From seeking shadows to being the light
An only child and the youngest of all cousins, I grew up in a very protected environment, loved by one and all in the family. As I compared myself with my cousins, right from a very small age I concluded that I was dark and not good looking. Having experienced bereavement in the family in early childhood, I was timid, withdrawn, sensitive and probably mature beyond my age.
Academically, I performed better than the average students in class. But I was never a topper, because I was too lazy and wasn’t self-motivated. My father had wanted me to be a doctor; the marks I obtained were, however, not what the doctor ordered.
No one was pointing fingers at me. I was being my own worst critic and enemy and doing a good job at that.
My first small job gave me some measure of confidence. When I was overlooked for an important social event in my second job with a larger organisation, I was convinced I was destined to be invisible.
Then came marriage to a lovely man. He made friends easily and could talk engagingly about virtually any subject. I often felt left out. That is when I decided to change and come out from my own shadow.
Being the change
We moved to Pune and I was determined to free me from myself. And that is where my journey of seeking inspiration from life began. I started looking at my life experiences as lessons and my weaknesses slowly started transforming into strengths.
After another corporate stint, I found myself working with orphans—children of all ages clinging to me for love and attention. They were at an age where they understood the concept of not having a family or home and yet never complained. They were always cheerful and happy with whatever life had to offer.
That was the first time I truly learnt to be grateful, for what I had, a family to belong to, a home for shelter and so much more, which I had always taken for granted. That is the place from where I began looking at life with gratitude. Those children taught me to smile and let the child within me re-live my childhood. It was at this institution that I had an opportunity to interact and work with people of different nationalities, from different educational and socio-economic backgrounds.
A trip to the US to escort four children to their adoptive families gave me an opportunity to step out of my protected environment for the first time and gave me a chance to learn and adapt to a different culture. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying it. I was invited to schools to talk about my country, my city and the adoption centre I belonged to. My impromptu speeches and interaction with unknown people helped me gain self-confidence and a positive self-esteem.
Finding strength within
A prolonged illness in the family taught me that life is uncertain and so we should make the most of every moment, instead of spending it complaining about things and situations beyond our control. During those difficult times, I found a different strength within me, which I never knew existed.
When the whole family and even the doctors were not so hopeful about the outcome of the treatment, I stayed calm and positive, doing whatever was required to keep everyone in good spirits. By the grace of God, after almost a year’s treatment and prayers, the family member survived and is healthy today. This one year taught me the power of positive thinking.
It was during this year that I realized how strong I was. The lazy, shadowy Prerna had turned into an always-lit lamp of positivity.
This illness in the family inspired me to help more patients to stay positive. So, I went on to volunteer at a hospital and an NGO involved in helping cancer patients. Here, among other things, I conducted a workshop on self-expression through art. I arranged for the patients to watch a movie in a cinema hall. The smile on their faces and their comments confirmed my belief that when we are going through difficult times, the way to lessen the load is to shift our focus to something that makes us happy.
Then I had the opportunity to set up a foundation for a large construction company to look after the welfare of migrant labourers, who worked at construction sites in various parts of the country. My focus was on their health and living conditions as well as the education of their children.
This work brought me the opportunity to travel alone and meet people from different parts of India. I interacted with people at different economic and hierarchical levels, gave motivational talks, and compered several formal and informal functions. The old Prerna would have been shocked. But she was not; she was gone.
Along the way, I mothered a beautiful daughter. Motherhood brought along its own share of pleasures and pains. There were times when I went through excruciating moments of doubt. Am I being a good mother? Should I be stricter or softer? Am I responsible for her actions and reactions? For her success and her failure? Am I transferring my own demons and doubts to her?
Gradually, I evolved to be a happier, calmer and understanding mother.
I have learnt that little children fall sick with a change in weather, food or even caregivers. The health issues are not due to the mother’s negligence or ignorance, but it is meant to help children develop immunity and become physically stronger.
I have learnt to not take things personally, when a teenager is trying to express her frustrations. It does not reflect upon the values and manners that the mother has taught. That is simply an expression of the child’s jumping hormones and the stress she is trying to cope with due to the demands of her own life.
I have also learnt that as parents, besides being a role model and a guide, we also need to be open to learning from our children. Children can teach us so much. Living in the moment, forgiving easily, putting myself on the priority list are a few of the very important life lessons that I have learnt from my daughter.
Life, my best teacher
Yes, the academic qualification helped. So did my professional exposure to play therapy, sand play therapy, counselling and leadership skills. But life has been my best teacher yet.
Today, when I help yet another person, I do not sit with bagful of solutions. I listen, I try to understand, I empathize, I learn. Every session is an education for me. All the learnings go into my day’s work. Every happy outcome a humbling reminder that I am a mere medium and a means to an end.
When I spend a few quiet moments with myself every morning, with the sun yet to rouse the birds, I am deeply grateful for yet another day to learn, to share and to help.