Every year on 8th of March, when Women’s Day is celebrated we get rounds and rounds of motivational, peppy forwards singing paeans of praises or triumphs of the female species. There are also those naysaying forwards that troll Women’s day being celebrated for just one day in a year, and yet others, the He Vs. She ones coming in from the enemy camps cocking a snook at the nathanis in their lives, ruing the fact that not just one day, women rule them entire lifetime.
In this chaos of information, somewhere, we have all become so used to things being brought to our notice through crafted words, ad campaigns and sloganeering that like the famous Hindi quote, bagal me baccha aur gaaon mein dhindhora, we don’t see the power of SHE that is all around us. Touching our lives, shaping our lives, making our lives worth living. If we take a step back and see the women that pass us by, we will feel the essence of our being, some latent energy that gives us a glow from within. Some imperceptible greatness that is so positive and giving in nature that compels you to say to the ‘ordinary’ woman I am proud of you!!
I am so happy to be writing this piece and my keyboard is not able to keep pace with my thoughts and please excuse my ramblings if I go astray because I feel like Willy Wonka inviting all of you into the extraordinary world of the ‘ordinary’ woman.
Zindagi, aa rahi hoo mai…
Whichever way I start, by the woman who inspires me the most or the woman who amazes me with her simple but absolute power over her happiness quotient, She tops the chart!
She has beat cancer with a 30 percent beating heart after a massive heart attack a dozen years back. She annoyingly flirts with diabetes with her love for food and she complements her massive all-heart heart with her equally massive waist line. Her knees wobble if she stands for a few extra minutes. Her lungs pant for air with exertion. And this year she is crossing into the 70’s land.
I have just described my Mom! Asha Vakharia
With all things given, there is nothing in this world that can rob her of her zest for living… no cancer, no age and no physical discomfort.
Her plans are never too small. And she damn well goes for them. When the whole of Kashmir was snowed out a couple of years back, with a daytime temperature dipping to -12 in Pahalgam, she went alone to Srinagar and Pahalgam to enjoy SNOW! Our close friends in Kashmir took charge of her and she lived there like a local, taking refuge in the kangris to ward off frost, wearing the sheep wool capes with them, and playing in the snow like a 5 year old!
If this was not enough, last year she beat me to the la-la land of Lahaul-Spiti, traversing the most rugged terrain in the whole of India, rife with landslides and inhospitable weather conditions.
Even today she is very likely to wake up one morning and feel very ‘bored’ of the routine and nag my dad to drive her around a few hundred kilometers.
Her travel escapades are a pure reflection of her entire life and how she deals with the road blocks thrown her way. She just shrugs and moves on.
She was a strong woman, even before she knew she was one. Got married at 19, a mother at 20, hailing from Nagpur pushed into the big, busy city of Mumbai. She had the guts to dream a convent education for her children, when neither she nor her hubby nor anyone around her spoke a single word in English.
When my little brother Amit was denied admissions into Don Bosco High School for some reason, the way this simple woman used all saam-daam-dand to get it, should be a test case for MBA marketing! For an entire year, except a few Saturdays and Sundays, she would meet the Principal, Fr. Vaz without speaking a word of granting admissions. She would carry home-cooked theplas, mango pickles, just go and plain chit-chat, make friends with teachers…. Her intentions she had made very clear to all concerned. Take my child into your school. But no overt pressure, only covert operations J She told them I am middle-class, I don’t have money for donation, I no speak English, but I want my children to speak good English. At the end of the year, Fr. Vaz hugs her and says, Mrs. Vakharia, Middle class lady got admission for child!
That’s my mom, with her easy charm she is still our Go-To person, if we want to try some ’influence’. The three of us siblings and I might even dare to add-in my dad with us, owe everything we are to her and her guts and glory at dreaming and achieving big. When even a fine dine outing was out of bounds for us, my mom would take us to 5 Star hotels to savour the experience. With a Rs. 200 budget we would order a pot of Tea and enjoy being there with the feeling that we belonged there. That and in so many other ways she has raised such confident and secure children, with grace and triumph.
The best thing about my mom though, is her childlike enthusiasm. Till date, my parents house where they live alone, has the brightest star in Diwali, and in the days preceding Holi, don’t pass by my house, for all you know she will be waiting with bucketful of water balloons that she will cheekily lob at you, while she stands there and smiles innocently, like that surely can’t be her!!
My mother inspires me not just to live, but to experience life!
The child who couldn’t smile
Who would have thought that this little human who came into this earth just a few years back would be such a big source of strength and my raison d’etre. As an infant, Gia, my 9 year old, my daughter who fills in all the gaps left by a sister I never had, my dadi ma, my inner voice talking in my ears over a loud speaker, was once a child who could not smile.
In just a few days after her birth, a detected muscle tone tightness in her limbs took us on a harrowing trip to one of the most experienced neo-natal specialist who, in a matter of a few minutes announced her doubts about Gia being a mongloid (abnormal) child. Why? Because at so-many-weeks landmark, she should have ‘smiled’ to stimulus!! And Gia hadn’t. A whole battery of tests were prescribed for the just born. Get her brain checked, get her ears checked, her eyes checked, start her on physio-therapy. With no word of comfort coming from such an accomplished doctor, we had our world come crashing down on us on that longest ever drive from her clinic to home.
In the car, my eyes that looked at Gia changed. I saw this helpless child who could not smile! I saw frown lines on her forehead, her lips contorted to cry any minute. I remember thinking horrible things, being angry at God but I failed to see Gia through all this. And then her spirit shone through the mist of my eyes. She was learning to be a reflection of me. I was passing on my frowns of worry to her. She was looking up to me, learning from me how to react in this new world of hers. Thank God for that realization. I remember my exact words to her, I straightened out her worry lines and I smiled at her. My flashiest smile and through my tears I told her we are in this together, and we will learn how to smile through this. And I kept straightening her worry lines. That day, the next, the next. And I kept smiling. And then the slow starter, suddenly jump started! Gia learns to smile!! And how!!
From that day on till she was about 4, there wasn’t a single day in her life, I am not kidding, when she cried. She almost had no inkling about the emotion of crying. In the passage of those 4 years my infant-toddler underwent soo much. 2.5 years of intensive physio therapy since she was 27 days old, all kinds of BERA and eye check ups, neuro opinions, the works!! But wherever she walked in she got a smile out of every single person she made eye contact with. She has been a very happy and smiley child. So much for not smiling on that fateful day! And as God favours the brave and smiling, all her tests resulted negative. There was never anything amiss with Gia. She just smiled a few days late.
Just as the day she smiled became landmark for me, the day she really cried became one too. We were in Kashmir and playing in snow, and Gia was very exhausted and all. So to cheer her up, I put some ice in her clothes!! And she oh so bawled!! Real tears came out of those doe shaped eyes and I clicked her pic while she was crying and she was getting so angry with me 🙂
That pic remains my favourite pic of hers till date. The day Gia learned to cry. Now, she has a tie up with some Arabic pipeline which provides her tears on demand, but that’s a story for another day!
Cut to today, Gia hates to see worrylines on my forehead. When she sees them she comes and eases them out very gently and says to me, mumma you don’t look good when you frown! And I couldn’t agree more.
So Gia is the 1000 watt power behind that smile of mine that my friends love so much! My daughter inspires me to survive with a smile!
Deepa Krishnan: the self-inventing woman of substance
Have you heard that Akbar-Birbal story of the man who was condemned to spending a cold night in waist deep water? He kept himself warm by looking at a campfire burning on the bank of the river. Well, my association with Deepa is quite like that. I have never met her, but I keep reading her posts on FB. I keep myself motivated by following her life’s journey on what little is visible on social networking platforms.
I first got to know Deepa from Trip Advisor. Whenever I would reach out to any travel forum on Trip Advisior, there would be posts and replies to queries from Deepa Krishnan. And I used to be amazed. How much she seems to have travelled. She is like this expert on so many places. I was in awe of her.
Then I started following her on FB. Only there did I realize that we were alumni buddies, she was from Podar College too.
Over the years, I saw her reinventing herself every couple of years. I would say, she kept adding deeper and deeper hues to her already vibrant personality. From travels to food trip and reviews, to organizing Mumbai city tours and then even multi-city tours… Her love for saris and Indian fabrics and the tasteful manner in which she carries herself has been a tutorial for me in grace and living it up to being a woman.
But, what makes me doff my hat to her in respect is her work and activities with the tribals in remote villages. And how she is now using her resources to bring development and employment to the villages she adopts. Deepa, you probably don’t know this, but you are a great source of inspiration to many women like me.
Deepa Krishnan teaches me that you don’t need to be a slogan mouthing rebel to transpire a change in society. She inspires me to love myself and love what I do. J
I don’t know the name of this wonderful woman. And I have just met her for a few minutes on this last photogpraphy tour I went to in Satara. But in those few minutes, she floored me with her commitment and love for her son!
With one of the most unassuming personality, Siddheshchi Aai, is one of those dozens if not hundreds of women you come across, who leave a mark of respect for them in your minds by them just doing what they do with utmost sincerity and commitment.
Siddhesh is a budding photographer studying in 12th grade. While, both his parents are practicing doctors in Nasik, Siddhesh from very early on showed a keen interest and passion for photography. That is about the only background I know about them. Siddhesh chi aai, had driven down from Nasik with Siddhesh to this photography workshop in Satara and after the workshop was taking him to Bhigwan, and two other places around Maharashtra and Karnataka border where her son could practice or shoot his best pics. All she was doing was accompanying him, by her own admission, she knows nothing about photography. But she does all she can so that her son gets all the opportunity to fuel his passion.
From next year, Siddhesh is going to attend a full time photography college in Mumbai, thanks to the research of his mother and probably his father too.
To me, and my hubby, when I told my hubby about her, she is the epitome of motherhood. Or maybe, she is a person who values and worships passion. Looking at her, I doubt if the parents had ever had a conversation with the son trying to dissuade him from following his hearts calling and talking him into becoming a doctor like them. They could have easily told him, become a doctor first, and you can always pursue photography as a hobby.
But by giving importance to their son’s passion, Siddhesh chi aai has showed me that my child is not my ownership. I have been granted a limited-time guardianship of my child, till she learns to fly. And it is not my place to tell her which direction she should take her flight in. Siddhesh chi aai inspires me to be a trustee of my child’s development and not a looming shadow.
Anjali Bhagwat, my ex-scientist roomie cum photographer friend
Like Deepa and Siddheshchi aai, Anjali is yet another lady who I have known for the briefest of time. Anjali was with me in the same photography workshop I attended in Satara. We were also travel partners and later we were even roomies for the night.
We hardly had any personal conversation. Only, by the end of the trip some time I got to know that she used to be a scientist at BARC and she had opted for an early retirement. To pursue her love for photography!
She is quite a live wire and I guess she must be at least a decade older than me. That would surely put her in her 50’s.
To find a new passion at half a century, to me that calls for some respect. Take a bow Anjali. She is taking such pains to learn the ropes of shooting correctly, learning new softwares, upgrading her techniques.
From her FB profile I know that she is a mother and wife and must damn well have her hands full of responsibilities. But, I loved the way she was all unto herself devoid of all the other roles she must be simultaneously essaying while she pursued being a photographer. I loved it the way, she was just Anjali the budding photographer and not Dr. Anjali the scientist or Mrs. Anjali Bhagwat the wife or mother.
Anjali teaches me that it is never too late to get a new passion. She also teaches me to not get trapped in roles and titles. She inspires me to be ME first, then a mother and a wife.
Like the five women I wrote about, there are so many more friends, acquaintances, ex-colleagues, neighbours, family members whose stories float around my head. Whose lives are exemplary of the great reserves of strength and energy that come so naturally with the package of being born a Woman.
Like that 40 something friend of mine who is a single mom to her two small girls. She doesn’t need to wear the pants in her house, her flowing skirt is good enough to brush off her marriage gone wrong and curtsy a bow to a fresh new beginning.
Or that cousin of mine who fought like a gladiator against the cancerous lions who had come to devour her love of her life, her husband. Single handedly, the expat fought tooth and nail seeking treatment for her husband from the finest doctors of London and Mumbai for a year, spending their entire life-savings while their only daughter had to be stationed at her sister’s. She lost her husband to cancer but continued to live with a new resolve for her daughter. Rebuilding her life from scratch! Emotionally and financially. Today, the daughter is a brilliant, super achiever for her age and she has her mom to thank for that.
Or this mom-friend of mine, Saroj, whose husband is in Merchant Navy and she’s at port, holding the fort, raising not one, but two chotu kids, like she’s some nursery veteran. We moms look up to her advice in dealing with parenting issues, while she herself is a young woman, much younger than some of us.
So many stories abound celebrating womanhood. Yes, the men in our lives to have an X factor (XY chromosome), but it’s not for nothing that we are the double XX!!
PS: It would be great if you can add your stories to mine and tell us about the interesting women who inspire your lives. It could be a line, a para, a page. Go for it! As and how I get your stories, I will add them to this post so that we can save it for posterity.