The heartache of a lost friend


What is it that hurts so much when an old friend decides to part ways? Is it that you are aghast that your gift of unconditional affection, loyalty and steadfastness has been refused? Does it come close to a repudiation of your worth? Does his or her unwillingness to continue on a shared path of knowing and closeness make you think you are now essentially unworthy of any sustained meaningful contact with any other fellow human being?

I have spent many hours wondering what it is that I may have done wrong – did my becoming a parent do it? I do remember quite well how another friend and me were puzzled by how dramatically different a third friend of ours had become after becoming a parent. And how in some ways we were hurt for no longer being part of her inner circle in the way we were used to. Until her life changed with the coming of her first child, we were a close threesome who’d find ways to have walks together, coffee together with lots of silly giggling and shared laughs with not much worry about how time flew.

Is the fact that my life is arranged quite carefully now irksome? Is it an irritating sign of an illiberal, unexciting, rather drab life that my friend feels ashamed of being associated with through any extended contact with me? Because it’s true I can no longer step out on a whim and stay out for as long as I want. (It’s another matter that I never did very much before either.) Nor can I agree to meet anybody without thinking through what it would entail and what effects it may have on my immediate family. Especially if my friend decides to invite me to meet him/her when special security arrangements have been made in a part of our city in view of an extraordinary political situation: I would then be thinking of pretty dull stuff — what kind of commercial vehicle on rent will be safe enough to ferry my young daughter and my elderly mum and me to the proposed, undoubtedly hip but not convenient venue of meeting? Will there be access to clean washrooms on the way? Will there be the possibility of buying finger food if the need should arise? How long will the journey take? How much will it cost with waiting time?

Or does my managing various responsibilities seep into my conversations that are then wholly uninspiring and putting off? Should I be focusing instead of having interesting conversations about what books I have recently read; which coffees I have recently tried; whether I am planning to include long leaf tea in my morning breakfast. Or talk about the trendy new craft shops that have sprung up in our vicinity; the organic colours they use; how increasingly planet friendly some of our small businesses are becoming.

Should I be watching more carefully how much time I spend sharing my pride and joy at the hilarious things my little girl does or says including loving things she has to say about my friend; should I try to remember that not everyone is equally fascinated by what the theosophists have to say about the open nature of children; should I be more cautious that the insights I think I have gained about human beings at large as a parent are not somehow relevant unless the person listening to them shares a fundamental love for young ones.

Do the personal and professional choices I have made seem utterly unworthy of continued association? Should I have been clearer, braver, and spunkier to be currently leading a more unfettered life than the one that my friend thinks I seem to do? Does my ambivalence and willingness to experiment with unforeseen possibilities come through as a sign of cowardice?

Should I be feeling apologetic that my friend is not yet a parent? Could he/she possibly be envious that I am? Does the fact that my little girl adores his/her parents make it hard all round? Should it? Don’t most of us love children who love people?

Or is it just a break that some friends feel the need to take when the differences get all too much and can then there be hope of a return to what an old friend of mine once called the ‘refuge from life’?

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Everybody’s loss


And so a life comes to an end. Found fallen on the side of her bed in the morning by her daughter in law who was used to waking many hours after her. Our local GP confirmed there were no injuries and that the cause of death was not the fall.

I didn’t know her much except as one of the less frequent walking partners of my mum’s little gang of mummies/grannies. Everyone knew she had miraculously escaped death after a horrific road accident in the hills that took her husband in a flash. She spent hours in the ICU not knowing he was gone. Having survived showed in the form of huge scars lined across the side of her head, an unsteady gait and labored breathing from earlier but made much worse by the accident.

And yet every time I have had occasion to meet her I have been humbled by her courage, easy smile, warmth and dignity. She never had time for gossip, never inquired why anyone lived the way they did, never interfered in anyone’s business and seemed to think, life isn’t always fair but its alright.

Although I couldn’t join the mourners, I did witness the small religious ceremony that a Sikh priest conducted with great grace in our common courtyard. Everyone who could come down was there and for those few minutes her passing away was everyone’s loss. As the priest’s voice soared blessing her body and her departed spirit, everyone was reminded of our common destiny. How we all one day have to say goodbye and go onward — to wherever it is that we are destined to go.

Being a bully is not cool


A dear friend has been struggling with envy. From a close family person. Who one has supposed in being older and a parent and from a generation that is known to have been inclusive should have been at the very least a neutral presence.

The friend in her wisdom and compassion decided to be the ‘bigger person’ — finding reason to either excuse or overlook the older relative’s foolhardy, provocative and hostile behaviour and expressions — written and spoken.

A couple of days ago, when the older relative decided, unilaterally, presumptuously and inconsiderately to heap some more unwanted responsibility on my friend’s head without once checking with her, my friend decided, appropriately that enough was enough.

And she confronted the relative with plain speak about the series of unfair and unkind decisions that had been made over her head, requiring her work, involvement, time and energy. That she in her civility and maturity she had so far put her head down and just got done. For her own sanity for the sanity and safety of her children.

And she said, ‘no more’. And somehow, the newness of it — her changing tack, the unexpectedness of it, and the obvious injustice of the situation so far, together made the relative ‘turn a new leaf’. Or so it seems. The relative acknowledged, by not saying anything in response, that what had happened so far was indeed unjust and that the way she had conducted herself was, to put it mildly, a shame.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing bullies respect is just this — a loud refusal to cow down to their bullying. For people like my friend who are mild-mannered, peace-loving and not interested in contests, the need to have to do so seems an unnecessary drain on their energies, time and grace. But this episode to me proves better than anything else that sometimes we need to reach outside our propensities and fight the good fight to say no to bullies, no to habitually presumptuous behaviour and no to arrogant entitlements from those who profess to being close without a clue about the responsibilities that accompany it.

A mother’s lament – life’s unfinished business


There is something fundamentally different in your world view when you become a mum (and from what I can see in my mother, a grand mum.)

I remember being rather cocky, stupidly cerebral and over-confident in the face of illness (especially of course rather cruelly when it concerned someone not so close) and the associated although often unstated thoughts and fears about death.

Now that I am a mum, I relate entirely and horribly completely with my own mother’s sorrow and fear of passing away – too soon (when are we as children ready anyway?); but unlike me, none of her fears have to do with her fear of death itself but the unfinished business of helping me raise my little girl in the wonderful, loving and mindful way that she and she alone has made possible, nurtured and protected; and of being my strongest source of support and irreplaceable, steadfast friend (‘what will happen to my girl when I’m gone, who is she going to have?,’ is what she told her beloved niece, my cousin).

To her face, of course I want to be positive, strong and stoic – I find myself saying we are going to the doctors because we want to know what is wrong – and no matter what they find, even with the heart, there is something we can do to help it feel less strain to help it do its work better.

But after 6 visits to the doctors in so many days in the searing heat, I understand her weariness and exhaustion.

Tests done so far confirm the heart is carrying a load and in all probably will need help of some kind; that the days of being ad-hoc in terms of treatment for various closely related conditions are over. And yet hearing doctors tell her that her heart of all things has been affected is hard to take – for someone who has prided herself in never having to medicate herself for anything other than the flu or minor conditions, I understand it feels like a horrible shock to have to face being told that your most vital organ needs careful and regular looking after.

And yet, I want to believe we are going to come through — for her sake, my sake, my little girl’s sake and the family’s sake – and that this is just the beginning of much deserved, greater attention to her for the first time in our life as a family and her life as a mum and grand-mum.

Happiness


A patch of green right in front of our flat getting cleaned up. The insistent roar of lawn mowers. A group of bored looking maalis laden with sacks of dark earth, seeds, planting equipment. Quietly busy for days on end. Coming in the mornings, leaving in the afternoons, shifting wordlessly the heavy, long pipes spouting stinky, untreated water – the only kind that can be used so generously in our part of the city for non sentient beings or so we believe.

Six cheerful neon coloured benches parked in various spots.

And already, flower beds blooming. Purple and magenta heads bobbing in the breeze and an entire swathe of smiling yellow heads – the ever cheerful sunflowers. A few bushes ringed with clutches of white, red and pink flowers with translucent petals and long, bendy, fragile stems.

The local cricket team graciously opting to play on the other side of this now fertile part.

The sun shining down, pleasantly warm. It’s occasional sting eased by a wonderful breeze.

A fraying carpet no longer too loved to always have to live the good life, now used as a picnic mat.

Little T, mum and I waiting for my friend and her girl to come.

And in the interim, a sort of march past of nearly all the neighbourhood families we know – stopping by, asking after T – our block of flats’ only or in any case most adored little person; remarking on the lovely weather, the picnic mat, while she does circles around me, soaking in all the warmth, giggling, half falling, rising, smiling.

Finally, after a seemingly eternal wait, our little troop of picnickers arriving.

T and her friend quickly getting ready with their plastic pails, picking grass, showering the flower beds with ‘grass rain’, picking up stones, coming to us each time they find an especially spectacular one, our gossiping in the snatches of minutes we get between their sojourns to us; proud, happy, ‘beached whale’ mammas.

The gift of sight


Nothing clarifies to me the preciousness of being alive than the renewed knowledge of a physical limitation.

When I close my left eye and try to read this page with only my right eye I don’t see so well – the vision is mildly blurred and accompanied by a faint darting black dot that no spectacles or surgery can remedy.

13 years ago, around this time, in the first few months of the new year, on my first visit and stay in London, I had suddenly lost vision in my right eye while working on the editorial desk of the BBC’s South Asian Regional Unit at the now historic and former Bush House.

Thankfully, despite all the doleful and flat-faced diagnoses I was given at the various clinics my dear friend Aasiya dragged me to, my vision did return over those first few scary weeks, but it has never come back in full.

Lots of case studies I have read since make me feel grateful that I ‘got away’ with just a diminished quality of vision – and not a complete loss.

And this evening, when I accidentally closed my eye and realised that I do indeed live with an eye that doesn’t see as well as it could have, or as well as the other, does, it comes to me so clearly how futile all the other fights and nagging and arguments and rages are; what is not futile is being reminded how lucky I am to have been loved the way I was by people and friends who had just got to know me in a place so far from home; to be alive at all and to have sight; and to have at least a handful of people around me who care about how I am.

The hard part is remembering all this at every moment, without having to shut one eye, every day!

What is wrong with us?


Sociologists are often ridiculed for being unnecessarily interested in questions about social cohesion.

‘What set of factors makes a collectivity, tick?’

I am not a certified sociologist.

But I did spend a considerable chunk of my valuable 20s engaged at least formally in its study.

THE DREAM OF BELONGING

And I find I am struggling to apply what I had heard, picked up, learnt during those years, especially the time I spent under the rough and brilliant tutelage of an exceptionally insightful, original and charismatic professor, to the horrific gang-rape that has sparked a genuine mass movement in Delhi and beyond.

One of the first things that comes to my mind, when considering the brutal episode is how unconcerned and unthoughtful most of us are about the larger collectivity we are part of.

As so many journalists rightly say, most of us, (by which I mean the privileged, English-speaking, income earning, middle class) live and flourish by making it an effortless habit to curtain off our lives and routines from the ‘general public’ because we can afford to and because it does, most times, keep us ‘safer’ than we’d be, if jostling with the aam aadmi.

I mean who would I be kidding if I say walking out and getting on to a regular bus to go even a few stops from home is a truly pleasurable experience?!

And yet, I do think there is a subtle shift in the power game on the streets from the time I was a college student and used to ‘rough it out’ on the infamous mudrikas that ply Delhi’s Ring Road.

GENERATIONAL SHIFT

I remember even the bravest amongst us would just choose to not pick a fight when it came to jeers or leers or ugly pokes and innuendos from the numerous louts travelling on the buses.

I remember travelling usually in packs.

I remember just knowing that it was probably in my best interest to not be on my own, or as I thought to myself, ‘unnecessarily daring’ when darkness fell.

Now, when I see college students waiting to board a bus or for that matter a metro train, I see a confidence and courage that I think my college mates and I lacked.

I see it in my 21-year-old niece who travels mostly on her own, on public transport, to a prestigious school for Mass Communications.

They, like the young girl who died after an incredibly spirited fight against her attackers/rapists, do not subscribe to the gentle admonitions of their doting mothers, or aunts for that matter!

THE NEW FEARLESS

Empowered by a radically more connected world, awareness of their rightful place as equals in this society, and their very youth, they stride out fearlessly and demand to be treated with respect; fight back, even if mainly verbally, to any and every kind of abuse or harassment and are ready to demand fearlessly their right to travel, study, work and live in freedom and dignity.

And yet, entire swathes of the city are still home to women far from empowered, too often poorly educated and often ‘illiterate’; bound to debts in the village they had to leave behind or flee; bound to their men, family, children; slaving away in our homes to just make it through; dutifully tolerating drunken, abusive, disloyal husbands, who view them as their slaves, and who, in their women’s seeming submission, continue to think that the world outside is just an extension of their homes.

Ram Singh, the main accused in the gang-rape is said to have confessed that they were out on a ‘joy-ride’, hoping to ‘catch’ some sex workers, failing which any woman sighted on the roads would ‘do’.

A ‘REVEALING’ ADVERTISEMENT
There is an advertisement for an online clothing and shopping company called Myntra which comes often enough on television.

A few weeks ago, when i saw it for the first time, I thought to myself the girl who features in it does seem rather cheeky and yet pleasantly or at least entertainingly so.

Now, when I think of it, I am quite sure what Ram Singh would think.

Which is not to say that everything needs to be made keeping his demented, misogynist perspective in mind but that you can be sure, that if he were to watch it, he wouldn’t get anything about the video being a kind of victory for freedom of expression, not to mention an individual’s right to sensuality.

The problem I think is that a nuanced discussion of individual right to freedom of expression doesn’t make much sense to an incompetent, troubled, anti-social lout. (Sorry, that’s become my pet word for this post.)

What does, is possibly therapy, community involvement, skill upgradation, family counseling and a whole host of other compassionate, inclusive and reforming actions.

But who can do this?

The State?

You?

Me?

For unless, there is greater engagement and awareness of our reality as a collectivity, such brutal instances are not going to stop. It’s a long, hard way ahead but I think the protests and the collective rage mark a promising beginning.