Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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Revisiting a Scary Place

Can’t drive, don’t have a job and hanging on to the last shred of sanity. That pretty much describes my situation today. And I’ve been there before – in some other place, at some other time in my life. And it is a scary place to be. What’s even scarier is the belief that you are helpless and cannot get out of it. The last time I was there I truly believed – this was it! This is how my life would be till my dying day. Which is stupid in retrospect.

This time around I know I can get out of this temporary rut but just don’t know the rules. New place, new rules. Till I master the rules I can’t win in the game of life.

Opportunity knocks, I answer and then the door is slammed in my face. Sometimes no one is at the door and it opens to a blank wall. I just don’t get it sometimes. If you put in the right effort shouldn’t the right results show up eventually? Seems like things have an uncanny way of working in this part of the world or the rules have changed since the last time I was here.

So I slowly drift day in and day out, my energy ebbing, my soul aching for something I cannot articulate and prayer remains my only reprieve. Some days even prayer cannot save me from succumbing to what I call my ‘dark moods’.

Self-esteem issues are intricately wrapped around the work you do and the remuneration you get for it. The last time I was in that scary place it took me nearly a decade to pick myself up and go after my dreams. A lurking fear that I haven’t yet given voice to is, what if it again takes me that long to get out of this situation. I shudder to even think of that possibility. It reminds me of the frog in the well that climbs two feet only to slip back one foot. Only an act of divine grace can send a rope down for the frog to hold on to and be pulled up to safety. For the frog has tried so hard and yet finds itself at the bottom of that impossible well.

My patience has all but worn out in two months, when before an entire decade passed without so much as a whimper. In times like these I wish I had the faith of a mustard seed or a drumstick tree. Drumstick tree you ask? Let me elucidate.

As I washed and prepared a dish of fresh drumstick leaves from our garden, I marveled at the drumstick tree. When we got here three months back, the tree had grown beyond the terrace, with its branches lazily hanging over it. A ladder was all we needed to pick fresh drumstick leaves and tender, sweet drumsticks for sambar.

One rainy night, strong winds lashed outside, making the drumstick tree sway precariously. A strong gust was enough to break it in half. The next morning the entire tree with its drumsticks and leaves lay on the ground. Only a small part of the trunk and the roots withstood the storm. We consoled ourselves saying that its roots were strong and it soon grow back to its original glory. Its roots were indeed strong and in a couple of days we saw sprouts emerging from the knobby trunk. Fresh, bright green, tender sprouts growing with a vengeance. In a matter of weeks we had enough leaves for our weekly meal of drumstick leaves dal. I drew strength from the tree which had lost everything it had worked for. Every single leaf was gone, every single fruit had fallen to the ground. And yet the tree did not whine, complain or get depressed. It didn’t give up and die. It jumped back to life with a renewed vigor. I may be imagining this but it seems to be growing faster than ever before.

After making the dish I went into the garden and stood in front of the tree as if to soak up some of its courage, grit and determination. My burdens felt lighter and I walked back to the house with a smile playing on my lips.


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The Escape Artist

Avoid. Delay. Procrastinate. Distract. Quit. Run. This is what I do when things don’t go my way. It’s always easier than confronting the problems. Or so I thought till I learned it the hard way. I ran away to Pondicherry to do my M.S. thinking that my problems would stay behind in Chennai. But they followed me like dark shadows, haunting me and threatening to suck all the joy out of me. Soon all these emotions got transferred to Pondicherry and it became equally unbearable for me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I ran back into the arms of my family. For a while things were ok but soon the same issues raised their ugly heads again and mocked me.

This time there was no where to run and no place to hide. I withdrew and my thoughts began to consume me. As my thoughts grew darker it blotted out all the light and I pushed away all the people I used to care about. I also had nothing to do. It was mid-year and I had to wait another six months before I could enroll in any college or university. The only way to escape the pain and misery was to quit this life. As though another better one would be offered to me on a silver platter the moment I exited! If I had waited it out I would have realized that all was not over and that I would indeed go on to do my Masters and get married to a good man.

With wedding bells came another chance to get out of Chennai and go to the U.S. Life out there is hard especially if you don’t know anyone and don’t have a career to drown yourself in. So the urge to escape back to India and to the life I knew grew stronger in me. But the thought of whisking away my kids from the comforts of the U.S. kept me from acting on it. Also my husband was not ready to move back – yet. So I gritted my teeth and went on.

But old habits have a way of resurfacing and soon I wanted to escape the cold in Boston and go to a warmer place. Like say Florida. But again in Florida things were not exactly as I wanted them to be. My obsession with having a perfect life kept me unhappy no matter where I was or what the circumstances were. It was only in Seattle that I finally made peace with the fact that nobody has it perfect (even though they appear to be so).

Life in Chennai is very challenging given that we lived a pretty easy life in the U.S. Yes, there were no maids but I had appliances to do everything. The house never got this dusty or messy. The weather was good as opposed to the blistering heat here. Some days I want to run away to the U.S. like the escape artist that I am, but I can’t. Because deep inside I know that it is not the outside environment that matters but the one inside. Easier said than done especially if you are living in Chennai!

If there is one thing about the U.S. that I really admire, it is the never-say-die attitude of the people. They don’t quit very easily no matter how tough things get. They don’t ignore problems but actively seek solutions. So I feebly hold on to those lofty ideals.

It’s tempting to run away and be rid of mosquitoes, ants and heat waves. Seems like Chennai will be the ultimate test for me. Will I stay or will I escape? Only time can tell…