This too, shall pass…


There are times when we look at the world and feel despair. Events over the months of 2016 and part way across the threshold of 2017, have given us justifiable cause for such malaise.

Trump will be president within days. The Syrians are either forgotten or vilified, Britain is leaving the EU, the weather has turned to murk and it’s cold. Underlying it all is the common theme of hate and fear and it’s all fueled by the need for power. Xenophobia is a weapon of mass destruction and yet it is allowed to be wielded time and time again, not for a greater good, but for the good of a tiny minority.

What has happened to humanity? Some of us are outraged but not enough of us. Are the rest of us just apathetic then? How has it come to this?

There will be a women’s march in London, against Trump next week, just ahead of his inauguration, and I’m considering going with my daughter. But Trump is not the disease, he is simply the symptom of a system which demands that we look out only for ourselves. The individual will always be greater than the group because as individuals, we have tasted ego and it is a heady cocktail rush of me, me, me! And it’s highly addictive!

Research has shown that happiness is not achieved from helping ourselves, but by helping others. It can be gleaned from gratitude and noticing all the beauty that we are surrounded by.

The winter months in England are notorious for carrying, in its wake, a fugue of depression. Sometimes the sun won’t be seen for days, with a steady unsatisfying, grey drizzle, forming a kind of hazy veil over the world we see. It’s hard to see the beauty with branches bare overhead and hues of grey underfoot. Where to find the happiness here?

To recap, the world is filled with racists and the weather is shit!

At times like these I miss the Indian sun and the certainty of belonging with the rest of the brown folk. I miss waking up when it’s light outside. I miss the heat.

Again, I ask, where is the beauty? Where is my happiness?

I search and I search and then I sit down and cry. Just then, my son of five enters the room and I dry my tears quickly. He is hungry and I check the time. I fix him a snack and he’s grateful. He grins with the double gap between the top row of his teeth and hugs me. He fits perfectly into my embrace and I into his. It is I now, who is grateful.

The following day, I am observed teaching at work and am told that I need to jump around more, use different voices to entertain and educate the children I teach. It doesn’t really matter that I am in pain from the bleeding I endure every month, that the headache that accompanies it for days makes me dull and irritable. It’s no excuse. I know this, but I tell them anyway. Just because I want them to, need them to, not judge me. But they judge me and I want to scream.

It’s been raining continuously the whole day and it remains dark. By the time I leave school, the sun has already set but the stars have appeared. The moon has risen low in the sky, shadowed by ghostly clouds. It peeps in and out and it follows us, playing hide and seek all the way back on our drive home.

My daughter and I are delighted. I send the children inside and my daughter brings out the camera for me. “Take it with the tree, Mummy,” she says. The bare branches, the same bare branches form a perfect silhouette and I take a few shots with different settings. The results are satisfying.

I wait a day before I upload the images and look at them. It sustains me. These moments sustain me, I suppose until the spring, much like the branches which are bare now, but not forever.

And we remind ourselves, “…this too shall pass…”

moon

The Itch


As I work and toil, like real everyday people do, I can’t help but let my mind wander sometimes.

I’m back in a routine. I’m getting things done, the class I work in is working well, until management tells me it is not (which I hope won’t happen in the near future.) And I still can’t help but wonder if I would have been happier doing something else? Is creativity lost to me? Was it actually mine to begin with? What about philosophy, literature and academia? I wish I carried on, but was I really any good at any of that stuff?

And then that there’s that itch. I really really want to write, but when I get home, the last thing I want to do is open up a laptop. On the plus side, I’m going to bed ridiculously early and I’m reading and it’s making me so happy. There really is nothing like a good book.

In fact, I am happy. I am content. Sometimes, when I’m on playground duty, keeping that ever watchful teacher eye on the children in my charge, I see other things. Things I would not have noticed were it not for the time I had in Calcutta, and I am grateful.

Did you know, and I’m sure you did, that children will take the opportunity to play football with any object they find? I saw a few boys playing with a discarded bit of plastic from a kinder egg a couple of weeks ago. They’re not allowed to play with a ball on the playground, it’s too dangerous. They have to use the field, but that would mean changing their shoes. The children compromise and play with bottle tops and discarded plastic. I’ve seen the joy on their faces. Street children in Calcutta do the same. I imagine children are the same everywhere. They just need to play.

children-playing-football

But then I need to write about it and the itch returns. Do you remember Suva and Kyto? I think about them too. Kyto is stranded with his andro and Suva is about to discover something amazing.

For the first time in months, I visited them again this morning and I have to say that I was so relieved. They are just as I remember them, innocent, bright and eager. Their stories will continue.

I have an itch to scratch, after all.

Owning my Happy Birthday


Since that Misty Morning, not much has happened really. The world of pets in Kolkata is a quiet one. Dogs must be kept on a leash and we must walk them away from civilization. At least for the most part.

With regards to the rest of my life, well I seem to be edging ever closer to mortality. A dull, colourless mortality where I have done nothing much and probably never will.

I hit the ripe old age of 35 last Saturday and it has left me with very mixed emotions, teetering between complete apathy and utter shock. I know, I know, 35 isn’t that old and age is just a number but that number tends to mean something when you realise that you may have hit ‘mid-life’ and gravity and fine lines are winning the war you never even chose to wage.

When I turned 17, it was a form of reinvention, a redefinition of myself. I no longer was the bullied one. I was no longer the lonely one, the awkward one, the sad one, the strange one. I was the independent one, the brazen one, the one who had friends, a part time job, a newly found love for life and music and poetry and all such stuff. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate me, because I was finally someone I liked, someone who was happy in their own skin. I bought myself a silver ring, I got my nose pierced and some new clothes from Miss Selfridge’s. My friends and I went out and watched “One Fine Day” (the only movie showing at the cinemas in town on my birthday). And although it was not the best movie I had ever seen, it was good enough, because my friends were there and they partook in my joy, and that’s what we did, before the notion of someone else being responsible for your happiness took form in our brains.

On the day of my 35th birthday, I smiled dutifully, I ate the birthday lunch, I accepted the greetings but inside I felt like screaming. I suppose my very superficial gripe (in every sense of the word) was that I wasn’t actually getting the birthday I believed I deserved. There was no special gift, no cake, no romantic meal, no fuss from the one person I believed would always make a fuss of me. But deep down, it was that reflection in the mirror. Those dark circles, those soft rolls of fat, those marks and wrinkles that will never, ever go away. Why, in my mind, I asked should anyone even want to look in my direction. And…AND to top it all off, I had my hair cut a few weeks ago…a daring, yet disastrous move, in attempt to shake things up a little.

All of this left me feeling spent. I found myself in tears at various points in the day that resulted in guilt at not being able to graciously appreciate what was being done for me.

What was being done for me? Well, from the moment we landed in Hyderabad (my husband thought it might be nice to mix a business trip with familial duty, I guess). My children and their cousins set about planning a surprise birthday party for me. It wasn’t really a secret and consequently, it follows that there would be no real surprise but the preparations were in full swing.

I really was touched by the idea, although cynically believing that two 8 year olds, one 5 year old and 1 four year old would not be able to pull much off without significant adult intervention. The fun lay in the planning and I suppose the gift lay in the thought.

My husband sensing my brooding, building dissatisfaction (I can’t fake happiness very well), took me out for a coffee. I admit, it was a good move. It took me away from the situation, it took me away from the apparent lack of anything…(I realised that the children had stopped planning and started playing or bickering or just doing what cousins do when they are forced to share the same space for more than 24 hours). I was well and truly forgotten.

I took a deep breath and apologised. It seems my husband’s apparent lack of effort is due to the belief that no thought or gift he could choose for me would be good enough. Hard to believe, considering that before we were married, every thought, every gift, from him was perfect. It’s true, I may have shirked at the baby sling on our 2nd anniversary and the accidentally frozen flowers for our 5th anniversary (I think) and the dress which would have looked very fetching on an 80 year old for one of my post 30th birthdays. But I appreciated them all (bar the baby sling). I was really happy and it showed on my face! But I apologised, with all my heart for not appreciating what he envisaged for my birthday this year. Was I really such a demanding bitch?

I needed to salvage the day. Make it more than the black hole of negativity that I had allowed it to become. And so I made my husband call home and speak to one of the children.

“We’ll be home in 10 minutes. Make sure the surprise is ready!” he whispered.

I could hear a gasp of urgency, of action and affirmation coming from the child. It would be done.

I smiled my first real smile that day. My heart felt so much lighter. The kids were so happy.

Just as we entered the front gate, I made my husband call again to tell them that we would be there, in about 5 minutes.

We peered in through the dark window pane, straining to catch a glimpse of what was happening through the gap in the curtains and we were not disappointed. Earnest, happy, busy children skipped to and fro carrying stuffed toys, arranging them along the sofas, filling bowls with chocolate treats, arranging handmade cards on the table. It was lovely to watch. All this for me?

We rang the bell, shrieks of excitement, everyone rushing to their places including all the adults in the house. They opened the door, my husband rushed to the iPod to play the happy birthday music and all yelled “Surprise!”

Beaming smiles and proud faces.

Such achievement.

I will never forget the joy on the children’s faces.

So, I’ve made up my mind. Forget about me receiving from everyone else. Yes, husband, I release you from the torture of wracking your brain for a way to make me happy. From now on, I throw my own birthday surprise, with the kids, if they are so inclined. I buy my own gifts and clothes and jewellery and arrange my own dinner date, spa afternoon and birthday cake.

From this birthday forth, I go back to being that girl who believes she needs only herself to own her happiness. I go back to being comfortable in my own sagging, scarred skin because when the light is just right, when that one song is playing and when the children are doing that thing they do when they’re excited or at peace, that’s when the world I possess and everything in it, becomes truly beautiful.

Faith in Calcutta


image

Orange flavoured ball echoed by a silver plate.

Honking giant metal geese, angry eyes of red.

Zooming,wheeling, almost colliding.

I clutch at anything I can but all I can reach is faith.

A fat man, a god’s man, clad in white, the mark of the holy, on his forehead sits.

Leave your shoes, offer this and that,

And thank me with,

All I’m asking is,

All you must pay is…

I barter my faith.

Then? Then I meet shining brown faces, baked just right,

Hot out of oven, hope in their eyes.
Dancing, debating, grateful, learning. In them

I harbour my faith.

The Dichotomy of Women


We’re the caregivers, right? We always will be until we learn to give birth like sea horses. It’s because we’ve carried the little thing inside us for ¾ of a year that we’re seen as the ones to nurture it when they’re finally out of us. We’ve got the milk after all!

I can just about accept the above for the times when women didn’t work as well. But it seems that we have to have this innate nurturing nature about us that the roles of nursing a sick child or making sure the child eats their meals happily or choosing the clothes of the little human, are thrust upon us as well. And we accept it, we take it on stoically, as if we too agree with this rule of thumb.

I do and I don’t. This morning, I’m not feeling particularly motherly, yet I get on with it as I do every morning. I’m not technically earning any money though, so it’s my bona fide role to be the ‘homemaker’. But then one day I was earning money, I was contributing to the household income and yet I was still the one to take the lead as parent. Don’t get me wrong, my husband was amazing, he changed diapers, did night feeds, cooked meals, did everything he possibly could, but there was something in me, (perhaps the control freak) that accepted that I would be the one to stay at home when they were really ill. I’d correspond with the school and the teachers and I would pack the lunches. It was agreed and it was accepted and expected, by everyone in society, including my boss, a woman, that women are the primary caregivers.

In my profession of ‘Primary School Teacher’ it’s always been more than just the three Rs. It’s been about the nurturing and caring and wiping that snotty nose and telling that child who fell over, how brave they are. It’s been about teaching manners and understanding when a child really has a tummy ache or it’s something deeper like hating Maths. And guess what! There aren’t that many male primary school teachers out there and if we do encounter one they are, and pardon the broad brush stroke, vying for the leadership roles, not the caring, parenting ones of lowly class teacher. I’ve only met one male teacher one who wasn’t flummoxed by the tearful girl worried about bullying because of the size of her nose.

Are we really the more nurturing ones? Sometimes I look at myself and think I’ve come a long way. I have had to consciously learn how to care. I’m not that caring or thoughtful naturally. I’m really not. I look at my daughter, I don’t think she is either, but my son might be. I also look at my husband and he just seems so much more tuned into other people’s needs than I am. Please do not misunderstand me, I am pretty OK, as a human being, but I’m not naturally nurturing, I’m not naturally social and I’m not naturally diplomatic. I’d rather be at work, be by myself and tell people how it is.

So what is a woman? A woman, even by the very term, is defined by her ability to carry children…womb…woman!

I know a few a women, however who do not want children. Categorically, no children, whatsoever! They are looked upon suspiciously by society, me included. We say, “Really? You don’t feel that maternal urge to hold your own baby?” But they are just as valid as the women who have 3 kids, a people carrier and a fool-proof routine of burps and naps, a tidy home and dinner on the table by 6.30, sharp.

A woman is a strong force of nature. Mother or not, she’s does what she does. She gets on with it. It seems in this society she’s determined to get on with it more than any man, just to prove a point. It’s as if she’s always fighting. There’s a war going on from time immemorial, it seems, to show that women are just as valid as men. There aren’t many women out there who haven’t fought with a man or another woman or herself, in some way or another. I think women are fighters; feisty and sure of herself. That’s her inner nature, not necessarily the carrier of a 1000 crying, excreting, consuming balls of flesh! But someone who, quite simply yet complexly, is.

I wonder what would happen if men grew wombs?

What are your thoughts?

Image

From google images

The Blue day


blueAs I get to grips with Calcutta and life here, I find myself inspired and energised, constantly by the amazing people who work, quietly, diligently, without the need for applause. I stumbled upon the Starlink Foundation and the Charity, Apne Aap as I was floundering around for something to do. Truly inspirational people, truly inspirational work. It’s exciting stuff and I’m looking forward to learning more. Click on the link below to discover something new.

The Blue day.

What a week!


what a weekWell, what a couple of weeks! Let me list all the major events that have happened starting with the 4th July…my birthday, no less!
  • Our power was cut off on the 4th July in the flat we were due to move out of on the 6th July.
  • We had to spend the first night in our new flat with no hot water and AC in only one room.
  • We finally moved on the 6th July. 
  • On the evening of the 7th we watched Murray play his way to Wimbledon victory after the TV and cable was installed (but that’s another story completely!
  • On the 8th July, early morning, my son had a suspected Asthma attack. We had to rush him to hospital.
  • On the 10th July, after my son managed to recover a little, I managed to make a meeting with the finance officer for an NGO called Calcutta Rescue. Will be visiting one of their two schools next week.
  • To make the meeting on time, I took my first solo trip in a famous big yellow taxi. (plays havoc with your hair)
  • I have decided, that I really, really want a cat! (one befriended me during the meeting and fell asleep between my feet)
Out of all of these things, obviously the most meaningful and painful was watching my little 2 year old gasping for air at 1 am on a muggy Calcutta night.
Exhausted after the move, I went to bed relatively early, at about 10 and I fell into a deep sleep until I heard a rasping cry coming from my son’s room. The sound was a gasping, wheezing desperate attempt to breathe. I saw the confusion on his face while he looked to me to make it better.
My husband was watching a movie on the TV we had installed and had just gone into the bathroom to get ready for bed. I banged on the door, demanded he come out.  He saw the panic in my eyes, he heard the pain in my son’s cry and we both, at that moment didn’t know what to do. After about a minute, I suggested we call a friend and neighbour. They have children of their own, they must know what to do, where to go, I thought. They exceeded our expectations. Not only did they send down someone to sit with my daughter as she slept but our friend drove us in his own car to the hospital, spoke to the emergency on-call doctor and waited with us until things were resolved. He gave us the name of a good paediatrician, whom we would see in the morning, and then proceeded to drive us to various pharmacies for the meds we were prescribed. We came to a few ’24 hour’ pharmacies; all were closed. Finally we found one in a nearby hospital which had the antibiotics we were told we needed and we breathed a sigh of relief.
That night I was cursing India. Where was our beloved NHS? Where was the painfully slow, yet always there, helpline? Where was 999? But thinking about it, the situation we were in, I don’t think there was time to wait. We would have had to get in the car and drive to A&E and we would have had to possibly wait in the waiting area with the drunken and broken limbed, afraid of MRSA. Here, we were seen straight away. The hospital was clean, the staff were friendly and doing their best, I really could not complain, but we would not have known where to go or who to ask for, were we on our own.
Let me explain…my son was rushed to hospital on an earlier occasion,  on our wedding anniversary, about a month after we arrived in Calcutta. He had swallowed a blood pressure tablet, somehow prying open the container it was in. The hospital that was suggested at that time was not the same as the one we visited this time. It was dirty and grey and we were asked to go from one room to the next, up the stairs and down the stairs until finally we came to rest in the maternity ward where women were preparing to give birth. My husband was not allowed in with me and my son refused to have his blood pressure measured with the one child sized blood pressure reading machine, whatever that’s called. It was a lonely experience. They wanted to keep us there but I refused, all they would do is observe. If needed they would administer some emergency treatment. I’m glad I went home…the NHS, although ailing and aging, was always going to be better with children and anxious mothers than this.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: healthcare, even paid healthcare, in India is not the same for everyone. The poor have it worse! If you’ve got cash you’ve also got your health taken care of but doctors, like the one in the Emergency Room  almost ask us to decide on the best course of treatment. We are the customer, after all. How perplexing that was! “You could do this or you could do that. I’m suggesting this, but it’s up to you.” 
I suppose to a certain extent the NHS is going in the same direction, but their reasons are different; they don’t want to be sued! “But this is what the patient wanted, M’ Lord.”
Free or even affordable, quality healthcare in the UK is not so hard with a meagre 64 million people to cater for, but for 1 billion people and counting, with literacy skills not as developed as in the West, with suspicion and religion sometimes barring the way, it’s always going to be a struggle. This is what my husband keeps pointing out to me as I complain and compare.
But one thing I do know…there are people out there, like our friend, the superhero who rushed us to hospital, like the kind nurse who was trying to distract my son as he was given a nebulizer, like the woman from Calcutta Rescue who wants the children and families under her care to be given the same aspirations and hopes as her own son. There are people out there who care enough to go that extra mile so the world is not such a scary place, even for those who think they are all alone.

“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.”

Hippocrates