. I asked him how they felt letting go of their staff. He conceded it was tough, but went on to say that they tried to find alternate employment for the staff and continue to remain in touch with most of them.

I remember talking to another entrepreneur years ago, who after his industry hit a crisis just could not scale down his operations, but after a while there was not choice for him but to let go. He had to bring in an outside investor who anyway scaled down and he ended up losing a lot of his equity in the company. Kapil also admits that it took him a year to realise that the slowdown in his industry is there to stay and finally started to scale down his operations.

Diversify if possible: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. An oft repeated phrase but always relevant. Deepak and his partners had just started to stabilize their business when their industry took a hit. As their clients felt the impact of the crisis, business started to dry up. Even committed assignments did not come through. They started exploring their contacts in Africa, also started providing services beyond the microfinance sector. By the time the microfinance industry picked up again, M2i had expanded to Africa and started different services catering other development sector clients.

Believe in yourself but also know your limits: A strong belief in one’s ability, one’s idea is required if you start on the path of entrepreneurship. However, at the same time, you need to be able to evaluate your own skills and shortcomings objectively. “You know what you can or cannot do – no one else can tell you that”, says Sandeep who has a water proofing business. After having established a strong business in 2003 – he found himself incurring a loss of 2crs in 2011. How? At the behest of a friend, he had decided to expand his business in 2011 and increased his workforce from 5 people to 28 in a matter of three months. However, within a few months he started losing money. He realized he couldn’t manage the larger workforce. But he also knew when to get out. Before the end of the year, he scaled back to his original size and is now happy with the steady flow of business and made a conscious choice to not grow too much.

Entrepreneurship is a lonely road, but keep your friends and mentors around you: Almost every entrepreneur I spoke to, talked about keeping a close circle of people around you. They are the safety net that catches you when you fall. As Talish says, “the most striking feature is the loneliness of being an entrepreneur – from the first landmark success to a silly error – each journey is unique and inevitably alone and self-driven. Self-care becomes the first casualty.” She goes on to say that she identified a group of people and sought them out to be her mentors. At the toughest times of her life, they have helped her reflect and think through issues; some have even walked with her to the finish line. When her 6 year old daughter was battling a rare disease in the hospital, it was a mentor who held her hand. And when she miraculously survived, another mentor helped her come out of the trauma.

Shobhit believes in having a support group that you can share your problems with. They can not only calm you down, but also provide the bird’s eye perspective that you may be missing, being in the middle of the action. Similarly, Deepak believes that having a group of close friends helps. Share with them your problems and feelings. You never know, you may chance upon and out of the box solution. He also advised against hiding your troubles from you family – because you simply cannot! They will find out anyhow! Despite what you may think, they will understand and become your pillars of support. Varun seconds that – after losing all his savings, he started getting into a depression. It was his family that stood by him and helped him restart. Kapil agrees wholeheartedly, “At my lowest points I have turned to my family and they have always been there to support.”

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Be passionate, but do not take failure personally: Last but not the least, be passionate about your work but not to the extent of losing your objectivity. It is important to realise the difference between, “My Business Failed” and “I Failed”. There may be a number of reasons your business did not succeed – internal and external but blaming yourself will not lead you anywhere. A failed business is an opportunity to learn. The best that we can do is to learn from our mistakes and start at the beginning – whether as an employee or an employer.

Shobhit decided to close his business and take up a job. According to him, “It is important to know when to quit – sometimes we get so emotionally involved in an idea, it works negatively for us.” However, the experience and network gained at his start up continues to help him and has helped him grow personally and professionally.

Varun on the other hand continues to be an entrepreneur. He reestablished his event management company and is busy rebuilding his network and relationships.

Both struggled and faced failures and are stronger people today.

Remember, the failure of a business is not the end – it is an opportunity for you to pick up yourself and start walking again – perhaps down a new road.

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Do share this post if you liked it and let me know what you think. Follow/ subscribe to my blog if you would like to keep reading what I have to say.

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And finally my thanks to all the entrepreneurs who shared their experiences, because:

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#inspiringwomen: She Never Lost Hope – Through Life’s Toughest Challenges

In a crisp saree, ramrod straight back, not a hair out of place and a graceful smile. That’s Ruby, easily the smartest lady in our office. Born and married into a defense family, she is a living example of the values of the armed forces – strength and integrity. Without these, perhaps, it would have been difficult for her to handle the challenges life threw her way.

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Youngest of seven siblings, Ruby was born in a post partition India, twelve years after her parents crossed the border from Pakistan. She tells me that her mother was in a petticoat and the youngest child stark naked when they arrived in India. Her family, along with other Hindu/ Sikh families, managed to survive because their Muslim friends safeguarded their houses and helped them escape when the time was right.

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Born in Lucknow and raised across the country, Ruby grew up as a happy go lucky girl, interested in sports and taking life as it came. Married in her 20s, she moved to Jabalpur with Harjinder, her husband. The couple was soon expecting their first baby and excitement was palpable in the air. Everyone wanted a girl as the family had all boys. Her mother in law got busy making frocks. And girl it was! On January 21, 1980, Prabhdeep was born.

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While her pregnancy was uneventful, Ruby’s labour was over a day long. In the labour room, it had been a busy night and the doctors had birthed 9-10 babies already. By the time Prabdeep (lovingly known as Chhotu) was born, both Ruby and the doctors were exhausted. When the baby finally pushed her way out, lights went out. In the ensuing confusion, combined with a weary team of doctors, they forgot to make the baby cry. THEY FORGOT! Medical profession is one such profession where a normal human error can have a huge cost. In this case, it cost Chhotu her first breath and consequently damaged her brain. Permanently. Irreversibly.

But Ruby didn’t know. Nor did the doctors.

What’s wrong with my baby?

As months passed, it became evident that all was not well. Chhotu wouldn’t cry. Pediatricians told them crying was important for her lung development. They asked Ruby to slap her and make her cry. She did. Chhotu cried. Sequence repeated. Endlessly.

But even now no one suspected brain damage despite the tell-tale signs. This was the 1980s and perhaps knowledge of brain injuries was limited. Not only limited, I would say there were prejudices as well as denial. When Chhotu was 11 months old, they had an army doctor couple as neighbors who had a same age girl. Sensing Chhotu was “not normal”, they wouldn’t let their girl play with her. This, coming from a doctor couple. When Ruby consulted another pediatrician, he refused to believe anything was wrong with Chhotu and instead referred Ruby to a psychiatrist. Apparently Ruby was “imagining things”!

But Ruby refused to believe them. She knew something was wrong. On her way from Jalandhar to Bhatinda, Ruby took Chhotu to Christian Medical College in Ludhiana where they had been referred by a friend. The intern who examined her there immediately suspected cerebral palsy and sent her to a physiotherapist.

Finally, Ruby had a diagnosis. And understood the reason why. But bigger and more important challenges lay ahead. Helping Chhotu develop. Become independent. Making her financially secure. A long journey lay ahead.

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The road ahead

I asked Ruby how she felt at that time. After all, a diagnosis such as this is not easy on any parent. I know. I am parent to a special needs child too. But she says they had no time to feel anything. Going from one day to the next, handling daily pressures, left them no time to grieve. Her husband took a posting in Delhi on compassionate grounds so that they could get her the best treatment from AIIMS. Husband and wife took turns to take care of Chhotu on a daily basis. Harjinder would come home by 1.30 and give Ruby a break. And soon a routine was established. It is commendable is how both of them took the entire responsibility of care-giving for Chhotu – feeding, bathing, changing and still do. They never relied on any outside help.

When Chhotu was four, they admitted her to a school. Lady Irwin college – home science, Child Development department ran nursery classes for children including those with special needs. The school was a blessing for them. Chhotu was taught basic etiquettes, painting, playing and there was a lot of integration with ‘normal’, neurotypical children. Chhotu thrived there, slept well, ate well and was happy. Ruby remembers the first day she dropped Chhotu at school. She wanted to go in with her, worried how she would react, away from her mom for the first time. Not allowed to go in, Ruby sat on the pavement outside the school for three hours, waiting for Chhotu to come out. She need not have worried, Chhotu was happy and had had a great day!

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A series of horrors

By the time Chhotu was six, she had outgrown the nursery school and her parents started looking at options. And then began a series of horrors. Chhotu was sent to a famous school for special needs children. Started by someone with a special needs child herself. The school had good facilities, but teachers lacked compassion. They seemed to focus on children who showed faster improvement. And sort of ignored those who lagged! Ruby recounts, “once when I went to pick Chhotu, the teacher told me she has been punished for not counting from 1 -10. And what was the punishment? She wasn’t allowed to eat her tiffin and the little child remained hungry from 6.30 a.m. till 1 p.m.” “I just couldn’t send Chhotu there anymore.”, says Ruby.

At another charity institution where Ruby sent Chhotu, she found out they were in the habit of hitting kids – Chhotu would come back with cane marks on her legs. And at yet another school, a Chinese Checkers peg that Chhotu stuffed up her nose went undiscovered for two days, till Ruby noticed her discomfort.

By this time, her parents also realized that while Chhotu was growing physically, development in other areas was slow. There was no speech till age 4 and even today at 39 years her speech is not very clear. Till age 7 she wore plastic panties and was still not fully toilet trained at 13. A bigger issue came when she hit puberty at 12 and had to be taught how to manage her periods. The last was perhaps the most difficult to manage. She had fibroids and would bleed heavily and more often. The doctor suggested hysterectomy. But Chhotu’s father would not hear of it. He took it as his personal task to help her manage. However, he had to give in when he realized that it was physically taking a huge toll on her. She would droop from the strain and pain of it. The family took a tough decision and decided to go for the operation. Chhotu took it in her stride and was up on her feet the day after the operation.

By this time, Ruby and Harjinder were sure their daughter needed greater support to become more independent and were unable to find it in Delhi. After much research they found out about Swayamkrushi based in Secunderabad, an institution for children and adults with special needs that aims to make them independent and become part of the mainstream society.

At age 14, Chhotu went to Swayamkrushi, to live away from her parents. Another tough decision was taken.

Today Chhotu is a happy young woman

Swayamkrushi was a blessing for Chhotu. She adjusted very well there and has made some very good friends. Today she is a happy and very loving person. Her smile is infectious and you cannot help but smile in her company. And like every young woman, she loves to dress up, shop and is interested in men!

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At Swayamkrushi she was trained to take care of herself. Soon after joining Chhotu became toilet trained. She was able to do small things for  herself. Now when she is at her house, she helps lay the table, put dirty dishes for washing and clothes in the washing machine. She also goes to a special school where she helps lay the table for children and gets to interact with them at a personal level.

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Ruby believes that peer learning, interaction and peer pressure helped Chhotu develop the most. And she has Swayamkrushi to thank for this. To see the work Swayamkrushi does, please see the coverage they received from NDTV, where Ruby also talks about the positive impact this institution had on their lives.

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Building a financially secure future for Chhotu

Early on, Ruby and Harjinder realized that it was important for Chhotu to be financially independent after they were gone. They were also clear that this couldn’t be done only on Harjinder’s income. So she started with small, temporary jobs. She was once selling cards made by special needs children at embassy when she was told about a temporary job at the World Bank. She approached them and got the position. She started with a two week job, which quickly became a month and soon she was filling in for anyone who was on leave. Slowly she got a 6 month tenure and then a one year and then another. By 1992, she had a full time job. And she never looked back after that.

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The hard work paid. They managed to build a house; move from a scooter to two cars and then to another house in Secunderabad. Ruby has also heavily insured herself in case of any eventuality and both Harjinder and she have prepared their wills. Chhotu is also a member of the national trust and two of her cousins (one from each side) are her guardians.

These days, Ruby is putting together a trust for Chhotu with 5 trustees – 2 cousins, a bank manager and a teacher from her school. This trust will ensure Chhotu has a regular income stream and funds available in case on unexpected needs.

Soldiered on like a true warrier – Hats Off

As Ruby and I spoke in length about her life, she revisited areas of her past buried deeply within her. She told me there was a second baby too. Chhotu was around six at the time and was very excited at the prospect of a little baby. Harjinder was posted at Kargil at the time. Her baby boy was born at 37 weeks with a punctured trachea that caused edema in his wind pipe. The child was kept on ventilation. His left cheek had a droop and he was unable to swallow. Even in this situation, the gynecologists and pediatricians were embroiled in a petty battle. Ruby’s gynecologist wanted to keep her in the hospital, but the pediatrician saw no need for it as she wasn’t feeding the baby. On the 10th day she was discharged.

That same evening when they came to see the baby, the incubator was empty. They went across to the pediatric ward to speak with the attending doctor, when they enquired about the baby – he said that the baby had passed away.  We wanted to know where the baby was – he said – “aur kahan hoga…. Mortuary mein” (“where else – in the mortuary”)………..

As she relives this horror, her tears flow for the first time. I am speechless. And at the same time in awe of this woman who has gone through so much, has weathered so much and still exudes so much positivity.

Her advice, “take each day as it comes, and let things happen at their own pace.”

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I hope you found Ruby’s story as inspiring as I did. Please do share – it may give courage to someone else who needs it. #thesewomendeserveit.

#inspiringwomen: “Breaking down was not an option: I had to carry on for my son”

It’s been four years, but the evening is still fresh in my mind. Arnav was home playing with Ayushman, when a neighbor came by and told me Ayushman’s father is seriously ill. Kapil rushed out to assist and I ran out a little later with emergency medication for a heart attack. Downstairs, I found Ayaan slumped in a wheelchair surrounded by neighbours. Surprisingly, the doctor not only refused the medicine but even the suggestion to take him to a reputable private hospital nearby. He just recommended we take him to the nearest local hospital. I didn’t know it was already too late to do anything for Ayaan.

Soon after, Kapil called me to the hospital. I was tasked with breaking the news to Antara, Ayaan’s wife. His cousin did not have the courage to do that. I didn’t think I had either.

I don’t know how a woman is supposed to respond to her husband’s untimely death. Will she cry? Scream? Collapse? Faint? I don’t know. Antara took the news without any reaction. Her first sentence was, “How will I tell Ayushman, He is so close to his father. He is only six”. From that day to now, I have never seen her cry. She has hidden her grief and tried to keep life as normal as possible for her son. This year Ayushman will turn 11.

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I asked Antara with trepidation if she would like to share her story with the world, not sure if she would be willing to share a loss as personal as this. But she took the challenge. As she has, these last four years. I worried if she will break down sharing her story. But she didn’t – just as these last four years.

Antara was born and brought up in Kolkata, had a happy, uneventful childhood. An only child, she preferred being on her own and had select but close friends. Her parents gave her the freedom to be – her mum wanted to work, but could not, so she always encouraged Antara to be independent, have a career. Her dad was busy with work and mom dominated all household decisions, like all Bengali households, she laughingly tells me. That open upbringing and a strong mother figure, made her into the strong woman she is today, not afraid to deal with life on her own terms. The foundation laid by her parents, is what has helped her get through the hard reality of life she faces every day.

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She met Ayaan while doing a two-year course in computer programming and coding. They became friends and were part of the same group. While Antara was reserved, Ayaan was her total opposite. Outspoken and friendly, Ayaan made friends easily.

They started dating only after both started their jobs. After finishing their studies, they kept in touch and slowly an unsaid bond developed. Antara says there was never really any proper proposal. They both grew into the relationship and neither had to formally ask the other. Ayaan moved to Delhi for work and Antara followed a year later, when they got married.

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Ayaan was an ambitious, hardworking young man. As Antara says, he was self-made – he got through most of his education on the back scholarships he earned. He wanted to make sure they had their own house before having a child. They both worked hard to achieve that goal and shifted into their new house, three months before their baby was born.

“Though he never mentioned, I think Ayaan was not very close to his mother. However, he really cherished the relationship he had with his father.” Perhaps to compensate for the fractured relationship, Ayaan loved his son to the hilt. No wish went unattended, Ayaan showered Ayushman with toys, gifts and most of all his time. The two developed a very close relationship and Antara feels that Ayushman is probably still not as close to her as he was to his father. The threesome loved holidaying and spent some cherished vacations together. But time was short.

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9th April 2014. Antara had a job interview and Ayaan offered to drive her to the venue. On the way back, he complained of a slight pain in the chest. Shrugging it off as a gastric issue, he came back home and took some medication. When he didn’t feel better till evening, they decided to go to a doctor and Ayaan went to change. Antara was in another room, when she heard a strange gurgle followed by a thud. She ran to the room and found Ayaan lying on the floor, unconscious. She screamed.

Too soon it was all over. He was declared ‘brought dead’ – and was no more a person. Ayaan had become a ‘body’. The hospital could not release ‘the body’ till a post mortem was done to find cause of death. A police report was required.

And in the middle of all this was Antara. Surrounded by women – mostly neighbours – no mother – no sister – no friend. No one she could lean on and cry with. So she just held everything in. Steeled herself to go through all the processes.

Antara had decided to take Ayushman for the cremation. A psychiatrist told her that it was important for Ayushman to understand his father was no more. We all collected at the Lodhi Road crematorium where we waited for Ayaan’s parents to arrive. They reached soon after we did, and I will not forget the cries of a woman who has lost a young son. Crazed by grief, she was in stark contrast to Antara’s composure. Two women who loved the same man, bound and separated by his death.

She broke down once again, when they laid her son on the ground. In her grief, she wanted Ayushman to touch and feel his father for one last time. The little child, not seven yet, froze with fear. Unable to comprehend what was going on around him, he wanted to run. I took him away with me, holding him, playing with him while the last rites were being completed.

Ayaan had been very popular and loved wherever he went. Many of his friends surrounded Antara and helped her with all the arrangements, the paperwork, the post mortem. But they all also had to get back to their own lives. One by one they left. And Antara was left alone to pick up the pieces of a life that once was.

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Kapil turned 40 last December. The exact same day Ayaan would have turned 40 too. I remember feeling that death had prowled our corridors that fateful day and took Ayaan finding him home. Even now I shudder at how close by death had been. I am once again reminded how important is each moment lived. And how lives can change in a minute. Here one minute and gone another.

I am reminded of Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband a month after Antara did. She wrote on her FB, “I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.

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As we talk, I tell her how amazed I have been with her self-control. She says she doesn’t know where it came from. Even her mother says she had no idea how brave her daughter was. As far as Antara is concerned, she knew she had to be strong for her son. She did not show her grief, so her son could retain a sense of normality.

She remembers the evening of the cremation. When she came back home, it was empty. Silent. Her mum had not come yet and Ayushman was with us. She just sat down in the drawing room, soaking in the silence. The cacophony inside and the chaos outside needed to be silenced so she could think. But even then, she did not cry.

When her mum came, she allowed herself to grieve a little, but something still held her back. A close friend called from the U.S. and she was crying on the phone. Antara did not. Her friend told her she needed help and advised her to see a psychiatrist. Antara is glad she took her advice. The first time she really let go of her emotions was with the psychiatrist. Perhaps, it is easier to be vulnerable in front of a stranger.

Till almost a year ago, Antara would suddenly go blank, in the middle of things. But she has been getting better. For almost nine months after Ayaan was gone, she could not bring herself to go out and resume working. (I wonder how she even had the energy to get out from the bed every morning.) But life doesn’t give us so much time. There was a house to run, home loans, Ayushman’s fees to be paid. Some people even advised her to move Ayushman to a cheaper school, but Antara chose not to. She wanted things to run the same way.

With the help of her mum, who moved in with her, she restored normalcy to life. Four years down the line, life is not ideal, but they are happy. Ayushman is a cheerful young boy. They go out for vacations. They celebrate festivals. She goes out with her friends. She is living her life.

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Antara says she has matured as a person. She was very emotional earlier – could get upset at small things, now she learns to ignore such incidents. She was also a very carefree person, “I didn’t even buy a packet of milk – Ayaan would do all that.” Now of course she has the responsibility of running the whole house.

They have almost lost touch with Ayaan’s family, but she holds no grudges, “I don’t expect anything from anyone anymore. I just believe in carrying out my own responsibility.” “I have also learnt, that money is important. It may not be everything, but it is needed to live a life.” She worries about Ayushman, “What if something happens to me?”. She has heavily insured herself. But now she reads the small script carefully. Four years later, she is still submitting papers for Ayaan’s insurance claims.

Have you ever thought of remarrying, I ask. “No. I am content. I have already led a happy married life and I don’t feel the need.”

“And I miss him so much……………………………”

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Do share this if you think it can inspire someone.

The Days Go Slowly, The Years Fly By – yes, 2019 is already here

A very close friend used to say this. The days go slowly and the years fly by. So true. It is amazing how every single year, as we approach December, we start to wonder how quickly that year passed, exactly like the ones before this one. Even my eight year old seems to have now become mindful of the passage of time – this time he exclaimed how short 2018 seemed to be. It is one of the blessings of very early childhood when we have no sense of time. After that, life just seems to rush by.

A new year is a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. To be honest though – I wasn’t really into much reflecting, till a year or so ago. Either it is old age catching up or just that these last few years have been so densely packed with incidents and emotions that reflection comes naturally.

I had welcomed 2018 with a hope. Having had two difficult years, I was hoping 2018 would be better. But if only wishes were horses…. No sooner had we stepped into 2018, I lost my dad. My being succumbed to the depth of its emotions, and even I was taken by surprise at the extent of my grief. However, I am slowly healing, we all are.

This year can perhaps best be described as my painstaking journey from the depths of despondency to tentative optimism. While I am yet to fully emerge in the sunlight, I can see the first specks of light beyond the dark tunnel I found myself in. A huge help in finding the way has been my writing. I started to blog at the beginning of 2018.

This was a huge step since I am a very private person – and sometimes even find it difficult to acknowledge my own feelings. The decision to blog, and to continue doing that was a significant U turn. So I wasn’t surprised when my sister said somewhat complainingly that I was more comfortable sharing my feelings with the world than her! (But sweetheart you know how much I love you!) Or when a new colleague told me that she didn’t know much about me, except of course my deepest feelings! I guess I have always been better at writing my feelings instead of saying them!

Blogging helped me in more ways than I had imagined. I had started my blog to share our experiences raising Anvay – to give hope and strength to some and in turn hear back from others in a similar situation. However, I soon realized I had much more to share, and how much I loved writing. In a way writing grounded me, provided me with an anchor that I held in the darkest of my moments.

It also introduced me to a different world – of writers. I met new people, attended some writing workshops, made new friends. I am a novice in this field – and it really made a refreshing difference to meet such talented people from a world very different from my own.

Along this road I also discovered Momspresso – a platform that allowed me to share my blogs with many more people. I was able to reach lakhs of readers and the momspresso editorial team was very kind in choosing me as one of their top bloggers of the year and giving me an opportunity to read my blog live to their members. The love and encouragement I received was truly motivating.

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And all of you, every single one of you have been important for this journey. There are so many of you who have read each of my blogs, took the time to comment or share. This encouragement matters the world to me. I have been humbled when some of what I felt rang true for you too – several people responded to my blogs about my father – how they shared my pain of losing a parent. A lot of you responded to my blogs on Anvay – some of you shared similar stories – stories of hope, many of you sent prayers. Just knowing that so many of you are with us and care for us was more than enough to give me the energy to continue moving.

While in writing I found an anchor, my work has always been my mainstay, my foundation. Towards the second half of this year, I got the opportunity to work in Central Asian countries. While it was an exciting opportunity, it also meant significant amount of travel. We thought over it and decided that we will manage. Armed with extra support from my mum and spouse and 2 full time helps, the family took the significant decision to take up this challenge. And before I could realise, I was travelling 10-12 days a month. The experience was exhilarating and very very enriching. (more about it in future blogs) It also meant that I did not have much time to dwell on anything besides managing work and family and played a huge role in stabilizing my emotions.

On the whole, 2018 has been a harbinger of change. There have been big shifts and small changes; a big loss and a certain level of triumph over emotions. My blogs perhaps tell the story of the entire year very well and it is only fitting to try and summarise the year through them. The twins are two now and Abeer has reached the next level of brattiness (don’t think that’s a real word – but fits)! Anvay is progressing well and his naughty little personality has started to shine through! His smile makes our day and now we are hoping that he starts to at least stand by the end of 2019! I am more or less at peace with his condition and understanding life much better through this lens. We continue our experiments with our first born – and this year Arnav seems to have become more mature and quite a geek – likes to read anything to do with geography or science – including biology and quantum physics! (he has informed us that the male body’s main purpose is fertilization – though he is still not sure how fertilization actually occurs.). Time to plan his 9th birthday – likely theme is science, no surprises there.

My pregnant tummy hasn’t gone anywhere (obviously, since I have done absolutely nothing about it) – and I am wondering maybe tummy tuck is my redemption? My soulmate however happily lives through the THICK and thin – and maybe secretly happier that I am more like his shape now!! Well that aside, the maid situation has improved and just before I started to travel, I managed to get two good domestic helps – and the sense of peace that brings is more than perhaps meditation could!

 

2018 has been a kaleidoscope of events and my biggest take away probably is that when you have your family and friends rooting for you, supporting you, you can overcome anything. I have an immensely supportive family starting with my husband and mum (and dad), always standing rock solid behind me. As also are my mother and father in law – ready to step in whenever required and a very loving extended family – both from Kapil’s and my sides. A supportive workplace and colleagues are my added blessings. And with all of you added to my family now – world is a happier place! Love and hugs to all of you. So a happy me welcomes 2019 and looks forward to it! 

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My Special Needs Baby – My Inspiration

If you have been following my blog or know me personally, then you will know that my littlest baby Anvay has special needs. What this means is that his pace of growth is much slower than the typical child and we also don’t know yet how independent will he become. Needless to say, any parent would be devastated to hear that their child has special needs. So was I. One year ago, we found out about his condition, and since then I have come a long way. I wrote about my grief earlier this year. You read it and you sent your support. And I realized that lessened my pain. It helped me deal with my feelings. It helped me accept and acceptance helped me focus on the future. The future of my baby. So thank you for your support and your wishes.

Today, about a year after the diagnosis, I am glad that I am a better person, a stronger person and a somewhat happier person. And in that mental transformation, my baby has been my inspiration. He has helped me face one of my worst fears and has shown me that faith and hope are an essential ingredient to leading one’s life. I have also learnt from his sheer grit, his patience and his ability to smile in pain. Today I want to share some of what I have learnt with you.

Aside from losing a loved one, the greatest fear I had was having a baby with special needs. I thought I would never be able to handle it either emotionally or physically. I felt I was not strong enough. But I have realized now that the strength to handle anything is within us. When faced with a situation, we need to look deep within us, and we will find that we are already armed. I learnt that when you face your biggest fear and look it in the eye – it diminishes and gives way.

Once I accepted Anvay’s condition, I found hope and faith to be my best allies. In his condition, there is no cure but through regular therapy many babies start functioning normally as they grow up. But no doctor or therapist could tell us what to expect as Anvay grows up. Will he be able to walk? Maybe. Will he be intellectually disabled? We don’t know yet. What about his eyesight? Might improve. When there are no clear answers, Faith is the only thing that makes you go on. The faith that my baby will also progress and become independent and perhaps read this blog one day. And Hope is faith’s best friend in this journey.

One of the conditions that Anvay has due to his brain injury is spasticity. It basically means that his muscles tend to pull back inwards and his limbs remain tight. Diapering him is not always easy because his legs don’t open up properly. For many months after he was born, his fists were often clenched. This is due to his spasticity. And spasticity can be painful. If you try moving around with clenched arms and legs you would know what I mean. He used to cry a lot during his early days and we realized after his diagnosis that a large part of this must be due to the spasticity. Through therapy he has improved now, but it still hurts him and he cries. And each time I hold him, console him, he smiles. He smiles despite his pain and tries to stop crying. He is just 20 months old and he teaches me to smile through my pain and move on. By the way he has a sunshine smile and any advertisers out there should seriously consider him for their shoots! (P.S. it will also help you spread awareness about special needs children)

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And with that smile come his grit and his patience. The part of his brain that was injured transmits the messages from the body to the brain. The reason he is not able to sit up is because his brain is unable to tell his body to get up. But he tries. And he keeps trying. These days he is trying to lift himself up on his fours. He pushes himself single mindedly till he is tired. He fails and he fails again and then he pushes himself once more. And he screams with the effort. Think of a weightlifter lifting a heavy load and his grunts from effort and pain. I feel ashamed at how easily I sometimes give up after a dose of failure.

But the more difficult something is, greater is the happiness in its achievement. Every bit of the progress Anvay makes, brings us ten times the happiness. It reminds us of the effort that went in. It also reminds me to not take anything for granted. I cannot take for granted the fact that I can think and walk and talk. But for a few seconds of lack of oxygen, Anvay would have been like us. Those few seconds of oxygen, is what we should all perhaps be grateful for.

I mentioned above that the communication pathways in Anvay’s brain have been damaged. So how is he overcoming that problem? When I understood how, I found two important lessons – both philosophical and scientific. Through therapy and his own efforts, Anvay’s brain is trying to rewire itself. In science this is known as neuroplasticitythe ability of the brain to change throughout its life by forming new connections. This has a lot of significance for all of us. It means that even as the brain ages, we can continue to learn and the more we use these connections, the sharper our brains become.

At a different level – what this means is that – when one route closes, we need to find another way. It will be tough, it will be challenging, but we should be sure that another way exists. If it doesn’t we can forge our own path. When a door closes on us, we know there will be many others to choose from – if only we stay focused and look hard.

Finally and perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt is that we all live at our own pace. I will be honest and say that it pains me to see the increasing gap between Abeer’s and Anvay’s abilities. But I am learning to ignore that gap. I am learning to compare Anvay’s progress only against himself. I believe he will make his own way, with whatever he gets or does not in life. His life will have meaning and we will find it. I will consciously avoid comparing him with how a typical kid would grow. I also try to stop feeling cheated about the deal Anvay got. This is what we have and this is what we will live. In the best way possible. And ultimately, all we need to be is happy. That is the one single goal we need to strive for – whatever our pace.BLOG- MY ESP NEEDS BABY- 2450x800

Lastly, for those who would like to know – Anvay has been improving – slowly but steadily. He is able to roll over – he sits up without support for a few minutes, he is focusing better, he is able to creep a little and also pull himself up with some support. So please add him in your prayers and send us your love – from wherever you are. And I will keep updating with our progress.

… of Friends and Friendships, the Bonds of a Lifetime…

As Arnav and I browsed through the various friendship bands for his friends, I was taken back in time, when I did the same with much excitement. I remembered how the larger part of our day was spent with friends. A luxury we lose as we grow up. With a hectic work life and weekends devoted to household chores, unfortunately friends and friendship seem to have taken a backseat.

But this friendship day seems to have come to me with a message. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to receive a friendship day message from a friend who managed to dig out a picture and a card I gave him years ago! Yesterday we spent a nice evening with some close friends catching up on our lives, sharing our stresses and just relaxing. We must have met after many months – this, despite the fact that we perhaps live within 10 kilometers of each other – which is considered close in a city like Delhi.

From being someone who loved to make friends, as many as possible (I was never able to decide who not to invite for my birthdays!), chatted long hours on the phone, had day spends and night outs with them, I am now a person whose interactions with the outside world are mainly dependent on Whatsapp and Facebook. Real conversations with friends are far and few between. And I am not alone in this. I know most of us are stuck between the home and the office. And those of us who are not – are lucky. Or maybe that’s being unfair to them. They are not lucky – they have made the conscious choice to make time for their friends and reach out.

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But friendship is evergreen. No matter how much the distance or years between buddies, friendship always blossoms when friends meet. Our hearts do not know how old our bodies may have become, they instantly connect as the little children or teenagers we were when we met. A few months ago I met one of my school friends at her apartment and it was as if we had never been apart. The laughter flew as easily as it did in our classroom and after catching up we relished some of our school memories together. She and I spent a good part of our classroom time exploding into laughter or just doodling messages to each other. We did just that (except the doodling) when we met.

Or the time I met a college friend recently when I visited her city, nothing seemed to have changed since we last met. Or whenever I meet my best friend from school, our conversation always goes back to how we used to tease my husband (also a school friend!) and how the three of us had spent so much fun time together.

Like wine, friendship becomes better with age. I see that when I see my mum and her best friend together. They have been with each other through all stages of life and while their conversations have changed – from boys to husbands to children and grandchildren, their friendship has not. Recently mum was in Bombay for a month and she and her friend met almost everyday – except the last few days. It tickled my sister and I no end, when they both lamented about the days they couldn’t meet and how their conversations were still unfinished!

Last year when we went to the U.S. my mum met her school friend after more than 40 years! She brought along with her pictures of them together and those few hours were really precious. They had lost contact years ago and I remember that for years my mother had tried to trace her without luck. And apparently she had been trying to do the same. Social media finally came to the rescue when she managed to find her through Facebook!

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Talking about social media, I think it has played a very important role in bringing lost friends together. When I first joined Orkut (That’s what it was right?!), my biggest excitement was finding long lost friends from school and college! When my parents moved to Delhi, my dad was delighted to have traced many of his school and college friends through Facebook and they maintained contact through their Whatsapp groups, planning meet ups and excursions. Thanks to that we were able to gather a good number of his friends from school and college for his 70th birthday.

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But friendship is not limited to friends. It is a bond that transcends all relationships. Our family shared a strong bond of friendship – our parents were our confidantes, our friends. They were the first people, my sister and I went to in times of need. There were no secrets between us. They were always there to guide and never to judge. My sister and I were very close – she was the one I opened up to – no one else was privy to my deepest thoughts.

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And then there are cousins – they are the friends with all the insider info! The special bond that comes from sharing the genes and being scolded by two mothers at the same time cannot be compared with any other! I absolutely adored my cousins and desperately waited for holidays so I could go meet them. My classmates got tired of hearing about them as holidays came near! And as I was falling in love, it was my cousin who was privy to my innermost feelings and who got to hear all about the last time I met HIM!

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Many of you may know, that I married a school friend and I think we share a strong bond and mutual respect because of the years of friendship that preceded the romance. My sister also married a close friend of mine – and now the four of us share a bond that preceded our marriages. There will not be too many brothers-in-law who share such a strong relationship as these two do.

I feel very lucky to have found strong friendships at all stages of my life. And now as I grow older, I want to make sure they all continue to be with me. I know I have been busy and have not managed to keep up with all of them, but I promise to try more. And maybe so should you 🙂

Happy Friendship Day to you and call me when you can!!

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‘Maid’ for Each Other – My Elusive Search for the ‘Dream Girl’

You know I remember a time in the not so distant past when I was carefree. Those were the days, when my first thought after waking up was NOT whether the maid will come. I would wake up with happy thoughts of the lovely day ahead. AAh, the beauty and innocence of those days.

We were a Double Income No Kids (DINKS) couple then. A cook and a cleaner were more than enough and who cared if they didn’t turn up! A good opportunity to eat out and the house could wait another day before getting mopped! All that changed with our first baby. The first few months of the maternity leave were heavenly, and the two of us were enough for the baby’s needs. But we did realise that we will ultimately need some help. A year later, my parents moved in with us, and our needs increased. However, with a regular turnover of part time help and a crèche for my son, we managed. And then all hell broke loose, when I produced two more babies!! My battered body, older parents, hapless husband were no match for two demanding babies!! All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were not enough! (mind you, it is not simple maths with twins – the effort is not doubled it is probably quadrupled, or quintupled or maybe hundred-tupled – whatever).

What we needed was some good, solid household help. But in a country of more than a billion people, it seems like an elusive search. The twins are 19 months now and we have still not found our dream girl(s)! But so what – we might not have found HER, but what we do have is some priceless experience from the last few years.

We have of course learnt a lot about hiring part time maids – we figured it is better to hire two cooks – one for morning and one for evening (chances of both maids taking an off the same day are lesser and so at least one meal is ensured), split the other household work also in the same logic, hoping at least someone would turn up. If you have fixed with them to come at 11 a.m., try not to panic if they haven’t turned up by 1, because you see, time management is clearly not an appreciated value here. But of course be prepared, that 6 to 8 days a month, they actually might not turn up. And even if you do have 6 by 6 vision, it is best to turn a blind eye to that dirty spot behind the door or under the refrigerator door. Better to wait for the weekends and get it done in front of your eyes – though be prepared, that they may also decide to have the weekend off.

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There was a time when agencies were cheap and honest (well at least some of them). Our first experience with an agency about ten years ago, led us to believe that this is a workable model. We realized our folly when one of the helps we hired left us on the pretext of a wedding exactly halfway through his contract (I realized later that this was one of the common scams); while another one literally ran away, because apparently she felt too hot in our house (we had only 1 A.C in our bedroom at that time – I assume it would have been a bit odd to invite her to sleep in our bedroom). After those fiascos, we decided to hire locally.

Once we hired this well dressed, bespectacled, seemingly respectable lady. We were fairly happy with her work (and thanking our stars) till we discovered Mr. Hyde behind Dr. Jekyll. We found out she had money disputes with her family and were horrified to hear her screaming matches on phone. Even our neighbours started to wonder what was wrong with us! We still managed for a year, till we discovered that she had falsely accused her husband of her own murder! We decided it was just safer to have a break up with her!

Oh and then there was this Mr. Perfect! A very highly efficient guy, who came home at dot 6 a.m. and did everything perfectly. We thought God is so kind till we discovered that he loved to take weekends off (which is when instead of resting, I ended up doing household chores). The last straw was when he cut his finger a bit and refused to turn up for about two weeks.

We also tried the straight from the village types, thinking they may be easier to mould and train (also cheaper) – but gave up quite quickly after realizing that training them was no piece of cake. Right from teaching them how to stand straight (and not lean on every wall), how not to clean dirty hands on the nearest curtain, how to sit on the western toilet, how to close the refrigerator properly and of course how to do the tasks they were hired for, we realized it is probably less stressful to do the work ourselves.

More recently we hired a Bengali lady (barely knows hindi as well as most of the housework) who also eats niramish (strictly vegetarian and no onion garlic) and that also became pretty nightmarish. Between having to explain multiple times to her what we wanted to get done, her slow speed and the three times separate cooking, we realized nothing was getting done. My mother was ending up looking after both the babies! We realized soon enough that this relationship was also not going to last.

And finally, I recently thought, I had found the ONE! A young girl, very pleasant, very nice with the babies, fairly efficient – what more could I ask for! This one was definitely a keeper! But god had something else in mind. My dream run lasted till I discovered that she had been robbing me behind my back! (chhann se jo toota koi sapna….)

And we are back to square one. But believe me when I say I am not promiscuous. I just haven’t found my dream girl. And I am not the only one. When a colleague told me that she went through some 20 to 30 maids in the last one year – I realized I am not alone. And I got strength. And I got hope. And I decided to restart my search with vigour.

And while you get some strength and inspiration from my words let me just go and clean my drawing room. You see another prospective “match” is coming to see (meet) me – please wish me luck that this time I get my dream.

Do like and share this post and tell me your stories too!

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Puddles and Rainbows, Reliving a Childhood

Looks like the monsoons have finally reached Delhi and we have some respite from this heat. Unfortunately though, monsoons seem to have become a double edged sword nowadays. Along with the rains and the cool breeze, come traffic jams, water logged roads, clogged drains, dengue and malaria.

It’s a pity though. We seem to have forgotten the enjoyment and romance of the rains. Sitting in our AC offices or cars, living in flats with only small balconies to substitute for a terrace or garden, we don’t remember how it was to feel the rain on our faces, the happiness in our being and the fragrance in our mind. Ooh I just love the sondhi mitti ki khushboo! (FACT ALERT: did you know by the way that the fragrance is caused by the bacteria residing under the soil)

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As I idle with my cup of steaming chai with some hot pakori, my mind drifts to the days when rains were awaited with eagerness. I remember a particular day , a Sunday I think, when the family was similarly enjoying chai pakoda in our verandah, and the rains and breeze washed over us. I can still remember the coolness of the breeze, the slight chill from the damp clothes, and the warmth of the family sitting around. I think I had a cold so was not allowed to go dance in the rain and had to satisfy myself with dipping my feet a little in the running water!

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Another Sunday, lovely weather after morning rains, an impromptu picnic is planned. Papa, mummy, Aditi and I. We pack some quick food in a basket, pick some sheets and off we go! After a pleasant lunch in some park, we gaze at the clean and recently washed sky, hoping for a rainbow to break out. It doesn’t. We come back home, get on the terrace and a beautiful rainbow stretched across the Aravalis smiles at us! And then we notice a lighter one, just behind it!

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Yet another memory comes unannounced. I am four, maybe five, in Delhi and my cousin and I decide to race on the road, still wet after a sudden bout of rain. Perhaps we were impatient after being coddled inside home for long. We both run, I am trailing my cousin, and crash!, I fall. Crash again, and he falls as well!! Both of us return home, with scraped knees, a little limp and a smile on our faces. But I am jealous when I see his mother put some red paint on the bruised knee, while my mother proceeds to put some boring white antiseptic on me!

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Paper boats! Oh how can one not think of them while talking about rains. I think it dredges a special kind of nostalgia in all of us. After all, Paper Boat, a big brand now, has developed their entire marketing strategy around the nostalgia of our childhood! Renu, a friend from school, beautifully describes those days as young, dreamy and naive. She fondly remembers racing boats with her brothers and imagining the adventures her boat would have once it disappeared down the manhole! Little did she know that manholes in Jaipur never reach the sea. 🙂

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I am reminded of days when it rained during school hours. Getting wet, squelchy shoes and socks – both disgusting and exciting at the same time, sitting barefoot in class, examining swollen and wrinkled feet and fingers (still don’t what is so attractive about those), wet bag and hopefully dry books inside, my pink raincoat (not very effective in heavy rains) and red gumboots (I simply loved them!).

There is something about the cool breeze, the damp skin and young hearts, that makes monsoons the most romantic of seasons! I remember in the first year of our dating, Kapil and I were sitting on the porch of his college and it suddenly started to pour. Before I could react, he ran out in the rain like a little boy, feeling the rain on his face, getting drenched. I fell in love with him all over again. (Though in those days, anything could make me fall in love with him again and again!)

A more recent memory, perhaps when we were still innocent and carefree. They were Arnav’s first monsoons. The three of us spent a lazy day at Dilli Haat, which ended with a sudden shower. Totally unprepared we ran for cover, but by then Arnav was all wet. But that didn’t deter us from enjoying the day! (It is another matter that Arnav got his first high fever the next day!!).

But it’s been a while since I enjoyed the rains, really enjoyed them I mean. A cousin after reading my last blog told me to chill. And I think it is a good time to take her advice. Listing some of the fun things I could plan to do these monsoons. And so could you.

  • get drenched, (like isn’t it the first obvious thing to do?) and dance (ahem, that I definitely can’t do – you can try if you want)
  • play in the mud, make some mud pies and don’t forget to get dirty (hmm, I think I am going to like that…. need to find a park though!)
  • don’t forget the boat! make lots of boats, decorate them, make some rafts out of ice cream sticks…
  • go for a nature walk. bring out the gumboots (well I will have to buy some – the red ones won’t fit anymore) and go for a walk. bring back some earthworms and toads 😀
  • And carry the camera (or the phone)! everything looks lovely after a rainshower and one might be rewarded by a beautiful rainbow!
  • Jump in the puddles! you know I was such a goodie goodie – I have NEVER done that! Ya really. SO I must, I must, I must do this.
  • Find a nice monument or a beach or some cafe and just sit… and talk…and listen to the rain
  • Enjoy a wet kiss in the rain (mmmmm… sounds nice!!! DAMN, need to convince the stuffy husband for that)
  • if not that, at least convince him for a walk hand in hand!! (Ya I know, I wrote a long blog about our romance – but you must realise it has been 13 years since we got married AND more importantly I have a boring husband!)
  • end the day with some hot hot tea and piping hot pakoras!!

And when you think about chai pakora – think of getting this awesome tea set designed by Kapil (Sorry, I know I am shamelessly promoting him – but isn’t that what a good wife should do?)

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Have a great monsoon and do tell me what you are planning to do!