I grew up in Salt Lake in Kolkata, in a typically middle class household with middleclass values and a lot of emphasis on education. Ours was a happy family of four – my parents, my brother and I. My upbringing had the perfect balance of strictness and restrictions on the one hand and affection, care and protection on the other. My childhood memories are still vivid in my mind –the after school games, the humble birthday parties (where the commonest of gifts were books … a rarity these days), the month long rehearsals for cultural programs during Durga Puja, gorging on home-made sweets and snacks post Durga Puja in each other’s houses ……those were the days!
Studies were mandatory but music was my passion ever since I was a child. I started taking music lessons early on in my life. There was a time when I had the option of choosing music as a career but my parents chose studies for me.
After graduation, I enrolled for the Chartered Accountancy Course. As the course pressure increased I discontinued with my music training and solely concentrated on my studies.
After becoming a Chartered Accountant, my first job was with a US equity research firm. I worked there for some time and then joined a leading 5-star hotel chain in Internal Audit. Till that time, I had lived a sheltered life with help always ready at hand. I was docile, naïve and very tender at heart. Though during my articleship training and my first job, I had my first brush with the real world, it was in this organization that I evolved as a person. I became mature, learnt to deal with my own problems, became more confident, and learnt to fit in with the corporate culture. I got a really good exposure both in terms of work content as well as work environment.
Marriage followed in due course. I met my husband during my articleship training, which was a part of the CA course. We were undergoing our training in the same firm. We bonded instantly over our love for literature, a happy oasis far from the professional career we were preparing ourselves to get into. Both the families were very happy with the match.
The birth of my daughter in Feb 2008 was a huge celebration. Everyone was ecstatic. My husband’s aunt was the last girl child born into his paternal family. So everyone in their family was kind of desperate for a girl child. Life had never been better. Everything was perfect…may be a little too perfect.
One month after she was born I started getting gall stone pains. One visit to my surgeon to decide on the possible date of surgery and my whole world turned upside down. To cut a long story short, he noticed a nodule on my thyroid gland which could be malignant. A month later, I had both my gall bladder and my nodule removed in the same OT. A frozen section biopsy suggested the nodule was benign, so the surgeons spared my thyroid gland. We were relieved!
My Oncosurgeon however pestered me to get a detailed biopsy done. He was so insistent, that I got one done. The results suggested malignancy. And thus began my ordeal.
I had my office and then all the regular visits to various doctor’s clinics and diagnostics. My daughter was always with her nanny. I could hardly spend any time with her. Another month later I had another major surgery where they removed my thyroid gland.
Post-surgery my voice was gone. I would talk in whispers for months to come and when I reached a barely audible voice my throat would go sore if I spoke a little. I was hoarse and I hated to hear myself talk. Singing was like a distant memory from the past. It shattered me so completely that I was almost oblivious to the post-operative physical agony. I was told by the doctors that if my voice did not revive within 9 months, I was not likely regain it ever.
The fact that I was still working helped me retain my sanity. Looking at my little one gave me some solace. Apart from my own mental and physical agony there were sympathies, consolations and expressions of shock from everyone around. My only rock solid support was my husband. I was surprised to discover how much strength I had in me. I derived strength from my family; I derived strength from the paediatric ward of my hospital right next to my cabin, where I saw infants with bandages and needles and tubes on them; I derived strength from the resolve that I will no longer allow anyone to pity me; I derived strength from the thought that I have to raise my little one whom I have brought into this world.
I had been contemplating quitting my job for some time but did not have the courage. By the time my daughter was two, things were becoming increasingly difficult both at home and in office. I had my regular follow ups, scans and tests, office stress was getting on my nerves and my daughter was gradually shutting me out of her life. She would not speak to me if I was late from office; she would wake up in the middle of the night and want to be with her nanny; she would not eat if the nanny was not feeding her. I thought it was pretty uncharacteristic coming from a two year old.
I needed a break! I needed some peace! I needed some space! I wanted to be with my daughter!
I went to office one day, put in my papers and called up my husband to inform him. It was not an easy decision at all.
From October 2010 I started my journey as a stay at home mom.
Not one person supported my decision. Here too my rock solid support was my husband, though I know it was really difficult for him to accept me as a housewife.
March 2011, I went to AIIMS Delhi for my Radioactive Iodine Therapy (it is supposed to kill the remnant cancer cells, reduce chances of metastasis thereby increasing chances of survival). This is supposed to be taken within 2-3 months post-surgery. I had already been without its protection for 3 years after my surgery now.
I had kept on deferring the process till now because of the only condition attached to the otherwise painless process. I would have to be separated from my daughter for a whole month. But I could not evade it any longer. My follow up test results were alarming.
My daughter was 3 and would go to school for the first time without me. She was with her father at my in laws’ place a few blocks from our apartment. She had been told that I was still in the hospital. I would peep out of my window just to get a glimpse of her in her school uniform. My husband would slow down the car for me. That one month has been the toughest and longest one month of my life so far.
Since March 2011, visit to AIIMS has been my annual pilgrimage ….. Initially it was bi-annual.
During 2012, I settled down a little and started transcreating scripts in Bengali for Discovery and History channels. I did that for quite some time.
February 2013 …My daughter was 5 now. A couple of years back I had discovered that she could sing. It was sort of a solace. I took her to my Guruji. She was little and depended solely on me for her practice. But, I was now handicapped. My surgeon who had saved my life by his chance detection counselled me. He explained to me that the tendons and muscles around the vocal chord which were most likely damaged during the surgical procedure could regenerate. Willpower could do miracles. There were chances that I would partially get my singing voice back ….may be not the same texture and pitch as before, but it was certainly worth trying. Another fight began. My daughter was my strength this time. I would break down at times but would pull myself together again. I never stopped. I started my formal training again in January 2014. I joined as a teacher at my Guruji’s institute recently.
Since I could not confine myself to household chores alone I needed more engagements. I fell back on things I loved doing but could not find myself the time in the past few years.
I came to know about a very old form of paper art, quilling, in 2014. I have been addicted to it ever since and have taken it up professionally now.
Reading is back into my life. I write now, only for myself….for the sheer joy it brings me.
I am also making use of my professional qualification, though a full time involvement is no longer feasible.
As a full time mother to my daughter, I am trying to bring her up with the same balance of discipline and affection with which my parents brought us up. I wish to imbibe in her the same values we grew up with, so that she becomes a good human being.
My fight is still on. I still get criticized from all quarters for giving up my job. Things I still get to hear from close ones and not so close ones ; it’s a pity that you lost your job but you should have tried again; your degree is such a waste; what do you do all through the day; why don’t you start your own practice; at least do something.
Few people have the sensitivity to realize the impact their words have on the listener.
But I have tried to look at the positive sides of things. The troughs in my life have made me a changed person. This stems from the realization that life is so unpredictable. I have stopped looking too much into the future now. I have learnt to value small things in life. I have learnt to take each day as it comes. I have realized how important health and peace are. When I say these I don’t want to sound philosophical. These are what life has taught me. It is essential to accept the changed circumstances and work towards how to make the most of the current situation. I am still learning.
I miss having a full time job. My break was intended to be a temporary one but circumstances made it permanent. However, on introspection, I realize that the fat pay check at the end of every month was not worth the pain of my child drifting away from me and the mental stress of trying to please everyone everywhere but myself. I feel happy that my child feels secure with me around. It touches my heart when I read out Tagore’s ‘Dui Bigha Jomi’ and ‘Daakghor’ to my little one and see her eyes filled with tears. I feel proud when my daughter sings a song that she has learnt from me and people praise her.
I feel my parents raised me with a lot of dignity and self-respect which helped me tide off difficult times with grace.
Interview co-ordinated for IWI: Rhiti Bose