What makes people happy?

Is that question right – what makes people happy? Why should some “thing” make people happy? I witnessed a beautiful sunset today, the sky magically turned from a dull blue to a fireball of red and orange. That vision made me happy. But isn’t it because I was already happy that I was able to embrace the vision? A little bit of a chicken and egg?

Some “thing” or “event” can make you sad. And then you are in that state of sadness, when the situation changes you move to the next emotion. Anger, sadness, embarrassment etc are emotions triggered based on an event. Unlike these, happiness is a constant state you can achieve by looking within you. Happiness doesn’t warrant a situation, you can be simply happy. People latch on to this zen state, as I want to call it, at different stages in their life. Probably like what Buddha felt when he attained enlightenment. I don’t know. It is deep inside you, you have to find it. But once you do, all other emotions feel baseless. To put it another way, the span from feeling unhappy to the state of understanding why you are unhappy, is much shorter. It is so easy to spring back to the state of happiness.

I like to believe that babies are born with the only emotion of happiness, characterized by their first smile, until we infuse all the other emotions by the way we treat them. It took me some time, actually a long time to figure out why babies cry with anger, it because we don’t do something for them. We confuse the heck out of them. Because we have unstable minds, we pass on a slice of that instability to them. Ultimately parents are responsible for teaching their young ones all the emotions there are in the world by being the cause.

Narcissists are not born (I guess). They become that way because of their environment and what they see. I keep going back to narcissism because I have spent time trying to understand why and how someone acquires narcissistic behavior. So if you think of it, a human life begins with a state of happiness, is polluted with all other emotions and then spends years trying to get back to the center of happiness. Not everyone is dumb as me and takes this long, my bestie had this figured out way back, she is my inspiration in finding your normal and sticking to it. But I guess environmental factors like the people in your life could contribute to the prolongation of finding your center. Honestly, it’s crazy and kind of ridiculous. When I see people much older than me who haven’t found it, I chuckle. They always skip the line of happiness, and in some, I see them skipping the line and I think “fuck, you missed it again”. There must have been someone who looked at me and thought the same. But in this zen state, you don’t care about what anyone thinks. Do what feels right to you, there is nobody in this world you need to convince. And that state is “zen”!

Grief

My father passed on Sep 3rd. The same day my US Passport was issued. It has been tradition that my life progresses when he visits me in the US. The first time he came, I bought my first house and got my green card. The second time he came, I bought my second home, a dream home. The third time he was here, I got my citizenship, and got divorced. The last page was getting my passport and that happened right before he passed. Thinking back, it is strange that my passport was issued on a Saturday.

3 Saturdays later I sit here on my couch watching an SPB concert on YouTube. My younger kiddo is playing on his PC upstairs. A Saturday I have longed for this entire year. There is nowhere I have to be, there is nothing I have to get done today. Even if I do nothing today, its okay. I don’t like roller coasters, I am shit scared, yet this year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A job change, my elder son graduation high school, researched and visited colleges for him, got divorced, cared for my younger son through his wisdom teeth extraction, sold my house, moved to another house, convinced my dad to come to the US for the third time, vacationed with my boys at Mexico, got COVID, appeared for my citizenship interview, saw off my son to college in another state, nursed my father during his last two weeks of life, held his hand as he passed, cremated him. And I am here on the other side, strong enough to tell the story.

The week my father fell ill and the week after his passing were the worst. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would google ‘signs of death’ for my father. But I read each one of them and recollected what my aunts or uncles or mom had mentioned when others in the family passed. It all started on Aug 27th when he started throwing up only to discover on Aug 28th that the endoleak from his aneurysm repair had caused an aneurysm rupture. Almost lost him on Aug 27th and Aug 29th but I guess he was not ready. He woke up like nothing had happened. Nursing him for the one week before he finally passed on Sep 3rd is what I consider as one of my biggest blessings. The last few days of a parent is the absolute last ask they have of their children. There is nothing after that. Absolutely nothing.

I have had some really strong eye openers these past 3 weeks. After he passed, the funeral home tied him in a white sheet, transferred him onto a gurney, strapped him and covered him with a fitted blanket. They loaded him onto the back of a minivan and took him away. Everything one does in a lifetime ends in the back of a minivan. How much we emote, stress our asses off, hold grudges, push and pull in relationships, things we want to buy, positions we want to achieve, the egos we manifest, everything seemed so meaningless in that moment.
I am a believer of the concept, where the soul lives on and the body is merely a cloth that the soul sheds when someone passes. I also believe in signs. Three days after he passed, I saw the brightest light, lighting up my garage as I opened the door in the morning to drop my son to school. I knew he was going. I have never seen that light before or after. The funeral home director placed the bag with his box of ashes in the front seat and fastened the seat belt around the bag. It appeared like he was sitting right there, I spoke him on the ride home. When I got home, there were 4 birds, I have never seen them before waiting on the trees around my driveway. Like they were there to welcome him home. That first night, deers from the neighborhood sat vigil next to the wall where I kept his ashes. So many signs he has shown me, strengthening my belief in the soul.

I have been perusing a lot these last two weeks after his passing, and I realized that two roles of my life that I had been playing for years, ended in a matter of months, that of a wife of 19 years and of a daughter for 43 years. I may be a wife again, but I will never have to be a daughter again. And that has been the strangest feeling. We get so used to the multiple roles we play, that of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and we think these roles stay until the end. They do, but the realization that we stop being them is strange.

Suddenly I am not so sure what I should grieve for. My son leaving the nest or my father passing or my divorce. Walking into my son’s room and trying to organize his room is the most painful thing. I cannot bring myself to moving his clothes or looking for something in his closet. It is easier to hold my father’s phone or see his shoes outside the door or his glasses on the coffee table. Bringing a life to this world, giving that little human everything you have, taking every chance because there is no rule book and then letting them go is by far the most unfair transaction in this world. In the end parents are just bridges for the first 18 years of their life. When I left him in his dorm room briefly and walked out, I felt something leaving my body, maybe the umbilical cord? Weird.

Then seeing your parents pass and doing everything for their physical being, is just so unfair. And you go through that twice. It takes years to overcome (if you ever overcome) to push the sadness of one, that the other one goes and creates another layer of sadness that you have to push through one day at a time.

All said and done, I am not quite sure what I should grieve for or just let it be. As my therapist says put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.

She is a woman.

As you read this, imagine you have a blank paper in front of you. If you feel any respect for a woman, throw some paint on it. I hope at the end of this you paper is filled with color.

Right from when we are born, there is a moral code placed on our shoulders, even without our knowledge. Girls are “supposed to be” a certain way. I won’t say its all men who place this heavy sword on us, sometimes there are women too. Till around 11 or 12, I think we are ok. We get away with a lot of things we do. But even at that age we have to protect our vaginas. We have to learn what a bad touch is, our parents are always circling us like hawks to protect us from physical and emotional trauma. As we start menstruating, we have probably read why it happens, or are told by someone the why of this phenomenon. But what nobody can tell you is how you will feel. The pain that starts either in your back, or your lower abdomen, or legs, or head, it can be anywhere. It lasts for hours while you feel like your insides are crumbling. When the sanitary napkin gets soaked, you have to run to a restroom, to change. Wrap the used one. And for a fleeting instant, you feel the freshness of a new sanitary napkin. Every night you sleep uncomfortably, waking up to check if you have stained the sheets or your dress. There is a constant thought lurking in the back of your mind, are you staining? This cycle of menstrual stress repeats every month from age 11/12 to age 55/58. Fucking 45 years, we bleed every month.

As we start menstruating, the boobies grow and now you have to wear a bra to support them and not show your nipples. That is another lifelong commitment we make to our bodies, hide them forever from public eye. It is another piece of cloth we have to wash and maintain and wear every day. And those straps never stay in place. I am sure who haven’t not seen a woman sliding her hand into her top and pulling those straps back in place.

If periods and bras weren’t enough torture, there are UTIs, PCOD as accompaniments. You use a public toilet and pee starts burning the next day. I never asked for ovaries in the first place, now you give me cysts in them, which make it so difficult to lose weight. If nobody in my ancestral generations had abnormal levels of blood sugar, PCOD will definitely alter my blood sugar. These are internal mess ups, there are the external ones too. Hair for example? How many ways can you cut this thing, then there are 100s of shampoos and conditioners to choose from to make it look pretty. Pretty for who? Did someone say face? Dont even get me started. Moisturiser, foundation, concealer, blush, powder, the list is endless. People have taken the face as a prime research material. Why not just let it be? How much can you decorate 2 inches of skin above your eyes.

Well, coming back to the woman, we haven’t talked about the mother of all fucks, pregnancy! Whoa, the first 2 minutes are blissful, but then that tattoo on your face, is PERMANENT. You eat, you grow, the being inside you grows. Yes its wonderful, to feel this little human inside you, but let’s look at the things nobody tells you. It hurts! Hurts like hell! You are lying there with your legs in stirrups, opening up your entire being to whoever walks around looking at down there. It is a very come-see-me-naked experience. You have no idea what you are passing out, just baby or something else too. After your tummy shrinks back, never to its original form or size, you look at the mirror admiring yourself, patting yourself on the back and see these tiger skin marks on your tummy. If you cannot look inside, well this is a visible sign of what my body just went through, it expanded to its maximum and shrunk back. Depending on whether you had vaginal or c-section, the doctor’s artwork on your body deserves a special mention. Down below, you cannot pee, it burns like hell. And if its c-section, you just cannot move until it heals.

Breastfeeding. Yes have a good laugh. Amazing experience, agree. But this is when we understand the feelings of a cow. You are nothing but a cow, ready to milk anytime. You feed and feed and feed and feed and feed and feed, sometimes for a year, sometimes for more. Note that the first two evils of periods and bra still exist along with stitches.

While we go through all of the above, we are expected to go to office, work, earn money. We are also expected to cook and feed the rest of the (useless) people in the house. We are expected to drive to our doctor appointments. We are expected to keep the house clean, car clean, baby clean, and ourselves clean. Maintain relationships with people in the world. We haven’t spoken about feelings, have we? Oh yes, we feel too. We get angry, happy, sad, cry, frustrated, scared, apprehensive and what not.

I don’t think we should fight for equal rights, there is something more basic that is missing, respect. So all she asks for is respect, not because she goes through all of this, because she is a human being. If you cannot give her that, leave and let her be. She will survive and thrive because she is made of sterner stuff.

How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

Family

We are taught, right from the day we have some understanding of our surroundings, that family is your parents and your siblings. Then you have an extended family which is your aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. For many years I believed this. Family to me was always father, mother, children. It was an etched-in-stone kind of definition.

The world as we know it as moved away from this definition. There are many women who choose to be single mothers, there are many men who choose to be single fathers. Then there is the gay community, where family is either father, father and children or mother, mother and children. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Not every family fits into the age-old definition of father, mother and children.

I grew up in a middle class nuclear family. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents were people we interacted with during the summer vacation. My core was my father, mother, brother and paternal uncle who lived with us. This was my space in the universe. In this space, I was allowed to feel, I was allowed to talk, I was allowed to be me. If I said something out of disrespect, I was corrected. If I said something out of anger, I was given the space to calm down. If I did something wrong, I was told why it was wrong and I was given the opportunity to apologize. My family had a lot of friends and we called them family friends. These were people who lent a hand financially when my parents were struggling to pay my school fees or were short handed at the end of the month. They were there with us emotionally, by encouraging us to push a little higher and have some success in the print world. We participated whole heartedly in each others family events, marriages, death, birth, etc. I have seen more of my parents friends come to our house, have a meal of simple chapathi and curry or whatever was there, than my aunts and uncles.

My concept of family developed through these people. They were family to me, not just family friends, because they were there for us. They didn’t tell my parents that they were trying to do something impossible by trying to set up a print shop. They didn’t judge my parents and say why are you sending your children to the best and most expensive school when you know you cannot afford it. They didn’t comment on the clothes we wore, or the humble living quarters. They sat cross legged on the floor and ate what my mother served. Without asking they brought money and handed it over to my parents. I owe these people a lot and remember them fondly. Many of them have passed, but they were placed in our lives for a reason.

I am a movie buff. A few movies have left a lasting impact on me. One such movie is English Vinglish. After learning English, at the end of the movie, the protagonist defines what a family is, and those words have stuck with me. She says, ‘a family is not judgmental’. That’s precisely how I was raised. My family and everyone around my family, our support systems, never judged us. So that is my definition of a family. A group of people who do not judge you and with whom you can be you.

As I go through my divorce, I have been re-drafting my age-old family definition of father, mother, children. Now my family is mother and children. And that is okay, because for single moms, mom and children is family. My son recently asked me what is family. I told him from my experience this is what I have learnt – a group of people who don’t judge you and let you be you. He said, you took the words out of my mouth. I am glad, rather proud, that my child is not stuck to age old family definitions. That he understands, family is not judgmental.

first kiss..

“Do you remember dear?”

“What honey?”

“Our first kiss?”

“What made you think of that?”

“Those young ones we saw at the park today..”

“They were cute, weren’t they?”

“Yes, just like us, many many years ago. How long has it been now?”

“Let’s see, it was 1952, so fifty nine years ago.”

“We were so young..”

“Yes, you were sixteen and I was eighteen.”

“You looked so handsome..”

“The white blouse you wore was spotless, with lace around the neck.. “

“Oh you remember?”

“Yes my love, I do. Like yesterday.”

“I love you darling..”

“I love you too honey…”