Why is everyone So obsessed with the new year? What is so enticing about a year that hasn’t even begun? Why the hurry to rush it in? Only God knows what it will bring!
Amidst all this fanfare for the new year, I wish to talk about the year that has gone by! 2016… The year we had rung in with so much enthusiasm just 12 months back. For most Indians, the ‘year of demonetization’ and for me the year that came after a long wait of 32 years.
January 84, my dad left my sis (two years my junior) and me in a girls hostel. It was a difficult decision – for him and a fate we had no choice but to accept for us.We were eight and six years old respectively. Still coming to terms with our moms death. A little scared at this new turn of events and filled with a fear that we were being abandoned by a parent again!
The fancy school we were admitted to, had a huge campus, playgrounds, swimming pool, art school, modern science labs, a horde of well trained teachers. But it had not one person who was interested in what my sister and I felt or how we were coping with the huge transitions that had taken place in our short lives. We were reprimanded often – for not making our hair neatly , or not wearing the proper uniform. But no one ever asked us why we were not properly dressed or why we stayed mostly by ourselves. Unwelcome and alien in this strange new environment. We were each others only support system. Yet we were forced to stay separately in our age appropriate hostels. The ‘school rule book’ would not bend to accommodate our childish needs.
It was around then that a desire rose in my heart. A desire to be someone who would talk to kids. Reach out to them and really spend time to understand what they felt and thought. I had no idea what that meant. The word ‘counselor’ was not in my dictionary yet and I suspect not in the vocabulary of most adults of that time either.It was a dream that I nurtured. In class XI I fought hard to take humanities with psychology instead of science like ‘good students’ were expected to. I studied psychology till post graduation. And just when the dream was tantalizingly close it shimmied off again.
This time of my own doing. I got married to my best friend and his dreams became mine. Family circumstances and the confines imposed by living in a small city made it difficult for me to pursue my calling. Over the next 18 years along with my life partner I built a moderately successful business, had two wonderful super-achieving kids. We traveled. I wrote. I worked with NGOs to answer my itch for ‘giving’.
In a way I had everything! Though the childhood dream still lay tucked away in my heart it was never intense enough for me to take any action. I became complacent.
Around then my children left for boarding schools. Getting re-acquainted with campus life I realized that though outwardly a lot had changed over these years, yet some things had remained the same. Children still struggled to be understood and heard. I felt the tug once more. This time I decided to ignore it no more and take the plunge.
Though my psychology degrees stood firm I was determined to be updated with latest methodologies and so I went back to college. At 40, I was back to being a roll number. I studied hard. Sat through boring lectures. Made notes, discovered photocopy shops again, had tea in canteens and studied all night to finish assignments and take exams. I cleared top of the class. It felt exhilarating.
Then came the time for internships . This was even more difficult and somewhat humiliating. In one of the clinics I interned at I was relegated to eating on the outer bench. “Interns don’t eat with staff psychologists’. I would like to say that didn’t hurt, but it did. I had degrees equivalent if not more than most of the ‘staff’. For a day I thought about giving up and returning to my town, where I was ‘Ma’am’ and made the rules! But I stuck on.
This was not about my ego. I wasn’t here to pass an exam and fulfill paper requirements to get a ‘good job’. I was here to fulfill a commitment and I wouldn’t let my bruised ego stand in the way of that. I gritted my teeth and stayed in guest houses and mediocre hotels , traveled overnight trains to spend just 12 hours with my kids. Till the day I felt I finally knew enough.
Knowledge is never ending but when I was able to hold my own and understand every jargon being spoken in a room full of experienced counselor’s I returned home. This time to work.I took up work in a residential school for boys. The pay is less then I give to most of the staff I employ in my business but the satisfaction is huge.
Picture this. I reach my office at school and find a class twelve boy waiting for me outside the door. He looks desolate. As soon as I open the door and let us in. He slumps into a chair looking defeated. ” I am unable to focus on my studies” he tells me. ” why is that?” I ask. Over the next fifteen minutes he tells me that he has recently got news that his elder sister has died. He hadn’t shared this with anyone. “What should I do M’am?”, he asked barely keeping his composure. “What do you feel like doing?” I asked. “I feel like crying” he said barely containing his sobs. “It is okay to cry. Sometimes that’s what we need.”
He did! He cried quiet tears that spoke of intense grief. He recounted to me stories about his sister. We met everyday for a week, sometimes in the office, other times hurriedly in the school corridor. And then a few days ago when I was crossing his classroom I heard him laugh. A hearty happy laugh , that filled me with warmth.
Life for me has come full circle.
The desire that had come to me when I was not even nine got fulfilled this year. A promise I had made to myself 32 long years back was finally kept.
Thank You 2016! The gifts that you gave me will be cherished forever.