WHY SO SOON?

There have been two deaths so far that have moved me deeply.

The first was the death of my brother’s best friend, and the second was the death of a stranger. In both cases, the deceased died young. I’ve lost family too who I loved dearly, grieved for as well. Every loss was monumental in its own way, but these two people, though they weren’t family, hurt me the most because it seemed unfair that one should die so young. I’m aware that the statement sounds foolish, hurtful even. How can anyone’s death mean more or less. The loss of life is great anyhow, in every case. But the ones who lose the most are the ones who are left behind. And the way I see it, behind these two deaths are grieving families who still wonder – why so soon?

I once read somewhere the heaviest coffins are the smallest ones, and I couldn’t agree more. Those coffins, the bodies that are cremated on the smallest of pyres, they carry the unseen weight of years that were to come, of opportunities lost too soon, of memories robbed before they were made.

I still remember that day in the hospital where I was soon to be admitted for the birth of my daughter. I was waiting near the NICU for a check-up. I remember wondering, “Why are there so many people thronging its doors? It’s a NICU; its unsafe for the babies in there.” The doors slid open and an aged, gaunt man came out with a bundle wrapped in white cloth in his hands. The throng followed him, all of them crying and yet there wasn’t one sound in that hospital corridor but dead silence. No hysterical sobbing, no wailing, no keening. Just dead silence. People stopped doing what they were doing. Every head was bent low and everyone moved aside to let the grieving family go to the exit.

I averted my eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at that bundle, and the one feeling that permeated was shame. I felt ashamed sitting there because I had hope from my swollen belly, while that baby’s mother cried over the loss of her own. What dreams would she have made, what hopes she must have had from the birth of her child! All snatched away within hours from her. I couldn’t imagine then how heavy a load that family carried in that bundle, just as I couldn’t imagine the weight of my brother’s friend’s loss for his family.  

He was all of fifteen or sixteen – a good student, a dutiful son and a loving big brother. My brother and he were inseparable. We were also good neighbours which meant he was always around. He was always very respectful toward me and I would joke with my brother that he was the only sensible one in his gang of friends. When news first came of his sudden sickness, I didn’t pay much regard. I knew he could kick it off. He was so young! One doesn’t expect someone so young to be in grave danger. But he was gone within days of his hospitalization because of Meningitis. Even when they brought him home, he was covered from head to toe in gauze because his skin was covered in rashes and his parents couldn’t bear to see him that way. I have never cried so much for someone who wasn’t family as I did that day. The only thing that went around in my head was – but he was so young!

His mother is still excellent friends with my family. A few weeks back, when I called her to congratulate her on her daughter’s wedding, she still teared up saying, “How happy he would have been to see her married.” He would have indeed, but no one will ever know, because he went away too soon. He will never know what it’s like to graduate from college, to get his first pay check, to fall in love, to make a family. Everything that we seem to take for granted in life, seems amplified manifold from his perspective because he will never get to experience these things.

I know a few other people who lost husbands who were fathers to young children, my father-in-law being one such unfortunate person; of mothers who had just given birth; of a college senior who had a tumor in his brain and couldn’t survive the chemo; of a classmate who was raped and left to die. In all of these cases I have felt that life was grossly unfair to them and to their families. Everyone expects to die someday, but none prepare themselves when they are young. 

I am not saying that the death of the elderly is any less significant. But most people live full lives before they go into the final sleep. Both my grandmothers suffered for years before death took mercy on them. I grieved heavily for both of them, but it was a relief for us to see them go because we knew they had lived well and wanted to die. Most families can at least take succour in the fact that their dear one lived a complete life. What succour do the families of these young ones have? Do they ever stop grieving for all those times they could have had memories with their children, but can’t? Do they ever stop grieving at all?

I didn’t have to cope from these two deaths because they weren’t personal and I don’t even want to be in a similar position. If these unfortunate families have come to terms with their losses, I suspect only time helped them dull the pain. I can’t see how anything else could have helped, save resurrection of their deceased loved ones.

How does one cope with the loss of someone you had expected to live longer?

You occupy yourself with other things. You focus on a future that you still have even if they don’t, because you owe it to yourself and to them to keep living. You find strength in yourself and in the family you shared with the deceased. You learn to value happiness more now that you have known so much sorrow. You make new connections and new memories. You keep going forward so you don’t have to look back. But most of all, you just learn to let the bitterness go because what else can you do? It is unjust, but it is what it is.

I leave you with this quote that sums up all of what I’ve been trying to say through this post –

Somethings cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.

Megan Devine.

GROWING OLD VS GETTING WISER: MY TAKE ON AGEING

I once wrote an article on my birthday about my five gray hair. Yep. Five! I fretted all over the post about how it shocked me and how I was trying (‘trying’ being the operative word here) to take it positively. Fast forward to now, I’ve lost count of how many gray hair I have. I care more of course, but I can’t snip at a fact of life with a pair of scissors. So, I’ve given up on cutting them off. Why bother when it has to happen, right?

Does it make me feel old? Of course, but I would be stupid to believe that I will never age and I am not stupid. I should thank my five feet nothing height for the times when I get mistaken for a twenty-something but that doesn’t happen often, I assure you. There are other things about me that give away my real age. When you have a child who hovers around you, it automatically earns you the moniker of ‘Aunty’ in India. So does the propensity of the body to gain weight and look softer around the edges as we age. I am quite adept at looking soft around the edges, you see. I’ve given up on wearing clingy clothes in exchange for the more accommodative empire waists and peasant tops. I’m a bona fide Aunty now, no matter how many filters I use to take my selfies, and I am just fine with it.

I read somewhere, middle age is when the broadness of the mind and the narrowness of the waist change places. If that’s the case I’m heading in the right direction, except I feel smarter. It feels good to know that I’ve got something right in my thirty-five years of existence!

So, what is it that makes me feel old?

I have crow’s feet on the sides of my eyes, laugh lines, gray hair sprouting here and there, a receding hairline and an increasing waistline. All of them bother me, but the ONE thing that makes me feel my age is when my body doesn’t keep up with the younger person within me. When I hit the treadmill, I can’t go from level 3 to 6 in under five minutes anymore. I have to amble along for at least ten now or risk an injury. When my daughter insists I race her, I can’t win anyway because my heart threatens to jump out of my chest if I try too hard. Late-nights are OK only if I’m in a prone position, parked in front of a screen. Coffee is a MUST to carry on through the day. Parties that go well into the night are a no, no. In fact ALL late-nights in my life now are only because I have work to do. An evening hog-fest over chaat WILL induce diarrhoea in the morning. Don’t even get me started on sickness. I have always hated being sick but have only realized in the last three years that recovering takes longer and it’s frustrating that I can’t just shrug off a bout of the sniffles with some pills. I actually need TLC now.

And as if that isn’t enough, there will always be someone who will rub it in your face –

“Arey, pehchana nahin aapko. Bhari-bhari lag rahin hain na, isliye.”

(Sorry, didn’t recognize you because you’ve ‘filled up’).

According to Google, middle age starts somewhere around forty-five. I feel I am already in my middle ages because I’ve slowed myself down in the last few years. It has been a deliberate attempt because I have figured out that there is no point fighting against it. My body demands more care and I’m happy to oblige. I don’t think it’s right to call it growing older. I call it getting wiser.

I bet you’re thinking, she’s aging faster than her real age. So what? My theory about aging is –

If your body can’t do it, don’t force it… unless your physiotherapist says so.

Ageing happens not just in the body but in the mind too. But that’s the beauty of ageing – your body gets frailer but your mind gets sharper. But there are some old souls who have never been young… like me. At twenty, I did things that people much older than me did. Even now, I don’t like to waste time kidding myself that thirty is the new twenty, because it is not. I quite like how better-equipped I am now than when I was in my twenties.

The way I see it, we start ageing the moment we are born. But it’s how wise we are that makes the process of growing old worth it. While middle age does not mean that one slows down, it is definitely a time to wisen up and make some decisions about the future. By forty no one can just sit around waiting for life to happen. You have to take matters in your own hands, be it about health, or family, or career or about one’s life in general. The best thing about ageing is that it filters out the unnecessary in your life and reveals that which matters the most to you. By forty, most have figured out what they want to do in life, and if you haven’t, you’re getting there, don’t worry. That’s what the thirties are about.

This is the best thing that has happened to me since I turned the better side of thirty. I have understood that it’s not about looks but what lies within you. That show-off is a waste of time. That I can’t be responsible for everyone in my life. I can’t be a superwoman and tackle too many things in one go. I can’t please everyone and I most certainly should not try to either because I exist not to please other people, but to live for myself.  

Ageing teaches you to conserve your energy and resources and utilize them for things that should matter. An older person will seldom waste energy on showing off his moves on the dancefloor, but will expend energy in playing with his children. An aged person may not spend time party-hopping, but will spend a weekend with close friends instead. There is nothing wrong with showing-off or party-hopping (unless you’re a politician too). There is just no need for it after a point in life. When you realize that, that’s called being wiser, not ageing.     

Of course, ageing brings its own problems, mostly health-related, but it equips you to handle these issues better because now you’re armed with experience. Life comes with everything in a balance. If youth brings energy, it is retarded by lack of knowledge; whereas the converse is true for old age. If not for this balance, the young would trump the old every time and there would be no need for the old in the cycle of life. It’s all about give and take. The elderly give the young guidance in return for their support.

I won’t give you advice on how to tackle ageing. It’s your own journey. What makes you wiser may make someone else stupid. This post wasn’t meant to preach anyway, but to tell you what I feel about ageing. I will conclude with this – I can’t say now how I will feel once I am older but one thing is for sure, I’ll be a lot smarter than I am right now, and in my book, that is more valuable than an array of make-up on the dressing table.  

THE INDIAN ‘SANDWICH’ SITUATION

At 65 years of age, Sandhya (name changed) is a busier woman after retirement than she was when she worked as a teacher. Before the lockdown, in her native Allahabad, she would care for her octogenarian in-laws. Every six months she would shuttle between one daughter based in Singapore, who can’t afford child-care for both her children while she works at a meagre salary, and the other six months she would spend with her son, caring for her granddaughter in Delhi, while both her son and daughter-in-law work in an MNC. Between all this shuttling from one country to another, her husband, at 70, having his own health issues, stayed at Allahabad because he couldn’t leave his aged parents alone at home.

Sometime into the lockdown in 2020, Sandhya’s in-laws passed away and Sandhya alone moved to Delhi because her son and his wife were having trouble taking care of their toddler in the absence of a nanny. Sandhya’s husband is still in Allahabad, left at the mercy of a few distant relatives, while Sandhya keeps shuttling between Allahabad, her maternal aunt in Meerut who is suffering from a terminal disease, and back to Delhi. All while she herself has high-blood pressure and runs the risk of being infected by the Coronavirus.

Sandhya is a classic example of a growing tribe of humans called the Sandwich Generation – caring for both their children as well as their parents.

When I was in school, as part of our Geography lessons, we were taught that the Indian population has a younger, thereby a more productive population. That was in 2001. The 2011 census shows that our aged population is growing and might double up by 2041[1]. That, coupled with the fact that we still have the highest youngest population in the world (below 14 years of age), means that our shrinking productive population (between 25-60) has to bear the burden of caring for both the children as well as the elderly.

Joint families often share the burden of caring for the young and the elderly in the family. With the advent of the nuclear family in India, the burden falls hard over the able-bodied, earning members. The closer you are, the more the expectation of helping out and besides, in a matter of family, these things come with a heap of obligations and feelings attached to the care involved.

The example above is one from my own family and I know several others, myself included, who balance their limited time and earnings between caring for both generations while they handle their own life issues. The lockdown has exacerbated the problem for many Indians who can’t even depend on house-helps and caretakers anymore.

My own experience in the last one year during the lockdown has taught me that I need to take care of myself better because I’m responsible for both my child’s as well as my aged mother-in-law’s care. I was recently hospitalized because of a gallstone that required immediate removal, and I have never felt the loneliness of my responsibilities more acutely than when I was lying on a hospital bed, worrying over who was going to take care of my daughter while my mother-in-law needed to go for her own dental operation. With my husband gone for work six months out of twelve, I am often the only ‘able-bodied’ person in my household. If I fall, everyone suffers. I’m sure many of you are in the same situation as me and they frequently find themselves stuck in a situation where they are unable to choose between sides.

The converse is also true. Parents being handed over grandchildren to care for while their children work. One neighbour complained to me how she missed her free weekends because her daughter brings over the children, just so she can have her own weekends free.    

India may have progressed in many ways but she is still ill-equipped to handle the rapid swell of the aged population. While our healthcare has become better, it isn’t affordable or accessible to everyone in the country. While families become smaller, parents are left to worry about where they should stay and who to depend on in the twilight of their lives. Old-age homes are not a feasible option for all families and most old-age homes in India are not well-equipped or maintained to cater to the elderly. But old-age homes also have a stigma working against them, that of thankless children kicking out their aged parents, which is why shifting parents to an old age home almost always raises eyebrows. But I have several people in my own circle who have had to shift their parents to an old-age home mostly because they work in different cities and don’t have the option to shift their parents in with them, or because the parents themselves refuse to join them. In the absence of senior citizen insurance, care and assistance schemes facilitated by the government, it is imperative for the children to care for their parents.

Often the sandwiched find themselves being forced to meet demand after demand from both ends, yet unable to meet their own needs. Lost career opportunities, missed social events, ignoring their own medical requirements, but mostly the lack of time for oneself leads to growing discord, apathy and a feeling of unhappiness in life. A candle burning at both ends and fast.

In such situations, no side is wrong or right. Children need our care and parents do too, rightly so because they have cared for us. More than medical and monetary aid, the elderly need emotional and palliative care. Add to that the Indian fixation with patriarchy means that while the able-bodied may earn money for the family, they don’t get to make decisions for the same. They feel like ATMs for both children and their parents. Like a friend who confided in me said,

“I never married so I could care for my widowed mother and Nani. Now I feel trapped in my own life because they think I only exist for them.”

In India, Shravan Kumar is the ideal child who sacrifices his life for his parents. In my opinion, the current generation is full of such Shravan Kumars who have given up living their own lives to maintain the lives of others.

Everyone finds their own path through this trying transition where you straddle both boats. What works for one family, may not work for you. But I’ll leave you with a few pointers that have worked for me while I work through my roles –

  • Wellness and Exercise: Because this generation has to care for two, maybe more generations, it’s imperative to care for your own body. When your body breaks down, no amount of love and care from family will set it right except your own capacity to recuperate.
  • Saying ‘this is my best’ is not Selfish: Everyone has limits and you are free to set your own. Children may not but adults should know when enough is enough. Remember, you are not there to baby your parents.
  • Give your Parents Space: Your parents are not tools. You wouldn’t want to be treated as such either. Let them live their lives while you live yours, regardless of whether you are in a joint or a nuclear family. Mutual care and respect are all everyone needs.
  • Take help: As much as it kills our ego, every once in a while, we must accept help from others.
  • Make Arrangements in Advance: You are already running against your own body-clock and your time is stretched thin. Plan your day and expenses and stick to those plans. Invest in your own future. Someday you will be in the same position as your parents and you may not have help that they have.
  • Me Time: Every once in a while, unwind, relax and find something that’s all about you and no one else. At the end of the day, you were born to live your own life. Become responsible for your own happiness.

[1] https://www.livemint.com/budget/economic-survey/eco-survey-warns-of-india-s-ageing-population-says-retirement-age-should-rise-1562248716749.html

TRANSITIONING FROM UNMARRIED TO MARRIED WOMEN

Marriage is a turning point for most people in their lives. No matter the reasons for marrying, its an event that leaves a mark and becomes a starting point for many subsequent events. Religious texts and rituals all across the world have spent much time and thought dictating how and why two people should marry. Biological reasons aside, when two people come together, they are expected to think or and maintain each other as one joint unit. It encourages togetherness, tolerance, an adjustment that paves the way to cooperating and adjusting in society. Our societies do not appreciate individualism or staying alone and it’s the reason why parents trouble themselves over their single children to the extent that they are willing to sell or buy happiness for them in the name of marriage. No matter what you may name it – happiness, a financial cushion, or gifts, this practice is called the dowry system and it’s prevalent in every culture.

Historically though, only one gender has been geared up since infancy to make marriage their whole-sole occupation in life – Females.

Take any patriarchal society in the past or even in the modern world, every one of them has treated daughters as only a means of securing a connection with a ‘good family’. The prospect of shouldering the burden of a girl’s marriage is so bothersome that girls have been either aborted, murdered in infancy or married off while they were still too young. Things may have changed some but till she is married, collecting a girl child’s dowry becomes her parents’ sole occupation. She thus becomes a ‘burden’.

This burden dictates how the girl is brought up even in her own family. It robs her of identity because she is being brought up only to take on the identity of another. It robs her of agency, her claims, her voice and the right to choose because she must only belong, first to her father then to her husband. She has rights neither here nor there. Because after all, she is a burden that must be pitched onto another set of shoulders in the end.

The transition from an unmarried to a married woman becomes the only occupation of a girl’s life. She is constantly bombarded by reminders that she must soon be married off. From the cradle up, she is taught, mostly by members of her own gender, that she must learn to detach herself from her identity, her roots, her history and adopt that of another family without any backlash. A young woman aspiring to marry into a ‘good family’ is expected to excel at managing a household, being servile, anticipating the needs of others and repressing her own desires.

How many of you women were subjected to this while you were growing up? –

Don’t raise your voice.

Don’t mingle with boys.

Don’t disrespect or object to your elders.

That’s not for you to think/decide.

Stay quiet.

Don’t protest.

Society is not the only culprit of a woman. Pop culture, media and literature like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Uttaran, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Hum Saath-Saath Hain, and many other examples exhorting the virtues of female sacrifice serve as reminders to young girls that their acceptance comes from their silence and sacrifice. Its what they are fed, morning, noon and night. Education and women empowerment have done little to efface these degrading practices because the idea of a woman being a slave to the family is deeply ingrained in our Indian ethos. Parvati, Sita, Kunti, Draupadi, Padmavati… there are too many examples to quote here of women who gave up their everything only to retain a place in history earned at the cost of self-effacement. This notion of a married woman being the epitome of self-sacrifice has become the ideal of the Indian Bahu. If she dares to want another identity than the one idolized by society, she is forced to change, shamed, shunned, divorced and called names.  

In the Indian context, the transition is defiantly skulking several centuries behind the present times. The most obvious change that comes in a woman’s life is changing her last name which is a practice observed worldwide. But in some communities in India, women are encouraged to change even their first names and it proves that our societies are not comfortable with the idea of a woman having her own identity.

The minute a girl is married she is required to bid adieu to her former way of living. Because for some reason it’s unacceptable for her new family to stomach the fact that she has a different way of dressing up, different ideas, her own preferences in food, movies, songs, clothing, ideals and philosophies. I wonder that if sameness is all that is expected out of a married woman, then why not practice inter-family marriages instead? That would ensure that the girls of the family remained and propelled the ideas and practices of the same family. There wouldn’t be an issue of painfully teaching the new bahu the ways of her new home. Right?

This isn’t an article approving incest or inter-family marriages. This is an article highlighting the unfair treatment of women who are forced to change their identities in the name of marriage.

I’m sure many women across the country have heard these barbs –

Your parents didn’t teach you even that?!

Bahus don’t laugh and cheer like that.

Change the way you dress up. Change the way you eat. Change your habits.

Change your company and don’t interact too much with your own family.

You can’t work after marriage. You’ll have to shift to our city/area. If you want to work, ensure that your chores are done before you go.

Why should we? What are you there for?

Who do you think you are without this family? Who do you think you are?

I’ve had to listen to ALL of the above. These are ALL my personal experiences. Surprised that an educated, forward-thinking, independent woman like me went through it? Like I mentioned above, education has done little to change the perception of women in this society. Education has become only an embellishment desired in an ideal bride. Often its women themselves who propagate the idea of being a slave to the married home and while out there, they might light candles and rave about unfair treatment of women, at home, they still want ideal bahus.

Some may argue that if women are trained for this transition since infancy, it should be easy to adapt to the married household. I’ll counter with a question –

“Can a plant from the tropics thrive in the tundra? Sure, it may survive; it must, because its being given the essentials to survive – earth, water, sun…but will it thrive?”

We’re kinder to the foliage we import from their exotic homelands. We create greenhouses, spend on keeping them moist and warm. We invest in the right potting mixes, worry about the soil being the right pH level. We’re kinder to the pets we adopt from other countries. The pet-food should be right, the water should have enough oxygen for the fish… the list goes on. And yet for a newly married woman, no one creates a greenhouse of her past life to ease her transition into the new one. The pag-phera ceremony, where a Hindu newly married girl goes back to her previous family, lasts only a day, after which she must come back to her new family. I did the same and did not see my family again for more than a year after that. Even when I did go back, I was told that I shouldn’t make the stay too long. I went only for ten days. So much for easing my transition!

I’ll pose a searing question to the families of the husbands now –

“When she came home, how long did you tolerate her ways of living before you or someone in your family told her to change them? Or did you do a barter – change this aspect of you and I’ll give you such and such thing or do so and so? Or did you allow her to keep her ways?”

This question will ruffle feathers. Some may even counter – we adopted her ways instead, or that, we gave her enough freedom. First of all, who are you to give someone their freedom or allow them to do something? That right must remain in their own hands. But I feel Democracy doesn’t apply to married Indian women. Some may have been generous in accepting their bahus’ ways, but I bet most didn’t. I wasn’t given much choice in whether I wanted to follow the customs of my husband’s family. I had to engage in practices I didn’t approve of. I had to teach myself to change or be quiet so I wouldn’t fan any fires. This isn’t an adjustment. This is coercion.

It is true that things have changed a lot for women. We have the vote now, a voice, we can dress up beyond ghoonghats and burkas. We can make choices in partners. We can choose to divorce, to work, to raise our children our way. But it is also true that while we can do all of the above, in many cases the choice is not in our hands. Or let me just put it this way, the circumstances surrounding us enable us to either make or drop the choice of making independent decisions. Often the choice is made for us and we are only to submit. If we assert independence, it’s not without resentment. Like I was asked, “who allowed you to study after marriage?” when I independently chose to pursue LLM post-marriage.

The message is clear – a woman’s choice shouldn’t be in her hands.

When I recall my own experiences, I am left with nothing but anger at how I was expected to change to fit into the lifestyle of my husband’s family. Subtle changes like changing when I used to wake-up or go to sleep, the kind of shows I must watch, the way I talked or laughed, how I dressed, preferring the company of certain type of people, chipped away at my own personality so much so that after a while, people I knew from my past life wondered why I had changed so much. The change may not have been expected overnight but it was definitely expected and while I did earn a lot of love and respect from my husband’s family, I often wonder if I received those only in barter for my willingness to change. I am left with a lifetime of bitter experiences that I wouldn’t want for my own or for anyone’s little girl.

While marriage is a transition that impacts both genders, it must be said that it impacts a woman more than it does a man. Would it be too hard on the ego of a husband’s family to let a woman be her own self while she becomes a loving, caring member for her new family? Would it be too hard to accept her family as part of your own? Why is it unconscionable for a woman to stick to her own ideas and philosophies in life, or to carve out her own path, or to be part of major decisions in a family, or to wear the pants in the family? Afterall, she is equally responsible for the well-being of the husband’s family, if not more.

Why must acceptance come at the cost of changing herself only for a woman?

If marriage is the merging of two families, let both families change to a better way of living, accept each other’s flaws and work around the differences to reach a consensus. While adjustment is a must in all relationships, setting limits on a human being is nothing but a form of slavery.

Coercion brings only a temporary change,

but it sows the seeds for a lifetime of resentment and hate.

Should that be the foundation of the family?

You decide.

IS BATTLING TRAUMA THE NEW NORMAL?

Traumatic events are common, and most people will experience at least one during their lives.”

I am sure the above statement I quoted from an article has truth in it. Most of us have gone through one or two traumatic experiences in our lives; some are devastating and some we could manage to handle easily. Though one thing I can say, trauma is not something that we should bypass or ignore.

But what is TRAUMA?

The Google dictionary defines it as, “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”

And what are those distressing or disturbing experiences – rape, domestic violence, natural disasters, severe illness or injury, death of a loved one, witnessing extreme violence…the list is endless. Sadly, the distressing experiences that I enlisted are reported to be in plenty during this pandemic period.

I don’t remember how I celebrated Christmas last year in 2019 and the new year eve to welcome 2020. But what is imprinted and imbibed within me today is the name and fear of Coronavirus. During lockdown in April 2020, I was, in fact, we all were actually not very aware of the post Covid19 situation but when we crossed the month of May, we started to feel the chill of its deadly and long-term effects.

According to an article published in CNBC last March, the researchers have warned that the coronavirus pandemic could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma on an unprecedented global scale. They also warned that it could leave millions fighting with debilitating psychological disorders while facing a devastating economic crisis.

Take for example a househelp who works in Pradita’s building. Lockdown norms aside, she encouraged the househelp to stay at home while she continues to pay her monthly salary. The conundrum that poor househelp is facing is that since even her husband lost his job just before the lockdown, her salary is not enough to pay for her month’s expenses. She faces an eviction from her landlord because she has been unable to pay her rent for the last four months. Worse still, since employability is questionable unless the lockdown lifts, she has no means of finding work anywhere. She is not alone in feeling mentally exhausted from finding ways to sustain her family. There are many cases of companies letting off people, or establishments folding. It hurts not just the pocket, but our heads and hearts too.

Add to that the constant fear that even a simple humane action like a pat on the back can infect you has sent many behind doors because there’s no way of knowing how you could get infected. The trauma is not just confined to the world, it permeates within the family too. Overworked housewives find no recourse when their husbands abuse them. Young children find themselves locked in with perpetrators of unspeakable crimes. Or they feel the wrath of harrowed parents who are trying to eke out a living in meagre means. Outside the house, crime rates may have dropped but they have increased within your four walls. Family fights between dissenting adults, while not a crime, does make us more prone to emotional abuse and worry.

Do you think I am traumatic as well? There’s no doubt about it. Being congenitally a heart patient, I am extremely venerable to this virus and thus I suffer trauma as all others. Last week, I had caught a cold and slept having a cold medicine at night. The next day in the morning around 5:30 AM, I felt a choking sensation in my throat and sat up with a heart rate of over 150 beats per minute. I called up my brother Anupam and talking to him calmed me down. But the fear took some time to subside since even small, strange sensations in my body, though irrelevant, would also make me panic.

If I am in this state of mind, then just imagine about the people who are frontline workers,  those who have lost their loved ones, those who are the actual survivors of COVID-19, those are in isolation or quarantined for days, and those who have lost their jobs, the only means of living!!!

Gripped in fear, I wonder, “Is this the new normal that we all have to adjust with – living in trauma?”

I really don’t have the answer to this question if I think about those who are affected and victims already. But I have a list of DO’s and DON’Ts for all of us who are still unaffected in the real sense.

Following are a few ways we can cope with stress and trauma during this pandemic situation:

By Avoiding News Channels and Stats: While it is good, prudent even, to keep yourself updated about the pandemic and the government rules emerging as nations constantly adapt to this fast-mutating-virus, it isn’t good for your emotional health to obsess over the news. It isn’t uncommon for people to spread rumours in times like these. If you can’t suspend your disbelief, then avoid watching too many news items and statistics about death and sickness. An overload of information can trigger panic attacks and constantly keep us in a state of worrying.  Watching or viewing horrific images over and over again can overwhelm our nervous system, making it harder to keep our mind calm.

By Following Healthy Self-Care Practices: The best cure to avoid this pandemic is avoidance itself. Refrain from public places or meetings as best as you can, keep yourself healthy by practicing good eating habits and regular workouts. Sanitize! As many times as you can. But if you’re one of those who have to stay at home even for work, and work is not enough distraction, try inculcating a passion for a hobby. I keep myself engaged in binge-watching, making new videos, posters, and writing poems when I struggle with a negative atmosphere all around. Reading, singing, thread-work, listening to music, even working-out are some good practices to keep ourselves away from traumatic thoughts. Remember to keep a healthy mind and heart by practicing good habits.

By Building Human Connection: Social distancing is the norm, but luckily for us, we have technology handy to connect us. Use it judiciously to network with those closest to you. It is important to stay connected to our friends and families. Encourage it in children as well because this lockdown has been especially hard on their budding sense of community. There are many children who may come out feeling shy or being awkward after this pandemic is over. Prevent that by inculcating a habit of letting them network through supervised calls or meets. Vent, emote, and provoke others to talk. Human connection and support are crucial during these stressful and traumatic periods.

By Holding back major life decisions: You want to invest in property? Start a new venture? Or even change your child’s school? Hold onto that idea but act later when this pandemic is over. People are losing jobs or facing cutbacks. The government is trying hard to come up with ways to keep the economy afloat. Think twice before you make a major life decision because it could add to your stress levels. If it’s not urgent; if it won’t kill you, it can wait.

By Accepting and Acting upon the situation: When we can’t help ourselves in some matters it is useless to worry about it. In fact, it is better to get involved in the action of doing what is right at a given moment wherever we are. Trying to get back to our normal life in a new way is better than just feeling worried about the whole thing. Worrying, whining, cribbing and crying are unproductive attitudes that only add to your trauma without taking away from the problem.

By Relying on God: In the end, I always believe and trust that our God, the creator is always active and in control in every situation that goes on here on this earth. If God is not there, then trusting in Him won’t be harmful but if He exists then how wonderful is it to put our reliance on Him?

Trauma is as much a mental as it is a physical ailment and, in some cases, it is only about the mental abuse a person goes through. It is lucky that modifying the way we approach a problem is in our hands – we can do something to change our mindset. Without taking away from the grievous losses of those who have lost loved ones during this time, this pandemic is more of a psychological menace than a physical one. We are feeling alienated when we aren’t. Physical separation does not have to mean an emotional separation too. Besides, there are more cases of people recovering than people dying. Take heart in the fact that one can recover from this. Take heart in the fact that we have all learned to be self-sufficient, now taking only as much as we need. We have already started defeating the trauma inflicted by this virus by adapting ourselves. We all are strong survivors anyway as we were created and blessed by God to subdue the earth and have dominion over it wisely. And that is surely something to celebrate.

Collaboratively written by Chiradeep Patra and Pradita Kapahi

ERUPT – I

She stood there, can in hand, head reeling as though she were drunk.

Am I drunk?

She tried counting the shots she had downed since she entered the pub. 11, 12… 15? She wasn’t sure. But she wasn’t drunk, she was sure. Excited, maybe. Yeah… excited. That’s more like it! She knew she couldn’t get drunk, even if she drowned herself in a vat of liquor. Of course she’d never tested that belief. She was too good to ever do something as crazy as that. At best, drinking would just make her sleepy. She had always been proud of how she was born in a sophisticated family, was brought up with such high values, a pure vegetarian, teetotaler, had held her drink well when she was introduced to it by friends. But now, her tolerance to it had become an irritating matter. Because sometimes she wanted desperately to get drunk, and couldn’t. Like at flashy parties, or after fierce bedroom fights, or family blame games, or when she felt lonely. Drinking could never give her that false sense of peace that others craved.

Then what was the point? Why did you drink? 

She knew why. It was her Anniversary today.

(Image Credit: Google Inc.)

That’s why she was dressed in black, teetering on stilettos too high for her to handle, pouting with scarlet lips at the first group of twenty somethings she had found in the pub and recklessly befriended, as if they were her homies. She wanted a date to remember. It had to start with drinking because she wanted to test her limits. But damn these tiny pubs and their closing time. So the twenty-somethings suggested that they should do something stupid and crazy. And they dared her. Which is why she was staring at the stark white boundary-wall of the Courthouse. And because this night was all about testing her limits.

They were jeering her behind her back,  “Oh, I know she can’t do it…. She’s too tame. Too old for fun!” said the twenty something in the crew cut and slashed-at-the-thighs jeans.

The girl in the red slacks hissed, “C’mon… Before someone sees us!”

But that’s the point… To get noticed being bad, or else what fun is there in doing bad? 

Let’s start with it.

She shook the can in her hand, and approached the wall. With one firm hand she pressed a hand on her nose, and with the other, shaky hand, she pressed the nozzle on the spray paint can.

Pzzzzzzt!

A red mist began to form patterns on the wall. She let her imagination guide her hand as she painted the one word that came to her mind – Erupt!

She painted that one word over and over again, at several places on the wall. She wanted to remember this sensation, that word and what it meant to her tonight.

At last she stood back to look at her handiwork. She was still shaking, but now with excitement and pride. For the first time in years she felt alive. The loud hooting from the over-excited jackasses behind her was nothing compared to the gush of blood she could hear coursing in the veins of her ears, throbbing with an intensity that made her head ache.

“Oh my my, Auntyji, you’ve done it! Ha, you’re something!” That came from the guy in the bomber jacket, the one who had been eyeing her all night long. He was now right behind her, she could sense his warmth right through the gauze of her dress. She looked back at him, he looked down at her with a lewd smirk, and she said, ‘back off‘, in a tone so sour it could curdle milk in an instant. That wiped off his grin and he took a few steps back. Thank god he wasn’t that stupid.

Just then, the shrill sound of a whistle pierced their bubble of excitement. The twenty somethings started running, but she stayed glued to the spot. The guy in the bomber jacket made a last ditch effort at earning brownie points with her, “What are you waiting for? That’s a police constable. C’mon!” He stretched out a hand towards her.

She turned the other way and started walking towards the police constable

IN THE AFTERLIFE

No, no, this isn’t a preachy sermon about how you should prepare for life after death. Well actually, this is about that except its not your afterlife I’m asking you to prepare for, but for those you leave behind.

Life has no surety. Death, however, is a certainty. We can get any number of insurances and jeewan bimas but nothing can ever prepare us for the final moment of death, not even when science has quantified the days, months, years of our lives. It’s hard to accept that all this skin, sinew, these memories, these people and their love that we have, all that we cherish, will be lost to us. But its harder for those we leave behind because they face the void created by us. And since we live in a material world, material matters do affect families hard. Enter family feuds, frozen bank accounts with no nominees, property wars, divisions of men over matter. Cheap it may sound, but these realities of life after the death of the dearly departed is what families are left to grapple with over and above their grief.

Why not make life a little easier for them? Why not leave them with a Will that clearly defines ownership and management of your assets?

I can see you shaking your head. You’re saying:

  • I don’t have that much property;
  • My spouse knows all that I have;
  • My bank accounts have nominees;
  • My children are too good to fight over the property after I’m gone;
  • I have a portfolio/asset manager who will know what to do, or worse still,
  • Meh, I’m still young and healthy!

All these are valid statements, even the last one, but a Will does not take care of just your monetary assets, it pronounces your wishes on all your assets, yes, even your collection of books or shoes or your kitchen utensils that your bank/portfolio/asset manager will not concern themselves with.

I have my mother-in-law’s example to assert my point. My father-in-law died at the age of 55, at the height of his career, within three months of being diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. Needless to say, since it was sudden, his family couldn’t prepare for his departure, emotionally or otherwise. She was left with two years worth of struggles over bank accounts that had no nominees, some properties under his own name with no rights of joint ownership in the name of my mother-in-law, no mutation instructions about immovable assets, no power of attorney (POA) giving her authority to manage the assets, no knowledge of where or how his mutual funds were invested and a vacation notice from the government to vacate the government lodgings they had, all this while her two sons were still in school… and she herself was unemployed. Every time she approached a bank or a government authority she was asked to produce a valid will, a succession certificate, letter of administration or a POA, neither of which she had. So the general law concerning succession took over and we all know how long that takes! She suffered a lot because he would always tell her – there’s still plenty of time left to plan. I’m sure had he been alive he would have never wished such hardships on her.

A few figures for you to consider –

Not long ago, Daksha, an NGO that analyses the performance of the judiciary, published a report that said that out of all criminal and civil matters pending in courts in India, 66% were property related matters and 10% of them were family feuds over property*.

In my personal experience as a lawyer, land matters typically take anywhere between 5-50 years to resolve, sometimes even longer. A person’s next generation could be born and die within that kind of time-span. One family dispute I was involved in took as long as twenty years and that too only in the lower courts, and the parties were still willing to appeal to a higher court. The amount of time and resources such court cases waste is staggering! Besides, in India, if you die intestate i.e. without a will, the laws of succession (in case of Hindus, Parsis and Jains, it is the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Muslims have personal succession laws and Christians are covered by the Indian Succession Act, 1925) take over and they take a mighty long time to settle property on the rightful heirs.

Executing a will is thus not a futile exercise, especially when your assets are huge. It is a document that centralizes your assets and your wishes regarding the management of those assets in one document while avoiding legal tangles, delays and family feuds. A little planning at your end could ensure that your assets reach those you wished to bequeath them to at the right time.

In India, under the Succession Act, 1925, a will is defined as a legal declaration of the intention of a person with respect to his property, which he desires to take effect after his death.

Anyone of sound mind, not under the influence of intoxicants or under distress, over the age of 21 is capable of executing a will. Even a disabled person. More importantly, in India, it isn’t necessary for the will to be executed on stamp paper or registered even. Sure you can do that, it’s good practice. But even if you write –

“I want all my property to go to my children in equal parts,”

over a piece of paper, signed in your own hand before two or more witnesses, this bit of paper will also be treated as a valid will. But don’t do that. Seriously!

You can change your will as many times as you like in your lifetime, but once you die, your last executed will becomes the final word on your wishes.

A few things to consider before making a will –

Legal Advice: Consult a lawyer if you’re unsure about the legalities of certain types of assets, especially if your assets are many. Drafting (writing) a will is also an important aspect of making a will, one that you may not be well-equipped to do. Hence, consult a lawyer. There are sites online that offer you templates to make wills online and help you with other legalities pertaining to wills.

Avoid Duplication: There can be only one will at any given time. Try to include all your known assets in that single document because eventually only your last Will shall be considered your final will. Having too many copies related to different assets will defeat the purpose of making a Will. You can keep updating your will from time to time but ensure that each time you do so, you clearly mention that the last will stands revoked.

Minority of Beneficiaries: If you wish to bequeath something to minors (below the age of 18), appoint guardians on their behalf for the bequest.

Right Executor: An executor is someone who declares your will to your family and ensures that bequests in the will are properly disposed of. Appoint a person who is considerably younger than you, is capable and trustworthy for the job. Execution (the process of declaration and distribution) of wills is not required to be done before a court of law, but you could request for a Magistrate or a public notary from the authorities**.

Above all declare that you are making the will in sound mind, without duress or coercion, and in full control of your mental capacities.

There are no guarantees that making a Will will necessarily mitigate all legal issues and family problems arising therefrom, but you would have done your part in ensuring that your obligations towards your family have been fulfilled. You wouldn’t want them suffering or fighting amongst each other, I’m sure. Which is why you must invest in some time towards making your will.


** Importance of will and some essential points to be considered while making a will, Jagao Investor, November 14, 2010.

Image Source: RobVanDerMeijden for Pixabay.