Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mom and Daughter

I chanced upon an email I had written to mom in Sept 2012, sharing my reasons and doubts about moving back to India. Worth documenting it here. Her response is a riot! It is at once serious and funny. 

My Email
Hi mom

Sometimes I find myself stopping and doubting my decision to move back. Anything that is out of the ordinary, anything that breaks the norm, is bound to create doubts. So what am I doing that is out of the usual?

1. I am leaving a professional career at 47 years of age. In a way I am retiring. Most people don't retire until they are in their sixties at least. Having been super independent for all my life, letting go of the "breadwinner" title is scary.

2. I am moving back from the posh city Singapore to a small town/village in India.

3. My kids are still young. I am giving up making money to do different type of work. 

Why am I doing this?

1. I had a near death experience 2 months ago. I am aware of death and the possibility of it happening anytime. I want to maximize every minute of my life. That makes me question every unhappy day I spend.

2. I have no sense of achievement in my job. I have been around the circle of job finding to know that what I want is just not there. For me, a job for the sake of a job will never be enough. I have to feel connected and absorbed in order to feel fulfilled. That is not easy and not likely to happen.

3. I want to spend my time with mom. This is the time when she needs me as much as I need her. I want to learn from her and give her back some of what she has given me. If I don't make the effort now, it will be too late.

4. I want to sink my roots. I have floated too long. Where do I belong? I don't belong here where I spent 12 years, I don't belong there where I spent 34 years. The only place I feel a sense of belonging in is Dharamshala, though I am not sure why. If I don't make the effort now, it will be too late.

5. Though I am not clear about it, I feel I have something to offer to the community there. I can do something with the kids. Unless I actually allow myself the time, it will remain a dream.

6. The only thing that gives me happiness nowadays is writing. I want to write a book. Making a drastic change in my lifestyle will give me the impetus, and substance, to write, I think.

7. Atreya has grown up. Although he needs me and I need him, it is time to let go of him and to have him explore the world on his own. As long as I am with him, he will be protected and sheltered, and stagnant.

8. Aloka is still young. If I don't come now, it will be harder to come later as she will have a very tough time adjusting to a new life when she is older. 

Why am I scared? I keep asking myself. I have always been brave and handled great change with courage. Maybe because change was always thrust on me. This time, I am making the change and that is why it is scary. What if I am unhappy...what if I regret...what if I am lonely...these questions bother me. But the truth is I am not happy now. It's just that this unhappiness is still familiar, so it is less scary. I am sure that if I continue to live like this, I will only get unhappier. Life is not a bed of roses, never has been, but I have always managed to extract happiness and meaning from it. Why do I worry I will not be able to do it in future? 

Just sharing these with you. Please share your thoughts too. 

Mom's response
Dear Puja,

I can understand your feelings at this stage. It is a drastic decision that you are taking. At the same time you are a very good person to think of helping your cousin monetarily when you yourself are going to be jobless pretty soon. I love you for what you are. 

Now that you have taken your decision do not feel bad about it. It will take quite sometime for you to adjust so be prepared for it.  As you have yourself said that you want to give me company so that is one great reason. Mind you please do not put me above the needs of your children. I am a spent force while they are still budding and need your support more than me. 

Yes Singapore could never be home. So that is another great reason to come home and Dharamshala is for you home because of your health and more so because of me. I love you and we are going to have great time fighting with each other. So keep that too in mind. 

You will have to do many things on your own which you may not be used to as there will not be Mallika. Food habit too will have to be changed as you have to do with more vegetarianism like me. 

Atreya has to study a lot still and that he will have to do without you and one feels bad about it. But if he is moving abroad then you have to accept parting from him. But he is such an affectionate boy that he will never leave you alone. 

You will find something to in the community once you are here. Just sit back and chant to your hearts content whenever you feel low. I find Gayatri mantra is a great one to tide over.Do you know it? Best is to do pranayam.

I also get into these depressive phases, but I don't let them overpower me. I am to be my own master. You too are strong so get up and take Metaslim powder every night in lukewarm water and in 3 months you will find yourself active fit and energetic.

Early morning we will watch the star rise. It is amazing how they emerge from behind the mountains winking at you and almost smiling without lips, just with their brightness.. 

So come and feel happy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Our Songs Must Change!

I am no feminist. I didn't even know what the word really meant until a few months ago. My association with Jagori gave me access to books and people who are experts in the subject, so I started thinking about the issues of patriarchy and feminism. Now, I constantly watch my own actions, and of others, to identify the underlying deep-rooted beliefs that contribute to this suppression of woman, which I am often not even aware of.

Today I went to a nearby Aanganwadi, a beautiful place nestled in the mountains with a river gurgling by, to spend time with the toddlers in its care. This was my third day being part of this initiative started by Nishtha, a local NGO. I plan to do this regularly, visiting six Aanganwadis every week, one each day. It works for me- I am good for kids and kids are good for me.

As a warm up, their teacher asked the kids to sing a song for their "new mam". And this is the song they sang for me...

Chakki rani, chakki rani
Aatay ko pissayengay
Rotiayan banayengay
Bhaiyya ko khilaangay
Bhaiya parhnay jayengay
Afsar bankar ayengay!

(Water mill, grind the wheat so that I can make rotis, so that my brother can eat them and study and become an officer!)

I can't describe what went through me when I heard the song. I saw these seven lovely little girls (and one boy) singing about how their brothers need to eat, study and become officers. Not themselves, not their sisters, but their brothers! Of course they are too young to understand the song right now, but songs like these show how twisted our culture is. That this song makes no bones about who is really important in a family shows how unquestioned this chain of thought is.

But if this is what we sing, then this is how we will live. I didn't wait and immediately changed the song to...

Chakki rani, chakki rani
Aatay ko pissayengay
Rotiayan banayengay
Behna ko khilaangay
Behna parhnay jayegee
Afsar bankar ayegee!

(Water mill, grind the wheat so that I can make rotis, so that my sister can eat them and study and become an officer!)

Our song echoed in the mountains. It was beautiful.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Something Stirs

Something stirs within me
A strange joy I had forgotten about
That can't seem to decide
Which part of my body, or mind
Is fit for it.
I sit still.
I wander restlessly.

What are you, sweet thing?
And where were you all these years?
Why had you hidden so deep inside
That I could not remember even the memory of you?
If you are life
Then what was I living all these years?
If you are how it ends
Then why didn't you come earlier?

Something stirs within me
A strange joy I vaguely remember feeling as a child
That stops me from asking questions
About what is right and what is wrong
And what is the purpose of life.
I soak in it quietly.
I dance in it with abandon.