“Did you hear the news? Really sad.” A message on my college whatsapp group.
“Yes, about Reena….It’s true.” Comes the reply from someone. “She is no more. Committed suicide. Hanging.”
I am stunned. Reena? I have a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is past eleven P.M. in the night, when I read these messages.
I am in a movie theatre. The unbearable cold of the movie hall, the stinky smell of the corner seat, the terrible movie that I am watching, all recede into the back ground….It feels like I am in a dark tunnel… I pull myself back.
Not possible…is my first response…. Impossible, in fact.
I know this girl.
Usually a few rows behind me in class. Feisty, energetic, she ties her back in a ponytail, wears kurti and jeans, trim and of average height. Carries a backpack like most other students. At times, proudly wearing a sports jacket with “INDIA” emblazoned on the back; something only National Level Athletes have the honour of donning. A defiant look in her eye, and confident stride, she always appears to be ready to take on the entire world.
That Reena? No. They have it wrong. I dismiss it as a rumour. A common enough name and surname.
“It is on television”, says a fresh message on the group.
I am in denial. So, I push it out of my conscious mind.
Past midnight, when the movie ends, I reach home. Reluctant to face facts, hesitant to confirm it and just afraid to know the truth, I sit quietly for a few minutes.
My “back to school” journey, twenty-five years after my last university exam, was a ‘learning’ experience for me in many ways. Joining a law school and attending classes was a big step. If sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with children half my age felt odd, then matching wits with them and pitting myself against these kids was vastly challenging….and different from what I had imagined!
Not only were they smart, they were also dreamers, strugglers, fighters and thinkers with a zest for life. Opinionated, with strong political leanings even at this age, with no compunction about airing their thoughts on issues. Holding down jobs and rising at the ungodly hour of four a.m. to commute to college and attend class, these class-mates of mine had opened my eyes.
How not having everything on a platter can push you to aspire for bigger things. How life and its struggles can hone you for life, make you sharper, and hungry for success. How to not have doubts about your ability to do great things.
None more so than Reena.
I was first introduced to her when there was fiery discussion about women and their problems. Waiting for a lecturer to arrive and with nothing to do, one of the girls asked me about myself. When I answered that I was doctor and a practising anaesthesiologist, she asked,“Are you married, ma’am?”
Yes, was my answer.
She looked at me, and noticed my lack of the usual signs of a married Hindu woman, namely bindi, bangles, mangalsutra.
“My in-laws are very strict about what I wear and I do. They feel that I am wasting my time here.”She said with a sigh.
The girl sitting next to her said in Hindi, “Ma’am, I am twenty three years old. Hamaare gaon mein, this is considered too old. I should be married by now, my uncles say.”
“Where is your Gaon (native place) ?” I ask.
“I am from Rajasthan. When I go there for my holidays, I have to wear Indian outfits, no western clothes allowed. Ghungat (veil) is still mandatory for married women!” she says resignedly.
“Oh!”, I say sympathetically.
Another girl asks her,“So what do you do?”
She smiles, “Not go there unless absolutely necessary!!! My father is supportive. He wants us to study.”
So, this was my first meeting with Reena, the girl from Rajasthan.
Occasionally, I would bump into her in the corridor, sometimes proudly clutching medals that she had won in the National Level karate championships. Or at times, rushing from college to the karate classes that she taught. This was the Reena that I knew. Pragmatic, determined, hard-working, cheerful.
The second term of Law School required us all to complete a Journal. Some theoretical stuff that had to be written down. A sample will, affidavit for name change, how to be a good lawyer, etc. Simple enough, if you have time and a reasonable command of English. With a couple of days to spare before the Viva, I completed my Journal. And let it be known that it was available if anyone needed “Help” with theirs.
Outside the college canteen, I heard someone call out. It was Reena.
“Ma’am, I haven’t been able to complete my journal. Can I take pictures of yours?”
“Sure”, I said.
We knelt on the lawn and she took pictures of the notes in my journal.
My maternal instinct came to the fore as I asked ( as I had asked my own kid at least a hundred times !), “The exam is tomorrow! Why have you not started on it? ”
“Ma’am, I am so busy. All day, I am either in class here, or teaching Karate to others. I will have time only after ten P.M. tonight.”She said, recounting a schedule that would put most of us to shame.
I was instantly ashamed of my judgemental rebuke. Here was a girl, who was doing things which she enjoyed and was clearly working hard.
“So, what do you plan after Law school?” I continued.
“Pata nahin. I might appear for the entrance to the police academy. Lekin one needs to know good English for that.” She said.
I was impressed. Was I ever this motivated? Did I aspire to break the mould? Was I ever this brave? I wondered.
“That is a great option for you to think of. If you need help with English, I can help you.” I said aloud.
She smiled, “Ok.”
This was my last conversation with her. Sportsperson, budding lawyer, aspiring policewoman. So impressed was I by her, that I repeatedly mentioned her in my conversation to acquaintances and family as someone (among others), in my Law School, who had the potential to go places.
And now this depressing news.
It is past one A.M., when I finally muster the courage to do an internet search.
I wince as the clip appears on You-tube. A news anchor, droning on in a monotone, confirming what I have been dreading. A lively, smart, girl with a dream and places to go is now just a statistic and a photo on the screen.
I have a lump in my throat. I wish she had given herself more time for her hard work to bear fruit. And that she had thought of her dreams for herself. And had reconsidered before taking this final, drastic step.
She had so much to live for.
Images-Free Digital Photos
“Dad, I will be home soon.” My daughter’s voice was saying said in a cajolingly tone, over the phone. “Give the phone to my son.”
Anshu sulkily grabbed the handset and listened for a while, then disconnected.
Usually I was long gone by this hour for my evening walk. But, the nanny was down with fever and resting. She was not supposed to even come near Anshu, as she could ‘give’ him the bug; so I had to stay and look after Anshu, until his mother returned from her kitty party. Anyway, the rain that was pouring down made a walk impossible!
Anshu was my grandson.
An adorable, but moody child. Roly-poly, a curly mop of hair falling on his forehead, but now his face was a thundercloud of impatience. I knew that a big tantrum was coming.
“Anshu. Shall I put on the TV? That movie of winged creatures?” I tentatively asked.
A decisive shake of the head.
How to distract him, I wondered desperately.
“A computer game?” I thought that a game on that gadget would please him. I had seen him play games on it.
I could have played cards with him ( and let him win). But I was not not sure if Anshu even had a pack of cards!
“Carrom khelna hai, Anshu?” He looked puzzled. Probably never played this game. I was relieved, I was actually rather poor at carom.
In truth, the room was strewn with gadgets of all sizes, shapes and capabilities, but which failed to engage his interest beyond a few hours. Anshu’s parents bought these at an alarming rate to keep his boredom at bay.
In our day, we stayed out and played so much that that our mother had to screech out our name from the entrance of our tiny home and warn us of dire consequences if we did not show up. And even then, we would trudge in reluctantly. During the holidays, the morning would start with a game of badminton in the yard, the shuttlecock, as sorry-looking thing after repeated battering. This was followed by a game of cricket till the heat made us dizzy ( or a broken window scattered us). Then, carom or chess in someone’s home. Evening were for football . Playing till we could see the ball no more in the dark. Nights were for lolling on the terrace and counting the stars, telling ghost stories or whispering secrets.
Anshu never stepped out to play anywhere in the open. He would sometimes have friends who came over to play, but with a prior appointment and each of them would be tagged by a nanny, who watched over her respective “baba” or “baby” with the diligence due to the Kohinoor diamond.
My grandson was a healthy child, but according to his nanny, everything, from the food he ate to the water of his swimming pool was scrutinised and agonised over. He had an hour of different classes everyday-Music Class, Gym Class-whatever that was and some more. Teachers and coaches were perpetually trooping in and out.
Long ago, I had decided to not interfere with my grandchildren’s upbringing, but today something moved within me, as I watched Anshu staring longingly at the terrace. It was raining heavily outside. He seemed fascinated by the play of the water raining down…the little rivulets after they hit the glass.
“Has this child ever played on the wet grass?” I wondered. “Has he ever felt the rain on his face?” The penthouse apartment was centrally airconditioned, with the windows completely closed. Even his school was supposedly airconditioned.
On impulse, I jiggled with the latch and opened the door. A gust of wind blew in a few drops of rain and peppered the child’s face. Anshu gurgled with joy, revealing the little energetic boy that he could be. He cupped a hand to collect the raindrops. Anshu and I stood there together for a while, savouring the experience. Anshu, feeling the thrill of the rain and I, the satisfaction of having given him some real pleasure.
A screech behind us. “Anshu will fall ill!”
My daughter stood there, a heap of shopping bags at her feet.
A change came over Anshu. From a broad smile of welcome for his mother, he suddenly grew sullen.
“Off for a hot bath, Anshu.” She said.
I sighed. I knew that I was in her bad books, but what the hell! That kid needed to breathe and play and feel, I thought.
The rain had stopped. I stepped out for a walk, trying to postpone the earful that I would surely get from my daughter.
A chawl that was nearby had its entrance dotted with shallow puddles.
As I neared, I caught sight of some children launching paper boats in the puddles, shouting gleefully.
A completely drenched kid ran up and gave his exasperated mother a hug.
“Aai, my boat won the race.”
He continued, “And…a cockroach was struggling to get out of the water. I rescued it on a piece of paper and carried it to a dry place.”
Such joy with so little!
I surveyed the radiant face. And thought, Anshu had so much, but the simple pleasures of childhood and the innocent joy of doing silly things. Would he ever have them?
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I crouched down in the corner of the park, watching the trio. Two boys playing on the seesaw; holding the handle with one hand, and rapidly melting icecreams in the other. The third was a little girl, wearing a pretty dress, which probably cost what I made in a month. I should know; I worked in a sweat shop which made such dresses.
The girl stood a little apart, slowly unwrapping a large lollipop. One that was surely too large for her to finish by herself. When the wrapping was undone, she pushed the paper into her pocket for disposal later. Perfect, I thought. To dispose of the wrapper, she would surely approach the garbage bin close to me, very soon. My kind of girl.
I just needed to wait.
It was summer time, and the leaves of the bush that was my concealment, were rather sparse; so I needed to be careful. If spotted by a parent or the watchman, I could be thrashed or worse, handed over to a cop. My clothes and general appearance made me an unlikely candidate for an innocent visit to the park.
My choice of position was brilliant. To my left, a scant foot away, was the garbage bin, giving me instant access if anyone came to discard something. To my right was a wooden garden bench with broken slats, which meant that I could insert my fingers through, if needed.
This park was not really my first choice or even my second. I generally preferred school grounds, with its larger number of children and easy pickings. A couple of schools which had lax supervision and fool-proof hiding spots, were my favourite. Luckily, my job required running errands for my boss and took me past these schools. I was always careful to keep a safe interval between the school visits. Even on the days that I was unsuccessful, I never lingered, lest I come to the attention of some alert watchman or concerned parent.
But summer vacation had rendered the school grounds empty and many days had passed since my last success. I was feeling the familiar yearning within me. Hence, this visit to the public park. Today was my monthly day off. My co-workers were watching the television outside the window of the electronics showroom. Some were catching up on their sleep, of course. A fourteen hour work day at a noisy factory which manufactures clothes, can make sleep very important.
Not for me, though.
I surreptitiously changed my position, at regular intervals, because cramped feet meant that I would not be able to run, if needed. My agility had saved me every single time, a fact that I took great pride in.
One of the boys had finished his ice-cream, while the other tossed down his half-eaten one. He would not be approaching the garbagebin, I thought, disappointed. With his fancy schooling, he should have known that the bin close to me was meant for tossing garbage! Swachch Bharat indeed!
All my hopes were pinned on the little girl. She watched the children at the swing set, lazily licking that huge lollipop with her pink tongue darting out delicately. She seemed to have no nanny or parent close to her. I was starting to feel lucky. Would she walk away or tire of the lollipop and walk to the bin to discard it?
I waited anxiously, perspiration trickling down my neck.
Too much time had passed and I was conscious of the chances of detection rising with every second. She suddenly turned her head and with the uncanny perception of very small children, glanced my way. Her gaze collided with mine. I do not know what came over me, maybe it was my desperation, but I did a very bold thing. I held out my hand and beckoned. With the innocence that comes from being a protected child, she walked towards me of her own volition. As she neared me, I held out my hand. She extended hers.
As her hand touched mine, I heard a shout. “Wait till I catch you, you good-for-nothing.” It was the watchman.
My cover was blown. I took to my heels and ran for my life. But, I was smiling triumphantly. This was the best haul yet. A large lollipop, the largest that I had ever seen or held.
Smelling of itself, not the other refuse in the bin or worse, thrown down in the dirt and needing to be gingerly dusted away. It was almost like receiving an early birthday gift for my twelfth birthday, which I knew fell sometime in the month of the first rains.
It was a gift from the Gods, who were surely smiling down on me today.
Behind me, I could hear the paunchy man muttering, out of breath,”Ye, aaj kalke Bachhe!”
“This blogger contest is supported by Kid Social Shell, a unique digital parenting platform with 11 gaming-learning apps. Use it play 3D nursery rhymes, counting number games, shapes games, fun math worksheets, coloring games and more!”
Image:freedigitalphotos- by Simon Bowden, Foto76
It’s been a while since I was a fulltime parent (my son is twenty-one), but recalling it is like a reading a good book for the second time; you find nuances and twists that had escaped you the first time around!
Today’s generation faces challenges that are unique.
- Parents grapple with a hectic schedule…. schoolbus, classes, tiffintime, homework, projects!!!….Planning healthy meals, sulks and tantrums, rationing internet time (especially in the pubertal years), teenage rebellion.
- Children have to deal with exams, puberty, playground bullying, hormones and acne, makeup and piercings (and perhaps tattoos), infatuation and puppy love, academic disasters ……..Phew! They are smack in the middle of a mad, mad whirl.
- But let’s not forget the smiles, chuckles, love, pride, hilarity, warmth, affection and hugs as well, that makes it all worthwhile.
Although the term creates the image of an ‘aunty’, saying “Ye Aajkal ke Bache!” with a twist of her lips, her tone carrying matronly incomprehension and old world sarcasm, just how different are Aajkal ke bachhe???
PARENTS ARE OLDER AND EARN MORE – If first-time parents used to be in their early twenties earlier, the urban trend seems to be shifting to the late twenties and thirties. Which means a rather huge generation gap! Incomes are higher, so spending is more on schooling, food, clothes, coaching, holidays.
Consequently we have brand-conscious kids who are used to spending amounts that would have been the monthly income of a family a couple of generations back.
Single kid or just two; so less sharing and more goodies to go around.
Parents are also focused on their progeny with an intensity that is often rather disturbing.
I recently overheard two women discussing their kids’ schooling in the supermarket, their trolleys braked mid-shop. Thirty to forty minutes later, they were still there, oblivious to everything, still discussing…..you guessed it…..their kids. Get a Life, moms!
THEY ARE VERSATILE– Thanks to everyone being a Tiger Mom, kids these days learn a sport, a hobby (painting, music and so on), are involved in other extracurricular activities (debates, oration, etc). If one skill needs them to be still, the next demands energetic running all over. These kids have schedules that rival a CEO’s.
THEY ASK QUESTIONS– lots and lots of them and expect honest answers.
They are irreverent and it is not uncommon for a very young child to question the logic of or to defy a parent’s decision. The person answering the query better buck up and think fast….Even “I don’t know.” is better than a fib.
Upon seeing a pregnant woman, I had to quickly answer some questions posed by our three-year and said that a baby was removed by cutting open mommy’s tummy. My bachha demanded to see my scar immediately! I had had a normal delivery and thus, had no scar. Consequently I had to mumble a retraction. Taught me a lesson, it did!
THEY LISTEN AND REMEMBER –
They are bombarded with information from many sources (television, internet, books, peers)! And absorb it rather fast.
I remember the time a match fixing controversy was all over the news. Our five-year old was certainly paying attention because when he was asked in school, “Do you know who takes decisions in a cricket match?”, he loudly answered “Bookie” instead of “umpire”. ( the teacher must have wondered about us for sure!)
Another time, after watching an anti-smoking campaign as a six-year-old, I had to face an irate neighbor because our son went up to him and said, “You will die of cancer, if you don’t stop smoking!”
When a friend complained about sweaty feet making it difficult to wear shoes, my nine-year old nephew innocently advised, “Why not slip in a sanitary pad into your shoes…they are supposed to be rather absorbent!”
THEY ADAPT AND ADJUST– Actually they do this far better than we imagine or give them credit for. From the age of three years, our son knew that when ‘baba’ (dad) was operating on a patient or busy in the clinic, he could not be disturbed with a phone call, unless it was an emergency. When I had to leave for an emergency case, my little one would wave goodbye. He instinctively knew not to make demands, when we were tired after a day’s work. He appeared for his tenth grade prelims a day after my father passed away, never once asking or demanding my presence in the days that followed.
SEXUALITY– Kids now are savvier about sex and sexuality. An old aunt was once lamenting the fact that her wish for grandchildren was being thwarted as her son showed no signs of getting married, when a cheeky twelve-year-old kid piped up, “He could give you grandkids without getting married, you know!”
TECHSAVVY– “I don’t give my kid parenting advice anymore….he has an app for that!” A parent is supposed to have said. Aaj kal ke bachhe are born with some gizmo in their hands, it seems.
The cut umbilical cord is replaced by a gadget-thingy, to which upgrades are available before you can say ‘techno’, which they seem to master easy as breathing and to which they remain attached throughout life. ‘When stuck with techno-gadgets, ask your kid!’ is the Modern Mantra.
Just a few generations back, we were the Aajkal ke bachhe ….frustrating our parents, yet ultimately making them proud; challenging the norm and pushing the envelope, changing things…..raising the bar for the next generation in many ways. Naturally, the bachhe we have had the good fortune of parenting will be true to tradition and do the same.
#This blogger contest is supported by Kid Social Shell, a unique digital parenting platform with 11 gaming-learning apps. Use it play 3D nursery rhymes, counting number games, shapes games, fun math worksheets, coloring games and more!
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos- By Jesadaphorn, Stuart Miles, Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, Twobee, Sujin Jetkasettakorn, Withaya Phonsawat,
I submit my application to the college office. I say to the clerk, “This is MY application.” Lest he think I was submitting the application of my child.
The answer. “Hmmm. We get many seniors who are looking for a second career.”
Umm…that’s a relief.
A week passes. A nurse working in my operation theatre, whose daughter has also applied, alerts me to the fact that the first list is put up on the notice board. With some trepidation, I go to the college. Peering at the notice board, I scan the list two times before realising that I have applied in my maiden name, all the certificates being in that name.
I read it all over again. Nah…..My name is not there. Utterly dejected, I turn away, my foray into renewed academia over before it started.
Then I read the heading. The list is that of Commerce graduates and I am a Science graduate.
So, with renewed hope, I scoot over to the other list.
Ahhhh. Third time lucky…Yup, my name is there. It has been a long time since I experienced this relief!!!!
Two days later, I am back in the queue outside the college office, with a bunch of forms clutched tightly.
But, I have to be back at work in two hours and am already clock watching.
The sight of the queue that I see puts paid to any notion of a quick exit.
There are twenty persons ahead of me. I realise that each person is taking an average of seven to ten minutes. So, doing a quick math this could take over two hours.
Alarmingly, the kid in front of me has a form that I have apparently not filled. Panicky now, I do this thing that is done when you are ducking out of a queue for a short while. I look the person in front of me in the eye and tell him that I am in the place after his and will be back shortly, thereby ‘reserving’ my place. He nods.
I return to the queue and am absorbed in its snailish pace.
Queues bring out the best …and the worst out of perfectly normal people. You may pour out your life-story to the stranger next to you or make a mortal enemy here. You might meet the love of your life or have a person with the most ghastly body odor pressed against you.
As I said, interesting. No Indian queue is truly complete without an altercation. Sometimes I think it is the Bharatiya way of alleviating boredom. But mostly, its root is in the survival-of-the-fittest conditioning that is an integral part of our genome. Long waits at ration shops, train-ticket queues, movie- ticket windows, government offices, etc., is usually followed by disappointment. We are also used to being overlooked for someone-with-connections who walks right in, past our patiently-waiting-achy-knees-self. This has made us deeply insecure. Years and years of this inequality has made us suspicious of everyone. Thus, flexing vocal muscles in queues at mostly real ( sometimes imagined) injustice is second nature to us.
So, here it was…The person behind me and the one behind her has also left the queue for a short while, telling me that she will be back.
Okay, now a fresh person has come behind me. She is peeved, when the original duo return to what is their ‘rightful’ place in a now a decidedly higgledy-piggledy line. A sharp exchange of words follows. The decibel levels are rising…everyone is looking at the three of them, secretly relieved to be entertained amidst the boredom.
As the last person in the queue, I intervene. Yours truly the referee. Unusual position for me…I am usually in the fray!!!!
Sixty seconds later, peace has been restored. Everyone is back to their positions in the queue. Like a bottle of fizzy drink opened to let the bubbles out! The erstwhile opponents are tentatively smiling at each other. The pentup boredom has been relieved, both spectators and participants entertained and we are back to chewing the cud.
My turn comes. Hallejulah!!
I walk in. Five minutes later….I walk out.
As I exit the building, a bonafide student all over again, a light rain is falling.I picture myself on the green grass of the lawn, lying there with a book in my hand.
I raise my face to the sky, happy as a clam.
It is time to begin a new chapter of my life. Daughter, student, wife, mother, student again.
Who knows what other role life will hand out for me.
What happens when one’s origin, parentage, identity feels threatened? Does the rocking of your world create tremors in the close relationships that are the anchor of our existence? A woman discovers that the father she admired and idolised, may not have been her biological after after all.
Where does the search for the truth take her?
Janma Rahasya-secret of birth (parentage), a play written by psychiatrist Dr, Anand Nadkarni,presents a story with a background of schizophrenia and its attendant issues.