“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” – from History Boys, by Alan Bennett
Of late I have realised the stories and anecdotes I share are more about me or about my brother rather than being about my father. When I started to share about my father and his struggles with mental health, in order to shed more light on mental health and the stigma attached I wanted it to be just about him. I know in my heart that , in his lifetime, my father lived for others, and through his anecdotes , I wanted it to be about him,his story which was about him, his life choices, which were lost in time, which may have been instrumental in developing his condition. I realised a concern, they were starting to become about me and I did not want the stories to become about me. I had voiced out my concern to a friend, before I started this page ‘ I don’t want it to become about me’ and she had replied ‘ I know you, it will not become about you, and even if it does , it s fine.’ There was a conviction in her voice, a conviction about me , about what I intended to do. She has been an invisible yet an immense support to me and for this cause.
Now after a couple of months sharing anecdotes, I realise my father’s stories and anecdotes are intertwined with my stories and my brother s life story. I can not talk about him in isolation. I understood upon his death a fact , that he and I were interdependent, we always unknowingly sought each other out, worked as a team. Like Dr Iannis and Pelagia from the book Captain Corelli s Mandolin, even though Dr Iannis considers himself as the head of the house, teaches Pelagia about medical profession, there was a co-dependency on his daughter,he was reliant on Pelagia for taking care of his patients, his household and many more things, Pelagia in turn was dependent on her father and his immense knowledge. Another example I can think of is Mr Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennett relies on Elizabeth Bennett, for her support in the family, is extremely fond of his daughter s choices , which are not based on societal norms, in turn Elizabeth seeks out her father s love and support, when she refuses to marry Mr Collins, there is almost a diabolical support from Mr Bennet for Elizabeth. I would like to believe I was my father’s Elizabeth Bennett or Pelagia. My father and I would often sit in silence watching a sun set, wander around in markets and parks, I would always ask him meanings of words instead of looking up on a dictionary, even though he would always reply ,yet would also hand me over a copy of dictionary, when we would go grocery shopping invariably he would rely on me and my brother to remind him of things to buy. He would help me out with my school work and assist in preparation for exams.
After my father’s death, for years I did not realise I was grieving and that the loss had left a huge wound. I was young, I had numerous things and activities to do , I ploughed through life, doing things which was required out of me by society, I, like my father, buried my loss in to the depths of my heart. In turn the grief took a morbid form of thought, which convinced me that perhaps I was a burden on him , now on my brother and my mother. As the years passed by, I was convinced my life had no defined purpose or clear meaning , I was a blip in the universe. One day in my early twenties, I was travelling back from work, with a friend, after a long day at work. She is a dear friend, we could talk in lengths about anything under the sun ranging from which Shah Rukh Khan movie is a bigger hit to why do the waves crash on the shores from a scientific point. We could talk about the most silliest of thing to very intense existential questions. That day happened to be an existential quest of why are we born, and since we had a long day at work, we thought we will eat something while trying to find the answer. We sat on a bench at a Mumbai local Chinese stall, we were talking about how folding and faulting of earth created the Himalayas, and every pull and push in universe happens for a reason and creates something unique and precious. And for the first time I voiced out the thought inside my head to my friend, ‘ I have no purpose or meaning for my life, I think universe created me in an error, I am a blip in the universe’ And she scooped a bit of fried rice from the plate on to spoon and said ‘ Hmmm…. ‘ and looked intently at the far away stars in the night sky and continued, ‘ You always listen to me ,so intently and with all patience, and when I say listen , you really listen !!!!!. Nobody does, but you do. So you do have a purpose, to listen to me. I think you are not a blip.’ There was something in the way she responded , she did not feel sorry for me, nor she pitied me, she gave me a very precise and logical answer, with the utmost respect for my thought, and compassion. And I do like listening to her, and many other friends, their point of view. She has been my rock in my life, an immense support, who helped me out at different stages of my life, looked after me at times like a mother hen, backing off when I needed my space, laughed with me , reminded me of traits , stopped me from making mistakes, laughed with me and shed tears for me. I have been blessed with many loving , kind , compassionate friends who always are there for me to lean on, they patiently and endlessly listen to what I have to say, help me understand myself better, make me a better human being. All it took was a bit of kindness, immense support and long conversations , which acted as a balm on my grieving heart and I accepted their support wholeheartedly.
Many years later, when my husband lost his father, he said to me one day after months of my father in law passing, ‘ You know after my mother dies and if you die before me, there would be no one who would love me’. I realised he was saying this in grief, yet I knew he meant it. It made me immensely sad. He truly believed it, just like I did believed that I was a blip. Yet it was far from the truth, he has many dear friends, who love him to the bits. Unresolved grief, suppressed emotions were the true reasons behind such thoughts. Unresolved and unacknowledged emotions can take ugly forms are often the underlying causes of mental health issues and depression. Sometimes I think as human beings we go through the same emotions, same feelings, it is only our stories are different, our life experiences and journeys are different.
Also I believe society conditions us to be successful,materially successful, successful in our careers, in schools and universities, successful in relationships, but often ignores to teach us the importance of kindness, compassion and love and very often we forget to think about self compassion and self care, we confuse self care with selfishness.
I often now think , did my father have such loving and compassionate angels in his life? All he needed was a bit of kindness , compassion and immense understanding from himself and from people around him. Dearest Appa, I wish I had helped you. I wish you loved yourself as much you loved others.