When my son was in pre-nursery and I went to pick him up from school, he would routinely be thrilled to see me. One day, as I held him in my lap and walked to the car, he told me, with all the earnestness of a 3 year old, ‘Ma, you are so beautiful’. I have been told many things by many people, but never beautiful. Even when dating, my husband never could tell me that, and I use the term could advisedly. He simply could not because he is brutally honest and I was not, have never been, beautiful. Which was fine with me, I was not responsible for my looks and I do not believe in feeling proud about something I did not do. That day however, I learnt something. I learnt that even if one person tells me, ‘you’ve made my day’, it does make my day. I’ve learned also, that a smile is the most inexpensive way to improve one’s looks (OK, I feel self-conscious when pictures are taken, but I laugh and smile a lot in real life). I’ve learned, through being a mother, and before that an aunt, that having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world (especially after the child has given you hell while you tried getting him to sleep )
My dad used to tell me, when I only listened to Indian film songs or pop songs in English, that the music which has instant appeal and is a rage, is never the music which stays with you. The music which stays is the music which touches one’s soul. I used to snigger at Rabindrasangeet and classical music as a teenager. Now I cannot think of a life without them. He also told me the same thing about any creative work – the more racy numbers are forgotten easily, but the ones which stay are the ones with real music/tunes and not loud rhythm. That is why I can still play Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and remember the words of every Kishore Kumar/Lata/Asha song I knew, every Rabindrasangeet, down to their last words, and can’t remember the hits from last year. And I then knew that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person. And if it’s your father or mother, it is heaven.
My brother, when he was a kid, used to beg my parents for money so he could buy me presents. I used to tell him not to do so, to only give me presents when he could earn it. I thought I was being wise, those several times. So he would buy me presents from his NTS scholarship, and in doing so, he did not, probably, buy things he wanted to for himself. But we have grown older and now can afford many things we could not when we were kids, and it breaks my heart when I think of all the presents I could have had from him to treasure, because he is no more. That was my lesson to never say no to a gift from a child and that being kind was more important than being right. In my world, it is, still.
Much later in life, when my world fell apart, I remember several of my friends not coming to visit me because they did not know what to say or how to face me. And I remember also that one other friend wanted to not come but her mother forced her to, and she was with me day after day, just there, saying nothing. Years later, I remember her kindness and also remember the many who were not there for me. I also remember even I used to, before that, give the same excuse of ’oh-my-god-how-can-i-face-him/her’ and not go to a person in a crisis. I have learnt that when I don’t have the strength to help in any other way, I still can help. Sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.
When I was a teenager and conforming was important, I used to be resentful when I did not have the right clothes or thought I was being looked down upon by friends because our house did not have the ACs and we posh clothes. I am so acutely aware of the gratefulness I feel because we did not get everything we asked for, because money does not buy class and it is more important to be honest than to be rich. My dad goes to his erstwhile office to get his medical expenses etc and nearly 20 years after retirement, people still stand up, meet him and everyone rushes to greet him and and it is these small daily details that make life spectacular. And my dad loves it, and we are proud of it, and I realize he is too. One would not have thought these small things would matter to someone like him. But I know that under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved. He has given so much of his life to others, his brothers and sisters, many of whom do not even acknowledge it. It used to rile me a lot, their lack of gratitude when the very fact that they are in their posh houses and svelte cars because of this one man who sacrificed his own lifestyle and his children’s, for them. To my dad it did not matter, and my stand was, if you ignore the facts the facts don’t change. I still remember the calm in his voice when he said that if you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you and they have the power over you. He taught me that love, not time, heals all wounds and if you harbour bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.
He can’t suffer fools, though. Neither can I. I hide it better, and in that, am probably more evolved. When I tell my son that being too competitive is not good, I don’t know if I am being honest or right. When he was in nursery, doing his life’s first sports day, they had a race where their shirts were kept half way down the line and the kids were supposed to pick them up, wear their shirts and run to the finish line. While all the kids dashed and wore their shirts even as they ran, my poor little son concentrated totally on wearing his shirt properly, button up and then he ran. And he finished last, obviously. Thinking of how traumatized his failure must have made him, I praised his running when I went to pick him up from his class, saying, ‘beta, you ran so well, I am so proud of you’. He looked at me with something akin to pity in his eyes (what- an- idiot- I- have- for- a- mother look) and said, “ma, I came last, okay?” I remembered then what my dad taught me, that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am. The competitive spirit works well then. Of course, the perspective should not be lost, that was there.
Life is tough and to succeed, one must be tougher. Opportunities are never lost, if we miss it, someone else will take them, simple. But equally, if everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, the true happiness and growth happens while you are climbing it