When we all turn into clouds.

Arjun contemplating

Every time when someone old is sick, I feel this is the final time I am seeing them. Every time my grandmother calls me I hold on to her words, I feel this is the last time I am talking to her. She is healthy as a horse, takes good care of herself, gives unwanted advice to everyone she meets, insists on them following her advice and in general keeps getting in trouble because of all the questions she asks people which she is not supposed to.

But still, every time I see a call from her number, my heart beat quickens till I hear her voice.

It is strange to have this feeling in your head at all times. It is a cycle of life and death. What is born must die, and yet, it feels as if we are all fighting it every minute. For ourselves and for our loved ones.

When Arjun, my 2.5 year old boy asked me where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are, I pointed at the sky and told him that they have become clouds now. We can’t see them, but they can see us. Now in this monsoon season, when he sees a dark cloud or a soft white cloud against a grey blue sky, he points at it and asks me who that specific cloud is. I make up some stories and he entertains them. One day last weekend he came to me, held my face in both his hands and then very sincerely told me ‘Momma, please don’t become a cloud when you get old”. I squeezed him and said okay, but actually what I wanted to tell him is that ‘Becoming a cloud after you become old is the best thing to happen, honey.’ But may be he is too little to understand that thing happening to his mom.

And kids can be strange. This idea is stuck in his head and when he sees any really old person, he asks them, ‘When do you think you will become a cloud?’ I quickly change the topic before any more questions are asked, but you can imagine me getting a small panic attack when he starts questioning in that direction.

Last month, I asked my 80 year old grandmother who had gone to meet her dying 83 old brother, “What did you say to him?”. “Nothing”, she told me. “I just stroked his hand and his forehead”. “Thats it? No last words of wisdom from you or from him?” “No. We have just been there forever, what else to say?”

Getting old and then leaving this world is perhaps the best form of dying. Of having lived a life, of knowing that your children, their children are all grown up, that they can take care of themselves without you – that is solace. And I believe in re-birth. In same soul, many lives. So all those who have left us will come back in some other form, in some other person. It helps me navigate the everyday. My husband believes that we are all carbon atoms, there is no soul and there is no re-birth. And this belief makes him stay sane. Well, different things work for different people, but I refuse to believe that my grandmother’s unrelenting, unsolicited advice will leave me and not come back. I am sure she will pass on that baton to someone else, for her sake and for mine.

This week, we will celebrate her 80th birthday. All her sisters will be there too, in the old-age home where she now stays. Me and mom were trying to convince her that we should all go on a holiday to celebrate her 8oth. But she wants to stay put and wants us all to come there. So thats where we all will be, amongst 30 other grannies and grandpas, some of whom we know and some only she knows. Arjun loves it there, so much open space and trees and flowers, he runs around the whole time.

On the other side of the family, Akshay’s grandma also lives very close to us. Arjun is very attached to her. She is 81. In good health, but ageing. Arjun sees all of this. How fortunate he is to love and be loved by three generations, but he will also miss them the most when they are all no more.

But there is no better thing than to grow old and die. May we all have the same fate.

Cheers,

RC

World Breastfeeding Week – how we made it through.

Breastfeeding momma

Of all the things that are changing as Arjun is growing up, the thing that I miss the most is breastfeeding. My little baby being nourished and nurtured at my breast. I am not kidding when I tell you that I list it as an accomplishment when I take stock of life. It was not easy, no. Breastfeeding him exclusively for 6 months and then continuing it for another 6 months before the baby self-weaned – took up all of my reserve of determination. Hours of sitting at the same place nursing the child, feeding on demand and being available 24*7 and practically not having even a few minutes to yourself; it was all worth it.

Now I am not going to give any gyaan on breastfeeding, but all you women out there, it is the best gift to give your child. And I say this from personal experience. When the baby starts feeding, some hormones get released in your body, and the calm and peace which you feel at that time is unparalleled. Of course, you have to be in that moment, with the baby, not wishing to be somewhere else, but once you clear your brain of all your to-do lists, it can be a perfect zen-time. And the baby immensely benefits from mothers milk. From the closeness, from the attachment and also the customised nourishment that he is getting. Mother’s milk has everything your baby needs, on that day, modified as per signals received by the mother’s body during the previous feeding session. If this had to be explained in one word, I would call it miraculous.

And there were so many things I could do because the baby was breastfed. Arjun and I took a 28 hour long journey to San Francisco, just the two of us when he was 9 months old. I must have fed him 20 times in those 28 hours, but I did not have to carry any bottles, any formula, no sterilisation. Every time he would make a sound, I would start nursing him and it would instantly calm him. No fuss, no crying. A lady in the plane remarked later on that she didn’t know there was a baby on board.

Of course it took an army of supporters. My husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, so many of my friends and relatives, the very supportive pro-breastfeeding paediatrician, my lactation consultant and the Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers group on Facebook. Each one had a huge role to play, especially in the first 2 months when baby and I were still getting used to each other, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. But we all did stick through it, and its been the most wondrous journey of my life.

Its now a year and a half since Arjun stopped feeding, and how I miss those moments. The baby would be mine alone at that time and I would be his. In sync with each other.

Arjun is quite an independent child now, stays away from mom and dad even for a week when we go away for meetings. Sometimes he is so engrossed in his play doh that he wont realise its been 2 hours since he spoke to anyone. But then there are days when he wont even let me go pee after coming back from work. Every minute after and before office hours have to be spent with him. Physically and mentally. No phone, no laptop, no talking to any other person. Just him. Momma, lets paint. Mom look at how I can jump, momma help me make a ball of clay, mum lets go to the garden, momma let me hug you (for the fiftieth time in the last hour) , mom you feed me, give me water, let me sit in your lap, let me play with your ears, I will comb your hair, you brush my teeth, teach me a new song, let me sleep in your lap like a baby and so on. An endless list of demands over your time and space.

But I wont have it any other way. If he was indifferent to me, or disinterested in doing activities with me, I. Will. Die. This might be my only chance at being a mom, and I want to cling to every minute of it.

Unable to decide if we should have one more child or not, it is in these moments  that I sometimes ask this 2.5 year old ‘Should we make one more baby in momma’s stomach?’

With the profoundness of a toddler, he quickly asks me ‘Then who will I call momma? Maybe then I will have to start calling my grandma as my mom’. Heartbroken I tell him, ‘Hey! I will still be your mom. Always.’ ‘But what if the other baby takes you to his home?’, he gets puzzled. My little baby doesn’t understand the concept of expanding the family, but he definitely understands that he doesn’t want to share his mom.

Well, for now, this is my only baby. The baby I created inside me, and nurtured wholly for 6 months on the milk that I made. Customised for him.

It is true that breastfeeding can be tricky and its a matter of personal choice. And all of us are still awesome parents even if we don’t do things in this way or another, but I firmly believe that Breast is Best. So all you gorgeous feeding mammas, hang in there.

Happy Breastfeeding Week y’all!

Love,

Rutvika

Finding cues from books to keep calm and carry on

Bookstore in Berlin

On a miraculous note, I have finished reading all the four books that I started reading in the last two months. I call it a miracle because believe it or not, there are 6-7 books on my kindle which I started reading but couldn’t go on. For varied reasons. And then I would give up reading for a while, keep scourging listicles to find a book which will help me get back on track and feel disconcerted all the while because I did not have a book to go back to. Working full time and raising a child leaves very less time to read (or even to take a shower for that matter), but escaping my own life and joining someone else through the books makes it rather bearable to live through the mundane necessities of life. We are so small in this whole universe, that our joys and sorrows, difficulties and breakthroughs are all insignificant and should not be taken too seriously.

Four years back when I was in Paris, I went to Lyon to spend two days with a business associate and his family consisting of his wife and three kids. His youngest daughter Lily (who was 6) and I became very attached. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I cant speak French, but sometimes you don’t need words to feel close to each other. I hadn’t seen her since then. When we were going to Berlin for our annual international meeting, I was going to see her father. I took a little gift for Lily and wondered if she would remember me.

We were in for a rude shock when we saw Lily with her father in Berlin and he told us that his wife had committed suicide a week back. 10 year old Lily accompanied him as there was no one to take care of her at home. I knew her mother, such a warm gentle person. But she suffered from depression for several years and couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the inevitable had happened.  She fought the demons in her head for 20 years, but refused to accept medication. As it often happens in situations like these, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything comforting. We hugged each other and said that we are very sorry to hear that.

I couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the evening or night. A book came to my rescue. While in Berlin, I wanted to read something about the city and I had Stasiland by Anna Funder. I escaped into that book, The Berlin wall and the attempts to flee, atrocities committed by the Secret police – the Stasi, incessant spying by the East German government on the citizens and so on. Suddenly the bleaker world that I was reading about made my real world seem more cheerful. And the words, how they comfort a soul when troubled. Look at this from the book “I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Or this : “We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips into the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators, fight for it.” These are the words that will save the world, one person at a time.

Next day, Lily and I then went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the Secret police of East Germany. We saw a lot of stuff that was described in the book Stasiland. Two people who didn’t speak a common language trapezed through the museums and streets of Berlin, trying to understand the people and the history of the city. Then we sat at a cafe and did what Berliners do. Lunch on salad and sandwiches and some hot chocolate before the whirlwind of 4 days of constant meetings sucked me in. I don’t know what Lily thinks of her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t know what fears I have about Arjun growing up in this world. We don’t have a common language to communicate. But there on that afternoon, we sat besides each other and knew that it will all be okay. In the long run, everything is always okay.

My best friend and I always used to believe in this theory of people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. You may not know it at that time, but each person who comes into contact with you leaves a part of them with you. Changes your perspective about something in some way that you didn’t know existed before. So I always believe if anyone asks you if you want to meet for a cup of coffee, say yes. And make the time for it. Something will conspire in that conversation, in that chance meeting and it will give you the energy, the zeal to carry on.

Akshay and I completed 6 years of being married yesterday. We have our good days and the bad days. There are days when I think how awesome he is and the 31 year old me can fall in love with him all over again had we met right now for the first time. And then of course there are days when everything seems to be pointless. Sleeping it out without saying any unnecessarily harsh things to each other works. And as Ann Patchett’s friend asks her in her book  ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, –

“Does your husband make you a better person?” My answer to this question has been an unfailing yes. And that is all that matters.

IMG_7136Cheers!

Rutvika

Being at peace with things we cannot change

Stay calm and carry on

Find your inner peace and let it be.

A few days ago, I had a revelation.

Akshay, my husband (CEO of our company) and I (CFO) were having lunch. (Big acronyms , but just regular people doing regular work) . He was talking about how GST, the draconian new tax regime that will be applicable in next two weeks, sucks. How it is designed either by people who have never done any business or for people doing only bogus businesses trying to trick the law. For a while he went on dissing the GST, which intellectually I fully agree. The compliances under GST are not only very difficult, but given the current IT infrastructure and the way government companies work, it is okay to say apna band bajnewala hai mamu. I know this. But I also know that GST is here. And we have no way to escape it.

So then at one point, I had to ask Akshay to stop criticising something that we cannot change. It depresses the hell out of me. He is the obsessive thinker and I tend to ignore the things that I cannot change. During the course of our lunch I could see my morale sinking, a cloud of gloom was hanging right above my head and my energy diminished. Suddenly like a bolt of lightning I realised what’s happening. One of my fundamental principles of life was getting overruled. That minute I realised how much I hate cribbing about things I cannot change. And when someone from my core circle of people – my husband was doing that, it felt like the end of the world. I made him stop and explained the situation to him. He is a reasonable man and so he stopped talking about how GST sucks and then we moved on to contemplating how quickly the days pass and how little we feel we’ve achieved. But that’s something we can work on. But I could not keep thinking about how something will ruin our lives for a while. Especially since that something is a thing we have no power to change.

Some months ago, a few of us friends from school were talking about how depression has affected them in various stages of life and what they did to overcome it. I had no real answer to it at that time, I don’t remember being depressed enough for days to note it down as a problem. Now I realise that I am fighting the very act of getting upset, of feeling low on an everyday basis. I remember having read the Serenity prayer as a teen and it stuck with me. Bifurcating problems into that which can be solved and those which need to be accepted goes on in my head every single minute. It has averted any long upsetting periods and looks like it works for me.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

I am sure all of you must have read it at some point in those countless Pinterest quotes or somewhere.

Of course, with this attitude, with this mental set-up, I don’t think I can ever change the world. It feels like a task that cannot be done and I quickly classify it as ‘to accept’ and move on. And God knows, we need people who will stand up against the injustice of the world and see to it that things change. But maybe I am not the one who can do that.

Growing up, I remember several different days when I thought that something inside me had broken, that I can never be the jolly person I used to be. But slowly I come back to normal, to my relatively happy self again. With maturity that comes with age, I now realise what’s troubling me before I get sucked in too deep. Writing it down in my journal helps me to name the thing that’s not feeling fine. And identifying what’s wrong is the first step to get better.

Earlier the heartbreaking problems were different. Mom doesn’t let me go for a night-out when all my other friends do, the guy I like doesn’t seem to be interested in me, this exam seems to difficult to crack and I don’t know what I would do if I fail, etc etc. Now the problems are different. The turnover target for this quarter doesn’t seem to be on track, no matter what you do someone or the other is always disgruntled in the company, worrying about he longevity of the business etc etc.  The nature of problems and worries changes but at the base of it all, one thing remains the same. Can you do something about it? Go ahead and fix it. Brainstorm till you find a solution and get at it like a madman till you find an acceptable remedy.

But if you can’t do anything about it, then make peace. It will feel immensely better. And let go. Focus on how to make the most of that goddamn situation.

But pray tell me, who will change the world for us? Not me. Not today, I say.

Stay well,

Rutvika

Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.