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LGBTQIA+ Mind Personal Essays Relationships Social Issues

I Survived, Dad

I Survived, Dad

Anonymous

January 10, 2021

I’ve been living a lie my entire life. A twisted sick retelling of a long lost twin’s sorry story. Even at the best moments of my tale, there is just so much malice in my wonderland. Mostly myself. I’ve been a sucker for self-harm, the idea of the bubble bursting so much more wholesome than the bubble. So as the author of this heavily rewritten book, let me show you a few pages of my life.

I say heavily rewritten as my disease has the added curse of a terrible memory. Whatever I don’t remember clearly, I rescript to suit my convenience or make a better story. I don’t remember a lot of my glory days, have entirely blocked out tear jerkers, and a lot of my suicidal moments feel a lot more subdued when I recall them now. The distortion doesn’t just restrict itself to my recollections. It alters the way I look at things. I used to be a pessimist and can recall this one incident where a boy had gifted me a flower for my birthday. After he left, I shredded it and stomped it to the ground. Flowers are just reminders of how impermanent life and beauty are. That all things eventually die.

My happiest songs are the ones which tell the saddest tales. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy up-tempo bangers. The notes which pluck the strings of my soul however are wrought with woe. Life shouldn’t have to feel this way. Jumping of a terrace despite my vertigo shouldn’t be the first thought that comes to mind. Contemplating least painful ways of offing myself shouldn’t be routine. I see people breezing through life and sometimes wish things were that easy. Dandelion seeds floating with the wind while I’m lugging my anchor around everywhere.

Relationships with people become complex. Family often becomes the crutch which broke the leg. (Childhood stress and trauma are common contributors for an early onset of manic depression). While on medication, the feelings and emotions become numb. Creativity, often associated with mental health problems, takes a backseat. For a person living their life in highs and lows, this new flat-lining can come as an unwelcome shocker. The predilection for the emotional rush can be quite overpowering. We tend to resort to drugs or quitting medication to experience the altered reality once more as the new normal feels quite bland. That is why a support system is quite necessary to monitor the initial phases of recovery and to prevent a relapse.

During depression, even the most supportive friends may feel unwanted. Judgement goes for a toss and we end up not thinking about consequences. This often leads to burning bridges and more often than not, there’s no going back. I am lucky to have so many people who understand my disease or try to. I haven’t been that lucky always. I was in an abusive live-in where the other person’s push and pull on my emotions made them go haywire. He just added fuel to the fire. Despite dropping me off to my psychologist, he refused to believe that I was ill and thought that I was deliberately acting crazy because I enjoyed that. I’m much choosier about the people I let into my life these days. Once I used to indulge in self-destruction. Nowadays it doesn’t take me a second to cut off someone who could harm me for the sake of self-preservation.

I survived delirium, borderline insanity, anxiety sucking away at me like leeches. I survived the horrors of the world not ending in 2012. I survived a speeding truck while fully loaded on three drugs. I survived bullies, I survived this, I survived that. I survived Dad. I survived, Dad.

I feel like the Destiny’s Child song. I’m surviving despite the odds of bipolar death rates (doubled due to increased chances of heart failure) and I’m not just talking suicide. We are hypersexual as well, often resulting in risky behavioural patterns and promiscuity. I have survived 6 HIV tests in as many years. I’m surviving not because I want to. I’ve tried the other options and failed, so why not make the best of living a loud life and making the best of it. Currently I’m surviving to hopefully see a day where I enjoy living and am excited about opening my eyes the next morning.

 

The author is bravely dealing with their mental health problems. The article has been published without any edits.

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Empathy and Compassion Happiness Mind Relationships

Take Care

Take Care

November 23, 2020

Take care. 

These two words either warm our soul or provide empty wishes, depending on how the message is delivered. We know how to read the words in the silence of our loved ones. We learn—why, more than how—to dismiss the cacophony of hollow etiquette framed in words. Rhetorical words, particularly. We dismiss them with an equally shallow politeness. 

The onus of taking care, understandably, is on the recipient of the message.

(You) take care (of yourself). 

Nandini, a creative professional, takes good care of herself. She routinely works out in a trendy gym, where, at regular intervals, strategically placed high-decibel speakers blast out an assertive voice claiming that the gym “cares for you.” Loyal to the idiosyncrasies of the brand strategist that she is, she completes the tag line in her perky tone.  

“Cares for your money.” 

She, then, exchanges a harmless laughter with her selectively sincere trainer. Occasionally, sweaty gym enthusiasts stop puffing their chests out and break into a smile at her mimicry. Deep down, her humorous response is a reflection of her lack of faith in the empty claim. Never has the gym cared to call up David, her husband, who routinely disappears after paying an annual membership fee. 

Nandini, too, like most of us, is guilty of abusing those two magical words. Guilty of uttering without pondering first on the utterance. Guilty of not meaning the meaning. Guilty of moral hypocrisy, because tables do turn. 

When Nandini isn’t working or working out or spending a fortune taking care of her skin and her hair, she feeds on the newsfeed and consumes the delights of others’ lives. She hates herself, despite all the “self-care.”

Double, triple, quadruple hypocrite Nandini is. 

For taking care of ourselves without knowing how to take care of ourselves hurts the self. The skin glows, the hair shines while the inner world, shunned by the glow-shine veil, endlessly awaits its turn for a renovation. The internal system communicates an earnest plea to the veil to let it break free of the firewalls of social networking, to allow it to build relationships. 

The inner self knocks on the door. Thinks aloud. 

Nandini, are you home? The lights are on but you are off. Off the real world. I am concerned about you. You need to understand the impact of spending your limited attention loathing, loving, and fantasizing those virtual lives.  

First: Based on the “reality,” which arguably isn’t the truth, you constantly redefine how your life should be. 

Second: You don’t pay yourself the attention you seek from others. 

The net result you achieve is an imitation of a should-be life. The constant tussle between the imitation and the original, as I have seen, leaves you exhausted. Unknowingly ignored, the original life, if bravely attempted, is worth your time. You don’t receive a notification on your smartphone reminding you to like your imperfect life. The recipes of others’ lives keep getting you to compare yourself. Comparisons are brutally unkind and unfair, Nandini. Not so much when others decimate you to a few parameters but what you do to yourself when you indulge in comparisons. 

Yes, imitation. 

Imitation is arguably the best form of flattery but is clearly not so articulate in giving voice to people. A voice borrowed from successful people or loaned from popular movies doesn’t last beyond a temporary ego boost or an orgasmic adrenaline rush. I have noticed that if there is no precedent for your ideas, rather than cheering your uniqueness, you feel concerned that your thought process might make you look stupid. Your voice may as well be wrong, in which case, you must have the humility to stand corrected. But having that original voice is crucial for your self-development. You keep your ideas hidden deep inside a secret chamber, fearing disapproval or failure. This behavioral pattern has, not so surprisingly, put an end to your uniqueness.  

Before you realized, you became an elegant copy of copies, Nandini. Sexy, alluring, grand, mesmerizing … but a copy nonetheless. We both know how many ideas you have lifted from others. And, I know how remorseful you feel every time you plagiarize and call it “creativity.” 

The market for copies is fiercely competitive, ripe with safe opportunities; originality, on the other hand, is a relatively apprehensive and uncontested market. With every additional copy produced, the value of the original increases and that of the copy decreases. 

The cycle of a should-be life continues. Because living the original, imperfect life requires courage. 

The world needs more unique individuals, Nandini. You will do better to retain your uniqueness. The mutual interest of the human being that you are and the humankind in desperate need of changers isn’t enough to motivate you to retain yourself, I understand. My point is not that you aren’t getting better but that you are killing the unique elements in you fearing that they might make you look unsocial. Plus, you always have a tendency to validate your habits, your thoughts, your actions. 

Remember: “If,” “But,” and “Should” do less than what “Will,” “Do,” and “Can” can. 

Rejection is not your cup of tea, I know. You need a deeper understanding of rejections. Rejections and dealing with rejections are terrifying encounters. That won’t be so scary if you knew how to look at them as plain facts. And, move on. Your expensive business education, unfortunately, didn’t teach you much beyond copying and pasting. I would suggest you to invite more rejections to feel comfortable with rejections. Aim for the impossible, Nandini! You have nothing to lose but an opportunity to make peace with rejections, and hit a jackpot if otherwise. 

Nandini, the more pressing concern is that you don’t have the time to spend with yourself, to connect with the person whose body you live in, to appreciate yourself for the small wins. The imitated life you are trapped in, no matter what you do, turns out to be less than the should-be life. For you don’t know how to slow down a bit when everyone else is moving too fast—how to approve the disapprovals. 

For you have long forgotten the joy of spending time with the child and the old, you have long been ungrateful for the many gifts you are surrounded with, you have long been using someone else’s tape to measure your life. 

For you haven’t really smelt the coffee you drink every day, you haven’t seen the buildings you move past daily on your way to the office. You haven’t used your hands in a long time to create something. You must try making one of those clay idols again. Muddy fingers carving tiny hands out of a heap of silt. 

For you haven’t read works of literary fiction, you haven’t gifted your mind the imagination of experiences of others’ lives. You haven’t listened, you haven’t empathized.

Last week, your extended family members visited you. David’s maternal aunts and uncles, none of whom you are fond of. I know how much you dislike Sheela Aunty because of her habit of poking her nose into everyone’s life. After almost seven months, you met them. Sheela Aunty made a harmless comment: “You have become fat.”

You felt terrified, claustrophobic but managed to humor them. Unwillingly, you let them make you a part of a group photo. After they left, you went to your room. You shook in fear of imaginary dislikes on Facebook and Instagram. You sobbed. Shrilled, till the room deepened with your gloom. You punched yourself. Slapped yourself. Punched David. He kicked you back brutally on your stomach—repeatedly—as though his leg were a fork capable of killing you. This unimaginable domestic violence continued for two days. Non-stop. 

Why, Nandini? Why?

Nandini, my dear, have you ever considered appreciating your skills? Your cooking abilities, your work performance, your writing skills? The mutton biriyani that used to get people drooling? The touching ad that you designed based on the life of the transgender person, Svetlana, who had adopted a child? The anaphora poem that earned you the “Artsy Adsy Prize 2020?” Your ability to produce outstanding research papers? The pioneering research paper you wrote on the necessity to have gender-neutral washrooms at workplace? That, too, without plagiarizing! 

Do you think you need to look like a model or a film star to live your life? Are there identities of you that are more important than your glutei and abs? Sure, exercise, be fit by all means, but do so because you want to take care of yourself. Not to impress strangers on the Internet. Moreover, why do you need to start living your life after you achieve an hourglass figure? What’s wrong with who you are today? 

No one has the power to “other-ize” you for who you are, Nandini. Neither the educated nor the literate; neither the beautiful nor the wonderful; neither the rich nor the wealthy; neither the straight nor the arrow; neither the law nor the claw; neither the art nor the science; or the old adage and the new. No one. Often what makes us extraordinarily human is what is denigrated in popular rhetoric. Don’t rob yourself of the small joys of life for having a dialogue with the deaf.

When and if they turn their gaze away, don’t look for shadows; for if you try to find one, you will create many out of nothing. Rather, be impregnable and untouchable by their words and actions that cast a deep shadow inside your mind. 

That respectfully indifferent person is your hero: You. Nandini Arora. Make that hero a superhero.

Train your mind more than you train your body, Nandini. You have exercised—squatted, curled, pressed, crunched—but you haven’t really taken care of yourself. Not at all. All the years, you have looked at the mirror, arranged your hair but not the head. How many more Keratin treatments will make you happy? 

Nandini. You have looked at the mirror, seen what you don’t have but not what you have. You cannot get up by drowning yourself in self-criticism. You have looked at the mirror, taken care of the invisible wrinkles but not the unseen emotions beneath them. You haven’t had a warm conversation with the imperfect self that you are.

You haven’t seen yourselves through your kind eyes.

You haven’t learnt how to shield yourself from your own devices and desires. How to protect yourself from your own expectations. How to access the renewable sources of happiness within yourself, in your solitude, in your state of flow. While conceptualizing an ad, maybe. Or, while trying to be the artist whom you lost to technology?

For you, it is either a low self-esteem or a high chest-beating, unhealthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem allows one to be compassionate towards oneself, to understand how positive emotions might be thin in absence of the essential negative emotions, to clearly see things beyond one’s control, to be able to delay gratification, to gracefully accept rejections, and more. 

Above all, self-compassion, Nandini. You haven’t extended compassion to yourself. 

Fall, you will. But. Push yourself up and crawl. Let go of the incessant need to network, to run with a business card after someone running with a business card after someone else higher in the hierarchy. Invest in meaningful relationships, Nandini. 

Call up Sheela Aunty. Talk to her. She loves your Mutton Biriyani. She loves you. Don’t judge her. Hug David tightly and tell him how much you love him. Now, Nandini. Now. 

And a little self-compassion, please? Shall we, Nandini?

I look forward to hearing from you. The sooner, the better.

Take care.

Your,
Inner Self.


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Personal Essays Relationships Women

Bracing Adversities

Bracing Adversities

By Manami Talukder

August 28, 2020

It is often believed that people can’t estimate their threshold unless they face an appropriate competition or a befitting competitor. A state of uncertainty brings forth one’s firefighting instincts that usually surface under extraordinary circumstances. I, too, had found myself in such a situation when I thought the ground was swept away from beneath my feet without any prior intimation. I emerged as a changed person after that phase. Acquaintances who came to know me after the phase have seen a radically different version of me.

However, before getting into the nitty-gritties of that phase, I want to share a little bit about my childhood. My parents dedicated their entire lives to the upbringing of their only child. Although I grew up in a middle-class family, I never saw the face of scarcity. My father provided me with the best lifestyle, one that would be conducive to a healthy childhood. However, don’t for a second think that I was spoilt. My parents disciplined me well and, for that, I am grateful to them. It never culminated into resentment and I never felt unloved as I was never chided without a reason. They prioritized my education above everything and, maybe, due to the pressure of their expectations, I was a nervous child. Examinations were always a nightmare, although I fared quite well and always maintained the top position in my class. The fact that I ranked first every year added onto that pressure. You could say I was a nerdy bookworm who didn’t like talking unnecessarily during recess or after school as I considered that part unproductive. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends or that I didn’t have hobbies, but I just wasn’t talkative. It is difficult for a lot of my friends to imagine the changed person who came into their life later.

Now, let me introduce you to my parents, who play a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I have inherited a lot of my characteristics from them. My mother is the youngest of seven siblings and has a twin sister who is older than her by three minutes. Maa is a major in Mathematics and has spent a lion’s share of her life as a teacher. She is someone who is never deterred by anything that life throws at her. She bravely prioritized motherhood over her higher studies, for which I will always remain indebted to her. However, a staunch believer of the ideology “it is never too late,” she went ahead and completed her master’s degree in Mathematics and received a Bachelor of Education degree after the age of fifty. Her hobbies know no end. She is a singer, an actor, and a theatre director, and currently holds the position of the cultural secretary of our colony. She has a knack for interior design—she could have easily pursued a career in that—and has a terrace garden with all types of house plants. I will never be able to match her level of youthful energy and her eagerness to learn new things every day, be it operating new smartphones or using tripods to record videos. Let me also add that she had two miscarriages, fought against and conquered Hepatitis B, and battled clinical depression. The darkness from which she has pulled herself out is unthinkable, yet she remains the unnerving light in my house who does not stop showing the world what living means.

My father, the eldest of four siblings, faced hardships since he was young. His mother passed on when he was just seven while his father took to be an ascetic and forsook all responsibilities. So, my father and my aunts, the youngest only two-month-old, were, in all sense, orphaned. It was his aunts who sheltered them, for which he remained grateful till his last breath. He always taught me to be humble, loyal and, above all, grateful for what I have. But childhood without parents was jarring and he had to miss out on many opportunities as he could not afford them and could not expect his relatives to spend on him after all that they had already done for him and his sisters. This entailed losing his chance to complete his higher education even after securing an opportunity to study medical sciences. Struggles that you or I will shudder to imagine was his everyday life. As a child, he used to spend Holi inside his house out of fear of ruining his sole good shirt. Hence, to become an established bank manager in one of the leading institutions of the country, after coming from such a background, was more than he could dream of. I don’t think I have to emphasize that I am an extremely proud daughter of a self-made man and value hard work above everything.

Naturally, when my father, the strongest person I had ever encountered, someone who had never even caught a cold, was diagnosed with the last stage of cancer, it was nothing less than a bolt of lightning from the blue. It was in the month of October in 2009, a few days after Diwali, that he visited our family doctor as he perpetually felt tired and was abnormally losing weight. Few tests were prescribed. The CT scan identified lumps, in one of his lungs, that turned out to be malignant. As I have already mentioned, struggles had always been a part and parcel of his life. Maybe, that’s why he didn’t pay much heed to his discomfort while the malignant tumours started nurturing inside him. The following few weeks were akin to a nightmare. Like any other eighteen-year-old who had just started college, I too had left home for studies for the first time with lots of hopes and dreams for my future. Destiny, howbeit, had planned something different for me. My whole life was turned upside down in the span of a month.

Well, we all know what “cancer” is. But until it hits someone close to you and whom you care for, you don’t understand how devastating and draining this disease can be, not only for the patient but also for the entire family. My mother was told by the doctor that my dad hardly had six to ten months left as he was diagnosed at the last stage. My father refused to undergo chemotherapy as he realized it would only add to the pain and wouldn’t cure him. My mother was a warrior, as she always has been, through those days; my father was a hero till the very end. I never heard him cry or whine although he was in pain day in, day out. Naive as it might seem, I strongly believed we would get him back and life would again go back to being “normal.” I prayed a lot during that time as I had full faith in God. However, my father didn’t have to suffer for long, and on Wednesday, November 25 2009, he passed on. I became the unofficial head of the family.

I promised my father that day that his struggles would not go in vain and that I would take care of the family as he had done throughout his life. Another thing changed that day. I lost faith in God. I don’t pray anymore. I don’t believe that the omnipresent will solve all our problems. From that day, I realized that everything that happens is predestined and is not in our control. No amount of prayer will change it, so why bother God?! Instead, divert all that faith into yourself so that when life plays tough games with you, you stay strong and collide head-on without thinking of the outcomes—as did my parents against cancer. I don’t believe we lost against cancer as it has failed to dampen our will to live a vibrant life. On the contrary, it made me stronger. Anxiety doesn’t freak me out anymore because I don’t rely on miracles to happen. I trust in myself and believe that I can handle anything that will come my way. Both my mother and I believe that my dad hasn’t left us. He is always there to show us the path and guide us to happiness and peace.

My father’s death brought me face to face with the real world and I knew I needed to learn to protect myself. Nothing is permanent. You can’t be dependent on anyone for long, as people move on once their purpose in your life is fulfilled. You should learn to get up when you fall rather than searching for a hand to pull you up. My parents are my inspirations, be it in life or in death. I have learned to never give up, to always feel there will be light if you persevere, and that spirit has helped me through all my struggles so far. I appeared for my first semester examinations in college five days after my father’s death. While others suggested I should skip it and repeat a year, I knew my father had sacrificed so much for my education and he wouldn’t have settled for anything less.

Let me elaborate on some prominent changes that appeared in my personality after my father passed on. I started talking more. I started interacting a lot more with people and made many friends. I started talking about my father with my friends and family; it very well could have been a coping mechanism or a way of remembering him, however you want to perceive it. Talking about my father meant keeping his memories alive and sharing it with more people. But I want to clarify that I never did this to arouse any sympathy as I didn’t want people to pity me. It was an inevitable mishap and I can’t deny that it created a huge void in my life, but it is something neither can I blame anyone for nor can I change. It is a part of my life and I must deal with it. I didn’t allow it to break me. One must accept that life is not always kind. However, I feel I was fortunate to have proper shelter, food, clothes, and all other luxuries of life that my parents always provided for me. Baba had completed his tenure and our well-being wasn’t hampered after his demise.

I evolved into a more practical person. I don’t get surprised a lot with uncanny events or news anymore. After being hit with such a stark change within a month, I realized anything can happen, no matter how bizarre it sounds. Truth is stranger than fiction. And above all, I started to accept that death is ineludible and the most real thing in life, and one must not ponder over whether someone’s death was timed well or deserving. I don’t think I have become uncaring or cold, but I have become more accepting of the weird whims and fancies of destiny. I still get a bit nervous before examinations or interviews, but during such moments, when I start losing trust in my abilities, I remind myself that I have gone through much worse and nothing can be as difficult as living and smiling without a parent.

The last and the hardest thing to overcome was to accept that this loss will forever remain in my life and I should not expect anyone to fill it. A father is like the shade of a banyan tree—you can rest in peace underneath knowing it will not let any harm touch you. I tried to look for that shade in friends, family, and prospective life partners, but soon realized that it was a futile search and somewhat unfair towards the other person. I also learned not to dwell in negativity. Instead, I try to relive those good memories with my father and keep him alive in me. Every milestone in life now seems to have one part missing as I can’t share it with my father and can only imagine what he would have said had he been there. I miss those debates when our opinions would clash. Now that I have become wiser and know more about the worldly affairs, how fun it would have been to discuss economics, politics, films, and sports with my father. And above all, I miss my banker dad the most when I have to file my taxes or plan my loan EMIs. My father was loved by one and all around him. Even now, whenever my family gets together, somehow, something he said or did pops up in our conversations and we relive those beautiful days. As I have grown up, I have lost a lot of close people—both family and friends—and there is no denying that it is something I wish could be undone. However, I have slowly but surely learned to stop fighting the past and live in the present. I try to keep those I lost alive in my memories, in my learnings, and in my day-to-day experiences. What I am today is an amalgamation of the learnings I have got from all those who have had any impression on me along the way and a part of them shall forever remain within me.

It would be wrong to say that it was an easy transition and that I didn’t see dark days. Everyone has their own ways to deal with hardships and so did I. Whenever it got hard to communicate the pain I was going through, I used to write my thoughts in a journal and found it to be an amazing way to express myself. It is very important for everyone to learn to accept the reality and try to gauge the best options ahead. Life is beautiful and gives you new opportunities every day. There will be struggles along the way, but I am quite assured from my own experiences that the struggles make you stronger for the road ahead.

Back in 2009, smartphones were not abundant like the present times, so there weren’t a lot of videos of my father except some videos during family weddings and a few recorded conversations during such gatherings. Sometimes it feels I might forget how he sounded or the way he walked but then I close my eyes, and he appears in front of my eyes, ever healthy and smiling, assuring me that there is no way a daughter can forget her father in her lifetime.

I think it is clear that I can go on for ages talking about my father, but, for now, I should stop. If anyone is going through a tough phase in life and feels that there is no road ahead, please feel free to connect with me and, maybe, I will be able to help you. At the end of the day, this is what life is all about.

 

Manami Talukder is currently adapting to the Work from Home norms while quarantining at her hometown—Kolkata. She studied Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur; worked as a Technology Consultant; and completed Post-Graduation from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode before entering the mythical world of Management Consulting in 2018. She got married in December 2019, in a traditional Bengali-Tamil style, before the trend of attending weddings over Zoom became the new standard. She loves to spend her time learning new sketching and painting techniques, and utilized the initial periods of lockdown perfecting her baking and roti-making skills. She likes to spend time at home and hasn’t yet lost her sanity because of the pandemic-induced isolation. She is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and tries to learn new choreographies during weekends. Manami is mostly a nocturnal being and finds it hard to sleep on time, and hence has recently got addicted to audio stories to accompany her long nights. Her recent interests include solving puzzles, playing carrom, and revisiting Bengali classic novels and movies. Manami spent the first nine years of her life in Siliguri before migrating to Kolkata for most of her student life before work and higher studies pulled her to places like Mumbai, Kerala, Pune, Bordeaux, Hyderabad, and back to Kolkata. She likes to express her opinions strongly but isn’t unwilling to hear others out and is always up for a healthy argument.

She can be contacted on [email protected].

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