The Song of a Single Mom: The Job Search

I woke up one morning hyperventilating about my job. In the midst of all the stress of the shifting and the tension of the settling down, I had forgotten that I was without a job for so many months. No, that is incorrectly put. I didn’t actually forget, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind. Where it should not have been. It should have been at the forefront, since the borrowed money would barely hold me in good stead for only for a month. And the saved money was almost over.  I was gradually reaching the place, where people in these parts of the world refer to as “meri toh lag gayee”.  Or, the s*it has hit the fan. Yes, I was gradually reaching that unenviable position. The worries that made me spend sleepless nights even a month ago, were coming back.

There just were no leads. There were no calls from consultants. Even where there were leads, which turned into interviews, which turned into jobs, things suddenly went into suspended animation also known as “on hold”. Take the case of the  worlds leading telecom company, where I aced the interviews every time there was one (I am not being a cocky bitch. I am in HR and I know how to interpret interviews). I was super confident that the company would send me the appointment letter the next day, especially since someone called me from Poland and told me with great urgency that I had to fly to Mumbai for my final interview. According to one of its  directors (whom I knew from my previous company), my “engagement was confirmed” here and I need not worry. I fitted the bill perfectly.  Not quite, as it turned out.  Thanks to the great recession of 2008, which continues to grow from strength to strength, the position was put on hold and would only be up in the first quarter of 2010. This information came after much prodding and not from the HR department. I am amazed at the lack of responsibility and sensitivity that HR departments  sometimes show. I mean, aren’t you supposed to inform the candidate, who paid 10 grand from her own pocket to get interviewed (that is another story, they just refused to pay up later), that the position has been put on hold. And this too, to one of their own. I can only imagine how much other candidates must suffer. A HR department must have reached the bottom of its ethics barrel to behave in this manner.  Almost a million sarcastic emails were exchanged, but nothing much came out of it. I remained in my state of joblessness.

The job that my school friend A and her husband had given me the lead for and for which I was almost hired went on hold too. “Going on hold” is probably the phrase that’s most dreaded by job seekers. It means that after endless rounds of interviewing and the endless times you tell them “something about your family” things did not work out after all.

A leading advertising agency interviewed me for one of their positions and almost hired me, as per the recruitment consultant,  to then put that job “on hold” as well.

On hold means that it is not a yes, yet, but it is definitely Not a no!!!  So you keep hoping the job will come back up, even though in your heart of hearts, you probably know it never will. As Woody Allen said somewhere recently, “Everyone needs their own little fictions to cope with the harshness of life”. And that the job will soon be off its on-hold status, was mine.

A peeve that I have with  job interviews in India is the question all interviews start with: tell me something about yourself. I immediately start going on a professional journey, but they stop me to tell me that they want to know something personal as well. Having done my training in Human Resources from the United States, where asking any personal questions could be an invitation to a law suit, I am almost always thrown off by this one. What do I say? Do I say I have a husband? Do I say I am separated? How will that be taken?

Rather badly, in fact, as I found out some time later. I had gone to yet another job interview where I had told the interviewer, an older lady, that I was separated.  Then on, all she was interested was, was my separation. When was I separated? Was that before or after my last job? Or was I separated while living in America? How old was my child? How many years after marriage was he born? This went on and on for about an hour. I could not take a moment more of this, but all I could do was to grin and bear, because I knew I needed the job too badly. I could barely survive another month without a job and now was not the time to give the interviewer a course on the politically correct interviewing techniques. I ultimately did not get that job. Whether it was for my personal information, or lack of professional knowledge, I will never know.

It has been extremely hard for me to keep my spirits up through a period when all jobs went into a state of suspended animation. It has now been ten months since I have last worked. There have been days when I did not want to get out of bed feeling like worthless, feeling like the biggest loser ever. My worries about funds have taken me into the depths of despair. But I have never allowed that feeling to engulf me. I have never let myself show the world my desperation. I have put on a happy face for the world and it has helped me in springing back up. I believe happiness is a choice. And that happiness begets happiness. My experiences could have turned me into a bitter person, but I chose to be happy.

I chose to tell my son fairy tales at bed time. I chose to bake lemon cakes with lemon butter icing. I chose to buy yeast to bake my first French baguette. I chose to sit on the red recliner, sipping apple juice in wine glasses which is such an integral part of the PVR Gold class experience with my friend H, laughing our heads off over the silliness of bollywood movies. Window shopping with my friend D, telling her that she can definitely get all those designer dresses made by the friendly neighbourhood tailor for a fraction of the prices, giggling ourselves silly…. I chose to do that.

Precious, the overweight black teen mother, suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse from her father and mother, from the Hollywood movie of the same name, saw a thin white female with blond hair every time she saw herself in the mirror. I see a confident, hopeful, happy person, certain of a better tomorrow.

I am not religious. I am not even very spiritual. But there is only one thing that I believed in. Steadfastly. That, “this too shall pass”. And that, while things fall apart, they also fall back into place. This, and a strong belief  in myself has been the wind beneath my wings!! This is not to say I do not have days when I do not have moments of self-doubt.  But I choose to overcome them.  And I hope, someday, I will be able to “ Fly, fly, fly high against the sky, so high I almost touch the sky…….”

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The Song of a Single Mom: Memories….

There are some things you want to remember forever. Consciously. Or sub consciously. Like when a child gazes up at his mother and imprints her face into his little brain. Experiencing  unadulterated, unconditional  love perhaps for the only time in his entire existence.

Or the moment you realize you love the person you’ve known for a while with a heart aching love, but that he or she can never be yours. And you want to remember forever, that face, the way the hair falls on the face, the way they look at you at that very moment when you want to reach out and touch them. But you can’t. You want to remember that moment for ever.

There may be many such moments you may want to etch in your brain. Or just a few. But every one has that moment in life when they feel, this is the moment I will remember forever.

I was about twelve. I was going out to play with my friends in  the evening. And I saw my mother. Sitting in the garden. In a white organza saree. With small flowers printed on it. With a string of pearls around her neck. One of the few pieces of jewellery she owned. Reading a favourite book. She looked so ethereal. So at peace. So happy.  I stood there.  Just looking at her. Till she looked up and smiled.  And thought to my self. I will remember this moment for ever. I went ahead and kissed her cheek and went on my way.

And almost twenty five  years from that day, I remember it like it happened a second ago. I remember the garden. The whiterajani gandha and juin flowers and the multi coloured hibiscus flowers she was so fond of planting in the garden. I remember the orange white and black plastic ribbon woven chair that was so much in vogue in middle class Bengali households in the eighties. I remember her saree, The  Bibhuti Rachanabali she was reading then. And how she looked up at me and smiled. And how I thought, I will remember this moment for ever.

Its been seven years now that I lost my mother. I had  planted aBakul tree in the garden. In the exact spot where she was sitting.  A tree I love. A tree that represents a longing for a lost love.

We have sold our house since. Moved in to a more convenient apartment near the airport. But the Bakul tree remains in our garden. I am not sure if it has started flowering yet. But sometimes, when I pine for my mother, I sometimes feel the sweet scent of Bakul wafting in.

And whenever  I cross a Bakul tree, and thankfully Delhi’s north campus area had many, I am transported back to when I was twelve years old, when there were only beginnings and no ends and to the moment that I remember forever.

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The Song of a Single Mom: Balancing Out

The next few days were spent mostly into getting into the rhythm of things here. These were the first  couple of days I got where I finally managed to look around the place. This stretch of road, which starts at the church   looks exactly like the urban village that it is. Small suburban shops, houses that grow off of one another, stuck in the crevice that exists between the villages that Delhi had engulfed to claim as its own and Delhi itself. It seemed a world away from the Americanized shops at the community center, yet it existed proudly, wearing its small town shops like a pin on its lapel. The parks, the wide roads and the open spaces of SV were its own for claiming which made it an immensely likable place with a smorgasbord of conveniences, parks, small town mentality and nouveau   rich overweight men and women showing off their newly acquired wealth.

Boxes were still being unpacked and I was loving the idea of doing up the new house. Little knick knacks that I had collected over the years but never unpacked ever since we had moved back from the United States were now unpacked and put in place.  I realized I needed some cupboards and at least a bookshelf. The earlier place being a government accommodation and a rather shabby one at that, I never did want to do anything nice to the place. Besides, I was too busy fighting every day battles to think about doing anything else. But this was my home as much as my home in Calcutta was. I wanted to put pretty red and yellow flowers in the vases. I wanted a white book-case. I wanted my Ikea mirrors on the wall. I wanted the Madhubani  painting that I had brought from my Calcutta home to be well lighted. This was a home that I was going to build with my son. And I wanted to make my son proud to be in this home that I would be creating with him.

K told me that there was a hand me down furniture market near Jamia Millia Islamia. Sometimes you get really good bargains there. I had no way of buying new furniture. Not even second-hand furniture. May be third hand or fourth hand.  While I wanted my home to look nice, I just wanted something functional for now, the price of newer furniture being a deterrent.

I asked H if he would accompany me to the market. I wasn’t comfortable with going to that area by my self. No, I wasn’t bigoted. I did not think that being Muslim populated area would necessarily make it unsafe. I had gone to Chandni Chowk alone earlier. But somehow, now, I felt, my responsibility to my son increased a million times ever since it became the two of us. What if something happened while I was there? I didn’t know the area. I would not know the way out. I wanted someone I could depend on who I knew would guide me should something happen. I hated myself for being so jittery. I hated myself for stereotyping a community, something that I was vociferous in fighting against. But somehow, when it came to my son, no precaution was enough.  I would risk being branded a bigot if it meant keeping my son and me safe. Ideals which had held on to so dearly for so long didn’t take a second to fly out of the window where my son and I were concerned.

H and me took a leisurely rickshaw ride through the winding lanes of Jamia Nagar. We went past the Okhla Reservoir, in which, like the much abused Yamuna river, there was everything else but water. The Yamuna, which runs through the east of Delhi, could do for Delhi what the Seine had done for Paris or the Hudson for New York. But Delhi chooses to not use its water bodies at all. Cities that build their waterfront intricately into their urban fabric also exist in India, Mumbai being the best example, but Delhi chooses to have its Yamuna silted up and the Okhla reservoir  overgrown with weeds.

I was expecting a market. There wasn’t any. Much like the Dariyaganj old book market, there were certain shops on the footpath of a residential area. These were mostly doors, windows, cabinets and cupboards taken from old houses that were being torn down.  I was extremely disappointed. I remembered my trips to Ikea and Laura Ashley while in San Diego or the even the Godrej interio store while we were setting up our house in Delhi.  I was not a retail snob at all. I happily flaunted  my  fake Louis Vuitton  purse bought from New York’s China Town, where the fat Chinese lady told me I was getting the bargain of a lifetime.  But this was not something I thought I would resort to. Ever.  H looked at me hesitating. He was perceptive. Very kindly he told me, a new cupboard would cost me at least Rs 20,000. Did we want to go to a new store? The amount brought me back to reality. It would take care of a month’s expenses!! With an extra bounce in my steps I went to the man in the flowing beard. Brought out my best haggler’s smile and asked him the price of the two identical looking cherry polished cupboards that needed a lot of work, but would definitely serve the purpose. The white bookshelf that I had dreamt about was there too.  I hadn’t expected my luck to favour me so much. I love cherry polish and the white book-case was a perfect fit. And all three of them came for Rs 4000 only. A tenth of the price of new ones. It was like I had won the hand me down furniture lottery!!!

H helped me with carrying the all of them back home. He arranged for the carpenter to come the next day, got me plywood and paint and the cupboards were as good as new!!

Later that night went out with K, her husband and son the next night. We went to have burgers in NFC. I was glad K suggested the outing. I needed a break. I needed to stop thinking of money and interviews and jobs and needed to just have fun.  We ate cheap Indianized burgers at Fast Trax. They were so much more tastier than McDonald’s and a lot easier on the pocket too.  K’s husband C took the kids to the terrace where there was a play area for kids. K and me waited downstairs to get our food while C had taken the kids food with him. We go upstairs a little later to see C feeding both Ik and A, his son, with both children on either side of him. I choked back some tears while emotions tugged at my heartstrings. C treated my son like his own and I realized it took an extremely kind and sensitive individual to do what C did so naturally.

The kindness of people, who were hitherto strangers and who, in a short period of time, turned into friends for life is something that has kept me going. People to whom I have nothing to give. I was without a job now, I could not get them one. Heck, I couldn’t take them out for a drink even!!  Nature has a strange way of balancing things in your life. When you think you have lost everything that you had worked so hard for, your job, your marriage, the home you called your own, something will come into your life to fill the void. It’s almost like being on a beach, where the waves take away the beautiful shells you were collecting, but bring back even prettier ones to you.

Life is never a vacuum. Yes, I don’t have a job, I don’t have money, but I have friends who love me and stand by my son and me. They pick up the pieces for me when I am about to break into a million little ones.  They lend me money and tell me I can return it whenever I can. They act as surrogate parents to a five-year old missing his father. They tell me to chase the butterfly of my dreams. They tell me I will see the rainbow one day.

I told K to thank C for me. I don’t know if she did. I don’t even know if C reads these posts. But this one is dedicated for all my friends and especially friends like C and H, whom I have known for a very short time, but who have made me want to believe that the sun will shine brighter tomorrow.  My son and me may not have a traditional family structure any more, but we have a newer one, a better one. A one that would never let us be alone….

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The Song of a Single Mom: Putting the pieces together….

Today was relatively calmer. It started off with Ik going to school. However did get the initial scare when it was 8.05 and the van still hadn’t arrived. While I have advocated the use of a van, but still, are they a little lax when it comes to time? The headmistress of the school was very pointed about timeliness as she very rightly should be, but the van wallah gave me a heart attack when he arrived at 8.10. Very calmly he said, “Main toh 8.20 tak bachcha leta hun aur fir bhi school pauch jata hun 8.30 baje.” The speed that he then must be using to ferry the kids over a distance of 8 kms in a span of 10 minutes, gave me a shudder, but I chose to repose my faith in the almighty and sent Ik off to school. However, I did make a mental note to change over to a bus, should this Van system not work out. That would defeat the basic purpose of choosing the van though, but ce la vie. Lets see.

Going to the bank was the next big thing. In the first couple of days, one needs to get this over with. Change the address in the bank accounts one holds. Thank God I have very less money (I am being sarcastic here people), but one good fall out of not having enough money is not having enough bank accounts to deal with. For once I pitied those with a thousand bank accounts and a thousand credit card accounts. Imagine having to change the address in so many of them. I suppose I could do it online, but then again I did not have net banking, which is really strange of me, since I was a total netbanker in the days of yore and by yore, I mean when we lived in America.

K told me the location of the ICICI and HDFC banks. Thank heavens for the introduction of these private banks. I remember HDFC soliciting customers like me in the late nineties when it set up. I then had an acquaintance in BoA, who, very snootily told me, of HDFC bank is so going to flop. Well look who flopped now!  World  over it is the big banks that keep on failing.

Anyways, I digress. But I am impressed with the customer service of the private banks, I must say. I was directed to the right counter by a smiling woman who smile wavered for a bit when an aggressive elderly Punjabi woman in impeccable English expressed irritation why each personal banker did not have the locker keys even though the board hanging above their heads said LOCKER. Oh for Christ’s sake, lady!!Give the upperclass  Punjabiyat  (for the lack of a better word) a rest, please. The lady I was directed to was unsmiling but courteous and very matter of factly told me that my lease agreement was worthless as far changing of the address was concerned and I would need to provide a letter addressed to me for the change of address. “Well”, I said, trying unsuccessfully the mix the right amount of desperation, irritation and sarcasm in my voice, but mostly managing to sound desperate, “I just moved, I have nothing”. Unsmiling lady keyed in a few more numbers, scanned through my account details her facial expression giving away nothing and me desperate for one twitch in her brow or a crease line next to her eyes to change, so that I can plead with her before the sword of Damocles falls on my head and I have to (gasp!) come back again. I mean, its not too far, I could come, and it is only a Rs 15 rickshaw drive away (which the DU North campus rickshaw wala would invariably charge Rs 30), but have you seen the blazing sun lately? I mean, IPCC may have done what it has done, but the fact remains that March this year is atleast 10 degrees hotter than what it was last year. Global Warming exists, and we better get used to it.

But wait, something changed in unsmiling lady. She looked  at me and said that since I was a classic customer ( I am so glad I did take some intelligent decisions in my life) all I needed was a pan card copy and a filled out form. Anyways, there were two forms that said address change and I invariably chose the shorter one, but  she sent me back to fill out the longer one, but i didn’t regret it one bit.

Next stop MTNL. I cannot stress the importance of having an MTNL landline.  It is one of the very few accepted proofs of residence accepted in Delhi. School after school after school insisted on an “MTNL bill” as an accepted proof of residence. As do a lot of other legal requirements. We may have privatised our lives to the core, but the long hand of the government makes sure it is present in alteast one  part of our lives. And hey, in this age of competition, MTNL holds its head up just fine in the sea of the airtels and the reliances and the tata indicoms. Glad that some sarkari companies still can elicit atleast a cheer or two.

However, the cheerful lady at the counter told me I had to come back. I wasn’t  a classic customer here, (is anyone, at MTNL?) and I HADN’T gotten the documentation right, in spite of being given the information earlier, so I had to get it and come back again.  No amount of pleading would work, I realized. I had to go back, this time, with the correct documentation.  My work went off smoothly this time around, except when I was accosted by another late 50ish Punjabi lady, extremely dishevelled, except for the shocking black lipstick she had on, which she somehow thought would bring her youth back to her. Brazenly she asked for a pen from me and before I was about to give her mine, she also demanded that I fill up her form. Now I could, technically. It is, afterall, good Karma to help other people, especially the elderly. But she pissed me  off with her attitude and besides this was an even longer form that needed a lot more information. I usually am unable to say no to these kind of requests, but this time I found myself saying no without any qualms. She continued pestering every other official in sight, till one official very calmly asked her to go to counter number 6A, which I assume is the Sanchaar haat’s  equivalent of a black hole, coz I tried looking for her on my way out, but didn’t find her atall.

Now to the subject of Ik. He is an extremely sensible child and if he is missing his father, (there wasn’t much to be missed anyways, except for an hour a day, Sundays and public holidays and restricted holidays included) he is definitely not showing it. Also the fact that there is another child here and an endless supply of toys helps in diverting the attention. But two children will fight, and Ik’s longer span of crying is nothing but a cry out for all the change that is happening in his mind. He is, after all a child, and I can only imagine what the toll of the separation is in his mind. He must be at pains to understand why papa is not living with us, even though I did tell him that Papa has to go to office and hence could not move with us. The scrambled understanding comes out in rebellious streaks, comes out in the extra long crying, comes out in the banging of K’s door when he thinks K’s son A has taken his car, when he knows perfectly well that the car actually belongs to A. It manifests itself in the closeness him and I share in bed at night when he cuddles up close to me and tells me what happened at school and makes up stories that makes no sense atall. All with his head on my arms and his arms around my neck.

Ik isn’t the most articulate of speakers, he started speaking very late and often has trouble putting Hindi sentences together. But he has the eyes of an angel that look in wonderment at the world. Eyes that well up in tears when I scold him and eyes that look to me for support when he is at a loss for words. I would much rather that he had those eyes and be what he is than become a chalu capital city kid who seem to be a miniature adult with all the answers and no amazement in their eyes!!

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The Song of a Single Mom: baby steps ahead…

Next stop MTNL. I had decided on a MTNL landline and internet connection. An MTNL bill comes in handy for a lot of purposes.  And none of its competitors had any significant price advantage over it. I took a rickshaw to Community Center, which turned out to be the NFC community center. I had never been to NFC before, having only heard of its Shawarmas and other exotic places, including Al Bake, about which I had read a lot about and definitely wanted to try it out some day.

NFC community center was an extremely pleasant surprise. Funky trying to be yankee  eateries selling popcorn chicken took me to that smallish drive thru in east Los Angeles which had the best popcorn chicken ever. Made a mental note to check it out at some point, but now was definitely not the time. I moved my unwilling legs determinedly to MTNL Sanchar Haat.

Just Dial gave me the location of the Sanchar Haat.  K had given it too. But boy am I glad for just dial. For pressing 2 eight times, I get information on my finger tips about electricians, sofa repair men, restaurants and sanchar haats. I have been patronizing this service from the beginning  and I am so proud they are trying to make it in the US. I am sure, with the American’s penchant for getting everything served to them, Just Dial will do Just Fine.

It was much different than the Mukherjee Nagar Sanchar Haat, which was much smaller, much more disorganised, filled with unsmiling men, who were sometimes helpful. This one had a smiling lady whose smile brightened up the entire room. She gave me the form, explained the requirements and told me that the connection would be done in 3-4 days. For a sarkari office, that IS impressive.

The Aquaguard man was in when I came back, trying to set up the Aquaguard.  He came with a colleague, told my Aquaguard was almost damaged because the carbon had not been changed and the water was full of dirt. I did see some brown looking water, but did not buy into his theory of the Aquaguard almost breathing its last. It was a precursor to selling the AMC (Annual Maintenance Contract), which I was waiting for, while doing a countdown till 10, wondering whether he would hit the AMC note while I was at 6 or 2. It came when I was around 5. I told him I would think about it, I wasn’t  about to sink in so much money right now and could I give him a call tomorrow? His surliness increased as he told me that would cost an extra Rs 250, which I said I was ready to pay.

Then it was the electrician’s turn to grace us with his presence. He had to set up the inverter, but very strangely insisted on keeping it outside the apartment. Well what if it gets stolen. Nothing will happen he told with a smile. Well what if it does? Smile. I was still not happy with the idea.  I couldn’t afford to buy another one.

I k came back from school on time and proceeded to play with A, K’s son. I am so glad I took the decision of coming to a place where there was a child Ik’s age. If there were a million questions in Ik’s head about the separation, about his mom and him living in a separate house, he just did not have the time to think about it.  His mind was filled with excitement about new toys that A had which he could now share, trips to the park, new games with A and his older cousin, new tv programs that he could watch thanks to K’s Tatasky . He just did not have the time to think about his father any more. Not that his father helps things much. He did not call the entire day today. Even if he does, Ik doesn’t  want to talk to him much. I was stunned when he told me that i don’t miss my dad much. On my incredulous ‘why would you say that?’ He said because ‘dad  doesn’t miss me. He misses only X’, naming one of his dad’s students!! I had nothing more to say. I was awake for much longer than Ik. Staring into the black night. Thinking, hoping, that my yesterday would not affect his tomorrow too much……….

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The Song of a Single Mom: A new start….

The first  Monday. The beginning of the week.  Everything would need to start from today, including Ik going to school for the first time in the van. The Van wallah had said he would be in at 8 to pick Ik up, and perhaps because it was the first day he did. But he asked me for a photo ID of him which I did not have ready. He should have told it to me yesterday when he came to see my house, but he chose not to. We here in India leave a lot to the power of assumption. I should have assumed that that an I-card for the van would be necessary, which I should have figured out anyways, given that the school I-cards were still not in.

But what riles me about this country is why we do not have processes and even if we do, choose not to disseminate the information. I remember Mr. K, Principal Secretary Health, in one of India’s newly minted states, which I had recently visited for a project, telling us how we as a country have our good governance in the hands of good workers, not in the hands of good processes. Once you have a good officer, the governance immediately gets its standards raised, but the minute the person leaves, the entire governance falls down like a house of cards. The processes that we have are the ones that delay work in the form of red tapism, not the ones that enable work. The minute the extremely capable matron of a prestigious hospital changes, you can bet your life that even the children’s ward will be rat infested.

In anycase, a makeshift Id was made and given to the Van driver. I called the Van Driver again to make sure that they reached on time. They did. One of the most important tasks of the day completed. Now I could brave the rest of the day.

The workers came in soon after. Noise and air pollution was becoming intolerable. The stairs were being done, so the kota stones were being cut. The carpenters arrived to do the final touch ups. The electrician arrived to take care of the rest of the electrical fixings.  Everything needed to be done. The Aquaguard, which I had almost forcibly brought with me, as was the case with the inverter, needed to be set up. The phone connection was required. The gas connection needed to be applied for. There was just too much to be done in one day. Had I been the me of 5 years before even, I would have been extremely flustered and stressed out. But that was me then. And this is me now.

Over five years of living in a war zone where daily dodging of missiles and planning new ways of attack is an everyday affair, the mind  teaches itself  tricks to cope with any situation. The key to staying calm in the midst of madness is to pretend that it is happening to someone else. But keep your eyes firmly on the tasks that you can do and prioritise them. Make sure you stick to them and make a mental note to get all of them done before the day ends.  Do not beat yourself up if one task does not get done, but remember it just gets added to the next day’s task.

The gas connection came first since a half used cylinder would only last so many days and Prof X didn’t seem keen on transferring the gas to my name, (“I might get a cook”), I marched myself to the gas agency to get myself a new connection. Shouldnt be a problem. Gas agencies of today are very well managed professional organizations, so it would be a breeze.  Entered a smallish room of Indane gas agency where everyone seemed extremely busy. One bulimic looking but extremely stylish girl in a BTM (Behenji Turned Mod) way had 2 phones in both hands and was in deep conversation with customers, I am assuming. The minute she kept one phone down and looked up at me, pausing between sentences, I almost pounced on her and asked her for a new gas connection. She directed me to a smallish older  male who took in my question while looking at my breasts,  told me that the gas connection is not available now, while also looking at my breasts and on my  incredulous why, kept looking at my breasts while sadly nodding his head and telling me that the gas supply was stopped and that new connections were not being given.  I refused to let this blow devastate me much, which I should have been, given that we only had about 10 days worth of gas left, but I knew there would be a way out. Atleast my breasts made someone’s day!!

But why is it that we are 10 years into Rajiv Gandhi’s 21st century, which seemed then like the golden age when all of the country’s problems would be solved, and still have to say things like there is no gas supply, when I know perfectly well that gas is extremely well stocked in the black market from where  l will be buying cylinders worth Rs. 500 against the regular rate of Rs 310? Why is it that we are into the 21st century and still have no processes in the country to root out basic evils like these? Mr. K came to my mind immediately but I refused to let the lack of processes in the country bog me down or enrage me even. I had tasks to finish and could not let minor setbacks pull me down.

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The Song of a Single mom: Phoenix Unchained

After an hour of following the truck on the ring road, we finally moved into newly minted fresh green apartment. And into chaos. There was work going on still with the carpenters freaking out on their mean looking power drills. It was almost a big bang moment for us, landing bang in the midst of our apartment creation. K had spent most of the past two weeks supervising the workers day and night. She had actually managed to lose weight from all the stress she went through. She looked so much sexier for it though!

My movers, ultimately turned out to be good people. Not only did they make the move smooth for me after the initial stress bombs my Man Friday had thrown at me, they did it at an affordable price. They took just over an hour to set everything in place. It was the best Rs 5000 I had spent in a long time.

K had very kindly served us lunch. The bed had been set up, so we ate on the bed. It was a simple meal, but just what we had wanted at that point of time. My friend H had come to help us with the move. I met him through facebook and he was originally a friend of K’s but we became good friends after we met outside a couple of times.

The settling down was extremely tedious. Hours and hours of cleaning and opening of boxes.  And putting things in order. In the Delhi heat, it could almost rival the backbreaking work the migrant labourer is forced to do while opportunities dry up for him at home while the big city offers no other alternative. But of course it wasn’t that bad and I would never want to trivialize their struggles! But, boy was I happy for glad for the extra set of hands that H brought with himself.

The hard work wasn’t totally without its rewards though. While packing, I had stuffed each box, each suitcase, without really looking at what I was putting in. Unpacking was like taking a walk down a treasure trail. Old photos I had thought had gotten lost. A recommendation letter from my first job. My American driving license which I thought I had lost forever.

Finding the license brought on a bright smile to my tired face. It had taken a lot of effort to get this and I was proud of it, especially since getting a driving license was rather tough in California. I had totalled my first car when I was on my first learners permit and could not get back on to the horse for a long time. When I was pregnant with IK, I had shamed myself into learning how to drive. What would my son say, if he knew I couldn’t even learn how to drive? I was about 7 months pregnant when I trained with a wonderful instructor and passed my driving test. Every one thought it was crazy of me to do this when I was pregnant but, heeding to public opinion was never high on my priority list.

My maid, meanwhile,  was becoming surlier as the day progressed. She had spent the most of the last two years getting pampered by me and whittling down on her list of activities as the months and the years passed by. Maids are a working woman’s bane. You cannot live with them. You cannot live without them. I pampered her more than I should have, taking her out with me on my weekend trips with Ik, to expensive restaurants and even my vacations. She was, after all,  subbing for me in taking care of my most precious possession, my son. I tried to pamper her as much I could, because I knew that even a single unhappy moment for her would translate into lack of care for my son.

These were times when I yearned to go back to the days of the great Indian joint family. For all their problems, atleast this was a system that made sure that the child was taken care of. I ignored her tantrums and her bad behaviour, because I did not take away the third constant from Ik’s life, the maid. He had known her for the past two years and she was intricately involved in every aspect of his life. I was scared to take any harsh decision with her, which may rock the apple cart. But, I was pretty much fed up to the last hair on my head with her churlishness and general bad performance. Most of my things were filthy. There was not much of cleaning done, the time being better spent watching saas bahu serials on TV. I had told her a couple of times earlier to improve her performance, but backed off the minute she threatened me that she would leave. While there are cases of maid brutality that regularly appear in newspapers, my experience and the experience of most working women I know who lived in nuclear families has been that of being held to ransom by the maid.

I knew I would have to take the bold step of just getting rid of her some time, just as I had broken free from the sorry state of my marriage. The question was when and at what cost to Ik.

I barely noticed evening setting in. H had put in a hard days work and didn’t want to stay back for dinner. Our kitchen was set up, but no one had the energy to make any dinner. We ordered in.

Ik and I settled down in bed after dinner. It would just be the two of us earlier as well, Prof X and my bedrooms being separate for a long time. But today was different. There was a finality about the night that hit me hard. I was alone earlier as well, for all practical purposes, but this was totally a new ball game.

I sms d my friend T. She and a couple of my friends had held my hand, virtually, through all my hard times. T gave me a lot of emotional support.  My friend N, whom I had known since college lent me the money to make the move possible.

I had no siblings and my family like most families was extremely dysfunctional. The cousins I had grown up with turned into strangers.  The family I was born into withered away. The family I married into had broken into a million pieces.  But I had made a family for myself comprised of the people I genuinely liked and who had been with me through thick and thin. These were the people who held my hand. These were the people who I wanted to be my family. And these were the people who took me through my first night of absolute loneliness.

I curled into a foetal position. I was crying silent tears. What was to become of me? How did I end up in this situation? Could things have been different?  What was it that my friends on facebook showing off their happily married  statuses had that I did not have? Was I not pretty enough? Was I not talented enough? How did I end up jobless and husbandless at this juncture of my life? My entire life was reduced to a series of existential questions that ate into the core of my being.

But I also knew, that this was to be a night full of catharsis for me. And at the end of the night, I would like the proverbial phoenix bird, rise up from my ashes. And become a new me.

Posted in bringing up a child as a single mom, single mom, starting over in Delhi | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments