sixty, serendipity and serenity

 OK so I turn sixty in a day! I go to sleep Tuesday and on Wednesday morning I enter a new decade. Well this has happened many times in the past but this one is loaded. I am supposed to become a senior citizen and if I am to go by an article in the front page of today's newspaper I become part of they grey brigade where women are supposed to take the lead. What awaits me if I am to go by the article is a host of terrible things ranging from depression, to fractures, to hypertension, to loss of hearing and God only knows what else. I somehow refuse to accept all these labels. I am no spring chicken but I am no doddering fool either. I am just one year older.

I must confess that the body has been sending messages now and then: the bones creak a little and the gait has slowed down but the mind is as agile as ever, even more so as it imbibes new things every minute. I still read three books a week, having even mastered the art of reading in a moving auto rickshaw - you should try it as it makes the ride less nerve wrecking - and above all run my project 24/7. So all this talk of senior citizenship leaves me cold. I am who I was yesterday and who I will be tomorrow.

But six zero is a nice round figure to perhaps take stock of one's life, give one's self the well deserved pat on the back or rap on the knuckles before moving on. It still gives you time to correct your errors and make amends. So let me get off the spinning wheel for a bit and look back at the twenty one thousand nine hundred days I have walked this earth. If I were to think of one word to sum my existence I would chose the word serendipity. My life has been full of good fortune and happy coincidences. Be it the years spent with doting parents as a child or the years growing up in different places soaking various cultures and flavours, be it the years spent at my mom's knee learning about the land of my ancestors or those shared with a passionate father absorbing foreign traditions and ways. I was fortunate enough to treat all my senses to the widest and wildest feast imaginable counterpointed by unforgettable lessons in humility and compassion. That did give me a head start.

The ensuing years were again serendipitous. Be it love or career it all worked perfectly. True there were some hiccups but they were all part of the game. Everything seemed on course. Lovely children, more travels, what more could I hope for. But there was more though it came at a price. The loss of my parents left me rudderless and lost. For a few years I locked myself and lost the key but then serendipity struck again and a fortuitous encounter transformed my existence. Manu seared my soul and gave meaning to a life that till that moment has seemed plentiful. My learning was still incomplete, actually come to think of if, it appeared rather paltry. It was time to put everything to test. Would I pass the test life was throwing my way.

I did give it my best shot. The outcome was the setting up and nurturing of project why. When I look back at the last decade of my life I feel humbled and elated at the same time. My life wich seemed at the brink of despair following the loss of my parents acquired a whole new meaning. Loneliness that had threatened to devour me was replaced by abundant love that came my way by sheer magic. With it also came new challenges and responsibilities. In the eyes of Manu and all the other children he brought into my life I saw immense love but also hope and dreams, dreams that looked impossible, dreams I had to conjure. Every day henceforth saw the realisation of these dreams, tiny ones at first: meals and a bed for Manu, report cards with good grades, exams passed with flying colours. I do not know when the dreams became mine and thus more ambitious: a home for Manu, more report cards and successful exams, a home for women in distress. Was I becoming hubristic. I do not know. Nothing seemed impossible.

So we embarked on an expansion mission 40 kids became 100, 400.. there was a brief moment when we touched 1000! Thank heaven we had a guardian angel who brought us back in line courtesy a few gentle and not so gentle blows. Those were hard times: the labour court, backstabbing and slandering, encounters with political and slum lords. But we survived, a little bruised but somewhat wiser. Slowly all the dreams seem to actualise as we opened our women centre and our residential programme for disabled children.

Along the way came more challenges. Our first open heart surgery case. But the Gods were smiling and we managed to repair 18 broken hearts. And how can I forget Utpal and Mehar, two little Angels whose destiny necessitated a cruel baptism by fire. Today their bodies are healed and they are busy making up for lost time and reclaiming their childhood. And with them six other extremely deprived children are learning at the speed of light in a little boarding school.

It all seemed perfect as we moved from day to day feeling almost invincible. But the future loomed large and one had to start thinking of project why without me at the helm. We came up with the idea of planet why - a guest house with a difference! It seemed perfect: it would bring in funds and free us from the daily panhandling, it would allow our alumni to learn skills and above all it would be a home for Manu.

 A few hiccups later we had our land and a sound validated business plan. I was on cloud nine as we even had a potential donor. But then the house of cards came tumbling down. Manu left this world leaving me stunned and the donor vanished. Our further attempts came to nought. In normal circumstances I would have been devastated but somehow this time I took the blow standing.

A new word had surreptitiously entered my life, one that I could have never appropriated earlier: serenity! I had never found myself using this word earlier but did, while answering a question from a dear friend. When she asked me how things were, I answered: serene. That is when I realised I had matured and mellowed. Gone were the hysterics and histrionics, the obsessive drive that characterised me till then. In its place acceptance of reality and the need to review, ponder and come up with another solution, one that need not be over the top or dazzling. This where I stand now and that is perhaps the only new adjective I am willing to add to my life as I enter a new decade.

I know it will be serene.