From a naïve, innocent, ingenuous, unworldly, vulnerable, overly trusting, tender and yes-to-all adolescent; to an independent, autonomous, self-sufficient, undaunted, confident & self-fulfilling contessa, there seems to be a world of change!
My musings were rattled as the painter handed me the shade card. “Madam – do you want the cool shade, warm shade, neutral shade, saturated shade or are you going to coalesce them and create a new shade?” I look fixedly at him, passing an eye over the choices the painter just put forth as the last option seemed nonpareil. Creating a new shade - wasn’t this what I was doing in life? Mixing all the shades and coming up with a new one.
“Madam are you listening? This wall is rusting, you need to shed it off and get a new surface.” I asked him how? “Madam, clean the surface, wherever needed prime the walls, fill the gaps, paint the ceiling, use a roller and once done, clean the entire room, and you will find a bright new room in front of you.” I lay my eyes on the painter yet again vocalizing within me, “isn’t this the process I followed to get a new ME. Exfoliating the old and bring into being the #NEWYOU exactly as the painter illustrated.
“Madam please give yourself enough time for this process to be completed. Some spaces in the wall can be done in a few hours and others may take a few days.” The painter paraphrased it exactly the way it was. Some things in life took a few days and some a few years but ultimately I loved the #NEWYOU just like the virgin lustre emulsion paint, I knew, would replace the old tempera in the room. I smiled at the painter and said – go ahead!
The empowered autonomous woman that I embraced did practice attributes conventionally associated with masculine subjectivity. Where did the old me go?
Daddy’s daughter….decades of my life have passed by listening to this. His desire to protect me from everything in the world, the infatuation to make me the best girl one would ever see, alienating all the troubles, doing everything that he could just so that I am comfortable, his doling out never ceased. I remember we never had enough, but there was always enough for me in whatever way he could. Coming back from a tiring day at work, to immediately going out and getting my school supplies, to making those drawings for me because my forte was never biology, making me see dreams to graduate from a small suburban town to make my own space in this big world, from sitting outside the house for 3 hours to avoid ringing the bell just so that I don’t wake up, I don’t remember if he has ever told me a NO.
I still remember my Mom working as an English Professor. I saw her travel everyday morning to remote locations to teach her students, yet never forgetting to make food for me waking up early so that I don’t get late to school. Coming back and then again making sure I ate, taking care of my studies without ever letting me know about the hardships she faced. I remember I had this habit of waking up very early in the morning for studying and especially when I was preparing for my Engineering entrance exams. Be it 2am, 3am, 4am or 5am, whenever I woke up to study for my entrance exams, there was always food on the table – I still remember that casserole which had delicacies along with beverages in another hot flask just so that her daughter could study peacefully without worrying for anything else. And hopefully I didn’t disappoint her when I ranked 53 in my State amongst females and got admission in one of the premier engineering colleges ranked amongst the top 20.
In a nutshell amidst all hardships, I was pampered. And the day came when I had to leave my house to my Engineering hostel and start life on my own. No mincing facts, but clearly the girl who was in a beautiful world iced with love, affection, regale and overindulged adulation had to be on her own now to explore what life would catapult at her. Could I do it?
My Mom and Dad told me one thing – go on and get going and never look back. While we are always there for you, you need to fight it out in this world and believe in yourself all this while when you do so.
And that’s when it all changed for the girl who started on her own little knowing that the trajectory of life was not going to be horizontal. Teary-eyed, I watched Dad dropping me and saying take care. I wondered how I take care when I was being taken care all this while. The high walls of the college, the unknown faces, the confusion inside, the stately building with massive pillars, students in batches moving up and down, strict warden telling us the timing of the hostel, mess reminding me of Mom’s food, chatter in the corridors; so much freedom yet so many rules. That was my first test of living it on my own and I think I passed. I vividly remember the phone call informing Dad about my campus placement and little did I know that this would be a tough one.
With boundless dreams, it was just 11 months in my first job after completing my Engineering and my place of posting was a remote industrial town in South India, called Mettur, 1530 kilometres from my hometown. The job was not easy since I was the only female engineer trying to make my place amongst 1000 male blue collar workers. Besides comprehending bauxite, refineries and power plants in the company; I was trying to cope with language, culture, and accent. And most importantly, I was managing the whole spectrum of emotions arising in the minds of men when they saw the only woman working in a factory with a yellow helmet and grey uniform, trying to confidently jostle into the unknown territory which was perhaps reserved only for men since the last decade. Perhaps I was successful in breaking this stereotype in their mind, and also passed some kind of test in the eyes of the men watching this girl from a far-away land, because I still remember my last day when all the workers got together and got lunch for me along with a learners’ book of Tamil and said, “Ma’am – come back soon”. Yes, after 11 months. My last day, yes the day I received Papa’s phone call, the day my younger brother who was 17 breathed his last.
With no direct flight from where I was working to my hometown, I had to board a bus which took 8 hours to reach the capital from where I would catch my flight; actually my first flight ever. Yes, suddenly it dawned on me that I had never ever entered a flight. The fear of altitude, uneasiness of being in an unknown zone and feeling of being off land was still sinking within. The flight landed on time, and surprisingly only two words kept ringing in my ears: “Be Strong”. Now it was only me, their daughter, who was at the moment fenced with background echoes as she reached home which said, “It’s part of God’s plan”, “Look at what you have to be thankful for”, “He’s in a better place now”, “This is behind you now”, “It’s time to get on with your life”. I needed to be strong and I knew that. It was a #NEWYOU and time to be there for the two superheroes, my Mom and Dad who even at that point did not let me feel the pain inside them. I garnered courage to face this demise because I knew I had to do it for them.
A year later, I remember my MBA interviewers asking me why a shift from Engineering to Human Resources as I got admission in one of the premier business schools located in the western part of India and finally my dream of entering Mumbai, India’s largest and buzzing city seemed closer. Papa had come to drop me and as I entered the gate of my MBA college, a breeze of fresh air swung onto my face and all those dreams which were latent suddenly came to life. I knew I always wanted to be here, independent, ambitious, positive and making my place. The place had everything – ensemble of cultures and more so investigative eyes on my “desi clad avatar” – the salwar kameez, specs and simple sandals which eventually did not do much harm. Twice, I was voted as the ‘Placement Secretary’ of my college. Yet again, the #NEWYOU was ready to face the world.
But was it so easy? Time came for campus placements and I was very excited because the day came when we had to appear for an interview with one of the biggest conglomerates in Mumbai for a job interview. The same day I got a call from my Professor who was supposed to accompany us for the campus placement. He said, “Listen, your name isn’t featuring since you are not fulfilling the criteria of placement”. For a moment I felt the world coming to a standstill as I asked, “Which criteria Sir?” He said, “the company does not want any gap in between studies and job, and you have a year’s gap before you joined MBA”. Yes, I had a gap but how to justify the gap of loss of loved one? I had a gap because I wanted to be there with my parents after my brother’s demise. I did not want them to be alone. Neither did I want to give up so easily and let go of my dreams. So I mustered enough courage to relive the moment of grief and explain to my Professor the year gap. He understood and said, “let’s go to Mumbai and give your best there. If you get selected we will see how to take it forward”. I don’t know if it was the #NEWYOU, but I was the only one selected among the 20 people who appeared for group discussion and personal interview at this global conglomerate in Mumbai.
14 years passed and there was a natural cycle of life to let people in and let them go. The empowering call of choosing a different path after 9 years of marriage and 5 years of courtship came with a lot of questions and associated stigma of society. But the choice of choosing happiness rather than being unhappy in a relationship just for the sake of society was perhaps the #NEWYOU once again. It wasn’t easy to fake a smile and continue with your life while fooling everyone that everything’s fine. There were times when you’re about to give up yet you convinced yourself to keep going. Enshrouding all the silent screams to yourself even though you’re about to explode wasn’t easy at all. It was a tough choice of separation; those memories that once made your heart flutter, turn into distant thoughts that you can’t seem to remember anymore and when you see him, he’s no longer someone you used to love, he’s just another man. But choice is if we wanted to stick to a loveless marriage. There was nothing wrong in the marriage but there was no love and I knew people won’t understand. But he and I did. We knew that we didn’t want to live life this way for whatever life was left. I garnered strength and the #NEWYOU did not let my inner demons overpower my whole being. It was a tough fight yet I chose to endure the pain.
I still remember the counsellor in the family court who was making all attempts to stop us from walking away from an unhappy marriage. “Are you sure you want to part ways? Life is difficult for a single woman with a child. I and my partner smiled because we knew what unhappiness was in those 9 years where there was no love but a legal contract of marriage. It just required guts to break off this stigma and be happy for the rest of our life. The #NEWYOU made me a strong pillar for my 5 year old son who I know, one day will ask me this – Mama why? But I knew I could explain him why his Dad and I took the brave decision of co-parenting. I haven’t come across a mother in a co-parenting situation who doesn’t miss her children when they are gone. Missing out half of their childhood, unable to tell those bed time stories or hearing how their days go, unable to see them smile or feed them, or simply feeling their arms wrapped around – she misses those daily when they are gone. It is a constant emotional turmoil, knowing your children deserve time with the other parent, yet that longing feeling of missing out on so much of their lives. I was co-parenting with dignity in this world full of societal norms and the #NEWYOU within me helped me do so.
I realized that sometimes in life it’s ok not to be ok. I have come a long way and seeing how much I’ve grown today on my own, I can’t help but be proud of the #NEWYOU I’ve become. I remind myself every day that I am important, beautiful, intelligent, and deserve to be loved. In my #NEWYOU avatar, I did not change my identity to become stronger, I just started to care more about myself. I realized that self-worth is everything, but so easily overlooked.
Though I have never believed in Superheroes, but in this life if I ever get a chance to define Superheroes then it would be my parents. They loved me, pampered me, yet at the same time taught me that it's okay to not have it all together. I know I am doing the best I can with what I have, which has never been much. I am constantly learning and adapting, and the #NEWYOU makes me realize every day that nothing ever changes until you leave your comfort zone, so learn to fondle the discomfort. People ask me till date – can you live alone with your kid, don’t you think you should settle down for him, you should have thought through before separating, what actually went wrong? I knew their questions will never leave me, but I also knew that I choose to be happy because my son would like to see a happy Mom than a perfect Mom. He wouldn’t like to see his parents leading two invisible parallel lives living in the same house, never to come together. I have never doubted that I am enough and I know what I did when I decided not to fake the archetypal model of life by choosing to stick to marriage just for the sake of society? It’s terrifying to try to change your life, particularly when you’ve been told by the society you can’t, but they were wrong. You are the only one who can, in fact. The #NEWYOU never made me doubt that for a second.
I loved myself even more and never let anyone dampen my spirit. I celebrated my uniqueness, honoured my individual choices and boldly made a choice to be my own self.
And I thank my superheroes, my parents for that!
Who I once was, is not who I am now. But the girl I once was has molded me into the sublime, beautiful and strong woman I am proud to say I am today.
Happy to be a #NEWYOU!