On not “Waiting for Godot”

About what feels like an eon ago, I directed a one-act play for a few of my friends for our college competition – a 30-minute watered down version of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. It is the only time ever that I have tried my hand at directing, and I remember being rather surprised when my friends approached me to do it – I am still not sure what prompted them to ask me. But, looking back, it was fortuitous. I was exhilarated by the experience : when else does a bookworm who visualizes books in her head get the opportunity to actually see it come alive as she imagined it? My friends were brilliant actors, and the play came together like magic.

The play told the story of two friends who are in a pretty dire situation, and are waiting for — Godot. Godot, who would solve their problems. Godot, who would be their answer; who would change everything, and would be coming anytime now. But they wait every day, and seasons change and people come and go, but Godot never arrives. I read that play many many times during those days of rehearsal– I can still remember many of the lines of the play. ‘Gogo’ and ‘Didi’ are forever embedded in my memory, (and still bear a resemblance to the faces of my friends who acted in it!)

We won that competition – but that was just the icing on the cake. For me, the play –which may never have crossed my reading list had I not been given that opportunity — remains one of the key influences in my life. Many times in my life, when I have felt trapped or lost or in a rut, and I found myself waiting for someone else to give me solution, a divine intervention, or something else I had no control over, I would be reminded of the two friends waiting for Godot – and it would propel me to make a decision to change the situation. I am not saying I always made the right decision — but more often than not, changing the situation got me out of the rut and gave me options. And taking control has often made me feel more empowered as a person. I do not feel like victim of circumstances beyond my control. When I look back and feel that I made a wrong decision, I also feel that it is up to me to make different choices to change that.

I have stopped “waiting for Godot”.

Happy New Year!! Wish everyone a new year full of great experiences, smart choices and happy memories!

A conversation about motherhood, career, and having it all…

Have you ever felt that when you have a scrape or bruise on your knee, all the furniture seem to stick out, just to hit that specific spot? As a kid, I didn’t believe her when my mother explained that I must have been hitting my knee all along, but was more sensitive to it because of the bruise. “The universe is out to get me” theory was more comforting as I nursed my hurt.

I was reminded of this because, of late I feel like I have been flooded with articles and stories about the challenges of being a working mother. Everything from Indra Nooyi’s interview “Why women can’t have it all“, the article on The Atlantic by Andrew Moravcsik “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First“, the earlier article by his wife also titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All“, several more articles and blogs on how having a child had changed lives and lifestyles, the challenges of being a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or of just being a parent; books about parenting autistic and fragile children – the list is long! Additionally, seeing choices made and the problems faced by my family, close friends and acquaintances regarding career and child care – suddenly I feel like everywhere I turn, there is more about this idea that has been at the back of my mind. I suppose I cannot stick to the theory that the universe is trying to tell me something – the truth is that this is something I am now thinking about, and I admit that I am petrified.

I love kids – I do. I find them adorable, and funny and surprising, and full of potential. I also find them wearying and annoying at times, as most people, including parents, admit to — but on most days, I love being around them. I do want to have a kid, but I feel overwhelmed when I think about it. I have seen great parenting, good parenting and not-so-good parenting – and I worry that I would fall in the last category: I have never even had a pet so far! My husband jokes that “All parents screw up their kids at least a little bit”, and while I laugh at that, it’s also disturbing – that I would be responsible for a child and I could and quite possibly WILL screw up. I have seen parents face unexpected challenges with kids – the chronically sick child, the unmanageably willful child, the child with developmental challenges, the child who acts up as a teen: and I wonder if I would do a good job being a parent of a child with challenges – especially as the statistical probability of that increases. I recognize that there is no instruction manual, no training, and no “right” way to parent, though it looks like there are quite a few “wrong” ways that become apparent in time. And sometimes I look around and wonder about the world I would bring a new life into, and what it would be like as he/she grows, and whether anything I do can prepare them for a world changing so quickly. I wonder if I am equipped to guide them to be whatever they want to be, and more importantly, if I will be able to teach them to be good, happy, well-adjusted people.

I am also a “career woman” – I have focused on my career since I was 21, and I care about it – financial considerations aside, my work and growing in my career are important to me. I have worked very hard to get to where I am, and I have been fairly successful so far. But more and more articles and studies talk about how women have been able to achieve less success in their careers due to the compromises they have to make regarding family. (Case in point). ‘Work-life balance’ is also the buzz word at work these days, but no one seems to have found the right balance, or any kind of actual balance. I worry about losing the momentum I have in my career, about not being able to grow as far as I want to. I worry that if I make compromises in favor of being a parent, I will lose out on my career, and also teach my child(ren) – of either sex –  that a woman is expected to make those choices, and that their career is less important. Or that if I make the choice to keep my career on track, I will miss important milestones in their lives, damage their self-esteem and have them believe that my work is more important than they are. I worry that no matter what choice I make, I will end up regretting it and wishing I had done differently. I know my husband is understanding and supportive of my career – but when we struggle to make an additional hour in the day for something, how will we manage the responsibility of a child along with our fast-paced work life? Yes, perhaps we can get help from parents and in-laws, but in the end, it is our responsibility, and we need to be able to manage it.

I do realize that worrying about this is probably pre-mature – considering that we don’t know yet if we will actually be able to have a child (another thing that I worry about). But I want to know the best and worst of what I am planning to get into, to understand and accept so that I can face it if-and-when it happens. I do not want to be unprepared if I can prepare myself; I would like to avoid pitfalls if I can; I would like to know as much as possible going into this so I can decide I CAN do it. I am not quite sure what I am looking for: advice? Reassurance? More articles? More about the choices people made and how they feel about it? I know many of my family and friends have already gone through this thought process – yet, oddly enough, I have not really talked about this to my friends or family in depth — outside of enigmatic quips like “Wait till you are ready!” (Is one ever really ready?), “Don’t wait too long!” (Is it too late?!), “It’s totally worth it!” (Worth what, exactly?) … I think these choices are intensely personal, complicated and emotional, and hence terribly hard to bring up in a conversation. Yet, I feel compelled to start this conversation, simply because it is really important to me to make this decision consciously rather than by “default”. I do understand that sometimes, I have to take a leap of faith – but I would  like to make sure that I have an idea of how to fly before I do – especially as it is not just my life I need to be concerned about.

On Returning to India…

I have been trying for some time now to articulate why I love being back in India, after spending so much time in the US. Even when spending an hour caught in Bengaluru’s famous traffic jams trying to get home, even when I grapple with the challenge of managing “the help” for the first time in my life, even while I long for the wonderful friendships that I had around me in the US, the friends who were my family during those years — not once in the past year have I wished myself back in the US. I was honestly terrified when I was coming back, wondering how it would be to return after so many years, and mentally prepared for the worst. After a life-changing decision of that magnitude, it is gratifying to feel so overwhelmingly that this was one of the best decisions I have made. But when someone asks why, I have not been able to put that into proper words, and for once, I thought I should. There are some things that need to be said, and after a year, it’s about time I said them.

When you have been away from home for years together, homesickness becomes a constant ache that you are no longer conscious about. It is the weight on your heart that you only realize was there when it is lifted. I had been away from my family for so long… and I did not realize how much I missed spending time with them, and being there for them. My mother got really sick about three months after I got back. If I had been in the US, I would just have felt really bad, and there would have been nothing I could do but call and ask how she is doing, which would have felt just as empty. Here, I told my manager that I would like to work from home for a week, and I was right there at home with her. I am not a particularly good caregiver, but my dad and I managed together. At the very least, I was able to be there for her. My parents have been the rock I leaned on all my life : being able to offer something more than a call when they need support makes being here entirely worthwhile.

There were two new members in my family that I hardly had a chance to get to know until I came back : my sister-in-law and my little niece; and by the same coin, they hardly knew me. Over the past year, there have been many many weekends spent at home with them. My niece has a nickname she created for me. I know her twinkling eyes and bright smile, and how scared she gets at unexpected sounds. I know exactly which kind of chocolate she loves, and what she calls herself, and what she has been saying these days as she learns new words each day. I have learned to trust my sister-in-law’s opinion about which movies to see, and love her funny stories about things that happen around her at work. And it goes both ways — it was bitter sweet when the last time we were there, as I was packing to go back to Bengaluru, my two year old niece came in, looked at my bag and asked “Are you going?”. I explained to her that I have to go back that evening in the train. She looked at me with those big eyes and said, “It will make Iyya (her nickname) sad.” It was heart-wrenching, but there was a fierce pleasure in that she would miss me as well.

My personal life has taken a leap as well. My husband and I got married – to my surprise and happiness – with both our family’s blessings, even with an inter-religious marriage. It took months of small steps, but it did happen. Over the past 7 months, I have seen my parents get to know my husband, and I have gotten to know his family as well. My heart almost burst with pride, when at a recent wedding, my dad introduced my husband as “my son-in-law”. My husband learned how to sing mappila songs and receive wedding guests in the traditional north malabar fashion. He is also now one of my niece’s favorite people — probably because he teaches her entirely new games that no one else in our family knows. As for me, in addition to the chatter of my niece, now I look forward to the antics of a little three year old boy, my husband’s nephew. When they visited us in Bengaluru, I made a list of every place I knew he would love, and it was wonderful to see him imitate the tiger he saw at Bennargatta animal sanctuary, and name the birds at the zoo that I did not know the names of. I know what kind of puzzles he loves, and the new songs he learned at school. I have spent hours with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law hearing stories of my husband’s childhood, and learning how to make his favorite dishes. It has always been known that a marriage is more than two people, it is really about two families. Staying in the US would have made it still just the two of us, and we would have been mostly strangers to our spouse’s families. Being here made it possible to build that bond, and it makes so much difference in how we interact with them.

One of the things I worried about while coming back was whether I would be able to keep growing in my career. But in the last year, I realized that it’s possibly one of the best places to be at in my career right now. There is so much energy, so much innovation happening in India now, that even the fast paced technology industry I was a part of in the US feels slow in comparison. I am learning more and managing more than I would ever have had a chance to, at this stage in my role, if I had stayed in the US. There is so much to be done, and so much happening that opportunities are plenty. Another worry I had was quality of life – but I found that there were things that actually made life more “luxurious” here. We can easily afford to hire help to clean, cook and drive – something that would have been quite a stretch in the US. Most of the things we have been used to in the US are available in India as well, and many times, thanks to the global battle for the Indian consumer, at lower prices. I thought too, that after so many years in the US, I may have become too culturally “westernized” and would feel stifled here. On the contrary, I sometimes feel like I am too conservative – the culture here has become so different, so much more progressive. India has changed, and much faster than I have while I was away. Of course there are pockets of things and places that still need to change, but it is evolving faster than I could have predicted.

There are things I miss about being in the US, of course. I would have loved it if, for example, more traffic rules were followed here, or there was more accountability in people for day-to-day things. It was not an easy decision for either of us to come back, and neither was the transition very simple. But when I look back over the year, I know the balance is firmly tilted towards the positive side.  We are together, we are happy, and we are where we should be.

In short, we are home: that’s a wonderful thing.

Little splinters of my soul in verse, some odd little tales I had to tell , some thoughts that I anchored in sentences, some dreams and visions half-seen that I painted with words…

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