There’s a nip in the air – the kind you feel in a hill station. I’m enjoying my morning walks in the neighbourhood park. The sun rises these days at around 6.00 a.m. and we leave the house at 6.20 a.m. The gates to the park are open at this time, but the guard on our side of the park arrives later. The coconut vendor who sits at the entrance comes at around 7 a.m. He keeps the stock of unsold coconuts under a tarpaulin sheet overnight – it makes me think that this place might just be safe or how else could he leave his ware unattended.
I enter the park – it has the morning smell of grass, leaves, and tree bark. The girls who clean the park aren’t in yet, which is a good thing because it means that I can walk without breathing in the cloud of dust they create when they sweep the walking and cycling path of dried leaves. There are others in the park – a few early risers like us. We pass by a group of four women whose heads and faces are covered. Their abayas flow around them in waves as they walk. The wind blows the dried leaves to the ground – they twirl gracefully like gymnasts and gently land on the ground. If they were participating in competitive sports, that landing would give them a 10 on 10. I feel the wind on my naked arms – it gives me goosebumps. It’s the beginning of winter. A squirrel scurries across. It’s different from the squirrels in India – it does not have the three white lines running down its back from its head to its tail. I remember a story I read as a child. Lord Ram had stroked the squirrel, and the three lines represent his fingers on its back.
I have been feeling a little lost the last few days. I don’t know if it’s got to do with this time of the year and the questions the December wind carries with it. I have been questioning my existence – ‘what is my purpose?’ I know it’s a little too early to feel like this. I haven’t even touched fifty. I wish I knew the secret to how people find meaning in their lives in their sixties, seventies and eighties and nineties. What is it that gets them out of bed? I have not felt this way before, and I never thought I would, considering there have always been so many things I’ve wanted to do in life. I wonder if I left my job too soon. But, if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to live as a family together. One of us had to step back so the other could move forward, and so we could continue enjoying the little things in life- the things I cherish, like having our evening tea together, going on our morning walks, and being there for dad when he needed me. It wouldn’t have been possible had I decided to stay on. I don’t regret my decision. And yet, there’s a feeling of unease, a sense of loneliness, the feeling of things coming to a halt, and of wondering what’s next?
I see six magpies congregate in the grass alongside the walking path and I think, ‘One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for letter and Six for,” I do not remember. I want to take a picture of them, but I haven’t carried my phone with me. I don’t carry it on my walks generally. I find it distracting. It keeps me from soaking in the present. The birds are nibbling on something on the ground – fallen seeds, worms.
Maybe I need to lay low for some time to hibernate. Isn’t that what winter is all about – take stock, rest, and get ready before spring sets in. Maybe I need to focus on just being. I have decided to continue my walks, do yoga, meditate, exercise – anything to keep going, and I hope this feeling of despondency will pass. Nature has always been my saviour. Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from the greatest teacher and slow down – not stop, but slow down and reassess life, focus on things and relationships that matter and let go of all that only burdens the soul. My baggage is far lighter now than it was four years ago – I have lost people I love, and some I’ve let go of because carrying them along did not serve any purpose except create an unnecessary, fake commitment. There is still a lot of unnecessary baggage I carry in the form of expectations from those who have never been there for me. My children say it must be some karmic connection or why else would someone like me not be able to see right through. Maybe they’re right. These days there’s a lot I learn from the children and yet, sometimes, all the wisdom in the world is not enough for the heart to accept.
It’s 7.00 a.m. now. A few children have come to the park. It’s Friday — the first day of the weekend here. The children are playing in the play area – the sound of laughter fills the air and mingles the chirping of birds. Not so long ago, we, too, made it a point to take the children to the park and watch them play. We ensured it despite our busy schedules and with no external help to raise the kids. That was the interim period when they were little, and mom had just passed; before dad arranged for a nanny for the kids. It was always ‘dad to the rescue.’ Perhaps, that is the gnawing emptiness I feel. Especially at this time of the year – because it is when he breathed his last. I miss them very much. I’m flooded with guilt. I need to stop thinking as a daughter – that part of my life is over. I need to be the mother my mother was – be there for the children when they call and pray they become independent and find their path. That is my purpose – to pray. For who else can pray for a child as much and as generously as a mother. I told my younger one this a few months ago when she was having her exams. I said, ‘that’s an orphan’s biggest loss- not having someone who will pray for them selflessly.’ The other day when we visited the temple and we took nine rounds around the Navagraha, she said, she’s been dedicating one round to orphans the world over. ‘For someone has to pray for them too,’ she said. I was surprised. And I realized I still had it in me to mould two beautiful minds. That was and is my purpose.
On the basketball court, girls are playing in one half of the court and boys in the other half. A small man in a sky blue t-shirt, white beard, ankle-length pants, and a skull cap passes me. His steps are small and constant. It’s faster than a walk but too slow to be called a jog. He reminds me of the tortoise in the ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ story we read as children. I’m inspired to break into a slow jog. There’s a banner in the park on some reading happening. They’ve put colorful crepe paper up as decoration. It excites me. The words, ‘stories’, ‘reading’ and ‘park’ sounds magical. It’s nice to feel like this way again.
I want to feel excited about life and feel inspired to write, paint, travel, and look forward to each new day. I remember back in 2019, eight months after I left my job, I was excited about the myriad things that I could do with my time. It’s when I began painting. I would look at work by different artists and feel excited about the amount there was to learn – I felt one life just wasn’t enough. I remember feeling as I browsed through books in the library – so many books to read – where do I begin? And when we planned our holidays – so many destinations to choose from. I felt alive in every cell of my body.
However, over the last two months in Dhaka, that feeling had gotten replaced with, ‘Who cares if I paint or read or write?’ and ‘What am I doing this for anyway?’ I began feeling disconnected. Saying it seems unfair to those who love me – my sweet girls (who make me wonder every single day what I did right to get them), my husband (who is kind, patient and simply the sweetest man) and my younger sister (who is a call away). I hate feeling morose all the time. Then, I think if the planets have an impact on us, then why not the seasons? I am fighting autumn and the loss of loved ones. But if summer and spring have to come, then autumn and winter must too. It’s life.
Around the corner is a cute tea stall. It looks inviting but it’s closed. I suppose it opens only in the evenings.
My mantra this winter is to repeat to myself, ‘I am relevant.’ I have had to consciously remind myself that my parents didn’t stop living when they lost their parents, and my dad carried on even after losing mom. I have to remind myself that having a job, being married, or having children did not stop me from needing my mom and that dad’s presence made me feel secure even when he had become feeble. It’s not essential to be ‘doing’ something to feel needed. Sometimes, just being is all that matters. Who knew I, of all people, would need reminding or end up being at crossroads like this? But, then who really knows the future or the next moment even? It’s important to tell yourself that no matter what you will bounce back even if you find yourself all alone. We owe that to ourselves and to the beautiful gift of life God has given us.
It’s 7.30 a.m. I step out of the park to return home. The bread man is standing on the other side of the road – the door to his tin container that holds the stock of bread is open and ready for sale. A few meters away from him, a lady stands with a flask. She’s selling tea. I take a turn into the lane leading home.
I’m feeling better. I work best with plans and goals. That’s just who I am. I have decided to set daily reading and painting goals for myself. I realize I need to discipline and train my wild brain to do all the things I loved doing before I began feeling this way. It may take time but given all the odds, I’m confident of being better at trying than most people I know.
The fact that I’m writing this post today is that I may have found some clarity to this existential or mid-life crisis I find myself in.
It’s the fifth day since I began the ritual of painting, reading, and writing religiously. I have sent eight poems to 3 publications. I have heard in the affirmative from two of them. But it will be some time before it’s published as it’s the end of the year- the time to close books, celebrate the year gone, and re-energize oneself for the coming year. I finished another oil painting – my second one (which I’ll share in another post). I wasn’t too sure about it, but those who’ve seen it said they liked it. So it must be okay. I’ve started reading ‘The odd book of baby names.”” I hope to finish it by Christmas eve before we travel to India for the holidays.
I wish all of you a very happy, introspective December. In case you’ll have been feeling like me, don’t get disheartened. Take a step back and see your life from the periphery- where you are and where you’d like to be. That’s what December is all about. Take stock. Whatever you do, don’t stop believing in yourself. Like P.B. Shelley said, ‘ Oh Wind! If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Love to all of you
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