If not for you

I have been battling with myself about writing this post as I know that if I do write it with honesty and candor it may peel off some of the carefully pasted layers that has fabricated what I look like today. I thought the glue was strong and the image would withstand all storms: how wrong I was!

Sunday Januray 6th 2008 was to be a special day as after a long time my daughter had convinced me to see a movie with her and we were all set to have fun. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to ensue. The movie, the incredibly touching Tare Zameen Par, was to bring about a catharsis I was not prepared for.

As I watched mesmerised I saw my life enfolding itself and all that I had carefully buried after whitewashing and veneering it to suit myself, came back to me raw and unconcealed in ways that I had refuse to see. As the child was seen battling with letters and figures I relived the days when I too sat with a lovely little girl drumming letters and figures and not comprehending why she looked at me with huge pleading eyes seeking love and understanding. The little girl was the young woman sitting next to me: my daughter S! I saw myself as what I had been and I realised for the very first time the pain and agony my child had suffered because I had failed her when she needed me most.

It took me a long time to comprehend her and I can draw paltry satisfaction in saying that I did not send her to boarding school and did ultimately listen to her and let her follow her heart. But can I make up for all the ugly words I said to her, or all the times I stubbornly refused to hear her cries for help! As I watched the film I understood for the first time what S went through day after day, year after year as I carried on placing on her frail shoulders a burden she could not carry.

The film ended and we all wiped our tears, having each wept for our own reasons. For S it was easy to get on with her day as she finally had found a way to be vindicated, but I had more layers to shed as I knew that this was the only and last chance I had to redeem myself in my own eyes. A simple hug and a heartfelt sorry would not suffice this time if life was to go on. The flood of visible tears had dried leaving a few streaks that could easily be washed but the journey was not over, actually it has just begun.

Images from the past swarmed my mind, each needing to be reinterpreted and confronted before being dealt with and mercifully healed. S was just 9 or 10 when she told me she wanted to work with special children; was it not her way of telling me that she was one herself? It took me 5 long years to understand that and today she does just what she had always wanted with such compassion and sensitivity that my heart swells with pride each time I see her.

I remember a friend telling me long back when I was battling with trying to make S conform to accepted norms that special children were sent to earth by God to very privileged people as they were His messengers and taught us things we did not know about ourselves often giving us a chance to walk that extra mile. At that time I had pooh poohed her words so lost I was in my own hubris. Today I realise that were if not for S there would be no Project Why and I thank the heavens above to have given me the possibility to atone my wrongs. Perhaps the oft unfathomable and illogical passion I feel for my work is nothing extraordinary but simply a tiny step in a journey that still unfinished.

We as parents and adults often forget our own childhood and the pangs we suffered. What we carry as adults is our failures, and broken dreams, our unrealistic aspirations and impossible goals and then lost in the mediocrity of our lives and our refusal to accept our own limitations we simply transfer the burden on the shoulders of our children exhorting them to fulfill what we could not. So every parent even the most illiterate one wants his child to be a topper! Wonder what the world would like if everyone was just that: a topper!

And to get what we want, we do not use love, or coaxing, or kindness, we simply resort to hurting and abusing. I remember the winter of 2000 when we had just begun hesitant English classes. Some class X students had been beaten in school and we had decided to meet with the authorities and settle the issue. It was a Principal's office worthy of a Dickensian novel and so were the protagonists. As the young boys stool in silence, the headmaster hurled a string of abuse at them likening them to gutter snipes with no hope of redemption. In the deafening silence I heard the sound of hopes shattering and took probably one of the most important decisions of pwhy as I worded a response to the taunting challenge: they would pass their examinations no matter what. They did and some of them today are finishing their college!

I realise today that were it not for S, I too would have remained silent nodding a pitiable acceptance. Since that day I have never allowed myself the luxury of not hearing! But the journey does not end there as I sit reviewing my so called adult life. Were it not for my child my life too would have been spent in shades of grey and I would have never experienced the splashes of vibrant colour that come your way when you learn to accept embrace and celebrate difference. Were it not for S, I would never have gathered the courage to walk the road less travelled and made a tiny difference.

One can never put the clock back and redress torts gone by. I guess one can easily say sorry to the ones that we have hurt, and they more often than not have hearts large enough to forgive us. What is more important is to be able to forgive one's self as, in the words of Mary Angelou: You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one's own self.

I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that setting up project why is not what I have conveniently chosen to believe and project to others. It is actually the slow and still unfinished process of forgiving myself. The journey continues and at each step I whisper a silent word of gratitude to the one who made it possible.

If not for you S I could not have become what I am today. You are very special!

Note: this post sat a long time unpublished. It is not easy to accept one's failings let alone share them with one and all. But unless one does life's journey remains meaningless!

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