Being reborn after being born
Birth is always painful, whether you’re being born for the first time, or taking birth in different ways despite being born and alive. Complex, huh? Let me explain.
I was participating in a conference at Wilton Park, West Sussex, United Kingdom, a few weeks ago. At the end of what had been a day of very serious and meaningful discussions, I was invited to have a fireside chat with their Acting Chief Executive, Miles Wickstead CBE. The setting was perfect; the opportunity was great; I was given uninterrupted time to speak about my passion for writing on health and anything else which would be relevant. What could have been a better setting than that and what better opportunity to get oneself heard? And yet, I held back. It was painful to go back in time and dredge up memories that I had buried with difficulty.
My birth as a writer has come out of enormous pain, and I found myself blocking out half my story on that night because I did not have the courage to revisit a time of my life which was so full of pain. But I want to talk about it now, even if only to tell people not to be scared of pain because it always leads to new birth.
That time, those days…
One after the other, with only a few years in between, my husband lost his father and I lost mine; our daughter lost both her grandfathers who had doted on her. In the years between, my husband and I faced bankruptcy. And we were struggling to find our feet; the load was completely on me to hold up a husband reeling from the shock of being unable to support his family; our daughter was struggling to cope with death, and grief at her own little familiar world – including little family dinners and ice-cream visits being snatched away suddenly, for reasons completely incomprehensible to her. And I found myself with the job of holding them both up. I had no skills to speak of – being the wife of a fairly prominent businessman of our city, I had had little to worry about. And had indulged myself in a little writing, a little business venture for ‘time pass’ and a blissful home to attend to.
This story is not about my struggle
When the onerous task of handling the aftermath of all that had happened to us fell to my lot, I realised that the only skill I had, which was worth anything in the market was my ability to write. We had few friends left; I have no complaints or bear no ill will towards them because the world is too full of people who have their own ghosts to face, their own problems to handle, and have no time to give to people whose problems are too big for them to address.
I gathered my somewhat weak and ineffective tools, pasted Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ above my work table, and set out into a world that was unfamiliar and scary. The world of a sole breadwinner.
The seed for change was sown
My friend Shangon and I were having lunch one afternoon because she had decided I needed a little cheering up. Quite casually, she suggested that she was going on a field trip (she was running a successful development communications agency) to post-quake Gujarat and would I like to go with her? She was gently persuasive. It was to the Rann of Kutch she was going; it was on the bucket list of so many and I would benefit from it.
I took leave of absence from my then boss who agreed with ill-concealed disapproval; I had just taken a lot of leave post Dad’s death he reminded me. But something was urging me not to care and go with Shangon. We set off, criss-crossing Kutch District for 10 days. We ate at dhabas; we slept in the same little lodges that truck-drivers also took rooms in; we ate lunches in the desert and got chastised for washing our plates with water because water was such a precious commodity. People there cleaned their plates with sand!! We even drove a jeep in the desert and in those 10 days, I began to forget that I would have to return to my challenging world where my troubles had not even begun to be sorted out. In those 10 days, I slowly began to get the courage to face the long struggle ahead. I did not know then that it was to last for 14 years and more.
On the last leg of our trip, where we had also seen a lot of sadness and despair and devastation, we reached a little hamlet inhabited by shepherds on the border between India and Pakistan. The border was invisible, because the hamlet had been discovered quite by chance during the post-quake rehabilitation period. In the 50 or so houses that made up the hamlet, people spoke of their relatives who lived ‘across the creek’ (they didn’t know we were two countries), and went across regularly to see their relatives who lived there, barely realising they were visiting a ‘foreign country’.
In terms of facilities, they had nothing and I realised the meaning of nothing when I saw them. They did not have a source of income; they knew nothing of health facilities; they had no access to food as we know it and lived off the land around them; they did not even have an identity or citizenship.The children did not go to school; there wasn’t any for miles around. They went to the madrasa because the hamlet was completely populated by Muslims. Post the quake they had been told by some NGOs that they were Indians and had been taught the national anthem, which they sang to the same tune that they recited the Quran in!
And yet, the hamlet was another name for tranquility. The women smiled; the children glowed; they looked healthy and the men were not too worried about how to provide for their families. We spent hours chatting with them and seeing the exquisite embroidery that the women did, thread for which they spun and dyed. Each woman began embroidering her daughter’s wedding trousseau the day she was born. They did not bathe everyday because they did not have water to bathe. They took us to their drinking water source – a wide crack in a boulder which had some brackish water deep down, which had to be drawn with a little tin can.
I looked at myself then. What did my condition, which I’ve already described above look like? Who was more miserable? Who was richer? I realised the former was I and the latter was this little community. I was miserable because I had known the ‘good life’ and was missing it; they were richer because they were so complete in that they had, which in my eyes, looked like precious nothing.
As time went by and I visited more communities, saw more of the same thing, I realised that their contentment was possibly another name for resignation and surrender. One adjusted to what one could not help. But I began to get angry – for them and for myself; my anger for them was greater. And I began to spew out my anger in the form of words. I wrote and wrote and wrote…My anger has all but gone away now because I know there is little I can change. My indignation and sense of outrage however, still comes into play whenever I see something that allows for people to be forgotten or deprived of things they need, like they have been. It flows over when I see obscene amounts of cash on display in the houses of politicians and I wonder how it could have helped that little hamlet, or more like those.
In time I also understood they did not want development as we wanted it for them. They did not want to be uprooted and brought into a world they did not understand. They would be happy if they had quality of life in their own world. And I agree with them and understand it is our duty to enable that world for them. When we went bankrupt, I did not want a new world; I wanted a world, the same world I had been used to and I was desperate to get it back. It caused me pain; it caused me hurt and I have not even got it back in quite the way I wanted it but I’ve persevered and have done my best. I’m happy today, as happy as I can ever be because on that day I was reborn after the long, painful process of rebirth. I have that little community to thank for showing me the mirror and for showing me what it takes to be happy. I also have Shangon to thank for being with me in this journey of rebirth.
So go on! If you’re experiencing pain, as we all do very often, know that you’re being reborn.