The Paradox of Choice : Choosing the best one, or the good enough?

 

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Yesterday morning I read a brilliant piece in The Atlantic about Choice Overload. A peculiar phenomenon of our times where we have too many options- optimising that choice and selecting the best one suited to us is nerve-wracking. I wish I had read it before, I would have been a happier person at Japur Literature Festival over the last weekend.

After 7 years of ‘I-wish-i-could-go-to-JLF’, I was finally there. For three days, attending about 6-7 sessions or panel discussions each day. It was all great, you must have seen a countless number of articles about JLF floating everywhere, I won’t go deeper into it. But my mind was constantly in a dilemma. I couldn’t sit still in any one session, couldnt concentrate on what was happening and as per the new terminology, I was always having FOMO (Fear of missing out, you guys!).

Two days before going to Jaipur, I sat down with a printed list of sessions, googled the authors-speakers and highlighted those I wanted to attend. Before going, I knew exactly what I was likely to attend. My first morning at JLF began with the ethereal Swanand Kirkire singing O ri Chiraiyaa, Baanwara Mann and I was moved to tears on a cold winter morning while sipping the kullad-wali chai. I felt at peace and ready for the next 3 days of literary delights. In the next session Gulzaar saab released his book ‘Suspected Poetry’ and read a few verses. Thats when it hit me for the first time. 20 minutes into the one hour session, I started fidgeting. If Gulzaar saab was only reading the poetry out loud, I could just buy the book and read it myself. I should have rather attended the panel discussion on ‘Understanding Indian Aesthetics’. There was no way to leave that packed lawn venue, neither could I sit back and relish Gulzar’s baritone, his urgency of words, the composition and the pauses. I was berating myself for not choosing wisely and not having gone to some other session to begin with.

 

The same feeling kept creeping back throughtout the entire day. No matter what Mridula Koshi was saying about volunteering and her community library Deepalaya in Delhi, or when Shubha Vilas was explaining the difference between ananda and sukh, or when Nassim Nicholas Taleb was talking about disruptions and the black swans currently in the society, I was  frantically checking my printed list of sessions to see if I should leave this one and sneak into another session, or which one to attend next and so on. I was supremely exhausted at the end of the day. I wonder if it was from listening to so many peope in a day or from trying to be in many places at the same time.

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Next morning I accidentally landed up in Nandana Sen‘s interactive book release, because I was drawn towards her. Her persona, how beautifully and articulately she speaks and how gorgeous she looks. There were about 15 kids on the stage with her and she read out from her children’s illustrated book – Not Yet!. Watching all those kids and her on stage made me miss my baby boy back home so much, that I decided to get that book author-signed for him and read it out aloud just like Nandana was doing. Jumping like a monkey, crawing like a crow – all inane acts but they filled me with joy. I was sure missing Chandrahas Choudhary moderating a discussion on how the page is mightier than the screen, but so what?! Monkeys and giraffes and little kids are way more exciting.

After that I grabbed a bowl of steaming hot Maggi and sat on the steps watching multicolored paper fans put up near the entrance. I was constantly telling myself – ‘Relax, be at ease. This is not a competition to hear the most ideas. Take in a few and let it sink in.’ And saying so I ran to hear the author Rob Schmitz read from his book ‘The Secret of Eternal Happiness’. Left it mid-way and ran back to hear Amitabh Kant talk about Incredible India. Oh the pains of having too many interesting things to do all once.

I thought something was wrong with me. Days like these where you can indulge in yourself are rare once you have a baby. May be I was trying to pack it all in, really did not want to miss out on a single minute. I wished I did not have so many options to begin with, I wished there was only one auditorium/lawn venue that you could attend for that day and you had to sit through it. Without any other alternative. And thats excatly what I did for the third day.

There were two beautiful lawns at the Diggi palace and the weather was brilliant, so I picked the lawns over sitting cooped up in an auditorium. Simple. I attended 3 sessions in each lawn, got the best seats since I was already there and got to hear a wide variety of topics. Some even outside my comfort zone. From demonetisation to nutrition of the girl child to the art of writing a novel and creating fiction. I was composed, took a lot of notes and generally felt much better. Inspired and confident.

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A rollercoaster 3-day ride, it was difficult to articluate what was happening. Until I read the article from Atlantic. I was trying to be a “maximizer” trying to find the best session for myself. Instead it’s so much better to be a “satisficer”, select a good enough session and enjoy whatever is in front of you.

Different things work for different people, but I know for sure that this one works for me. How about you? Do you thinks it is okay to be a satsficer or is it essential to be a maximiser? Or as my father-in-law always says : “Yes and No. Depends.”

Cheers,

Rutvika

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A business coach for life, or a life coach for business? Its quite the same.

Professionally, for the last year or so, I felt as if I am at the foot of a hill trying to climb my way up. I am trying to bring more sense and structure into our company and struggling to find time for fulfilling my dream of writing.

About 10-11 months back when we realised that the growing business needed to graduate from a family run enterprise into a more corporatised structure, we were confused where to begin. Suddenly everything felt as if needed to be over-hauled. Outlook had to be changed before bringing in any systemic changes. Our company Anchrom was started 38 years back by my father and mother-in-law and most people in the company are older than Akshay and me and have much more experience at Anchrom.You can imagine the reluctance of people to adapt to change, I am myself averse to it. But some things have to be done. I did not know where to start. Days and nights were spent worrying. Anxiety, acidity and heart-burn were not far behind. Thats when my father-in-law suggested that we talk to Mr. Uday Arur – his business coach and long-time friend and mentor. With 23 years of holding managerial position in pharma companies and then being a business and life coach for 13 years, we knew he was perfect for us. But what startled me was that during these 4 months of coaching, he pushed me to find the answers which lay within. He believed, like any good mentor should, that I am fully capable of doing the things that I want and need to do and that its only a matter of going towards it full throttle.

Now I am a staunch believer of conversations and the fact that talking can help sort every difficulty. Sometimes is in the form of talking to my mom/husband/best friend or sometimes it is introspection or writing in a journal. Or sometimes talking to a mentor/ a coach who will guide you through it. While doing CA or while even growing up as a young girl I never wanted to work in my own business. Coming from middle class salaried background, I always wanted to do a job, where monthly salary is guaranteed. But life as we know it – always has different plans. I fell in love with a guy I knew from school, got married and started working in our own group of companies. And I terribly enjoy it. The process of building something together is exhilarating for me. But it comes with its own set of challenges, a very different working environment. My father-in-law, the MD and founder of the company, always supports Akshay and me in the decisions we take and gently guides us if we are not seeing a side of the story. Still, I always self-doubted my decisions. I lacked the confidence to make rules and implement them. But Uday sir convinced me that I should go ahead with full authority. He asked questions to make me delve deeper, consistently kept on asking me to examine where a particular fear was coming from, sometimes listed to my rants about misogyny for hours, took notes to make sense of my ramblings and constantly pushed me one step further towards believing in myself. I see that I am a new person now. I dress up well while coming to the office (even though it is just 5 minutes away), I don’t feel shy about being assertive. I also find that people have started taking me seriously, my staff and colleagues seem to be more forthcoming. Do they see the clarity in my head or is it that I just feel they do because I believe in myself now? I don’t know yet, but I love being in this positive frame of work and plan to leverage it to our benefit.

One day, Uday Sir bluntly told us to not take our acidity and stress as a badge of honour. It is in-fact something that needs to be worked on and eliminated to be able to work most productively. And ever since I stopped believing that high amount of stress = high productivity, I have stopped having headaches. I feel calmer and poised. I find time to write, follow my passions and still steer the company in the direction we want it to take.

A few weeks back, a fellow mentor from MMI asked me to recommend her some books to navigate through a rough patch of life. I am going to urge her to find a mentor, a coach who will help her. Who she can talk to without being afraid of judgements. Who will help her find a way for herself, because as we all know, some of the most sticky problems in life get sorted only by looking inward. The answer is right there, someone just needs to show her a way to unravel it.

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your stories of your favourite mentors.

Take care,

xoxo

Rutvika

Getting mad makes me more productive!

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This is how we scowl.

Anger is good. Occasional bouts of suppressed anger makes me a very productive person.

This weekend I was mad at the husband for some silly reason and look at what I accomplished! Cleaned my cupboard shelves, sorted and gave away a stack of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore (and gave up hope that I will fit into them ever again), re-arranged the stationery drawer, discarded chipped cups and saucers, cleaned the fridge and threw away all expired masalas, read through the articles which I have been marking ‘to-read’ for over a month and now I am producing this blog-post. So you see how insanely beneficial anger is? And all of this done in utter silence. Beneficial for the husband too.

Earlier when I got angry, I would study. Take notes vigorously. Solve difficult accounting problems with lightning clarity. In fact one of the main reasons I cleared CA final in the first attempt was because of a heartbreak which had left me angry beyond belief. And hence I studied. Cut away from the rest of the world and study all the time. With a zeal that calm often cannot bring.

Before that, as a teen, anger used to manifest itself by shouting and ended up in crying. Poor mom used to be at the receiving end and would patiently wait for me to sort it out myself. And offer a lap to cry eventually. But once you get married and have children of your own, you realise that resorting to screaming is not really an option. So all those emotions simmer inside and the brunt is faced by cupboards, windows et all.

The husband in this case is a very peaceful non-fighting kind of a person. And I have been told often that I can get nasty and personal when I fight. Doesn’t seem to be the case in my head, in fact, anger gives me the courage to say the things I wouldn’t have said otherwise. But may be some things are not to be said. Ever. Anyway, the best course of action I have realised is doing something else and letting the anger pass. Keeping my mouth tight shut till then and not collapsing into a heap of tears in front of the child.

Last weekend at the Mentor Me India group mentoring session, as an exercise in self-awareness we were asked to share one incident when we were very angry. My 12 year old mentee Gauri very seriously told me she hates it when her family prefers boys and have no qualms in saying it. Boys better than girls. Wishing that they had a boy child instead of two girls. The male cousins get money for books, sweets immediately and the girls have to make do without it. Etc. etc.  Thats a story many Indian girls will identify with. Some families are subtle, some more direct. But one time I got really pissed off in recent times was when the nurse where I delivered my son told us to give her more ‘baksheesh’ since it was a son. When its a girl, they don’t bother the parents, but in case of a boy, we should please include the nurses in our joy. Well, I wanted to smack her. In my delirious post-delivery state that is one thing I regret not doing.

But mostly otherwise I function like a well oiled steam engine when mad. Huffing and puffing, but going forward at full speed.

Any vishesh tippani? I would be happy to hear.

xoxo,

Rutvika

 

 

A promise to myself.

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My writing table at mom’s house

I am constantly surrounded by a cacophony of sounds so much so that the thought of staying alone in my own house feels alien. Not that I loved being alone even before Arjun was born, but now with a little baby and working full time 5 days a week, moments of silence are hard to come by. My idea of solitude is limited to sitting in a corner of the room and perhaps doing some thinking, but the rest of the people need to be in the house. When there is nobody at home except me and Arjun, I take him out to the park or to meet relatives, friends. In a typical Indian joint-family culture, alone-time is never an option, and strangely I am glad for it.

But to write, I need to sit in one place and think and put those words out on a screen or a paper. So today when everyone was going out too attend a family function, I opted to stay at home and write. And all I could think of was my baby, the fight husband and I had last night, then all of the conversations I am missing out while I sit here in front of the laptop and everyone is chatting and laughing and doing all sorts of fun things someplace else. I admonish myself and get back to writing a short-story I want to send for a contest. It’s about complex relationships and family etc and thats when I start thinking about the stuff to pack for my brother-in-law who leaves tomorrow to go back home to Michigan. Palak parathas are to be made, oh wait, but do we have palak in the house? No, I should ask my maid to get some on her way. The almond pistachio cake I baked yesterday for him is slightly burned at the edges, I should bake one more. And my little niece, I have to get some chudidar and kurta and may be even some bangles for her. And so the list goes on and on. And while I stayed back home to write, all I am doing is not writing.

It makes me wonder if I am cut out for this solitary task which is writing. But reading those words on paper, which a few minutes back were only in my head – gives me pleasure. So may be I should write, albeit in different surroundings. When Arjun was born, I resumed writing in a month, as soon I had recovered from the shock of child-birth. Most of my blog-posts in the last 20 months have been typed on my iPhone notepad. Writing and scribbling while I am nursing Arjun or later feeding him roti-sabzi, making edits when I am trying to make him sleep, and publishing straight from he mobile app at times. The output has not been enough, not as much as I would like it to be. Then I tried the 10-minute technique. Writing non-stop for 10 minutes without pondering too much or without editing. The thinking part of that 10 minute writing happens when I am playing with Arjun , or in the shower etc. But all of that is not sufficient. If I want to call myself a writer (oh, how badly I want that), I should devote more time to it. Not be afraid of being MIA in some places because thats a conscious choice I am making.

I was talking to my aunt – who I whole heartedly admire – she has published 3 books in last 3 years, is an incredible mom to two teens – I realised that like any other craft, writing requires a lot of discipline. She is my aunt by marriage, and so I do not have her genes, but I have her guidance, which is valuable. And so I must sleep a little less, utilise my time efficiently and sneak in atleast half hour of writing every day. And that does not mean reading articles about writing or scrolling through Facebook for ‘inspiration’, but actually shooting out words which make sense.

In an article I read recently in The Atlantic, there is a line which says – ‘What aspects of life (a bigger family, marital stability) does the artist sacrifice for his work?’, I realised that being an artist entails sacrificing something. What and how much is each one’s to decide, but it is sure not a rosy path.

And thus, today onwards I will write each day. Pitch ideas to different publications, participate in online writing contests and write in my journal.

This is a promise I make to myself and as we tell Arjun – a promise is a promise is a promise.

xoxo,

Rutvika

A new role in life : Mentoring a 12 year old girl

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At the school with MMI mentors and mentees

I have a little piece of news to share with you.

A couple of months back, I interviewed to become a mentor for a 12 year old girl through Mentor Me India (MMI). I got selected, went through two induction programmes and soon a new relationship in my life began. I was nervous before the interview and really wanted to get selected. Then I was super anxious the day I met my mentee, Without any prior experience with kids that age, I bit my nails worrying if she would like me and I would like her. But the guys at MMI are awesome, they tried to match the mentor mentee pairs in such a way that we would have some common interests. I fell in love with my little young girl the minute I saw her. I am not romanticising it, but do you know that unexplained tug at your heart when you meet someone for the first time and feel a connection? This little girl, Gauri, came right towards me and held my hand. All my anxieties flew out of the window.

This mentor mentee program is designed on the lines of Big Brother- Big Bister program in various countries, where a brother mentors a young boy and a sister mentors a young girl over the course of minimum one year. These relationships go beyond a year once the mentor-mentee pairs get involved in each other’s lives. But the initial commitment is for a minimum one year. MMI ties up with schools working in low income communities and the school is the meeting ground for first few months. These mentees are from an economically poor background and most people around them are employed at unskilled jobs with very less or no education. To have a mentor in life is to have some didi or bhaiyya who can show them what they can achieve with right education and awareness of the world. With professional guidance from MMI team, I am sure all of us mentors can make some difference in the lives of these mentees.

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Left – Gauri’s drawing of me. Right – Me drawing her.

On the second day after I met Gauri for the first time, I got a call from an unknown number. It was her calling me from a PCO. She had taken my number but her dad doesn’t have a cellphone, so I didn’t expect she would call me right next day. She said that she missed me and was thinking about me a lot. I can say I miss you to someone only after careful deliberate preparation and here this little girl easily told it to me- her didi who was non-existent till yesterday. The enormity of the situation struck me. These girls and boys have hardly anyone who take an active interest in their life. Their parents, who are overworked themselves can provide the basic necessities, but hardly anything more. Sure there are exceptions, good and bad, but generally these kids are one among a lot and neglected most of the time. So when a didi/ bhaiyya seems to be interested in them, they are drawn like magnets. We were appraised about all of these factors at the induction and the MMI handbook is very handy, but in a real life scenario, you are on your own.

I told Gauri on the phone that she should concentrate on her studies and that I will see her the next weekend.

Cut to the next Saturday, all the little girls whose mentors were not going to come that day, or all those whose mentors were late even by 5 minutes, were crying. Literally crying with a flood of tears. The teachers tried to placate them, but still Ganga-Jamuna was free flowing from their eyes. The boys on the other hand tried to show how they were unperturbed and continued to monkey around. I was late by 15 minutes (Note to self : never to be late) and Gauri told me that she thought I would do ‘khaada’ which means an ‘unexplained absence’ in Marathi. I told her I would never do a khaada, if for some reason I am unable to come, I will tell it to her in advance. She accepted it, but oh how do I reach her since she does not have access to a cellphone?! God only knows. Thankfully, one MMI co-ordinator is always available on call to help me reach out to the mentee, so we will have it covered.

Last Saturday it was mentors-meet-parents day. I met her grandma, her mother passed away a few months back in an accident. When she told me about her mom, this little girl of 12, she was very upset. I was at a loss of words. I am a mother to a toddler and often have nightmares about being in an accident and imagining what my son would do without me. Even the thought makes me dizzy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am paired with this girl. Maybe I can understand her situation better, but pray tell me, how do you understand something that is your worst fear?

Her grandma has taken charge of the household since Gauri’s mom passed away. She spoke fondly of her daughter-in-law. Later they also took me to their home, a cozy, welcoming house with several photos of different gods stuck to the walls. 2-3 of her cousins, similar to her in age, came to ask me if they can get a didi and bhaiyya too. I told them that I am Gauri’s didi, but the school along with MMI can get them a didi/ bhaiyya.

It is wonderful being a part of something larger than our self and little circle of things. I hope the time we spend together can be of some value to my mentee and that we grow together.

Meanwhile, if you know how 12 year old girls behave, what activities they like, what stuff to do with them, good economical places to show them, will you let me know?

Thank you!

Rutvika

The Cheat Code

I met a friend for dinner last week. She has two little girls under 10 and is a very smart woman. She recently found out that her husband has been cheating on her for the last 4 years. With a woman he used to work with. Many a times in the past 4 years her husband used to be on an official “tour” and apparently he stayed with the other woman, in the same city where they live. My friend has been married to this guy for 15 years after dating him for a couple years in college. She is totally shattered, but also very angry. She feels cheated and feels really stupid that she did not find about it earlier. It felt bad to hear all this, but at the same time I felt relieved that she knows about it now and refuses to take his bullshit anymore.

And then the maid who works at my office. She is married for 5 years to a guy and few months back she found out that he has been already married since last seven years and has two children aged four and two. Do the math. All the while when they got married and started living together, he was already with his wife and married the whole time. The maid is unable to conceive and when her husband readily agreed to get tested, I was surprised. I couldn’t help think that he already had a child somewhere. But this guy beats up all logic. He has splendidly convinced the maid that he loves her. And was married to that other woman only because of family pressure. And that both the children, mind you, two times, were sheer accident when they were made to sleep together by his mother.

The fact that he has taken dowry in the first ‘arranged’ marriage has been ignored by my maid. The guy is not willing to leave any one of them, and keeps assuring my maid that he can’t live without her. And cherry on the cake – he even drank phenyl to commit suicide when she threatened to leave him. As you can guess, he survived very well and now has her undying devotion.

But it happens to the best of us. Previously, in my early twenties, for a few shoddy months, I dated a guy from work. He was already dating our mutual friend. I was so blind and such a idiot (I punch myself even as I write this), I could see daal mein kucch kaala, but I refused to believe it. He chased me with gifts and flowers and sweet words and I fell for it. He was quite a pervert. When we went out he would ogle at other women right in front of me. And still, this went on for a few months. How I hate that part of life. But sometimes you have to date terrible people to cherish the good things you have.

Back to my friend. her husband now tells her to forgive him. His excuse – ‘Everybody does it, only a few get caught.’ It is as if he is asking forgiveness for simply getting caught. She is adamant on divorce, but doesn’t know how she will manage two kids and all other practicalities by herself.

Of the things that I pray to god, first is to keep life interesting and second is that husband and I are never disloyal to each other. God cannot help in both these things, but my wish is sincere. Extra marital affairs really disturb me. When we were watching Bajirao Mastani (the movie) it kept troubling me that Mastani toh haat dhoke Bajirao ke peeche padi hai. Bajirao – a married man with children. Although I believe that this movie is way different from history, but something like this (even a movie, yes) leaves such a bad taste. It gives me nightmares.

I cannot imagine what my friend and maid are going through. One is the first wife and the latter is the other woman. Both loved deeply, one still does, but where does this lead them?

I don’t even know what to tell them, it is difficult to fathom what is the right thing to do in these cases. My father a retired Mumbai police officer has seen several such cases, I ask him what I should tell them if they ask for advice. He says “Each case is unique and delicate, but divorces based on alleged affairs result in long drawn-out cases and often in total denial by the accused. And this leads to no or or very little maintenance and alimony from him. Hard choices have to be made. Money or integrity.”

The local police NGO my friend went to bluntly told her to accept that man back and forgive him since he is admitting that he made a mistake. Because nothing works without money. If you need him to keep contributing towards raising the kids, do not file for divorce.

The idealist in me cannot adhere to this notion, but it is the truth. Ask around, you will know. Good education and standing firmly on our own feet is the only salvation for women. This cannot be stressed enough. But what about these two women? Only time will tell.

Rutvika

Come, lets share a story.

 

Come, tell me a story

When I was a young girl, I found it difficult to wrap my head around short stories. Stories which show a slice of life – the ones which have an open ending, where too much gets built up but too little gets solved. I couldn’t comprehend what happens next. May be life’s experiences were inadequate to make any sense of it on my own. But as years passed and I got married, became a mother, switched jobs and got a career, these open ended stories became fascinating. I could read, draw on my beliefs and conclude in any way that felt right at that moment. I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies once as a girl of 14 and now as a woman of 30 and they appear as entirely different stories to me. I distinctly recall thinking at 14 – why did the death of an unborn child lead to dissolution of a marriage? Why is the heroine of the story so upset that her husband and she don’t talk at dinner anymore? And so on. Seemingly simple stories, but I couldn’t understand the complexity of relationships and hence stayed away from that genre of stories. I preferred novels where you (mostly) know what happens in the end.

But now suddenly it feels as if the world has opened up. I have become hooked on to Sadat Hassan Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Gulzar saab. What beautiful people they portray. When I read those stories, it feels as if I walk into a party, talk to a dozen people. Intimate conversations about whatever is happening in their life right now, silently record it in my subconscious and then walk away with that knowledge. And then never see each other again. But that fragment of their life is lodged in me forever now, to draw on from them. For  inspiration and for comfort.

At the Goa Project in February, there was one session on storytelling. The conductor of the session Deeptha asked us to turn towards the person sitting next to us and tell each other a story for the next 5 minutes. How we came here in Goa, what is happening in our life as of now etc. I was meeting the girl sitting next to me for the first time but I don’t know if it was the anonymity of the situation or the human need to be heard, but I found myself telling her how it has been a difficult one year since the birth of my child. How it was the first time I had left him overnight and how I missed my boy terribly, but I was so glad for the two day break, I was going nuts. And in turn she told me that they are thinking of having a kid, but it feels like an enormous price to pay for freedom. Her husband wants a child and she is not so sure, and its complicated. The two of us sitting there reached a kind of meditative understanding of each other, we were like two sides of the same coin. I touched her hand assuringly to say that I know how she feels. And then that was it. Our five minutes were up.

Of course, there is Facebook now and we are friends there, but somewhere it feels that the sacredness of our stories is best preserved untouched. As if I read a page of her diary and she read mine. I don’t need to know what happens in her life later on, I don’t have more to offer but those 5 minutes were ours to share.

Last night we went to hear Naseeruddin Shah dramatically narrate Ismat Chugtai’s poignant stories. Stories of women set in the 1950s. One that haunted me in my dreams was titled Chui-Mui (Touch-me-Not). The narrators’ bhabhijaan is unable to deliver a child even after conceiving three times, and on a train journey they witness a peasant woman give birth in the train compartment unassisted and goes about to do her work and clean the mess as if it was routine for her. I have gone through childbirth and it literally feels as if a truck hit you. My mom took care of my and my newborn for 40 days after that and this peasant woman did not even have another pair of hands to cut the umbilical cord. I shuddered but thanked god for the support I had. Stories are meant to do that. Touch a raw nerve and soothe at the same time. To heal that which we didn’t think needs healing.

So next time if you meet me and I skip talking about the weather and the flood-drought situation and ask you something more personal, I promise I will share my own story too. Because as Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

May you have many stories to tell and many hearts to hold them.

Love,

Rutvika

 

 

The road less travelled

Rutvika on a scooter

Riding a scooter on the pot-holed Mumbai roads

Like any other teenager, I was very excited to learn to drive. Two months before turning 18, I got the learners licence. And there it began. Countless number of hours spent behind the wheel, trying to look at the road, keep the car steady and simultaneously change the gear depending on the speed. We had Maruti Omni then, that famous kidnap car from Bollywood movies. It had no bonnet and the driver sat exactly on top of the front wheels. I loved that car, it was easier for me to gauge the vehicles in front of me and I believed that it is responsibility of other drivers to not come and bump me from the rear end, which was very long considering that it was a van type of a car.

I took insane hours of lessons to learn driving. First it was the motor training school. The driving school cars have two sets of brakes and clutch etc. So driving that car during those lessons was a breeze. I only had to control the steering wheel and go left or right when and as the teacher said. And perhaps brake as an afterthought because it was he who actually controlled the car. During the driving exam, two months later, all they asked us to do was start the engine and drive 20 feet in a straight line. Even an eight year old can do it, and needless to say I passed the exam and got the driving license.

I was elated. Little did I know that driving a training school car and an actual car are entirely different things.

The first day in our car, the Maruti Omni, the engine stalled every single time I tried to change the gear from first to second. Or if someone was crossing the road and I stopped, I could never get back in motion without the engine shutting down. It was almost as if it was dissuading me from driving. But I was persistent. Rather my dad was persistent and persuasive . He spent several weekend mornings taking me out to drive and it always ended with me crying on the way back and not talking to him for the rest of the day because A) humiliation and B) realisation that I still can’t drive. Every time I had to change the gear I had to look down at the stick shaft and wonder where 1-2-3-4 is. And every-time I pressed the clutch, the car jumped in terror.

After several weeks of this ritual, my dad hired another guy to teach me to drive our own car, one Mr.Godbole. He was a patient man, and after two more months and a several thousand rupee fee, I could finally drive. My heart still pounded wildly every time I was in the drivers seat and I sat as if ready to jump out any minute if something went wrong. Nevertheless, I ferried my family to and fro from short distances and once even drove 2 hours to Esselworld through murderous traffic. That was the high point of my driving stint.

For years before that I was riding my cycle to school and already knew how to balance a two wheeler. The lovely little Scooty Pep came easily to me and and I would vroom through the streets of my suburban Mumbai. Even now, I put my baby in the baby carrier and off we go to the park on the Honda Activa. So I have some traffic sense, right?!

But the car. That’s a different story.

About six months after I learnt to drive, my father replaced the van with the smaller Maruti 800 so that I can drive it easily.

My cousin and I drove to the movie theatre one night and while coming back, at a right turn to get on to a flyover, the car stalled. I couldn’t get the car to turn on and move forward. Traffic started piling up behind me and people started honking. I got very nervous. I revved the engine, kept my foot on the clutch and willed it to move forward. In all this commotion I forgot to look on my right and an oncoming truck hit the bonnet of my car and drove away without a pause. The bonnet opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, we banged our heads against the roof of the car but thankfully we were alive and mostly unhurt. We silently drove back home, now wondering about how to tell this to dad. Short tempered that he was, he was also very scared for the safety of his children. And the extra expenditure to get the car fixed. All in all, it was a terrible situation.

We went home, and told my mom about what happened. She has always been the cushion between dad and us. We use her a medium to tell things to dad when we lack the guts. All of us went to sleep and the next morning she told dad.

He immediately went down to the parking lot, examined the car and came up seething and obviously quite upset. For the next 2 hours (or was it 10?), I was grilled about how the accident really happened and how was I so stupid to drive this way etc. Regular stuff which parents say to their kids.

But again I was terribly upset. A) because of humiliation and B) realisation that I can’t really drive. The angsty teenager that I was, I vowed never to drive dad’s car again.

The car was fixed and we used it for a couple years more, but I never got behind the drivers seat again.

My husband now wants me to learn to drive again.

I say, ‘not today’. And tomorrow never comes.

Faithfully,

Rutvika

An extended version of this post appeared on DirtyandThirty.com

A letter to my yet-to-be born nephews

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Arjun and his cousin Malhaar

Flashback April 2014 : This was a little before I got pregnant. Although I initially wrote it for K and N, I read it a few times to Arjun when he was growing within me.

**

My best friend and my favorite cousin are going to have a baby in just a couple of months. I am incredibly fond of both these women but work and distance separates me from meeting them as often as I would have liked. It limits the opportunities that I have to tell their soon-to-be-born kids of how kick-ass their moms are. And how this is the one and only time when they can see their mom at the workplace, in meetings, experiencing the daily conundrum of life, be a part of everything that’s going on and still be aloof.

I want to tell those little ones (I am not sure what I should call them, the doctor also doesn’t refer to them as babies till they are born, so I will be calling them little ones), that –

“Mommy is incredibly proud to host you for 9 months as a part of her and this is the time when you will be undividedly hers, and she yours. Of course, later on you will be a priority too, don’t grumble in there, your mommy can feel it. But while you are cocooned inside, have a fun time. Your mom is eating different foods. I am sure you must be playing a guessing game of ‘what-mom-ate’ based on the tastes and smells you get. Yes you are right, there are a lot of different tastes, sweet, sour, salty, spicy, but momma is protecting you from the bitter taste, and she most always will.

Little one, I have known your mom since she was a very young. She is sweet yet determined, organised yet crazy and loving yet stern. I wish to tell you these things because at times you may find she is talking mildly in a soft voice and sometimes as if she is commanding an army. Dont worry little one, it is just the situation that demands your mom to act that way. But in her heart she is always the kind girl.

It is still a few months before you arrive and yet all arrangements for you have been made. That doesn’t mean you should hurry up, oh darling, take your own time in there. Because you will be spending the next 100 years on this land, but just the nine months inside. So fully utilize this time, get in a lot of nutrition (mommy is really eating for two) and become a big fat baby while you come out. Recognize your mom’s scent, hear the way her stomach grumbles when she is hungry, feel the tremble of her shiver when she sees a scary thing and notice her goosebumps when she reads something emotional. She is your shield little one, and yet she will let a few things seep in so that you are not utterly shocked once you come out.

You dont know the concept of gravity yet, but when you do, you will be able to appreciate how your mom held you up in her stomach, and how her back must have hurt. Of course the version you are seeing of her is the slower one currently, because she has to protect you. Oh but let me tell you, she is one fire-brand. You haven’t seen her kick a football so hard that it goes out of the field or watched her get into a train full of people, where it seems not another person can get in. You haven’t seen her hop on a bike and zoom off with your dad or brave the snow and dashingly go off to buy groceries. And you will see how once you are 2 years old and running around, she can run behind you but way faster than you. She can toss you in the air and swoop you up, and you will feel as if you are flying. She will tickle the hell out of you and laugh so hard, that you will think this is the best moment in life.

She will do a lot of things for you little one, but you are doing good too. Your kicks reassure her, your swelling size makes her confident. Uncomfortable, but confident. Your movement makes her feel alive inside and the nudge of your toe lets her know you are eager and connecting. She can feel your heartbeat and that is what keeps her going.

Love you little one, more than you can ever know. ”

Rutvika Charegaonkar

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

Hopefully. Next time.

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Times of India is having a contest called Write India where a prompt will be supplied for the next 11 months and a story has to be developed on those lines. I participated a couple of months back, I did not win, but it was great writing fiction. A short story. All of you who have ever wished to write, go on the link and participate. Writing fiction and short stories liberates me. Makes me live in the minds of someone I am not. 

Please note, this is purely fiction. Read and et me know what you think. 

Hopefully. Next time.

It all started three years back when the 18 week sonography was done. No wait, it all started the day they got married. His relatives said husband and wife are supposed to sleep apart from each other till the ‘Garbhadaan vidhi’ was completed. She found it odd, but her mother had told her that a new family would mean a new way of life. Customs differed. It did not hurt to play along. For that first night she had to sleep with her mother in law, whom everybody lovingly called Badi maa. But that was okay. The next morning the priest was called for an elaborate ritual and and they were permitted to be husband and wife. Aneel and Vibha. The first few months went by smoothly. They both resumed work after coming back from the honeymoon.  Each month her mother-in-law would ask her if she had missed her period yet. Every time she felt flushed when that question was asked and she tried to dismiss it , but the enquiry was persistent. Soon another priest was called and she was given Ayurvedic pills to be taken everyday. She complained to her husband that it was not essential, but he too insisted on it.

Finally one month, she missed her periods . She felt nauseated and light headed. While coming back from the office she got a home pregnancy test, and it was positive. Two pink lines. She waited for Aneel to announce the good news, and everyone was ecstatic. He mother in law immediately took an appointment with Dr Mrs. Mehra- gynaecologist cum family friend. Doctor confirmed that she was pregnant. Immediately they went to the temple and and made offerings to the God to bestow them with a son. She did not care. She just wanted a healthy child.

But that night Aneel took her in his arms and told her that he knew it is a son. Because all of them were real men and no one in their family ever had a daughter. She wondered what was the connection between being a man and fathering a daughter.

The next day onwards every morning a foul smelling concoction was poured in her right nostril by the house help Kamalbai. It was to beget a son. She resisted. It made her vomit, but it couldn’t be escaped. They told her to stop working. She assured them that she was fine. But never mind, she applied for a sabbatical and was granted one for a year.

Each day was the same as the earlier one. Herbal concoctions, threads of various deities and offerings to various gods. It was all the same. Boy boy boy. Her husband assured her that it was for the best. For a boy they wanted so badly. She cringed, but played along.

Then when she completed three and a half months, they scheduled an appointment for sonography. Her husband and mother in law accompanied her. She found that rather sweet. The doctor or the family friend said it was a girl. She was sorry.

Aneel told her that he will get an appointment for abortion for the next day. She did not understand. Her baby seemed to be doing well, then why was he talking about abortion? She tried to argue with him and with Badi ma, but nobody listened to her. She felt a wave of panic and nausea , but she was helpless. She cried and thought of ways to run away, but Aneel gently held her and told her to not worry. There would be a boy next time. Exhausted, she slept.

The next day it was over. She felt a hollow inside her. Her baby was gone.

Numbed, she just slept in her bed for several days. She used to think about those early times when she met Aneel. In Chicago -where they had both been sent for a month long training course. After work they used to sit in Starbucks for long hours. Away from the cold. In the midst of their conversations which went on for hours, she found him fascinating. An only child, he was well pampered but down to earth. He had four uncles and five cousin brothers, but he was the eldest. It was mostly a joint family system. They all stayed in the same building in separate flats. On the other hand, her father had shifted to Pune from their native place a long time back and it was just her parents and younger sister in their family.

When they decided to get married after courting for a few months, she met everyone in his family. They all seemed very warm and friendly. Except Meera aunty. She had a very melancholic look to her, she hardly spoke. Aneel told Vibha that Meera aunty had been silent and subdued ever since her miscarriage several years back. Vibha felt bad for her, but Aneel told her to stay away from Meera aunty.

The day Vibha’s baby girl was killed, Meera aunty tried to tell her something, but she was shooed away by everyone else in the family.

Slowly, Vibha recovered from the loss. Aneel took good care of her, but he kept telling her that they would have a boy next time. She started fearing him, worrying about what would happen if it was a girl the next time too. Aneel started having sex with her only on odd days. Some religious priest had told him that it was a key to conceiving a boy. Badi maa started chanting various hymns around her and advised them to conceive at auspicious hours or muhurats to guarantee a son. Vibha started living in constant worry. She did not tell any of this stuff to her parents, or they would have asked her to come back to their home. She just said that she miscarried because of some medical complication and that she would take rest and feel fine. Her mother kept on telling her to come to her house for a few days to rest. But she wanted to resume work and get over it as soon as possible.

Aneel was especially affectionate towards her. He would get her little gifts, take her out several evenings and often they would drive to Hornimon circle for her favourite latte in Starbucks. She felt may be what happenned to her was a stray incident. He will get around the fact that a daughter is equally cherished as a son.

A few months later, she missed her periods again. She knew she was pregnant. But she did not tell anyone. No one. Continued her life as if nothing had happened. She would hide the morning sickness, the light headedness and pretend to have her menstrual cycle each month. She wore loose fitting clothes and stayed by herself all day. But soon after the fifth month, her belly started showing. Badi maa and Aneel found out that she was carrying a child and they immediately took the doctors’ apponitment. Vibha clutched her heart tight and prayed that everything would go well the next day. She stayed awake whole night talking to the baby in her womb. Telling the baby that they would both survive this thing, together.

Next morning, the doctor said it was a girl but the pregnancy was too far ahead to do an abortion. They would have to induce labor and deliver the child, but a foetus would be unviable outside the mother’s womb at 22 months. Vibha was devastated. She was too weak to physically fight back. They gave her pitocin injection for inducing labor pains and delivered the baby girl. The foetus did not survive. Vibha’s world collapsed.

She was on bed rest for a few weeks. Her parents called her often, but she told them nothing of her pregnancy or the foetus or anything else.

Meera aunty tried to talk to her, but somebody would come and shoo her away.

Aneel started getting mad at her for not giving him a son. He sometimes used to lock her up in the bedroom during the day and often stayed out late night and then come and force himself on her. She dreaded the nights, she was afraid she might not get pregnant again, but was equally terrified of conceiving.

One evening, everyone had gone out for a wedding. Vibha felt too drained to go and hence stayed back home. She stumbled towards the balcony to get some fresh air and saw Meera aunty in the adjacent balcony. Realising that it was just the two of them there, Meera went to her cupboard, got a blue scarf, tied few of her gold bangles in it and rushed to see Vibha. She held the poor girl in her arms for a while, let her cry and sobbed with her. Meera aunty told her the story of her life, how she had conceived several times and each time the foetus was aborted because it was a baby girl. Finally her insides were so damaged, that she could not conceive any more, and hence remained childless for ever. Due to some old belief that a girl child will lead to the downfall of the family, they aborted all female foetuses and only let the males survive. Vibha was shocked, but her heart went out to Meera aunty.

Suddenly they heard someone come in at the main gate. Meera aunty took Vibha’s hands in her hand, gave her the blue scarf with the bangles and said, “When the time is right, run beta. Run for your life.”

Vibha quickly composed herself, tucked away the bangles in a small purse in the bottom of the cupboard. She started eating right and regained her strength. She was waiting for a good time to escape and go back to her parents.

A few weeks later, Vibha felt a wave of nausea wash over her. She waited for a few days and knew she was pregnant again. She did not know what to do. She wanted to save her child, but not raise it with that monster Aneel.

That night, Aneel came home drunk. He pushed Vibha aside and she slammed her elbow on the mahogany desk. He was furious with her, with his life and out of his mind. He started hurling abuses and kept hitting her on the face. Vibha knew she had to act quick. In the spur of the moment, she reached for the chef’s knife and stabbed him in the stomach. Twice. He fell to the ground grimacing in pain. Vibha went to the cupboard, picked up her purse,  ran down the stairs and took a taxi to Hornimon circle.

Her hands were trembling and her mind was fumbling. She called her parents in Pune and told them that she is on her way to their house and that they should avoid answering any calls till then, except from her cellphone.

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf and the gold bangles. Starbucks was where they started their journey and it was where it ended. She looked at the knife and her belly. Wondered how would the cold steel feel in her gut. For a brief moment she contemplating ending it all.

But she couldn’t. She loved her unborn baby and herself and her parents way more than she imagined. She had to be strong. She had to be safe and raise the child and teach him/her to be a good person. She hired a cab and reached Pune in a few hours before anybody could get to her. She was safe with her unborn child.

Back in Mumbai, Badi Maa found Aneel lying on the floor. He had passed out. She called his uncles and they took him to the hospital. His condition was critical but stable. He recovered and came home in due course of time.

For several months he did not contact Vibha at all. She did not press charges against him as she just wanted herself and her baby to be safe and away from all of this.

Seven months later, Vibha delivered a healthy baby. A baby boy. Aneel and Badi maa immediately came to see her and the baby. Aneel had tears in his eyes. Vibha cried too, for those two elder sisters this baby boy might have had.

Aneel refused to leave Vibha’s side. He apologised profusely for what he had done. Vibha did not want to see him, but she felt that the child should not be taken away from the father.

For six months Aneel constantly tried to persuade Vibha to come back home. All of his family members showered Vibha and the baby with lots of gifts and blessings. Her own mother said that may be she should consider going back as a child needs both his parents, and plus Aneel repented what he had done. Vibha did not believe what she heard.

The little baby boy started growing fond of his ever-doting father. Aneel was a very loving father and exceptionally caring towards Vibha and her parents. He visited them every weekend without fail.

Slowly Vibha started warming up towards Aneel. She loved her baby and wanted the best for him. May be she should give Aneel a chance. There wont be any redemption of his deeds, but there was definitely a promise of a better future. Now that she had given him a son.

She moved back with him in their house. With doubts and concerns, but determined to give her baby, Vikram, a good life.

Vikram is ten years old now. He will never find out what happened to his mother before he was born. Vibha can never forget her two baby girls but yes, she is willing to forgive. For Vikram. For a life together.

Rutvika Charegaonkar