Learning to live with a broken, grieving heart

Earlier this year, my father was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer; cancer in the duodenum. Having been a student of the sciences for the entirety of my life thus far, the first thing I did when I got this news is, look up what part of the body duodenum is. I didn’t even know if I was pronouncing it right.

But that is the ruthlessness of the C. It teaches you everything in a very short period of time. It teaches you anatomy, it teaches you that there is no prevention for this dreadful monster, it teaches you that you can only treat it but perhaps never cure it, it teaches you about surgical options, it teaches you all about chemo and radiation, it teaches you about their side effects, it teaches you to fight a battle with all your might and resources, it teaches you to have hope for remission, it teaches you to live with the fear of recurrence, it teaches you the value of life, it teaches you about winning the battle.

What the C doesn’t teach you though, is how to continue to survive when you have lost a loved one to it.

Yes, my father, my Nanna, succumbed to the C.

There. That is the first time I have actually said the words out, even in my head.

There are two reasons why I am actually writing this:

  1. I realized that death is such a taboo topic for most people. I’m not sure if it is cultural or if it is just human nature across borders. Some people are just too afraid to talk about it. Some people desperately want to offer some kind of moral support, but just do not know what to say. They wonder what the right thing to say is. Nobody actually teaches us how to console or offer support to a heart broken person. Some others speak with you, and just skip the topic and try to shove it under the carpet with small talk, while your grief sits in the corner of the room like an elephant. I was overcome with emotion most times, but was also appalled by some insensitive conversations, and rather shocked by some people’s lack of sympathy.
  2. My Nanna was a writer and a poet himself, a really good one at that. He was always very proud that I sought to pursue writing, in some way. And writing about this, is my way of dealing with my grief. Also, if it can help bring some sort of consolation to at least one grieving soul out there even for a few minutes, I am sure Nanna would be smiling down at me, wherever he is.

This part, the past few months, has been the hardest phase of my life. I remember thinking that my break up with my first boyfriend was the worst pain that could be inflicted upon me, but it makes me laugh at myself now. Losing a parent is far, far, far worse. This has to be the worst thing that can happen to anybody. But, nevertheless, I have found some coping methods that are helping me to learn to live with a broken, grieving heart. So I decided to write about them. All of these may not necessarily apply to a person dealing with the loss of a loved one, but that’s the magnanimity of grief and loss, nothing can wholly describe or completely encompass it.

  1. Try to Have no Regrets:

Regrets are nothing but injurious to you. It may be impossible to not have regrets, like, you could have said this, or done that, or just paid attention, etc. And that is why I said try. It is okay, remember you cannot change what has happened and remember, things could have been far worse. Do not regret the things you could have done for them, be it that you didn’t call them more often, or meet them more often, or they didn’t see you graduate, or that they didn’t see you get married, or they didn’t see you have kids and so on. Nobody goes away satisfied. They could still have one more unfulfilled wish.

I was continents away from my Nanna went he went away since he was coping so well and then suddenly, my whole world crashed to the ground, without any notification. I regret not being there, I regret not getting to say my goodbye, but I shudder at the thought of being there and having to see him on a ventilator struggling to survive.  It is more comforting to hold on to an image of him laughing with me, discussing his favorite books with me, or simply being the strong father he always was. So try to let go of the regrets and hold on to the happier memories. Do not let the Dementor of Regret feed upon your grieving soul. Think of the things you did that made them happy, have multiple Patronus’. They help.

  1. Avoid the What-Ifs and Buts:

The mind plays very dangerous games on you. It tries to draw you into a game of ‘What if we have done this instead of that’ or ‘But this didn’t happen to XYZ’s uncle’ or ‘Maybe we should have seen a different surgeon’ or ‘What if we had tried Ayurveda instead’ and so on. All this does is it sends you down a spiraling path of no return. Life is a bitch, and some things are just not in your control and sadly, you have to learn to live with this bitter truth for the rest of your life. Yes, things could have gone differently, and if they did go differently, maybe you could have had a few extra months and perhaps done everything they wanted to do and then what? Even if every sequence of the What-Ifs and Buts went right, nobody is ever going to be ready to let go of their loved one. Nothing can prepare us for this. So do no fall into this limbo.

Instead, maybe, now you could perhaps check off something on their bucket list for them. My Nanna always dreamed of going to China and so I have decided to go there next year, and do the things he always wanted to do. Mostly for his sake, but also for the sake of my own grieving heart.

  1. Anger Vs Acceptance:

Sometimes I am extremely angry that this happened to me. That I have to suffer this way. On some days I feel suffocated and chocked and irritated and angry. I did not deserve this. There are times when I still hope that I will finally wake up and realize that this is just a bad, horrible dream and that everything is okay back home. Oftentimes, I feel like an atheist, other times I feel agnostic. Some times I am sitting in a team meeting and have tears in my eyes for no apparent reason, other times I listen to really sad songs because I want to make myself cry. I am angry that certain friends haven’t called me after learning about my loss and offered support, and I am angrier that some close friends haven’t said the right things to me. I want to scream when people ask me, ‘How are you?’ I want to snap back saying, ‘I’m not fine, I have never felt this shattered before and the pain never seems to end,’ but you are supposed to gulp everything down and simply say, ‘I’m doing alright.’ I am angry that people don’t ask something more sensitive like, ‘How are you doing today?’ or ‘How are you holding up?’ or simply, ‘Hang in there.’ It suffocates me that I still have my Nanna’s number saved on my phone but I simply cannot pick up the phone and call him anymore or receive any ‘missed calls’ from him.

ALL THIS IS OKAY. You can be angry and you don’t have to accept what has happened. You can keep that saved number on your phone forever and never delete it. I am not asking you to get all delusional but, if you just lost someone you knew ever since you were in the womb, it is alright to be angry and not reach the acceptance stage of your grief.

And let me tell you this, you probably will never reach the acceptance stage and that is okay too. To think that you have them watching over you, guarding you and wishing the best for you is completely normal.

Ever since this has happened, all I can tell people is: My Nanna had the C and he didn’t make it or everything happened so fast and is over. I haven’t been able to bring myself to utter the actual words used in the English language, even the flowery ones. I feel that if I uttered them, they might actually become true.

grief

  1. Keep Away the Negative Energy:

Do not let the negative energy become a priority. What nobody teaches you is that all rituals, irrespective, which religion you belong to make mourning very taxing. I do not question religion or rituals but families often prioritize ritualistic practices over people’s loss. Nobody, absolutely nobody, can feel what you are going through when you are dealing with your loss. While some practices are just blunt and brutal, some families make it harder than it already is.

There were relatives who told me that all my Nanna wanted was to see his 31 year old daughter married and that he left without his dream being fulfilled. I was arguing with them that, yes, he wanted me to be married, but he also wanted me to be happy, that was more important to him than my marriage. There were some people who talked about assets and gold, and there were still others who were gossiping about what treatment could have been better, and some others who were complaining that there was no sugar in the coffee being served to visitors.

What irked me the most, but was also a moment of realization, was when two members in my Nanna’s family had a difference of opinion on the ritual protocol and they began to argue about whether the ‘meal offering’ must be placed at the head or at the foot of my father. That was it. I walked away, away from the wretched deathly hallows toward home, home that will never be the same anymore. I needed none of this bullshit. What I was going through was already extremely heart wrenching and to these people, this was some kind of an ego display theatrics.

This is the kind of negative energy you want to keep away. I feel that facing these situations, or involving yourself in them, even arguing with them to prove a point takes away from your loss. It makes your loss sit on the back burner. It makes trivial things appear more important, which isn’t the case clearly. Your loved one loved you very dearly. Let nobody tell you otherwise.

  1. Find a Medium to Deal with your Grief:

This is very, very important. You need to let the pain out. The pain does not get any lesser if you do, this will stay with you and haunt you forever, but the letting out process eases the pain to a certain extent. You can choose whatever medium you want. Crying out loud in front of people, pouring out tons of silent tears while you are alone in bed or in the bathroom, confiding your pain in your friends, having long conversations with your family about the loss, going to grief support groups, reading books, reading books on dealing with grief, collecting pictures of your lost one, whatever works for you. But find that medium. One of my friends advised me that some people chose the wrong medium, like resort to alcoholism or doing drugs, only because that keeps the pain away, and that I shouldn’t take those up. Of course, so I don’t support mediums that cause self-destruction.

What helps me is talking about my loss. The pain it causes me, the unfair situation, the happy memories, and merrier times. I started to keep a journal and jot down all the little happy instances I can recollect. I want my future  kids, if I ever have them, to know my Nanna since they will not get to meet him in person. This post is a medium too.

My friends tell me I have become even more obsessed with cleaning. I am constantly cleaning the apartment and re-arranging furniture. I keep my appointments to the Ts and never cancel plans. It is my way toward some sort of satisfaction that I can still control some things, and that I will continue to control what I can since there clearly are things that are way beyond my controlling or fixing capability.

  1. Let Each Person in your Family Deal in Their Own Way:

If this isn’t easy on you, it isn’t easy on your family either, your siblings and your mother, I mean. They could be in a far worse situation than you are. Do not put yourself in their shoes because you probably will never understand their pain even though you are all dealing with the same loss. Do not judge them or force them to confide in you. Just remember, in Rachel Green’s words, if you feel that it’s like there is rock bottom, then 50 feet of crap, then you, your family could be feeling the same, or they probably have a 150 feet of crap between rock bottom and them. Grief is so weird, it comes like alternating current, only there is no resistance, none at all.

What I am trying to say is; every human being is different. When the likes and dislikes are so vastly different between two individuals, how will two people’s modes of grieving be identical. It took me a few weeks to understand this.

When this great tragedy hit my family, my brother did not cry. For as long as I was there with him, he did not shed a single tear. I was very worried for him, worried that we would have to face a volcanic outburst due to all the over piled containment inside of him. I nudged him to cry, and offered him my shoulder to cry on, lent my ears to hear him out, and he did neither. He also refused to shave his head that was required as a part of the ritual. And when I asked why, he calmly said to me, ‘I do not want remember what I was made to do to him after he was gone, in the burial ground. If I shave my head, every time I look into the mirror, this is what I will remember.’ Reality hit me; I hadn’t even considered what the boys in our country, particularly Hinduism practicing families go through in these kinds of situations. It is just outright brutal. Of course, my brother was forced to shave his head anyway.

I simply said to him, ‘You don’t have to confide in me, as long as you have some medium or someone you feel comfortable enough to speak with, as long as you are unburdening the pain in some manner, I’m okay.’

  1. The Ultimate Support System:

This could be your family, friends or simply acquaintances who are also grieving and know what it is to lose a parent. They are your backbone and you have to learn to recognize, and appreciate them.  Support comes in so many ways. Some people give you cards to console you and let you know they are there for you, some send you flowers, some friends come and meet you and stay with you, some of them, even if they aren’t physically there, say the right things you need to hear. Some simply ask the most mundane and banal questions that could mean the world to you. Every little effort matters and needs to be remembered. I always like to say, ‘Good friends clap their hands and cheer you through your ups but great friends hold your hand and pull you up through your downs.’

When I got the most devastating news of my life, a co-worker and friend hugged me real tight for I don’t know how long and asked if she could say a Christian prayer although she knew my Nanna was a Hindu, and I just hugged her back and shook my head in agreement.

An acquaintance who I barely know asked me, ‘Have you been getting any sleep and do you feel hungry at all these days?’ Such an inconspicuous question but it literally had me chocked. Because there are nights you cry yourself to sleep and yet can’t keep the pain away.

And to all these people who were my backbone, I made sure I told them how appreciated they were and how much their concern made some difference to my grieving processes.

  1. It is okay to be Happy:

This is the trickiest one. There are times when you forget all this pain for some time and go back to being your old self. When you treat yourself. When you go shopping and buy yourself a new dress. When you go out on Friday night with friends and get drunk. When you simply turn off your mind and decide to go watch a newly released movie. When you take a vacation because you need a break. And this is okay. Do not be guilty about it. Ignore the judgmental looks people throw at you. Nobody decides for you about how you learn to survive, you do. You have been through a lot. And you don’t have to sit in the corner and cry all the time. If anything, your life isn’t going to stop because you choose to throw your hands up in the air and decide you’re done.  Your loved one never wanted you to brood all the time and waste your life. That wasn’t expected of you. Grief will last forever; you just have to learn to continue to do everything in life while you carry that void in your heart.

This has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to write, but I just needed to put it out there because sometimes, I have felt extremely lonely and all I wished for was to hear from someone who was dealing with what I am going through. And yes, growing up sucks. Sometimes I wish I could just go back to being in 7th Grade where my biggest problems in life were fear of Gowri Ma’am and passing the Maths test.

For those of you who are interested, I chanced upon this website called Remembering With Roses. This company takes roses from events such as funerals, weddings, graduations, etc. and they have a recipe that makes the roses into long lasting, permanent black beads. They accept both fresh and dried roses and you can ship directly to them. I wanted to have something tangible from my Nanna, apart from myself, so I got a pendant made. When I wear it, I feel connected to him and it gives me a sense of protection from him, like he is over seeing me.

Here is the link: http://www.rememberingwithroses.com

October 21st, 2016: Happy 64th Birthday, Nanna. I love you.

“The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained.”

An Unrelinquished Emotion

 

Every evening, as far as the eye can see,
It appears that the sky unifies with the sea.
The vast skies relentlessly let the magnificent sun slip into the enormous waters,
Momentarily making you feel that to this inseparable love couple nothing else matters.
Perhaps simply, the sun is the heart, that is unabashedly transferred from one lover to another,
A supremely bold representation of infatuation, the couple flaunted like no other.

The world that sees the both of them, seldom do they comprehend,
That to this love story, every dusk is a practiced but unaccomplished end.
Humongous egos, they both share, as each earnestly waits for the other to care,
One thunders in dark gloom, while the other washes off sand castles built by those who dare.
The sun is but a mute spectator to their delusional love,
A one that will never possibly materialize and is neatly tucked away with a hasty shove.

And yet, every evening it appears, the glorious lovers start the same struggle all over again,
For, love, though self-mutilating from within, fervently always brings hope as a bargain.
As the brightest star makes his rehearsed descent, he wonders which one of the lovers will make the first attempt,
And desperately yearns that when such a passionate foot is put forward by one, the other doesn’t scoff in contempt.
For the blue sky and blue waters, clear reflections of each other’s souls, and where they figuratively meet,
Millions of human hearts have hopelessly hugged, kissed and skipped many a beat.

And if these two were meant to be, just as every soul already assumed them to be, when will their happy ending be?

My HP Story

Everybody has a Harry Potter story.

***

Mine started sometime in 2001. One of my friends who sat in the chair behind me during the Language classes in my 11th grade was a die-hard fan of the HP series. She read the first four books that had been released up to that point during every English and Sanskrit class. And then read them again. And again. And again. I once asked her why a magical world of witches and wizards fascinated a 16 year old such as her, because at that time, in my opinion, a book on magic is probably something that a 10 year old must read.

Instead of explaining the whys and whats, she simply handed me the first HP book, the Philosopher’s Stone. Her handing the book to me at that time was a huge, huge deal because there was a long line of girls who had ‘caught’ places to read the books and I luckily got in the middle. It meant business. Like a challenge. ‘Read this one and tell me you don’t want to read the second book.’ That’s what it meant.

Well, the rest is history!

My Most Favorite Book: Whenever someone has asked me which one of the seven books is my favorite, my answer has always been, ‘The second one: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.’ Now, first things first about this book. While I was half way through this one, I was in the dorm one day, drying out my clothes on the strings. Two of my friends were in the dorm too, having a silly fight. It went on for a good ten minutes and one of them was really angry and yelled at the other, ‘Well, so that’s how you are going to piss me off? I’ll tell you this, Ginny Weasley opened the chamber of secrets.’

And there, just like that she ruined the book for me. I was so annoyed, you have no clue. But the chamber of secrets, although I knew who opened it, is by far my most favorite book majorly because of the reading experience this book left me with. We lived in a huge dorm with about 80 girls in it and had seven common bathrooms. The dorm lights were switched off every night at about 10 pm and this meant no chit chatting or studying after this time. If any teacher caught you doing anything but sleeping, the consequences were pretty bad. But I couldn’t stop myself from reading the book, I just couldn’t go to bed. So every night after my class teacher switched off the lights after night prayers, I would tiptoe into the bathrooms. The common bathrooms always had their lights on. So I read a major portion of the chamber of secrets sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in the bathroom. The bathroom was creepy as hell and except for the fact that it wasn’t a first floor girls bathroom, every inch of this bathroom reminded me of Moaning Myrtle. I basically read the entire book with two freakish fears. One, I was afraid Moaning Myrtle would suddenly show up from behind and drag me into the chamber of secrets; two, a teacher may walk into the bathroom and punish me for staying up late. So there, that’s the most enjoyable read I’ve possibly ever had my entire life.

The Drool over Sirius Black: As the other books came out one by one, I found myself drooling over Sirius Black. I was highly attracted to this man for a really long time. Sirius Black, to me, was a really handsome and valorous knight. Like a prince. I don’t know why I felt that way about him.  He was my password to a number of accounts for years. The password to my Gmail, Yahoo, Orkut and Facebook accounts. (Well, don’t try to hack into my account now, I obviously changed the password!) So I had high hopes on the guy who would play Sirius in the HP movies. But Gary Oldman completely disappointed me. I mean, you should have seen the Sirius in my mind.  In my teenage mind, he was the hottest imaginary hero that could possibly exist. And that is why while I was in the middle of reading the Order of the Phoenix and someone told me that Bellatrix kills Sirius in the fifth book, I didn’t get angry with them. Because if I had to figure it out on my own, his death, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It would have been too shattering to mourn his death all by myself. My knowing that he was going to die even before I completed the book gave me time to grieve and accept his death when it actually happened.

The Deathly Hallows Drama: That brings me to the release of the seventh and the final book, The Deathly Hallows, in 2007. This was the last book in the series and this was the only time I had been up to date with all the previous set of books. I was now ready for the release. If you are a HP fan, you should remember all those rumors about Harry may or may not die in the last book. The ones about where J.K. Rowling could be a bitter bitch and kill Harry because for Lord Voldemort to die, Harry had to die too. And this time, I wasn’t prepared learn what happens at the end from someone else. I wanted to read the book and devour the secrets all by myself. So here was my plan for the release of the seventh book. Being a girl from a small town where the book wouldn’t release on the D-day, I decided to go to Hyderabad. I wanted to be there. I wanted to stand outside the book store at midnight and be one of the first ones to rush into the book store when it opened that morning at 6. I wanted to push and pull and put up a fight and get into the store and grab my first ever and last owned HP book.

My mom and dad weren’t really happy with this idea. Mostly because this was an unnecessary expense according to my dad. And of course, he wasn’t entirely wrong. According to my dad, who is a voracious reader himself, HP was a book that was pure magical bullshit that did not contribute to even a pigeon shit size of common sense to growing kids. But when I asked my parents for Rs 2,500 (which was a lot back in 2007) so I could travel to Hyd, stay there for two days and buy a book worth Rs 1,200, they didn’t say no to me. So there I was, happy as a colorful butterfly that just ran into a bottle of honey. But….

My boyfriend at that time was a big tall asshole. Of the highest order. Two weeks before the release of the Deathly Hallows, he acted all jerk’ish and decided to pick a huge fight with me. I was already working real hard on our long distance relationship at that time and to prevent the situation getting worse, I spent my HP earned Rs. 2,500 to travel up to meet him, patch up with him and pacify him with an expensive gift. I never got to live my ‘buy my HP book’ dream. Of course, he sent me an e-copy of the book 3 days after its release and I spent 11 hours reading the book on my stupid P3 desktop. Seriously, if I had known at that time that it wasn’t going to work out with this guy, I would have totally dumped him for the HP experience. I mean, think of it, I would at least have a great story to tell. About how I punched someone in the line, jumped through hoops and broke a glass window at the book store and stole the Deathly Hallows at midnight, got arrested by the police for it, and finally read the stolen book in jail. Sexy, right?

The Popcorn Incident: Thank God for Universal, the HP experience did not end with the books. My first HP movie in the theater was the Order of the Phoenix. I remember watching this at Prasads IMAX. Now this was a time when the HP merchandise wasn’t really popular or out there in India. So when I saw that Prasads was serving popcorn in paper cones that had Harry, Ron and Hermione printed on them, I went crazy with joy. The popcorn was Rs. 20, that in my opinion was very expensive for popcorn. The guy who sold the popcorn to me clearly figured out I had problems because I was jumping up and down after seeing the HP printed popcorn cone. I remember telling myself that I would never throw away the printed paper cone and would keep it with me forever.

But after the movie, in the dark, and in the midst of crying over Sirius Black’s death, I lost the paper cone. I went to the popcorn fellow and begged him ‘Please, anna, can you give me a paper cone, I lost mine. I don’t need any popcorn, just the paper cone. I just purchased popcorn a while back; you do remember me, right?’ The asshole goes, ‘Give me Rs. 20, ma’am.’ I looked at him, flabbergasted. Seriously, come one dude, I just bought your popcorn, and I just watched Sirius get sucked into limbo forever, have some mercy.

But he wouldn’t budge. I finally gave him the 20 rs and took a new paper cone from him. ‘Take your popcorn again, ma’am,’ he said. ‘Fuck you,’ I thought, snatched the paper cone from him and walked away. Little did I know on that day that I would actually get a HP t-shirt for myself five years later and also wear it to the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Yay, me!

The Orlando Universal Studios Saga: I went to visit the twin entertainment parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, FL in early, early 2009 while I was getting my Master’s degree. The parks were fantastic but they left me highly disappointed with “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Revealed in 2010” signs all over in the park. ‘Damn it, if only I had come to the parks next year.’ I had thought.

hp

Luckily or unluckily for me, I lived in Gainesville for about 3 months after I graduated and was looking for a job. So when a friend of mine who was visiting the United States decided to come and meet me in Orlando, I was super excited. Maybe this was a chance to finally get on to the Harry Potter ride in the Islands of Adventure. But since I was broke and was looking for a job and had zero savings at that time, all I could afford was a ticket to one of the two parks, and I left my visiting friend to pick a park of her choice. My friend wanted to go to the Universal Studios, the one that did not have the HP ride. I went along with her. It tore my heart to go to Universal Studios that day, to have the HP ride in the neighboring park, a few feet away from me and yet not be able to hop onto it. But I told myself, anything for friends. Because if there is anything the Harry Potter books taught me, it’s that you always have to be there for your friends, in the wizarding world and in the muggle world, and respect their choices.

So basically, I had been to Orlando twice, spent $300 on park tickets by this time and still hadn’t experienced the HP ride. Everyone knew my Orlando story. My friends, my co-workers, random HP fans, heck, even my hair stylist. All of them have asked me why I never went back to Orlando again. I have always told them that it just didn’t make sense anymore. To spend about $300 on flight tickets to Orlando, and an additional $200 on the park tickets. I mean, I love Harry Potter and all that, but since I’ve been to all the other rides at the parks, twice, spending $500 only to go see HP felt like real bullshit to me. Not worth it.

I have been cribbing and crying that I probably am the only specimen who has been to Orlando twice and has never been on the HP ride, until someone told me to suck it up. And that’s when I decided to give it a shot. Spend the money. Enjoy the Harry Potter ride. Know how the world of wizardry actually feels. They have a new ride in the Universal Studios too now. Apparently, it has the Diagon Alley too. A whole new experience. And so here I am, finally sucking it up and doing it. As I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting to catch my connecting flight to Orlando, and eating my really gross hummus flatbread (I hate airport food), I can only begin to imagine what I have in store for me this weekend. I am super, super, super excited!!!

I almost silently, secretly and very desperately hope that when I walk into Diagon Alley this Saturday wearing my Harry Potter t-shirt, I see the dark figure standing tall in his deep black cloak buttoned up to his neck, his long wavy hair parted in the middle and running down to his shoulders, with his expressionless face whispering out to me, ‘After all this time?’

And I can say unabashedly, ‘Always.’

‘Always, Snape, and forever. You are to me, my fictional knight in a dark shining armor. You were, are and will always be my best fictional love, (after Mr. Darcy, of course). Be it when you were mean to Harry in the books, be it when you befriended Lord Voldemort as a death eater, be it when you killed Dumbledore, be it when I realized that you were the half-blood prince and began calling myself the half-blood princess, be it when you simply walked into a dim classroom, made it dimmer by shutting the windows with a ‘Turn to Page 394’ but remained the most brilliant personality in the room, or be it when you were just being Severus Snape. Because for me, Harry Potter wasn’t about Harry, Ron and Hermione or Voldemort, I didn’t care for the sorting hat, the thunder bolt scar, or for the invisibility cloak, or for quidditch or Hagrid and those unicorns, or for the deathly hallows. I really didn’t care for Harry and Ginny together or for the romance between Ron and Hermione . For me, Harry Potter was always about you. I love you, Severus.’

****

Everybody has a Harry Potter Story. What is yours?

The victim- A plurality

The year was 1998 and I had just finished my 7th grade exams. It was a typical day number one of the vacation. I woke up late, sat in front of the T.V with my brush in my mouth for more than 20 minutes trying to catch the latest film releases that summer, got yelled at by my mom for being late for breakfast, followed by home-made dosas and peanut chutney for brunch. As I gobbled up the last dosa, I breathed freedom. I was at home and this meant that I did not have to wash my plate. I lazily walked into the kitchen to dump my plate into the sink as I noticed my mother and my maid getting ready to make lunch.

I found myself a neat spot on the kitchen bench-top and flopped myself on it eager to catch up on their conversation. It was then that I noticed the weirdness in the air. My maid signaled to my mom and asked her if she wanted to tell me about it. My mom looked perplexed. I was just a curious cat so I pressed my mom to spit it out. And thus, she began.

A brief introduction; my mom ran a non-government organization (NGO) that had worked on some projects to provide free education to kids under 14 years, employment to single mothers, etc. She also participated in some sort of “women counselling” program where she did a lot from abc to xyz. Basically, she was all for women rights. 

“There is this three year old girl, a kid from the nearby village. She is in the hospital. I’m going to see her this evening”, she said.

“What is wrong with her?”

“She was raped two nights ago”

My mind went blank for almost 60 seconds. I was 13 years old. This kind of stuff was too much for me to take. But my mom continued.

“She doesn’t have a father. She was sleeping outside, on a cot, in between her mother and her grandmother. (Summers in A.P were really hot and most people slept on their terrace) This man came along, he was drunk. He picked up the little girl from in between those two women and carried her to the dumpster at a distance, threw her on a pile of garbage, thrust his shirt in her mouth and raped her. It was only 15 minutes later that her grandmother woke up and found her granddaughter missing and went looking for her. She heard muffled screams at a distance and gave out a shrill cry at what she saw. Of course rapist ran away but only after the grandmother got a good look at his face.”

“She is very sick. The sick, drunken bastard bit her all over, on her vagina and it was bleeding uncontrollably. He happens to be the village Sarpanch’s son so we have tracked him down. Me and my friends want justice for the little girl. Do you want to go to the hospital with me?”

I was numb and disgusted. A three year old girl! What kind of a demon does that.

She was tiny, with several bandages on her elbows, knees and forehead. My mother went to talk to the little girl’s mother, trying to comfort her, and telling her that they had found him. I was very uneasy. I did what I do with most kids, gave my index finger to her to hold. She din’t take it. She was expressionless, and just started and started and stared, into some sort of emptiness above my head. I wondered. I wondered if she could even fathom what had happened to her. I wondered if she would grow up to forget this incident. I shuddered and wondered about the society we are living in.

She hadn’t moved for more than 10 minutes now. She was wearing a bottle green frock. A doctor came in to examine her. He moved up to her to lift her frock and see if the wounds on her vagina were healing. The second he touched her frock, she became violent. She started to fight off the doctor’s hands with all her might and was screaming so loudly that probably the entire floor could hear her now. Her mother ran forward and tried to pacify her but the little girl wouldn’t stop her terror stricken cries until the doctor left her room. Her mom was all tears said that she had been doing this. The kid wouldn’t let anyone examine her vaginal wounds. My mother pacified her mother and asked if the little girl had shown any signs of speech. Then my mom turned to me and explained that the girl could speak really well. She had even started going to the local nursery free-education program. But the incident had muted her. The doctors couldn’t tell if she had lost her voice due to the shock of the horrific incident or due to the way her neck was handled during the same. They mentioned that if it was due to shock she would eventually be able to talk again.

I ran out of the room. I cried, a lot. I cried more that night. I could not get her empty eyes and her bottle green frock out of my mind.

The rapist eventually got away. Neither was he tried at court nor was he convicted. Huh! He wasn’t even arrested. He was after all the son of the Sarpanch. He faked a letter from the Government Hospital that said that he had been in the hospital for the last seven days suffering from diarrhea or some shit. The police refused to issue an arrest warrant.

I have thought of that girl many times ever since. I think of her when I read about Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, I think of her when I read about the rape of any woman, in India or otherwise. I thought of her when I read about the public molestation about a 16 year old Gawahati girl by a dozen savages, I thought of her when I read about an independent 25 year old woman in Mumbai who was assaulted and murdered by her lust-filled watchman, I thought of her when another 6 year old girl in Haryana was recently raped, and I thought of her as I watched Haryana Khap Panchayats shamelessly tell the media that the cause of such rapes is women not being married early.

She must be 17 years old now. A teenager. Does she go to school? Does she remember the brutal attack? Will she ever lead a normal life? Does she have a boyfriend? Is she a strong and independent girl? How does our “society” treat her? Has she been shunned? How does she feel about denied justice? And most importantly, can she TALK?

I probably will never find answers to these questions cause I am like most Indians. I do nothing. After all, I have lived and grown up in a society that flops itself in front of the television every Sunday morning to watch shows that have been adapted from the epic, Ramayana, the one where the antagonist sneaks in and kidnaps a married woman against her will, in her husband’s absence, and where the protagonist rescues her from him but gives her as much respect as asking her to jump into the fire to prove her chastity and who abandons her when she is pregnant with his kids.

A Pinch of Everything

I moved to a new city in December 2011 and have been looking to lease a decent apartment ever since. It has been a very difficult hunt. That’s probably due to the fact that I have NO friends here. Initially, I was too busy to make new friends and later on, I was disgusted to.

I responded to a post on one of the “Desi” websites and checked out a place. I took an instant liking to it and the girl who had posted the ad liked me. We agreed on a few terms, the most important of which included that I needed the place for two months and would extend the lease based on my work agreement. She seemed totally cool about it and nodded her head like she was a Parkinson’s patient, desperate to share the rent and utilities with me. Two weeks passed. I was supposed to move in on a Tuesday. I called her up to ask her at what time I could be there with my stuff. And she bluntly told me that she wasn’t ‘cool’ with the two month agreement and had found a new roomie. This was the minute I realized that this apartment hunting shit wasn’t going to be easy.

Staying away from home, always in a boarding school or a hostel makes you meet people of all sorts. It doesn’t teach you much though. Or perhaps I haven’t learnt much.

Now there are some Indian names that you can use to christen both girls and boys. Being a little skeptical and hoping that it would be a girl who held the name, I dialed the number. Neither was the person a woman nor was the conversation a pleasing one. The most frustrating thing was that he asked me out on a date (without even seeing me). He wanted to go wine-tasting. The second one asked me if I was on any dating sites. The third one was the most ridiculous of the lot. He apparently got my number from one of the other two guys. He had decided to call me because I was from A.P. He asked me straight to my face (or to his phone) whether I am a “party-girl” and would like to live in with him in a 1 bed-room apartment. “Just like friends, you know,” he had added.

I decided to talk to my only guy friend (he’s going to be mad at me now for pulling him into every other blog) and bitch about these men. He then warned me that there can be no “just friends” when it comes to men and that too if they mention wine-tasting. To the best of my knowledge, girls, according to Indian men, fall into two distinct categories; the boring grandmothers and the party sluts animals. So, if you are this self-sustaining woman who stays away from home and is comfortable in western clothes, you automatically fall into the second category; the kind of person who will go and get drunk with a stranger or move-in with him. They will not let you be this woman who can be happy with her freedom and be respected at the same time. Do apartment hunting women scream “Available”? This kind of sexism disgusts me.

Restricting my search to “females only” I continued to search for a new place to live. I came across this girl whose ad I liked mainly because she stayed at a convenient distance to work. I called her up. Not only was she rude but she interviewed me with questions such as, “Tell me about yourself.” I informed her that I wasn’t exactly looking to share a place and would be glad if she could provide me with some information about the leasing office (I couldn’t find anything on the internet). She adamantly declined to even give me the apartment’s name and said that she would call me back in an hour. She never called back.

I wanted the name of the place at any cost. I asked a friend in Houston who is very good at talking to strangers to come to the rescue.  I say strangers because if you actually knew my friend, you would never believe that she is sweet-spoken. Anyways, my friend called her up and said she was looking to share this place. This rude woman told my friend that she would call back to confirm. And she did. She said that the place was taken but they had a good chit chat about the city for about 15 minutes. She gave my friend the name and address of the apartments.  She also told my friend about stores that I never knew existed in this city.

As my friend narrated the entire phone conversation to me, I interrupted, “Did you talk to her in Telugu?” I asked.

“Yes, she is from A.P”, She said.

You see, that’s where I went wrong. I had spoken to her in English.

The South Indians naturally assume that I’m a Gujarati because my last name is Patel. The North Indians think I do not deserve to a Patel because I can barely connect two Hindi sentences together. I went to a Christian minority college in Chennai that had no special rights for regular people. The Tamilians who listen to me speak in their language think that it’s an attempt of sheer mockery. I actually had a guy, who worked with me briefly, call me “Sambar rice”, when he found out that I was vegetarian. Another fancy name that I’ve heard is “Chennai chepala (fish) batch” because I prefer listening to original Tamil songs instead of Telugu-songs dubbed from Tamil. I am considered “dating-material” because I am out-spoken.

Our constitution says, and we brag to the people from other nations, that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, linguistic democratic republic. This big fat essay answer looks pretty, only in the Civics notebook. Who follows it anyways? We will always be surrounded by narrow domestic walls.

My parents fell in love with each other when they were about 15 years old and they got married 10 years later, with a lot of drama because they belonged to different communities. I went to a school that helped me to realize that there is only one caste, the caste of humanity. I studied with people from different parts of the country for over a decade. I cannot read and write in my mother-tongue and I talk in English to strangers. My last name is Patel and I am not a Gujarati. I went to college that was in my neighboring state and I work in a country that’s half-way across the globe from my homeland.

Where do I belong?

And when the hell will I find a decent place to stay?

Well Within Warranty

I have, for a very long time, been a victim of the Hewlett-Packard Company. I turned a deaf ear to many people who advised me to purchase a Dell laptop. I chose to pay heed to one very opinionated person and fate threw into my lap, a HP laptop and sent me swirling down a whirlpool for 3 long, very long years.

It took me a week in Sept 2008, to realize that I had made the wrong move. I do not clearly remember the exact make of the laptop mostly because I chose to call it ‘the steel dabba’. This laptop had a silver-steel finish to it and it heated up like a furnace. The steel touch pad would get so hot that it almost became impossible to ‘touch’ the touch pad at times. I would stare at it in disgust. Many a time I was tempted to break an egg and watch it warm into an omelette. The lab that I worked in did not have a microwave then. So I was also eager to explore if placing a cup of instant noodles with cold water would actually bring my lunch to boil. No kidding, but one of my friends hugged her HP laptop as she slept during winters because her room-mate was a polar bear from the Arctic and would not let her turn on the thermostat. Apparently it kept my human friend warm. 😀

“Buy a HP laptop along with a carton box full of Burnol ointment tubes” was a common joke. The frustration of an over-heated laptop shutting down right in the middle of  a mystery movie, or when you are sincerely writing up the last bit of your thesis, or when you have 10 more minutes to turn in your online assignment to Mr. Dracula, the alien stares your classmates throw at you cause your laptop makes a weird noise that sounds like you just started a motor engine right in the middle of the lecture, always having to carry your laptop charger (like a patient on IV fluids) cause your laptop won’t run for a single second without it; trust me, I have faced it all.

I may not have kept in mind my best friend’s birthday but I have definitely and distinctively marked on my calender, the day my laptop needed a warranty renewal. After complaining of an issue with the ‘heat sink exchange or whatever’, and having my laptop sent for servicing six times in two years, one kind man decided to replace my laptop for a new one. So I did get a new one. No heating issues. Just when I thought everything was going amazingly fine, one hinge of the laptop started to come apart. No, it did not succumb to a suicidal fall whatsoever.  Remember the friend who hugged her laptop in her sleep, the hinge of her new laptop came apart too. HP had tricked me and I realized that I had failed miserably to see through this trick. My warranty did not cover accidental damage, it was a limited hardware warranty.

When this news hit my head, I think I was more happy than sad. It gave me a stronger reason and the guts to push myself aboard, spend a 1000 bucks and coax myself into purchasing a Dell laptop for a tension free gadget survival. There! The decision had been made.

I was told that there was an offer. It sure was a good deal. A Dell XPS 14z, i7 processor, 8 GB RAM and 750 GB hard drive (in lay man terms). It saved me about 500 bucks. So I swooped in and grabbed onto the offer. My new laptop arrived with a big fat green label that said “REFURBISHED”. I was angry, very angry. Now I am not sure if I was angry because my laptop had two small scratches on it or because it was covered within a limited warranty, yet again. I decided to return it even without switching it on. I am generally an angry woman. A green label that mentioned that the use of refurbished products is ‘environmentally healthy’ pissed me off even more. I went through the ordeal of having to speak very patiently with a guy from Dell. He said that he was sorry for the miscommunication but I am very sure that he was not. He must have put me on hold and chuckled away to glory. Why else would he offer to take $ 35 off my purchase if I agreed to hold on to that gadget with limited warranty? “Are you kidding me, moron?”, I wanted to yell. The bloody state tax cost me $ 42. I held my breath and said, “Send me a (‘fucking’ in my mind) return label, already.”

Eventually I did purchase a new Dell laptop. I could only afford an XPS with the i 5 processor but the good news is that it covers accidental, theft, and hardware warranty for a whole year. It arrives today. As I sit here and track the status of my package every 30 minutes, excited and relieved, and typing into my HP that can barely sit straight or hold its screen and keyboard together but can make the sound of a running engine, I realize that today is the day my HP will rest in peace. I also realize how much our lives revolve around warranty/safety/protection in today’s world.

Why was I so fussy about having a solid warranty plan? Am I pessimistic? Was I looking for an optimistic exit in a pessimistic situation? Am I gearing up for a planned and easy future? Am I afraid of risks? Do I not know that often circumstances are never under my control?

Everything comes with a risk-free option nowadays that includes a small or big plan right into the near or far future. Gadget warranties, health and motor vehicle insurances, dinner dates, condoms, seat-belts, helmets, preparing for events way ahead of their deadlines, the fear of submission errors, procuring an employee’s emergency contact information the minute the employer offers him/her a job, planning a birthday party two months ahead, promising a friend to be there at her wedding, eagerly waiting for Sunday to catch up on the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, and the list could go on.

The question is: how sure are we about seeing the next day when we know that our life comes with no warranty?

Much ado about nothing!

As the clock struck 5:52 PM, I packed my bag and dashed to the bus that was bound homeward. It was too hot to be the first day of the spring quarter and the bus was empty. I flashed my bus pass at the driver who nodded with approval. I had a question for him and decided to ask him before he started driving. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: Has bus no. 19 been re-scheduled? I happened to look it up on google maps and was unable to locate it.

Driver: No, it hasn’t. The new schedule will be out only in summer. I will keep you updated. I’ve seen you take this bus for two months now. Where do you work?

Me: Oh! Thanks. (Pointing to the building right opposite to where the bus had stopped) I work in that building.

Driver: What do you do ma’am?

Me: (Smiling) I am a Research Engineer.

Driver: Oh! That’s great to hear. You must be making a lot of money.

Me: Well, not really. You see, I just started working and am probably the most inexperienced on my team.

Driver: Okay, not now. But you will make lots of money in the future. Right?

I changed the subject to the sultry weather and walked to the seat by the window. Just as he turned the engine on and started driving, my mind went afloat.

Although becoming an Engineer was never an option that I had considered, I realized there wasn’t much of a choice if you had your roots in Andhra Pradesh. You either are an Engineer or a Doctor. I went to a school that taught me to be passionate about what I choose to do and to stick by it, the only sad part being you have no clue as to what you are passionate about when you are 15. It did not take me much to understand that ‘a doctor’ wasn’t something that was cut out for me. And if you studied pure sciences when you were in high school, you were given the benefit of choosing from a restricted group of various upcoming specializations in India like Biotechnology, Pharmacy, Microbiology etc.

So when I was ready to go to college, I had hundreds of people hovering over my decision. Sadly, these people were neither Engineers nor were they Doctors. Some of them were worried elders. The others were, however, a bunch of jobless people who chewed paan and gave free advice while flashing their orange teeth. When you choose something that sounds as fancy as Biomedical Engineering, you have to remember that you may turn out to be someone who is hanging in the air at all times. Besides, 80% of the people you talk to, your friends included, don’t even know what exactly you studied or you do. They think it is super cool to say BIO-%#*@^* and get away with it thinking you wouldn’t care. Well, how would you feel if I think Java, Oops, Pearl and Oyster are all same thing?

My memory remains crystal clear. The year was 2002. It had people telling me, “There is a huge SCOPE for this field. It is thriving in the U.S and the U.K.” Then they would dramatically turn to my mom and add, “My sister’s husbands’ brother’s wife’s brother-in-law’s  paternal uncle’s daughter’s donkey has a degree in this field. The donkey is a Biomedical Engineer. They make all these huge fancy machines that people use in hospitals. You remember the time when Uma’s husband had his stomach scanned by a machine that is 10 times bigger than the X-ray? That donkey designed it.” Precisely, those were the days when Apollo Hospitals had purchased its first PET-CT.

I felt the first adrenaline rush when I fixed a BP apparatus during my internship. I later inclined to research and faced the ordeal of working with and breaking bones. I found definite passion in this and decided to stick to it. Why else would I help with sawing bones at 10 in the night in a building that was rumored to be haunted.

Life moves quickly and soon I found myself with a Master’s degree. It was only when I was out on a seriously tiresome job hunt that the word ‘scope’ caught my sincere attention. I wanted to ask all the advising scholars who bragged about the ‘scope’ of this field to stand in a line so that I could whack their asses hard. As hard as the job hunt was kicking mine. What scope? There is no scope. I know that there are thousands of sick people dying every day and that a few hundreds of diseases stand invincible. And yet there is no scope for young researchers. God alone knows why companies are either too less in number or too huge in infrastructure. With companies expecting you to walk out of graduate school with over 5 years of industry experience, the immigration services leaching on you to show employment proof within 90 days of graduation, the novel taxes on the healthcare system, very few jobs, and extremely high competition, I wonder, “Does scope really exist?” It probably will, only if you are a shark in this rat race.

Now everything said and done, you will eventually fulfill those dreams. But what the bloody hell is it with “lots of money” when you are an Engineer. That’s like saying “All pastas taste the same irrespective of their sauces, be it alfredo, marinara, or pesto with basil.” No, not all Engineers make mountain loads of money. To my knowledge, it is the people who work with computers that do. That could be the only reason the film Chintakayala Ravi had its tag line as Software Engineer. If the other Engineers did too, the film would have been called Chintakayala Ravi-Chemical Engineer. If there was money with every Engineer, our Indian Engineering college Deans would happily call Johnson & Johnson to recruit students. They wouldn’t promise 100% placement merely by throwing Biology students into Infosys or Accenture.

Being a researcher basically means you belong to a typical Indian lower middle class family. Your pay check sustains you. You cannot decide for yourself or promise your friend, a trip to a beach in Florida during a long weekend in summer when it is only spring. You feel the urge to work on Saturdays.You do not fancy a 500 dollar iPad. You might prefer a 99 dollar e-reader and contemplate on it’s purchase for one whole week before you actually make it. A broken laptop is close to a broken heart and buying a new laptop seems like an extra month of house rent. You know the difference between necessity and luxury and you abide by it. You make sure you get your weekly dosage of protein without fail by drinking soy milk even though you are aware that it is expensive. Shopping malls don’t catch your attention even if you are a girl. A take out from your favorite Chinese restaurant is something remotely close to a festival.  If you decide to try a new brand of shampoo and it sucks, you do not throw it away even if it makes your hair look like crap. You use it until it is done. You are this espresso junkie who cares very little about crappy hair or papers strewn all over your desk. You keep your monthly expenses updated on an excel file.

Being a researcher also means you work like a donkey and like a donkey you enjoy doing it (Probably this is similar to the donkey my mom’s friend was talking about eight years ago).  So who actually cares about being called a nerd or having less money when you have no idea what your friend is talking about when she mentions that she has Monday Blues? Undoubtedly, I love what I do. And nerds have proved that nerds have high life satisfaction scores.

Phew! I had to get off the bus now. I looked at the driver as I darted forward to pull the chain and thought to myself, “Mr. Driver, if I really had the time and the money like a regular Engineer, I would use them to take driving lessons and buy myself a car. You wouldn’t see me riding a bus.” I looked at him again, smiled and said “Thank you” and got off.

As I slowly walked towards home enjoying the weather with Adele singing in my ears, I saw my landlady outside the house. She asked me if she could have a minute. I took my headphones off and she informed me that she had decided to increase the rent by a 100 bucks starting next month. I stared for a second and nodded my head in dismay when she added, “I’m sure you will not find it to be a problem. You are an Engineer. You make lots of money, right?”

Adele resumed singing in my ears.