#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.

#InspiringWomen: A Pioneer, An Entrepreneur – She Built Lives Not Only Institutions

Today is the international Women’s day and we will hear/ read stories of many exemplary women, high achievers in their respective fields. It is important to acknowledge the great work and achievements of these women. In a world that still does not offer equal opportunity or a level playing field to women, recognition of those who have crossed many barriers to reach where they are today is essential.

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However, to a common woman, the achiever’s story might well be a benchmark but perhaps not an example she would be able to follow easily. Most of us common people look at the people on top with longing but never assuming that we can reach those levels. This is where it becomes important to look at women around us – women who have faced issues similar to ours, fought the same battles, maybe even worse than ours and came out a winner. When we see them overcome the challenges life threw their way, we believe we can do that too. We can also achieve, overcome, overthrow, win. As I wrote a few months ago – I have been shaped by the women around me.

For this women’s day, I have decided to bring out the stories of everyday women, women like ourselves who have made the best of their circumstances. By being true to themselves they tell us we can do it too. They have overcome grief, physical hardship, disability, poverty and built institutions. They are us. We are them.

Like the Navratans (9 jewels), I have chosen nine women whose stories I would like to share over the next few weeks. Whether it is Anita, born in poverty and thrown out of her house or Tara, the only female doctor in small town Rewari of the 1950s or Joyce who lost her only child, each of them has the power to encourage us, to tell us that nothing is insurmountable.

As I spoke to each of them, a common pattern that emerged was their own mothers or fathers, that shaped them to who they have become. So let me also start with the story of my mother. I have not chosen her because she is my mother – but because she was part of the first wave of women entrepreneurs of the 1980s, who started out on their journeys, without any examples they could follow, without formal guidance but only their own skills, confidence and conviction.

So let me stop here and dive into Purnima’s life.

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“The person I am today, is in a large part influenced by how my mother brought me up. Even in 1960s, when women had limited power over their own lives, she wanted to make sure that I was educated and trained to be self dependent. I was given full choice in choosing my career and life partner”, says Purnima. A textile designer by profession, Purnima is one of the handful of women entrepreneurs that existed in the small city of Jaipur of 1980s. She established her own institute that went on to develop a formidable reputation. It is also probably not an exaggeration to say that she pioneered design as a serious career option for a generation of young women that had started to aspire for economic independence and challenging professions.

Soon after moving to Jaipur post marriage, she was approached by a lady wishing to start courses in textile designing for young women. Purnima accepted her offer to develop and conduct the course which soon became very popular. A few years later, however, due to differences with management she resigned from her job.

Given the newness of the design field and lack of quality teachers at the time, some of her students insisted, begged and cajoled her to open her own institution. Moved by their faith in her and their own passion to prove their abilities to the world, she opened the Institute of Designing (IoD) in 1984 out of her own house. The garage became a classroom, the driveway was laid with two large printing tables and the terrace a place where students gathered to discuss and debate. Without any financial backing and with only her own skill and experience, Purnima took a decision that changed the course of her life and the lives of many of her students. (and i guess mine too!)

Keep in mind that this is the Jaipur of late 1970s – early 80s. Like most Indian cities of that time, Jaipur also aspired to greater development and urbanization. Infrastructure was developing, new schools were opening and businesses were growing. The mindsets were however still conservative. Many girls from well off families were still not being educated and many of those that were sent to school, were married off as soon as possible. Girls getting professional education were even lesser and the motivation in a large part was to add to their “sarva gun sampanna” status and make them more eligible for marriage. (photo credit colourbox.com)

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The first batch consisted of 7-8 girls which soon grew to 20 plus and then crossed 100s. At its peak, the institute had more than 120 students, many more classrooms had come up on the terrace and classes were conducted in two shifts. The spare room had been converted to the front office.

As garment and fashion industry continued to grow in Jaipur and in India, more courses were added to cater to various needs. Textile designing and printing; fashion designing, garment technology and so on. As NIFT and NID became more popular, designing became a more credible option. Children with a creative flair could now opt for a career more in sync with their talents – instead of having to go for science or commerce. This not only led to a greater demand for the institute, it also ended up in introduction of foundation courses for students who wanted to prepare for NIFT and NID entrance exams.

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By 1990s the institute had developed a strong reputation, so much so that postmen only needed Institute of Designing written on the address to deliver mail. (one of our neighbors got a letter addressed “opposite IOD!!” Another time, when I told a new acquaintance my address, he exclaimed that I live in Purnima Varma’s street! The pride I felt telling him that I am actually her daughter is indescribable!). She even had a few international students to her credit – who came all the way from the U.S. and Japan, lived a year or two in Jaipur to learn the craft. Media also did its bit in recognising her achievements.

 

Purnima was very clear that her courses will not be constrained to theory. Well aware that she was creating a skilled workforce that has to go out in the world and work, she laid a huge emphasis on practical work and exposure to industry. Her students did everything from scratch, right from preparing their own dyes to stitching their own designs. They were also given many opportunities to interact with the industry, display their work at exhibitions and fashion shows. One of the exhibitions attracted such a large crowd that the management of Jawahar Kala Kendra (where the exhibition was held) mentioned that this was the first time ever an art exhibition had so many visitors.

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(photo: Maharani Padmini Devi admiring the artwork)

In 1989, Purnima conducted the first ever fashion show in Jaipur. This not only gave a chance to her students to showcase their work, it gave them important lessons in managing such events from scratch. As was practice, the entire event was created and managed by the students and teachers of the institute. The fashion show started with a closed theater in Jaipur and over the years moved on to the large open air theater with the audience going into thousands.

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As a child (later teen), the institute for me was a fascinating ground for growing up (more in a later blog). On a busy day, you could see students busy tying knots on their bandhni designs. On the terrace, a few others could be seen making their screens for printing – painstakingly hammering the fabric on the wooden frame; tracing the design on the fabric and blotting out portions with enamel colour. In another corner you could smell the strong fumes of melted wax where students were dyeing their batik cloths. Upstairs sewing machines hummed amid the chatter of students. During the days leading to fashion shows, there was palpable excitement in the air and music all around as amateur models practiced their catwalk and students busied themselves preparing their costumes.

Through the decades of 1980s, 90s and 2000s, Purnima was witness to the changing social landscape of Jaipur. Some of her earliest students were driven to classes by their drivers who stayed till class ended and took them away soon after. Later in late 1990s, more and more girls started coming on their scooties or kinetics. One year, she had three students from the same family – mother, daughter and daughter in law – all three wanted to explore their selves and become more than just their familial duties. Many of her students went on to take jobs and start their own enterprises. Many came to her under-confident and went out ready to take on the world. A student describes her experience – “When I came to ma’am, I was like Jassi (an underconfident character from a popular TV show) and today I am as confident of myself as I can be.”

Unlike today, when education has become a money minting machine, at that time, an education provider was revered for the learning they imparted. Purnima established the institute to develop confident, mature women able to hold their own in a world, not balanced in their favour. Like a sapphire, she symbolizes honesty, purity and trust and those are the values on which she built her institute.

In her own words, “the best compliment I ever received was – ma’am aadmi banati hain (ma’am builds a person)”. Her life’s mantra – “Be true to yourself and have courage of conviction. Before becoming ‘somebody’, be a good person”.

So when I am in doubt, I think of this woman and tell myself, “if she could achieve all this, why can’t you solve your own little problem”.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this. Please leave your comment and share this story with your friends.

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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The Multitasking Woman – You call her Durga …. But is that what she wants…?

… Maybe not. Maybe she will thank you for the appreciation, but chances are that she would prefer you give her a hand, and help free some of hers.

Who is she? She is the ‘modern’ woman, aka multitasker, superwoman, supermom etc. etc. While all these tags appreciate her abilities, she needs more than that. Today’s woman has shown the ability to manage both her house and her work very well (even just managing the house requires multitasking). We have all been reading about how these superwomen are able to multitask – that’s great, but really is that the place the woman wants be in? Is it really that easy? I for one, come under a lot of pressure reading about this super efficient woman – it is almost as if we (the women) are born with this “multitasker program” which can get switched on as and when required. And that it is almost expected for us to juggle everything.

But what about the men? It seems they have begged off this ability to multitask and majority of the dual workload of home and office falls on women. There are articles about how women are better at multitasking than men, who are able to do better when focusing on one thing. Men seem to have been very conveniently let off the hook! Frankly I don’t care if they are good or not. They might as well try and I am sure they will get there! As we all know – practice makes a man perfect!

Men across the world seem to be afflicted by this ‘inability to multitask’, along with the social conditioning that housework is a woman’s job. It is so common in India, to see a woman come back from work and start cooking for everyone, while the husband is more likely to come home and relax. She will also be getting up early to probably cook lunch and breakfast for everyone and likely get the kids ready too. And I have even heard cases where, while the woman wants to hire house help, the in laws or husband would not want an outsider to do these chores! But this is not just in India. In the U.S. a woman laments that since her husband lost her job two years ago, she has been working double shifts to support the house. However, he insists that the baby be put in daycare (which is very expensive), refusing to take care of her at home. In a Central Asian household, a woman returns from work, only to find the house in a mess. When she asks her retired husband, why he couldn’t have cleaned the house, he retorts saying that it is her job. These examples could go on. And across the globe.

I know that more and more men are trying to come up to speed. Many men are taking part in child rearing and helping with chores around the house. But I am not sure if the number of those men is enough, neither am I sure that the amount of work they are putting in is enough. Many men that I know would say that they ‘help’ around the house. The key word is ‘help’. You ‘help’ when it is someone else’s work – implying that the man still believes that it is his wife’s job and he is being a good Samaritan by ‘helping’ her. Perhaps it is fine when the wife is stay and home and takes on primary responsibility of the house – however, when both are working, it is essential that men come out of the ‘helping mode’ and start taking ownership.

Let me dwell a little bit on the help vs ownership model. Think of a project team – there is a manager/ team lead and there are team members. It is the ‘responsibility’ of the manager to plan for the project, divide roles and responsibilities and get the team to execute the project. The team members are ‘supporting or helping’ the manager in that sense. The manager’s primary role is to coordinate and will be doing fewer or probably none of the tasks. What happens with women is that they end up becoming the manager as well as the prime executor with minimal or no outside support. Those of you who would have led a project would appreciate the difficulty of both managing and executing a project. The woman is taking both the mental and physical load of managing the household.

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Mental load is best described by a French comic artist Emma. She has brilliantly illustrated this in the comic “You should have asked“. I recommend everyone reads it. When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he is viewing her as the manager of their household chores.

A little quiz below to see where you/ your husband figure in sharing the household work:

  • Who cooks? Who decides what is to be cooked? Who buys the groceries and vegetables and who makes the list? Who manages household help? Who gets heart attacks when the household help takes unannounced leave for 3 days?
  • Baby is crying. Who picks her up? Who cleans the baby and changes soiled diapers? Who makes sure there are enough diapers and wipes at home? Who washes the nappies? Who hangs them and folds them and ensures there is a supply of dry nappies at home at all times?
  • Who drops the kid to school/ bus stand? Who picks him up? Who makes sure the uniform is washed and ironed? Who checks his classwork and ensures that homework is done? Who helps with corrections? Who helps with class projects and crafts? Who remembers the date of submission of these class projects? Who is part of the parent WhatsApp group? Who writes diary notes to the teachers and who attends the parent teacher meeting especially if it is on a working day?
  • Who arranges play dates/ summer holiday classes? Who buys birthday presents for kid’s friends? Who picks out party clothes? Who buys clothes for kids?
  • Who makes sure that the medicine cabinet is well stocked? Who makes sure everyone is taking their daily medications? Who is managing the vaccination chart of babies? Who takes them to the doctor? Who knows what is to be given for cold vs cough vs fever? Who takes leave when the kids are sick?
  • Who cleans the refrigerator/ the washing machine/ the dish washer? Who knows when the soap/ shampoo/ toothpaste are finishing? Who gets the dry cleaning done?

If the answers show an unbalanced picture, better to do something now than later. Perhaps the best thing would be to sit down and divide not only chores but areas of responsibility. For example, “I take care of the kids’ homework and you make sure all extra curriculars are taken care of.” “I ensure that plants are watered and you make sure that the ceiling fans are regularly cleaned” etc etc. And then once the work is divided, DO NOT SUPERVISE what is not your responsibility. Women need to let go. Some couples have tried it and here are some examples and here as well.

It is not so difficult if we really put our minds to it. (I hope so!)

So dear men, please start being a part of your household. If you are a lounger, please start with being a helper and then slowly rise up the ranks (like you did in your organisation) to become a co manager. The end result will make you happier than your year end bonus does.

 

 

I Wish to See 2019….

This was my father’s New Year wish for 2018. To be able to live through this year. The wish was not granted. He passed away in February, soon after making this wish. My sister discovered this, in the online diary he kept. We went through his past logs and found out that he had made the same wish on January 1, 2017 too – that he wanted to see 2018. At least he fulfilled that wish. We were comforted.

So, we realized, he had been aware of his numbered days, that his body was becoming frail. And his will to live became stronger. This is called jijivisha in Hindi. A very powerful word. It is this will to live that defines us.

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Nobody who saw him would have thought that he was unwell. And neither did he let anyone believe that. His last few years were full of activity – his mind always involved in creating something. He wrote books, stories, made new games – card games, board games, made new gadgets and what not. If I had to learn one thing from him, it would be this – To keep living, to keep creating, to keep moving and not stopping.

So, this was him – full of life and full of love for people he cared for. An idealist, who believed in the power of the individual and an atheist who believed that humans use God and meaningless rituals and superstitions as a crutch to live life. While other parents wish their children the Best of Luck before exams, our father wished us the Best of Ourselves. In my autograph book, he wrote – “never quote others, reach a level where others quote you”. Not surprisingly, towards the last few pages of that diary – his quote came back – from someone else!! I am still striving to get there – to a place where I can perhaps inspire others or influence their lives in a positive way.

A very supportive father, who believed completely in his daughters. I was never questioned about any decision I ever made – be it the choice of stream (commerce) or choice of career (rural management) or the person I chose to marry. That is what contributes to our innate sense of confidence. That is what guides me when things seem bleak. As a parent, I must remember to instill that kind of self confidence in my children – the spine that will help them through any crisis.

Our parents displayed so much faith in us that we turned out to be very responsible daughters. We never kept anything at all from them and felt totally free in sharing what we felt. Trust begets trust.

A very gentle and caring man. Devoted to those he loved. By his mother’s side during her last days focused on fulfilling her needs. In the last year of his own life, a solid pillar of support for our new born twins. I don’t know how we would have managed without him.

Always young at heart, till his last breath perhaps. The first to step on the dance floor – he was well known for his Twist! I was always too shy to dance in public but loved my waltz with him. The New Year’s Eve dances with him were special. When satellite TV caught on in India – he was the one who started watching MTV and Channel V. Much before us! I need to remember this as I grow older – age is only in the mind.

It has been more than 6 months now. But it still seems like yesterday. I have remembered him everyday since and I especially remember him today. Today, he would have turned 74. A life well lived – but there was so much more life still in him. So many more things left to be said, to be discussed, to be debated….

Yesterday Arnav asked me the meaning of the quote, “all the world is a stage…” I told him that this world is like a stage where all of us are playing our parts. And unexpectedly he said – “And nanaji is out of his part”. I hope not. I just hope he has switched stages…. And is playing his part somewhere else.

Happy Birthday.

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(and even though I have copied above from the net, it reflects my feelings – and sorry there was no ownership so don’t know who to give credit to)

 

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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