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Not that it wasn’t possible earlier, I just did not have the wish and will to carry it out. But now I know. One Life. And miles to go before I sleep.
In a joint orthodox Marwari family grew up a little girl with three siblings. No fancy holidays, no fancy parties, no fancy toys or dresses, just a basic, middle class, comfortable childhood is what she had.
In an otherwise conservative patriarchal household, education somehow found a place of pride, even for girls. While daily living was ordinary, the schooling was extraordinary, in the best school in town. Being an industrial township, the ethos was cosmopolitan and progressive.
Home and school were the only two places the girl ever knew. The school became her window to the world, the rose-tinted lens through which she could see a more beautiful picture and a brighter future. With a canvas so vast, it’s only fair that she painted like no one was watching, dreaming of a life very different from the one at home. But once back home, she wasn’t so sure if the dream would ever come true. Yet she didn’t stop hoping and dreaming. She was hard working and sincere and made her parents proud by excelling in her studies, consistently. Success was hers to have, or so thought everyone, including myself.
Joys were simple, a ‘Thums up’ on getting a rank, odd ice cream for a merit card, rare chocolate on winning in the elocution. Eating out was only at friends’ houses or at weddings. Limited play time, limited play area and no television meant studies and more studies for me and my siblings. Friendly banter and silly games with siblings concluded the day. Most days of my childhood were a replica of the day gone by. Oh! The quaint appeal of the childhood in the late eighties.
Change is the only constant. Even though it came late, come it did. From an all-girls school, I moved to a co-ed. The big change was being with so many boys. Till now the only boys I had spoken to were my brothers or within family and friends. It took me a lot of time to get used to the opposite sex and enjoy the difference between an all-girls school and an all-boys school. But I did get used to it all and made some really good friends.
Despite my father’s wishes to keep me protected in a cocoon forever, the butterfly had to fly out when it outgrew the cocoon. Life was unfolding at lightning speed and it was a thrill to match pace with it.
On the one hand, was studies that would decide my career and my life and on the other, it was the hormones, that had a mind of their own. Television had made an entry too and was the source of distraction it aimed to be. Slowly it dawned on me that life was so much more than just books and information. There were so many things to know and learn and so many different ways. I tried my level best to balance and stay focused but it wasn’t easy. Making up for the lost time of fun and frolic had become a priority and studies had taken a backseat.
Around this time, I wish I had known that engineering or medical isn’t the only career choice for good students. I was especially good in languages and literature, Hindi and English both. Scored highest in both papers, but sadly, scored highest in other subjects too. Small town, limited information and narrow thought process led to one of the major regrets of my life. Choosing to do engineering despite not having the aptitude for it. With sincerity, I could score marks but could not work up the aptitude required to solve the tough ‘Irodov’ problems that would help me crack the IIT.
Soon, riding high on the ‘good student’ label, I jumped aboard the Computer Engineering ship. My first biggest mistake. A good part of it all was being allowed to go to a hostel, that it was in a god forsaken place was another story. With a stretch on finance and the weight of the family’s prestige on my tiny shoulders, I set sail and tried to remain afloat. Icebergs came in the form of complex subjects, homesickness, hostel dramas, relationship dramas and the biggest of all, the annual exam. Managed to somehow scrape through all the icebergs and reach the port.
Once at the port, I realised, I had been on the wrong ship all along. But the ship had sailed and I could not hop onto it for a ride to a new destination. If I had the gumption to own my mistake and move ahead, I might have changed the course of my life. Instead, just to be safe and comfortable, I followed the predefined path. My second biggest mistake. Took up a corporate job, did nine to five and was happy to finally make my own money. Growing up through hardships and limited means, there was virtue in this mistake.
Before I knew it, I was part of the rat race. Being a girl, a Marwari from an orthodox family, marriage was also a race to be completed before others of my age overtook me. Running to the office, doing the unexciting IT job, getting married and enjoying the new money soon became my routine. I got stuck in a rut. Around this time, I had been shortlisted by a premier radio company via a random audition in a booth at a MacDonalds. This was the time radio was beginning to make a mark as an entertainment medium and I had the talent for it, endorsed by Radio Mirchi, no less. But what did I do? I looked the other way and ignored this huge opportunity to continue doing what I was used to. I thought all these entertainment shenanigans are not for common people like me. My third biggest mistake.
Needless to say, these three mistakes impacted the course of my life majorly. Lacking love and passion for technology, my heart was not in the job. The moment I had my first baby, I took a sabbatical. Resumed work, struggled. Quit. Took another job, and struggled. Had a second child. Said goodbye to a non-inspiring career. But it was not just the end of my career, it was the end of my independence. The vision I had of myself being the master of my life, not depending on others for money, crashed into infinite pieces.
I didn’t love the job and therefore did not try too hard to get back to the career. But I wasn’t content being a homemaker either. My husband made great progress at work while I managed the house and family. Children grew up, my husband got busier, and I became a repository of discontent and frustration.
As life was passing by, I resigned to my fate; just trying to live, one day at a time. Life, we know is the biggest teacher and one keeps learning till the last breath. No one knows right from wrong, good from bad because everything is relative. People give their opinions, those who have none of their own, accept others’. Some create their own, some lead, and some follow. Life just goes through myriad mazes, throwing new challenges, obstacles and rewards. Some whine about the small obstacles, others make the obstacle their reward by conquering it. It’s all about perspective. And perspective changes as one learns from their mistakes and grows. From not knowing what to do to try to please everyone to give two hoots to what people thought, I was learning and I was growing.
I did not consult anyone to be clinically diagnosed as undergoing depression. But internally that’s the only emotion I knew for a long time. I was not excited by anything in life. Living itself seemed like an uphill task. I always tried to put up a brave face in front of people, but alone, sadness was my only companion. Not saying that there weren’t people to take care of me, but I did not get adequate love and support I needed to feel differently.
I spent many years like this waiting for someone to rescue me only to realise that I am my saviour. Slowly and steadily, I put an end to my sob story and rekindled my love for reading and writing. I took up a new hobby, Hindustani classical vocal classes. Somewhere at this point, I crossed forty. With it came the so-called major upheavals, emotional, hormonal and physical. Body, mind and soul all showed visible signs of changing. While body and mind began a decline in their faculties, the soul grew richer. After years of struggle with self, destiny, relationships and friendships, I slowly carved a path for myself, leaving all others and my worries behind.
Very recently, I stumbled upon a voice-over training and eagerly took the sessions. With excellent feedback and motivation from the mentor, I pursued it and am in it for the long haul. I am as eager as any youth on the verge of a new career, lapping up all that I can learn and do. Writing is my passion so I took steps to improve it and resolved to keep at it. Following my passion is what I rise every morning for. I am not going to ignore the opportunities that come my way, not any more.
Embarking upon the journey of life, I could never in my wildest dreams imagine the course my life took despite my best efforts. A few mistakes affected the story arc of my life, adding so many characters and conflicts. But until the climax, I am the protagonist of my life, my story and hold the power to develop the arc the way I want to. I made mistakes but I can’t cry over them all my life. At some point, I have to let go of the past and embrace my choices and start anew.
After all the twists and turns and ups and downs, from the lowest of lows to the highest of high experiences, I am still here. I will keep trying. I won’t give up. I’ve had regrets, what-ifs and why I used to bother me. I’ve wished to die as fervently as I’ve celebrated my life, I’ve walked away and I’ve returned, I’ve been hurt and I have hurt, I’ve laughed and cried, loved and lost, loved and gained, gave birth, excelled and failed, I lived. Nothing can keep me down forever. I got knocked down, but I bounced back, found my feet and managed to stand on them. Unapologetic and fearless.
At this juncture, I release the past angst and regret and simply look ahead to harness my energy for my betterment alone. I have started going out with my friends, travelling solo, taking a break, shopping, talking, watching tv, playing games, reading books, doing whatever the heck I want to and without explaining myself to anyone, not even to myself.
Image Credits: a still from the film Helicopter Eela
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.
The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.
Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!
“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."
The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.
The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.
Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.
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