Part 5 – Breswana

She is the heart and the passion behind the school. Sarcastic as hell and a beautiful woman. She would shout at the kids and acknowledge their work at the same time. She is the reason that school has a functioning and absolutely amazing library. She instills her own want for learning into them. She treats all of the kids as her own. Her enthusiasm to retain good teachers, teachers who care and teachers who enjoy the space is incomparable. The kids have been exposed to new ideas, new sports, equipment and more because of her commitment to the children. She tears up when they achieve across fields. She creates spaces for argument, discussion and growth. This is an education I would have loved. She is special, this many people know, but she never sat in my classroom to monitor how I worked with the kids. I had a free hand to help them learn however I deemed fit as long as I was doing right by the children. This made her someone I loved being around.

You would catch her sitting around after school, before school, during lunch ensuring the kids who needed help had it.

But she isn’t all teach and no fun. Sree, Baji and I would spend hours watching a pakistani soap, playing scrabble and arguing about the world’s dismal state at large. She cares and cares a lot. I remember her asking the kids to read my work cause she wanted them to learn. The kids being themselves said wonderful, shy things later.

Sabbah Haji Baji is a fantastic woman. I would spend a lot of energy dissing anyone who disagrees.

Part 4 – Breswana

I would have to write about my adventures with class 7 (now 8) separately. But in today’s edition of nostalgia is the strength of my days in Breswana. Muneeza Banoo Khandi and Humeera Banoo Batt: these two gorgeous, intelligent and funny children were my daily light.

Muneeza, the earnest and hard working student. Her papers were marvel to read. She wrote with clarity beyond her 13 years. Her beautiful handwriting was an additional plus. Though superbly introverted, Muneeza, when used to you, would crack jokes. Her Mehfooz smacks are priceless moments in the day. Munee was every teachers charmed child. Her diligence and sincerity apart, there was a curiosity to her studying. She wanted more and more information. All the information her little head could hold and more. Her aspirations were to learn. She would be the most upset when I scolded class 7 (which was a lot, despite the biggest soft corner for them). For me Muneeza is a star not because of her academic achievements, which were many, but for her simple, kind nature. She took to reading so easily. She also took to sports. Her excelling in everything makes you want to hold her tight. To be honest, her sparkling eyes full of yearning to learn is what I remember about her. Muneeza Banoo Khandi would have read so voraciously at the age of 20 that I hope it opens many many doors for her.

Funny, smart and dancer Humeera. I’ll tell you a secret, her reciting Invictus at my farewell remains my go-to video on bad days. I still remember this confident girl step up and recite this poem infront of everyone. Giving us all goosebumps. The passion, the feeling in the words came through in her voice. She got away with a lot with me. She could lure me back to class and ask, “Why angry?” in the softest voice. She was a hardworking kid that could dance so beautifully. I fondly remember how she would turn up outside the volunteer house in case she wanted more attention after classes. She tells me that thanks to me she lost little bit of her fear for dogs. This is amazing for me. When I think of Humeera, I remember the smiling girl asking me how I am; I remember her nose buried in a book; I remember her leading my hand to dance with her. I hope this girl continues down the path of reciting fabulous poetry and owning the stage or whatever her kind heart wishes for.
Learning and acing multiple talents is a Haji Public School trait that most students owned. The teachers were mere vessels to direct them to their study books occasionally. And it was a pleasure on most days. Okay. I said most?

Part 3 – Breswana

She was a natural at teaching. I am not sure I have ever come across someone so at ease in a classroom. It was a pleasure to linger outside her classroom and watch the kids listen to her. I respected and admired her grace; for accepting her mistakes and for being vulnerable in the classroom. It was something the children loved and reciprocated. I could only teach subjects I cared about. She could teach anything because she cared about the students. Her class’s morning assemblies were always the liveliest. They sang songs with joy and actions. They actively participated in the making of their assembly. You could hear her reading books to them sitting on top of her table. It was heartwarming: her relationship with the students and her sincerity with teaching.

Her voice is still clear in my head. She is Shomasree Majumdar.

He was tall, lanky and honest. Brutally so. “Have you studied for the test?” “On my way to school for five minutes.” He never lied. He saw the world in firm shades of black and white. This meant our relationship was a difficult one. He was an honourable young boy. Hardworking and absolutely sweet. He was extremely shy but in the walls of the classroom he spoke his mind. It was special. He worked hard at getting better. I still remember all our big fights. He would sheepishly not look me in the eye till he apologised. He was smart, funny and extremely naughty. English was hard for him but he tried very hard (most of the time). He loved playing cricket and forcing him to play baseball for a games period was an arduous task. His letter to me when I left was beautiful. I still read it and can picture his confused face writing it. Most kids wrote letters to all teachers who left. Not this boy. He told me he would write only to those he found nice. It was so difficult for him to lie. In his letter he asks me why I didn’t inform him before and how hurt he is by my actions. This is the essence of him. His honesty is an integral part of him and I miss his shy smile every morning. He is Ajaz Ahmed Bhatt.

Part 1 – Breswana

It has been a year since I went to Breswana. One year since my first glimpse of the village and the beautiful school. In a matter of weeks, the routine was down and I got used to the idea of waking up to the gorgeous sight of mountains and the kids screaming and rushing to school.

I’ve struggled to write about the school in the past cause it’s been an overwhelming experience with poor closure. I hope to return very soon and see them all again.

Breswana and Haji Public School are home because of the people there. Their warmth, kindness and concern are among my best memories of four fantastic months.

Here is to hoping over the next few weeks I can write about my fondest memories and the people that made Breswana home.


I would be making a huge error if I began by writing about anyone but him.

Standing in the fields with his rifle. His earnest smile. He fondly called me “Karunanidhi”. His reason was because we are both Tamilian and his name has nidhi as well. But the truth is that I had an injury when I was there and he wanted me to go around on a wheelchair or strapped to the back of a horse. (No jokes)

He would be found in the fields watching over the work; watching us mess up the barbeque; complaining about our bad hindi music songs; playing bridge in the middle of social gatherings; telling the craziest and wildest stories of militants and army.

Sarpanch Saleem Haji is incomparable to anyone at Breswana or otherwise. If you cannot stomach sarcasm then he’s not someone you will adore. But let it be said, his sarcasm is something you get used to and his kind heart then showers you with warm gestures and love. I miss that.

I still remember how he ensured I managed to get down from Srayan (after being in a lot of pain) without injuring myself further. He’s a man of many wonderful things if you get to know him.

 

Are you here again, Ms. Depression?

People are often surprised to find out that I live with depression. “But you are so cheerful and you smile so much!” – a common expression of surprise. The “so” emphasising the impossibility of it all. I would say they are misinformed about how depression looks but I also wanted to turn the reflection inward.

I was formally diagnosed in 2010. Since then the diagnoses have changed shape and size to anxiety and depression to trauma induced anxiety and depression to some form of depression or the other to some form of brain fog; meanwhile I have learnt to not hold any diagnosis too close to my heart.

I am often told I am too functional to be depressed. I look happy even. I would love to write what all depression looks like but turns out it has so many forms that would be pointless. Plus, it morphs itself from person to person.

My own depression and anxiety have many faces. A black cloud settling on me after travelling for long. The rocks weighing down on my heart, lower back and knees. Very little sleep. The lack of language, especially for writing. The inability to focus on a singular activity. The outpouring of poetry. Difficulty in doing routine tasks. The distracted-by-everything mind. The rats in my stomach craving food eternally. The socialising to forget. Unable to eat or drink enough. Sleeping a lot. Isolating myself. Focussed overworking spurts.

Mostly, you cannot see it in my functionality or demeanour. My sister would giggle at the number of people who told her I was the happiest person they knew. The truth, I knew, was more complicated than that.

I wouldn’t call myself happy or unhappy. I sprinkle my good phases with activity I enjoy doing. I am better equipped to recognise my difficult phases and deal accordingly. I improve self-care; I try to spend more time in company; I meditate. But the darkness-is-a-friend phases have stuck around and come around as often if not more. However, I do think I have difficulty pulling back on the pretending. I can act as if everything is normal for a long time. Till my body physically cannot do it anymore. Loved ones can enquire if I need anything, and I might never reach out. I have a stubborn independent streak.

Happiness, darkness, light and depression are all friends who visit, stay and leave. My inability to find a balance and project a balance are two different issues that need my attention. I would also like to not isolate myself through the difficult times and reach out to kind, loving, dear ones who want to help.

A lot of progress needs to be nudged into place. I am working on myself as much as possible, each day. That should give me some solace. Or so, I tell myself.

2015.

(Disclaimer: Excruciatingly long)

Well, 2015 is coming to a close. On most counts, I am glad this year is done. Putting aside a brief two-week vacation to Nepal, to my enthusiasm, 2015 has been overwhelming on the low front. I had a couple of surprising heartbreaks, professional and personal, that shook my earthing. A few diagnoses were the additional bonuses on the health front! Woot.

When I used to write on Blogspot (before I wanted a clean start and began this blog), I did a year-end review. I thought it was a silly practise till my conversation with A from last evening made me realise how smart I used to be.

I get bogged down by the low a lot. Perhaps a little bit of this is in my nature. End-of-the-year existential crisis is common and tempting to wallow in. I have honestly done a lot of it. BUT, I learnt a lot this year.

Embracing my personality with all its quirks has been rewarding and relevant. I stopped making excuses when I didn’t feel up to being around people. Especially those I had drifted away from. I learnt to enjoy my company and do what is good for me which resulted in lots of art and getting my hands messy. I began to look after myself more. My health taught me that my mind and body are not separate. The pressures on my mind will be felt by my body. So care is not optional. It needs to be integrated into daily living. Smell a few more flowers, perhaps. Unfortunately, these health crises have forced me to give up sweets and coffee. Something till 2015 I thought was not possible. But I am finding new patterns and routines. Healthier ones. All while remembering that I am really tiny in the grand scheme of things. People tell me this insignificance scares them. But it has been one of the most reassuring and calming truths.

“When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road and run and jump into the ocean in my clothes
And I’m smaller than a poppyseed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole
So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything”
– I like giants: Kimya Dawson

As a surprise to myself, I fell in love. Accidentally. Madly. To an unsuspecting bystander. Though it has left me recovering from a broken heart, it reminded me that I am intense and love is overwhelming. It was nice to sit drenched in the emotion and learn to just breathe. Let the pieces fall as they will. I am still learning to live with my intensity and even enjoy the depth of character that I seek. 🙂 Love dragged me along a long path of self-discovery which has been difficult, painful, stirring, and intimate in discoveries about myself.

My professional heartbreak is far more difficult to write about. Since most of the year and waking hours were spent at the office, learnings are integral to my growth. I had to quit a job that I was fond of because of grave internal turmoil, certain strife and need for more challenges. It became essential for me to embrace that I am young, emotional and vulnerable which people in workplaces often use against me as a weakness. I didn’t realise how much I had pushed these away. Over the years of hearing it being pitched as a negative, I had happily accepted this to be true. Not anymore. 🙂

One of the most unsettling truths of the year was revealed while stranded at the bottom of the Himalayas because of unseasonal rain and snow. Rainer Maria Rilke was the bearer of the news – ‘Life is right in all cases’. Rilke has rescued me on several occasions. His words were a float when I felt I would drown in the ocean of anxiety and self doubt. They were a balm to my soul that felt out of place, making me more home in my skin and less cuckoo. (Or is it be more cuckoo? :))

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet

I also turned around my writing this year. It was a much needed change from the self-deprecating stuff I tell myself about lack of any talent. Though I write here, I had not written about the many learnings from my work and the world around me. Starting to write for Women’s Web and Girls Globe is an attempt to fix this. I am happy to add my two-cents to the progress to women’s rights and equality around the world. It is a small drop in the ocean, yet a satisfying drop.

I think writing these words was an important part of taking stock of the changes, both good and bad, the year brought my way. In the darkness of doubt, pain and unanswered questions, I have found it is comfortable to believe I had an unproductive year. One where I have been stagnant and done little to further my beliefs. But I have made a lot of personal growth and some professional strides. This forms part of a learning process to understand myself better and walk closer to the person I want to be.

Hope 2016 is less harsh but as rewarding.

To new beginnings..

From the broken halves of me,

To each and every one of you,

I don’t know where to start. It is a whole lot of nothing. Yet, in the crevices of memory and the curves of my body there lay a whole lot of everything. From being around each other and sharing intimate, wild, unhappy, vulnerable and mundane, to the sudden vacuum and silence. Everyone tells you about the wonderful, marvellous feelings of love. No one ever fully prepares you for what comes after.

The emptiness doesn’t even set in for a long time. You first have to deal with the contradictions that present themselves. The anger vs. the calm. The pain vs. the joy. The longing vs. the hatred. The urge to hold on vs. the craving to move on. All struggling to co-exist in a, now, large available space…

I didn’t realise how tough it would be. I packed away all the memories, the physical remains of a relationship. But the mind, the body, the heart wouldn’t allow me such easy respite. I found myself in a sticky situation; unaware if I wanted to even move on. The pain, the guilt, the memories all were real. Soon they would leave and all I would be left with was the void. I refused to fill this void with another person or many. I don’t recommend such a life to you, though. I have learnt that these voids can only be filled with inanimate objects; never again with people or emotions. It wasn’t logical. It was just that way.

But I digress.

It was hard to imagine that the day would ever come. Death loomed on us since we began but we never took it seriously. We shrugged it aside as a rueful inconvenience. Together.

But I was left to face it in a very real way. Alone.

We had built not a home but a world. A parallel universe. An imaginary happiness. When it came crashing down on me, as she faded into oblivion, I realised no body prepared me for this. We speak, read, write, hear, watch, see, understand and analyse love. Not enough about loss. About losing a friend, a lover, a confidante and a soul mate. We weren’t married but only because it was illegal. We were everything a couple was and more.

I would cease wanting her this way. I knew I would. I was scared of that eventuality; so I held onto everything I knew. Slowly, she transformed into the best version of herself. Present and absent. All at once.

Months together, people, friends, colleagues, family would enquire out of affection, “How do you feel?” I wanted to say all this but I held back and said instead, “Nothing, yet everything.”

But I needed to be loved again. To let go of the gnawing pain and move on. She would understand. She would have done the same in my place.

Wouldn’t you?

A version of this piece first appeared on The Body Narratives.