This happened some 6-7 years ago. I lived in Chile then. I had to consult a physician about a mole that was growing on my leg, and it was also indicating inward growth – a kind of plantlike feeling where I felt it had a root.
At the clinic:
Doc– Buenos Dias, señora!
“Buenos Dias, señor!”
Doc– Cual es el problema? (what is the problem?)
“No sé mucho español. ¿Puedo hablar en inglés? (I don’t know much Spanish. Can I speak in English?)
Doc– Si, Si. No problema. I know leetle, leetle Englich.
“That’s a relief. Thank you so much!”
So, I tell him what my concerns are about the mole on my thigh. He asks me some pertinent questions. Nods his head thoughtfully.
Doc– Ok, I will see it first.
Then he gets up and walks away from the his desk towards a curtained area in one corner of the room.
Doc– Come with me here, señora. You will remove your trouser and I am going to touch you here, in this place.
I almost burst out laughing. The immediate thought that ran through my head was…‘what if I were silly enough not to understand what he meant!’ I’d have gathered my handbag and vamoosed out of the room!
“Ok, señor,” I said instead and followed him into the curtained area.
Examination done. He agreed that there was a downward, rootlike growth. Diagnosis would depend on removing the mole surgically and sending it for biopsy. We walked out and sat at his desk. He had to decide on a date for the surgery. That done, I stood up and thanked him from the depths of my heart.
Doc– So señora, how you like my Englich?
“Awesome, señor doctor!” I said genuinely appreciative. “I am so happy to have found a doctor with whom I could communicate in English.”
It was one of those gatherings – the ones where the local Indian origin diaspora collect to celebrate some Indian festival or someone’s b’day etc. So, it was one which I had to attend as the ‘family’ was invited. I had come up here to visit from Chile. It is taken for granted and understood by all and sundry that any visiting relation is also included in an invitation for the whole family. Not attending could be misconstrued to mean anything, definitely not in a good light, if the person was not laid down with an ailment or had a very good reason not to attend. This would be the second or third one I was attending so I was familiar with some faces and names that I could remember.
“Hello aunty!” said a young woman smiling brightly. (Indians call any known elderly person aunty or uncle, as the case may be, even though there’re no family ties.) I recognized her and thankfully remembered her name too. She was a motormouth and one that poked her nose into everyone’s business and gossiped too.
“Hello! How are you?”
“Good, good. Nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you too. I guess one gets to meet more often at these gettogethers.”
“Didn’t you have these in Chile?”
“Well, not for the entire Indian community. We’d have one at Diwali and some other festivals too. But I’d go only if it was hosted by the employees of my son’s company for their families and some close friends. So, only the group of friends who visited each other, and the office crowd would attend, not the entire Indian crowd living there. Even then, I only attended a couple or so of these parties, not all.”
“Oh! Ok. Didn’t the parents of the others come?”
“No. There weren’t any parents around most of the time.”
“Then it must have been very boring. Ours here is nice. Everyone has company. So many seniors are here to keep you company.
“I think you got me wrong,” I laughed. “I didn’t skip these events because they were “boring” due the absence of “seniors” presence. In fact, I enjoyed them. I find it always more interesting to interact with the young ones. And my age group would be great if we had common interests. I don’t like domestic chatter when we should actually be having a ball!”
She looked at me a bit aghast. I could see the mills in her head churning – her eyes and expression couldn’t disguise it. She decided to change the topic.
“So, what do you do the whole day? You must be very, very busy looking after three grandkids the whole day. Especially baby-sitting the little ones! All our mothers are occupied doing that. They look after the kids and stay busy the whole day taking care of all their needs.”
“Oh no. I have quite a lot to occupy me. And that doesn’t include “looking after and taking care of all their needs.” I do things for them but it’s not a nanny kind of baby-sitting schedule that frees up time for the parents,” I laughed, “I let the parents do their share!”
“No? You don’t!” she exclaimed shocked.
“Well, I do engage with the kids as in play or if need be keep an eye on them when a parent is not around. I spend time with them singing, playing games, telling stories, and if it’s just us at home, I supervise meal time. I take the elder two for walks. I can’t give all my time to them on a daily basis. I need time for myself and the things I do.”
“Our mother’s love looking after the kids. They enjoy seeing to their every need. It gives us mothers a rest.” she said rather defensively.
“I’m sure they do. I do enjoy my time with mine, it’s just that I can’t be on call all the time. Most grandmoms, I guess, don’t mind looking after the grandkids 24×7, my own mom included! I applaud them.
“I have my own schedule and to-do list, you see,” I continued, “I just can’t fit in that kind of duty. In any case, I know I’d be awful in such a granny schedule. There are some things I’m loathe to do,” I explained my side of the situation. “Luckily, in Chile, we had a nanny 24×7 for the twins!”
“But, I can look after them, for short spells, and be a pretty interesting, funny granny who teaches as she plays,” I added.
She had a glassy stare and a fixed half smile.
“Oh, nice talking to you. Enjoy.” And she left in a hurry.
I did wonder about that. She seemed put off. Then I shifted my attention to doing what I like best when I’m in a room full of people – people-watching!
The next day, I got my answer to why the lady had hurried off all of a sudden. She had something very important to do… dispense information. I learned, from my son, that she had told all the ladies that I had called their mothers “NANNIES” because they looked after their grandkids- seeing to everything- feeding, eating, bathing, diaper changes, putting them to sleep, entertaining etc., etc.
“Did I?” I laughed. “That’s ridiculous! I never even remotely referred to anybody’s mother. I specifically pointed to myself. I just said I could not fit in the schedule of the nanny we had in Chile, in my daily agenda, because I had my own to-do list and if I did, I’d be an awful granny then, anyway. But I could be an awesome Granny, in short spells, which I am!”
I further explained to him, “There was no inference either because we were discussing ME and “baby-sitting. And I was addressing her assumption that I must be “very, very, busy looking after three grandkids the whole day.” In fact, I applauded their moms, including my own mother, in the group of grannies who liked to look after their grandkids’ “every” need.
Well, the lady sure had some inference, assumption issues or was it just a ‘sporting’ one of – JUMPING to conclusions?
When I was widowed, we lived in a very conservative and restrictive society in a rather backward province at the time. So things were pretty bad for me with my sort of disregard for their stifling conventions that made no sense to me.
It was a society that took away the colors from a widow’s life, literally and figuratively too. Any kind of fun and enjoyment was banned for her. Dressing up was absolutely forbidden – no jewelry either. As if that weren’t enough, society had decreed that these unfortunate women could only wear certain colors – specifically, a dull, dark maroon and a dull greenish-blue. This identified them as widows. It horrified me that such rules were imposed on them. Imagine wearing clothes that put a tag on you WIDOW for everyone’s information! As if they hadn’t suffered enough. And for what purpose? It wasn’t their fault that fate had dealt them such a blow!
I recall a social acquaintance of mine, one who is a non-practicing, lawyer, telling me why the women of their society “willingly” accepted these social norms. She tried to explain it to me by quoting her widowed mother:
“My mother accepted it because she believed, ‘Once a husband dies, there is no color left in life. Life becomes totally colorless.‘ This is why it is okay for them to wear these colors and not wear jewelry nor participate in festivals and entertainment of any kind.”
“Oh, really?” I interrupted her with undisguised sarcasm. “What about the men, the widowers?”
“What about them,” she countered. “They are men. These things don’t apply to them They can carry on their lives.”
“Exactly my point – Why doesn’t it apply to them? Why does everyone start looking out for a wife for the widower, but push the widow into deeper misery? Why do they strip her of her dignity and self-respect? Why do they want to kill her spirit? Why make them like living corpses that way?”
“That’s how it’s been for years and that’s how it will remain. Who can stop it? At least it is better than Sati.”
“If the practice of Sati (burning the wife alive on the funeral pyre of the husband) can be stopped and declared a crime, this can be too. All it takes is the decision to fight against it. All it needs is one strong person to stand against it.”
“That’s what you think. We women don’t think so.”
“How many young widows have you asked about how they feel and what they think about this, with the assurance of confidentiality and secrecy?”
“I don’t need to ask anyone,” she was riled and het up. “This is our ‘rivaaz’. Our culture. And our society will follow it.”
“And are women in this ‘rivaaz’ consulted? Are they even represented when rules are made and imposed on them by ‘society’?
“It is a male dominated society. The women will never be consulted.”
“Not for long. Take my word. Change is coming. The winds are changing direction. But I’m keen to know, will you accept and support the change when it comes? You yourself have broken the boundaries of your social culture, you went against all that your society deemed wrong. Didn’t you? You are living your life on your terms. Will you be brow beaten if, god forbid, diktats such as these are imposed on you?”
She preferred to let silence speak for her. And the silence spoke louder than her words.
One evening, the twins, their mum and I were sitting out in the little park behind the house. The girls decided the bench we were on would be the school bus.
Amu: This is our school bus, and you are the bus driver, Dada! (they call me Dada)
“Oh no! I can’t drive your bus. The driver’s seat is uncomfortable and you know I have a bad back.”
Mia: You just have to sit. No walking. No standing.
“No. I don’t want to be the driver.”
Both: (Disappointed) OK! (They turn to their mother) Mama, you are the driver. (She accepts).
“Thank you,” I said, relieved. I walked across to the opposite side to a comfortable chair and lowered myself, leaned back and relaxed. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. I could doze off, I thought. It was so peaceful and relaxing. But, enroute to the school, the bus broke down.
Amu: Let’s get the mechanic!
She makes a dash…
… and stands in front of me. I keep my eyes shut.
Amu: Dada, come quick. The bus broke down.
“Why do you need me?”
Amu: You are the mechanic!
Amu: You didn’t want to be the driver so you are the mechanic.
“You never asked me if I wanted to be the mechanic,” I said haughtily.
Amu: But we did ask you to be the driver. You didn’t want to. So now, you are the mechanic.
“(Groan!) I didn’t know it was a choice between two jobs.”
Amu: But it was. We gave you the first choice! Now quick Dada. We’ll be late for school.
I haul myself off the chair. Walk reluctantly to the bus, dragging my feet as she goads me to move faster. I repair the bus, bending awkwardly, by changing an invisible punctured tire. I overdo the grumbling and groaning!
Mia: See, if you had chosen to become the bus driver you wouldn’t have to bend and push and pull. You would just have to sit. in. your. seat. We told you.
“Ok, Ok! Don’t rub it in. There, it’s all done. Now off you go.”
Amu checks to see if everything is alright. They get on the bus. I heave a sigh of relief. As they roll away, Mia shouts:
Dada, what does ‘rub it in’ mean? And she laughs heartily as their driver picks up speed and zooms off to school.
Sometimes, it’s your presence and not your company that matters more to someone! That does not mean they don’t appreciate or need your company, it’s just that your presence means a lot more. I realized this very late in life.
Normally, one thought that if you asked someone to stay: be around, it meant you wanted their company. You wanted to chat or perhaps wanted them to help out with something, unless you had given a specific reason. And if you didn’t engage in chitchat or gossip, didn’t give them a big chunk of your undivided attention, they’d feel redundant, dejected, disappointed and would want to leave. You’d be labeled boring, thoughtless, crazy or any such epithet that really didn’t apply. They couldn’t understand why someone would want them to hang around for nothing.
Through all my childhood years and youth, I never did want anyone’s “presence” to that extent. I was happy if I had a sibling or parent around, not to keep me “company,” but because I was scared to be alone. If I wasn’t afraid, it wouldn’t matter whether they were home or not as long as their absence was brief.
But just wanting to see them or know they were around because their absence created a vacuum; that was never a reason.
After I married, my husband would be out on tours twice or thrice a month, and each trip would be between 3-4 days. So I was by myself a lot. I welcomed the alone time. That might sound strange to some. The thing is I was a bookworm. I loved to bury myself in a book whenever I found the time. TV and the gadgets we engage with these days didn’t exist until the early 1980s in our part of the world. So, with the hubs away, I’d have uninterrupted reading sessions. No guests dropping in. No visits to anyone’s place (he was the more social one)! No need to cook three times a day either!
Then, along came the kids. Schedules changed and I took up a job when the younger started preschool. My day’s agenda was jampacked and I had little or no time to indulge in reading. As the boys grew and would be out for games at school or with their friends, and their father on his tours, I relished their absence!! I felt light and reveled in the sense of ‘freedom’ I had to put my legs up and just be – quiet and still. Listen to the sound of silence and allow it to seep into the pores of my skin. I’d relax as I couldn’t with the presence of the three men. I didn’t feel the weight of their expectations on my shoulders.
Not that they were demanding. Far from that. It was my own expectations from myself for them – does that make sense? I had set the bar way too high for myself as a wife and a mom. I’d be constantly on my toes, except for my scheduled short breaks, doing something or the other so they wouldn’t be bothered by little things.
Even though I had a maid to see to the cleaning, laundry, dishes; the dhobi to see to the washing of linen and thick or heavy garments as well as ironing, and a gardener who came in weekly or bi-weekly, as required, I still had a lot on my hands. I had to do a little of all the hired helps’ work too! That was me. And I kept the cooking – three meals a day – entirely as my domain.
As a teacher, in those days, we had anything from 38-45 kids in a class and there were times when I’ve had a bit more students than that. So, I had a lot of checking work coming home with me: notebooks with homework! Classwork notebooks I’d check during free periods in school. Our system back then was demanding. We had to give HW on a regular basis and check the work in time with corrections and remarks/notes where necessary. There was classwork too. All written work in class had to be checked in time. Both classwork and homework notebooks had to be kept up-to-date with corrections.
Add to that the class tests, quarterly exams, half-yearly exams, and then, the big one – Finals. If you were a language teacher, you’d have a bigger load to check. Two exams so two big bundles of papers to go through: Language and Literature. Each was a separate exam. Now add to that, that I was teaching language & literature to three classes. All at different levels – 8-10. Saying that I had my hands full is an understatement. Add to that the extra work if you were a Class Teacher as well! And I was both. There were the marksheets to be made. Shown to the Principal to decide if any child deserved some ‘grace’ marks to pass. Then the report cards to be filled in. Remarks for each child.
Did I mention that these were all handwritten? We weren’t digital then.
All this to say, I had a lot on my plate jobwise, and I raised the bar of my own performance level at home too because – well, because that’s who I was then. None of my wonderful men at home thrust that on me. So, I never missed anyone’s presence. I enjoyed their absence. But with time, I realized, while I relished the alone, quiet time I got with them gone, the boys found it difficult if I were to go for a meeting or something during a holiday. They missed my presence!
I’d have done all that I had to do so they wouldn’t have to do anything. Everything would be the same as usual, except, my presence. And that’s what they missed. They wanted to know that I was around in the house. They wanted to see me there even if I was busy with domestic chores or sitting and and drinking my tea in the garden, or just sitting around. And if they had to go out for whatever reason, even to meet a friend in the neighborhood, they wanted to be assured that I’d be at home when they returned. They wanted that reassurance whether they hung around at home or not. They missed my ‘presence’.
I couldn’t understand this, and sometimes, when the hubs would grumble about a teachers’ meeting on a Saturday or, if necessary, on a school holiday, I’d counter with the argument that his tours also kept him away most times during my holidays or offs.
“It’s different,” he’d respond.
“How is it different?”
“You don’t miss us the way we miss you,” he shot back.
“Nice argument! Haha! I’m flattered but not convinced. It stinks of bias and disguised male chauvinism.”
“Whatever. The home is not the same when you’re not in. You are the Queen of this Queendom.”
This word he’d coined, queendom, always made me smile. I’d smile, flattered mightily. But not fully comprehending what they missed.
And then, his time ran out. Was 39 yrs any age to go? The angels came and he travelled on a one-way ticket into the blue.
In the years that followed, I finally learned what it was to ‘miss someone’s presence.’ Not what they did for you. Not how they helped you personally. Not the tangibles and physical help – what I missed was his presence. There was a huge vacuum in my life.
His presence, even when he was on tour, had always remained with me in spirit. It was this physical and spiritual connection that created the presence for me. The connection of two souls. With his physical presence gone, there was an empty space. It was saudade – a permanent absence of physical presence.
I realized that earlier, the temporary absence of one person, for a few days in the month, did not manifest in any kind of longing or the feeling of absence because I knew, at the back of my mind, he was very present in my life: in flesh and blood. But, I needed more space to just be. Quiet. Silent. Be with me. Me needs my exclusive presence too. In fact, the wait, on the day he’d be back, was a delicious anticipation that would reach the heights of joy when I’d see him enter the gate.
It only hit me much later that, for me, his physical presence was huge, but it was also one I took for granted. The support I got from him through his love, actions, strength, and consideration, filled in the vacuum of his physical absence. It remained a spiritual presence… emotional presence… one so strong in thoughts that it didn’t leave an empty space. Besides, the few days would pass off so soon and he would be back well before that sort of longing and missing happened.
The finality of death is awful. Heavy. Painful. Debilitating. Crippling. And for the first time I understood what saudade meant in the true sense.
What missing the “presence” physical, and of the spirit and soul meant: an eternity of absence. Knowing there was no returning ever. I could stare at the gate, waiting for his tour taxi, and the clang of the gate all in vain. That’s when I felt the tremendous weight of loss – in body and spirit.
That’s when I realized that actually, the relief I looked forward to, when I was alone, was my own need to fulfil some of my own desires (of quietude and solitude) and time to pursue my personal hobbies. It overshadowed the absence that I might have felt and helped me keep my equilibrium in an overcrowded daily agenda. And also, in an unobtrusive way, helped me to do things independently without expecting help in domestic chores, and kept me organized, disciplined, and emotionally strong.
Now, I’m living with SAUDADE – the constant feeling of the ABSENCE of PRESENCE. A particular presence in my life. An empty space that nothing and no one can ever fill.
I can be surrounded by family: my dear sons and grandkids or even extended family. I could enjoy their company to the hilt, but it only heightens the longing for that one presence that can never be replaced. I’d wish he were there. Of how much he’d enjoy it.
It is immense love and great grief. Love that cannot be shown or expressed. And grief that has no shoulder to lay its head on. No place to go. No person. No presence.
Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.
My twin granddaughters joined playschool when they moved to Canada, and their teacher was expecting. For a couple of months, they were unaware about this. But then, a few more enlightened girls were discussing their teacher’s “big tummy”. Our little ones soon learned that she was going to have a baby.
They were super excited! At that young age of innocence they were uninhibited and wanted to confirm the news… hear it from the horse’s mouth and they also had some other questions to ask. They didn’t only want to confirm what they had heard, they wanted to know who put the baby in and how it would come out of her tummy. Yes! I bet you are laughing now imagining how the conversation went.
Amu – Is there a baby inside there? (she points to the tummy).
Teacher – Yes, there is. (highly amused by their frank curiosity)
Mia – When will the baby come out?
Teacher – There are a couple of months more.
Twins together – OHHH! (Their brows were furrowed. There was a HOW knocking around).
Mia – How does it come out?
Stumped on how to answer this without going into unnecessary details, which they wouldn’t know nor understand, she said:
“Oh, you know, I’ll go to the hospital and the doctor will help the baby out.”
Amu – Will the doctor cut your tummy?
Teacher – (In order to avoid another “how” question if she replied in the negative, she opted to go with…) I don’t know. He might have to cut it.
Both – But that is horrible!
Amu – It’s going to hurt a lot and there will be a lot of blood!
Both the little girls seemed quite disturbed by this.
Teacher – Oh no! You need not worry about that. They will give me a medicine and I won’t feel a thing. No pain.
Both were relieved by this information and turned to leave. Just when the teacher thought the conversation was over, one of the twins had another question.
“Who put the baby in your tummy?”
Should she answer that with, “the stork”? Indians didn’t use the stork story because it isn’t a bird everyone knew about. What everyone knew was GOD! And being who he was, he was bigger and stronger and more powerful than superman, especially in a kid’s mind. He could do anything, even the impossible. Scripture stories, in any religion, speak of these amazing feats. So it was the easiest way to explain it to very young kids.
Now the teacher was an Indo-Canadian and like all, or almost all, Indians answer this question she said:
“God put it there!”
“Oh!” they said and off they ran to play with the other girls. I’m sure she was glad they didn’t think of another HOW question! How did God put it there?! That would need a lot more imagination to explain in a satisfactory way!!
I remember being told that God had dropped off my younger brother at the Army Hospital and my mother was there to pick him up! I swallowed that story hook, line, and sinker! Just in case you are wondering — even at the age of ten, I hadn’t noticed that my mom’s tummy had grown enormously! I was pretty naive or too tomboyish to have noticed such things. Besides, that was 1965 India. And that was the story all kids were told until they learned the truth… mostly from their friends, older kids, or when they were old enough to study it in their Science class.
“Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.”
“Long time no see, no talk! What’s up?”
“I know. This pandemic has really made life boring.”
“Umm… well mine bordered on boring even before the pandemic. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. I find things to keep me sane. Could be better, you know, anyway, how’s it going with you?”
“Oh, before this virus thing it was great. Never knew I’d have so much fun in my sixties! I have such a lot of time to indulge in all the activities I had no time for earlier.”
“True that. Though I can’t match your “free” time, I still have more than I used to.”
“I hope I’m not keeping you from something. I should have asked before I called. I forget that you’re a WFH girl.”
“Well, actually, you are. I’m looking for ‘love’ but just can’t find it on the grid.”
“Yes. But why are you so shocked?”
“Gosh! I never knew you had this daring streak. I mean, you know, society, your society, and family… you know you’re not considered a young woman any more by them… with us, it’s a different story.”
“Hmm… young! That depends on which part of me you are referring to. Well, above the belt, I’m still a kid!! So yes, I am young. hehe. As for society, the so-called friends, and family, what do I say? They’ve said, done, thought of enough things to spice up their sad lives by making up saucy stories in many of which, I am the Shero!! Their minds. Their concoctions… Let them be happy, hehe. I didn’t bother about it then and I did not even try to clarify anything. I let people be happy. Whatever they think, whatever they say, tells me a little bit more about who they really are behind their social masks. Haha!”
“Hehehe… you haven’t changed a bit. Love that. Ok, you carry on with your search. Hope you are lucky. But be careful. No offence, but its a dicey world out there and I know you aren’t that savvy about it as you think you are.”
“Thanks for the advice and no offence taken. But could you enlighten me about the dangers of finding ‘LOVE’ on a grid in Word Search.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Exactly like those mongers of gossip and outrageous fiction we were alluding to earlier. Those who “spice up” their lives by conjuring up images and weaving stories around them without solid facts. Hehe, guilty as charged! Imagine, if I were one of those, how this would go round the gossip mill?! I get why you care a hoot for what people THINK. You go HUNT for love… wherever. Just let me know when you find it… couldn’t resist saying that haha! Even this short conversation with you has been so refreshing. Stay the way you are girl.”
“I love hearing a sane voice in the cacophony of judgmental, criticizing, condemning, voices. Stay in touch. You know how I am! Not much of a phone person… as the caller… Muah!”
Our drive from Santiago to Viña del Mar was beautiful. Stunning would be the apt word to describe its scenic splendor. And en route when we stopped at a vineyard named House of Morande, now just known as House, I got my first experience of visiting a vineyard cum restaurant. I tasted wines. Had a sumptuous Chilean meal.
It was heady. Just off a long flight, the tiredness of the journey hadn’t worn out yet. The first experience of being in a country that sits on a “ring of fire” and is no stranger to earthquakes and temblors! The contrast between the previous day’s and night experience to this serene and spectacular scenery that unfolded before me as we drove down the highway, and finally at House, was what the doctor ordered.
As I strolled through rows of white roses and walked in the shade of the trees and over the green grass, I forgot the anxiety and fear of earthquakes. They didn’t exist in this serenity and peace and calm.
I breathed deep and for the first time saw Chile through eyes that only saw it as it was sans the quakes – beautiful! The food helped to buffer that thought. Delicious cuisine was served and I enjoyed whatever I had ordered. They made it to my specifications without compromising the basic recipe and flavors too much.
I left House in a different frame of mind. One that was willing to stay and face the challenges if only to get to know this beautiful place a little more.
My eyes were pinned to the spectacular landscapes that whizzed past us. At times so splendid that caused a sharp intake of breath. Maybe, I was reacting more strongly appreciative because I had not envisioned so much of scenic splendor. I had allowed my mind to focus on one thing and the fear it brought thus tagging the country as awful, scary, not where I want to visit.
And then my son said, “That’s nothing. You’re going to see something even better. Your first glimpse of Viña del Mar and the majestic Pacific.”
I was quiet. My eyes staring straight ahead as we crested an incline… my jaw dropped at the sight.
The photos I’ve clicked were in a hurry as we were moving fast, and my phone wasn’t a very sophisticated one. They are not doing a mite of justice to the scene that unfolded before me.
My jaw dropped, my eyes opened wide, and all I could say was, “OMGod!”
“The city is a bit further ahead, you’ll glimpse it soon.”
So here I was in the city I would be living in for an unknown period of time, and with the information that Chile sits on a thousand volcanos! Exaggeration? Perhaps.
That’s how I entered a place where I was destined to experience the scariest and most fascinating experiences. Where I would meet some of the most lovely people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. From where I would eventually take off to India in three months only to return three years later. I lived there for four years and have indelible memories. Most of which are among the best ones of my life.
But my world was going to rumble and shake in a few days! Seven days into my ‘discovery’ of Viña del Mar, I had the horrific experience of getting to know the real deal – the TERREMOTO! The big one, a terribly strong quake was waiting to happen. Read about it here: Chile Diary – 5 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)
The 2010 Chile earthquake (Spanish: Terremoto del 27F) occurred off the coast of central Chile on Saturday, 27 February at 03:34 local time (06:34 UTC), having a magnitude of 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale, with intense shaking lasting for about three minutes.
The fallout of this acquaintance with el gran terremoto was that my condition deteriorated with all the anxiety and tension I carried with me 24×7. My pain increased. I couldn’t walk even the short distances that I could earlier. And worse, I felt I was an added burden on my son at this time because of the increased difficulty in walking, sitting, standing for long or bending. I couldn’t stay in the apartment as it was on the sixth floor and running down six flights of stairs during a strong aftershock or worse another quake was not recommended in my condition. Besides, there were small cracks in my bathroom walls and the door frame of my bedroom door had been damaged and was lopsided, the door wouldn’t close. Just looking at it and the cracks in the wall set my mind racing and conjuring up images of it collapsing with me stuck inside.
So it was a gypsy life for me. I was shifting from place to place. First to a hotel room on the ground floor, then to the Company Guesthouse, then a house in another town. You can read the interesting details in my Chile Diaries.
Long story short, When things quietened down, I asked to return to home country. And soon I was back in India vowing never to return to this country. And since Canada was never on my radar even then that’s how I saw my future. This was 2010. I accepted that I would live alone, safe or unsafe, in this booming, modern city that was growing and developing fast in the NCR – a place not so far from Delhi.
Once again I settled into my former life, but this time I took up a job as a checker for exam papers for ESL exams. Life took shape with routine. My treatment, a new one, was beginning to show results slowly. I thought I had done right in coming back and now the kids would realize why it was better for me to stay put.
“For I know the plans I have for you,”declaresthe LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29: 11-12 (NIV)
And once again, I was wrong! Three years later, I was on a plane to Chile!
My DIL’s brother who lived in Canada was getting married. Their parents lived in the same city I lived in, so the wedding would be held there. She was coming to India. The plan was that they’d kill two birds with one stone. I had to dispose of things that could be sold or then given away. She would help me with the last bit of packing and accompany me back to Chile. It wasn’t the long circuitous route, this time, and with a companion the journey would be more comfortable for me. Which it was.
I lived in Viña for four years. I wouldn’t say I got “used to the EQs”, but I could handle myself better than before. I lived a good life – made friends, learned a smattering of Spanish so I could go out on my own, and I made some lovely memories which I still cherish. At one point, I expected to be here longer or even permanently. My son and DIL were planning to buy a house there. That would mean ‘settling’ in Chile.
But the original plan was already in motion. My DIL’s only brother was settled in Canada. And my son’s only sibling was settled in Canada too! I guess you’ve got the drift of this information.
There were many pros and cons discussed about settling in Chile. And there was one con that dwarfed all the rest. DISTANCE. This country was so far away from India where our families lived. It would be difficult for either side to visit, add to that the financial considerations of the journey. It was expensive.
The two of them decided to move to Canada. By default, I would be a part of this shift to Canada if at all it happened. Things were still not decided. In the meantime, I wanted to visit my son in Canada and meet my three grandkids, especially the new baby and the second one who I hadn’t seen. My ticket was booked for the summer that was some months away.
Then my son filled in the forms for their move and submitted them. It would take time for all the processes etc., and even then one couldn’t be sure of the outcome, so I was to return to Chile in six months.
When I flew out and landed in Toronto, little did I know that my fate was sealed… the original plan of my life had come full circle decades later. I never got to go back. They were to come here early the next year.
I have many questions in my mind. I often wonder:
-if I had changed my decision on that day and said “yes” to my adoption would it have changed the entire course of my life? Or would my life been ditto with just a change in my nationality, and the addition of foster parents?
-Would I have three college/university degrees? Two Bachelor degrees (one in Education), and a Master’s degree? Considering the high cost of a college/university education abroad, I doubt it.
-Would I have opted for a teaching profession? Most certainly not.
-Would I have become a widow so young? I will never know. It could have been in the original blueprint or it could have been the result of my own choice.
Here’s where the possible scenarios end.
The only thing that made my life so difficult with challenges and obstacles, popping up every now and then, was the tragedy of losing my husband so early.
If I dare to draw parallels with the assumption that I would be widowed early no matter who I married, even if I had come to Canada earlier, there’s one thing I’m certain about… my financial difficulties wouldn’t be as humongous as they were in India. The system here is so good with allowances the government gives for children, free school education etc.
As for family support, I am a hundred percent positive Lily and John would have been there all the way. They had loved me even before I or my parents had been aware of it. They had already envisioned me as a part of their family. Their love and parental support, although that of foster parents, would not have failed me. If anything, it would have grown.
I also know whether I got three degrees or not, I would have qualified in some professional field. Who knows, I might have even taken up one of the top three options I had presented to my parents who were horrified and promptly shot them down. So what were those choices?
In chronological order of preference:
International Tourism – Organizer cum Guide
I don’t think the Walkers would have objected to all of these for the reasons my father did! There was a world of difference at that time between Indian parents and western ones.
However, I do feel if I had to land up here eventually, it would have certainly been much better earlier than it is for me now as a senior citizen. A new place, new experiences are best experienced when one is a bit younger than I am and in better health. Without a social circle life becomes monotonous. Time hangs heavy. Making new connections socially isn’t so easy in a new country. Not working in a place doesn’t help either. One doesn’t meet many people and getting to meet like-minded people is left to chance. That I am an introverted extrovert doesn’t help. The introvert has strong likes and dislikes and the extrovert doesn’t get the better of a clash sometimes.
To sum up, the original blueprint gave me a taste of foreign travel that I wanted to experience as a tourist guide and organizer of trips. And also the first-hand experience of the flipside of international travel, especially long flights with more than two layovers. It also gave me a closer look at an air hostess’s job on long International flights. Different people with different cultures and mindsets, with various needs… all have to be served with patience and a pleasant disposition if not a smile!
It made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for these professions. The third option was third for a reason. I liked drama only as a hobby… something on the side that I could dabble in on and off.
So somewhere, the life map I created by my choices and the original plan for my life gave me, in the right proportions, what I desired as an experience, as an adventure, but not as a mainstay; as a profession or career. And it led me to be a teacher. A profession I never ever WANTED to enter. But it was exactly what I NEEDED.
This was the profession that helped me and my sons. I worked in private schools that were among the best in whichever city we lived in. I had no problems with admission for my sons nor difficulty in paying the fees. In retrospect, I can say that my life went off course from the original plan in many ways, and it brought hardships in its wake until I, without knowing it, veered back to the original blueprint.
What lies ahead I do not know. I pray for guidance and wisdom in making the right choices. But this I know, He keeps me in the palm of his hand. He’ll bring me on course if I veer off.
My younger son and his wife were working, from India, for a company in Canada when they got to know the company was hiring more people for vacancies in Canada. So two others, who were also working with them from India, decided to apply for these posts. The company agreed to give them the jobs and that’s how the first step was laid. I was glad for them but still, at the time, I had no inclination to travel here. Not even for a holiday! Life carried on for me the way it was and I was settled in sailing on even keel. I never expected things were going to be stirred up, disturbing the calm. A big, unpleasant surprise was coming up.
My elder son came to me one day, excited. “I’ve been transferred to the Chile office,” he said.
“Wow,” I responded equally excited. Then my brow furrowed in ignorance and the worry that comes with it for a mother. He had pronounced the name the right way, Cheelay, and I hadn’t heard of this country.
“Where’s Cheelay?” I enunciated laying emphasis on each syllable.
“In South America.”
“Oh! That’s not quite like North America, right?”
“No. It’s more Latino. The language is Spanish. It’s a small country. And even smaller if you compare it with ours!”
“How are you going to manage with Spanish?”
We only knew a few words one picked up from songs and movies… words like – gracias, adios, amigo, hasta mañana, muchacho, hacienda, vaya con dios… and such. Now, I wasn’t too thrilled with the foreign posting.
“I don’t have to bother about it at the workplace ma. It’s English at work. And I’ll learn the local language.”
I nodded in agreement. It was similar to a posting anywhere inside India, apart from the spoken language at home (for us it was English) one had to learn a smattering of the local lingo to carry on with daily life. I recalled how we, as kids, living in Cochin (now known as Kochi) knew a bit of Malayalam. My mother knew Malayalam and Tamil because she was born and brought up in the south, in a city called Madras (now known as Chennai) and she had studied in a boarding school in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru). She picked up some Marathi and “Bombaiya” Hindi when we were in Bombay (Mumbai) and Punjabi and Hindi when we moved North. I learned Hindi and Punjabi in Delhi and Punjab. And later, in Rajasthan, I picked up a bit of Marwari to get along with the maids and vegetable shopping. So this wouldn’t be any different apart from the vast distance.
I had no intention or desire to go to Chile either. Apart from the vast distance one had to travel… hours and hours in the plane and hours at airports on stopovers, if one took a cheaper option that took you on a circuitous route… I was in no mood to learn another language to get by.
But the original blueprint of my life was already set into motion. In fact, now when I look back, I see how the events in my life were taking me according to the plan.
My elder son was engaged at the time of this transfer and we preponed the wedding date as he wouldn’t be able to get back so soon for the wedding which was scheduled four months later. His fiancée worked in the same company as him. He left in August 2009 after they got married. Now both my sons had left. However, this time I had my daughter-in-law staying with me.
If I thought my son would come back in a year’s time because his wife was here, once again, I was reminded that life doesn’t always go even keel, for long, it has more twists and turns and adventure. Within months of his working there a vacancy for a job, ideally suited to his wife’s work profile, came up at Chile. She applied, online interviews were conducted. She bagged the post.
She left to join her husband and her new job in Chile.
My son was worried about me living alone. Apart from the security concerns, he was also worried about my physical limitations due to osteoarthritis and some troublesome discs that restricted movements and could also lay me down, bedridden.
About six months later, I was in Chile too! A place I knew vaguely existed at the back of my mind. A country about which I had zero curiosity and didn’t Google to learn more about it.
The company booked my ticket too, so I could join my family in Vina. The route was a circuitous one – Delhi-Mumbai-Johannesburg SA – Sao Paulo Brazil – Santiago, Chile – a longer route because it was cheaper! I bore my aching back, lumber disc and cervical disc acting up, and my knees hurting so much, whenever I had to walk, as in through the security check or down the aisle to my seat, or to use the facilities. I was in pain and on wobbly legs. But thankfully, I had wheelchair assistance and didn’t have to walk through those huge airports; five in all. That doesn’t mean I had no problems. The biggest one was when I had to visit the washroom. I would be stuck in my wheelchair without an assistant. The assistant would park me in the waiting area, put my bags near the wheelchair and disappear. There was no way I could walk to the facilities. which were no where near the waiting area. And even if it were near, I couldn’t leave my bags unattended. Dragging my luggage along would have created a medical emergency. It was torturous mentally and physically. Mentally, because I was so worried there would be an incident. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but there were close calls… I would get saved by a couple of minutes!
The layovers, in chronological order – at Mumbai [about 3 hrs. layover]. At Johannesburg [about 4 1/2 -5 hrs. layover]. At Sao Paulo, Brazil [between 2-3 hrs. I think]. Now came the last flight – Sao Paulo to Santiago! It was just the last flight not the last leg of my journey.
From Santiago would begin a road trip to Vina Del Mar. If there was no heavy traffic, we’d be lucky and reach Vina in 1 1/2 hrs. But thoughtfully, my son had booked rooms at a hotel so I could rest. The last segment of my journey would be completed the next day.
After he and his wife had settled me into my room, my son sat me down in the armchair and said that he had to tell me something. When people do this I get the jitters. “Now what?” my mind screamed.
“Ma, we have a lot of quakes and tremors here. So, if you feel your bed rocking don’t panic.”
“Don’t panic! Tremors and quakes are normal everyday routine here! An earthquake happens and I don’t panic? I’m not that brave! I’ve experienced a few in India. And they are scary” I said already feeling quite scared and unsafe.
“Well yes, earthquakes happen in India off and on, not often and not all are very strong. What you might have experienced were like 3.somsthing or 4.something…” I interrupted, “And all were scary as hell! The whole building felt it would collapse.”
“That’s India ma,” he said patiently. “Here the buildings are built to withstand stronger quakes. Even 9.7!”
“How strong are we talking about,” I said with a sense of foreboding.
“Well, over here, a temblor, which is a tremor, would be something that’s less than 5.something. Anything above would be a terremoto, which is an earthquake.”
“You mean, what I experienced in India and almost died of fear were just tremors?! Things they aren’t scared of here? They have quakes that go beyond 7 on the Richter scale? And all of this is an often recurring nightmare and I’m not allowed to panic?”
“So what exactly are you telling me when you say I shouldn’t panic?”
“I mean don’t run out of your room. Stay here. I’ll come to you if any such thing happens. You might feel slight tremors more than once or twice. No one bothers about these.”
“O Lord! What have I got into? Where have I come?”
“I can understand your anxiety and fear but Ma, honestly, don’t be scared. It is unsettling for someone who isn’t used to it but given some time you will get accustomed to it. The buildings won’t collapse they way they do in India. These can withstand strong quakes.”
Now that I was in the middle of a soup, there was nothing I could do but put on a brave front, while my heart palpitated, my mind conjured up images of fallen buildings and me under a rubble. So I assured him that I would not get out of the room and run down the corridors screaming. But I wasn’t sure if I would keep my word.
Sure enough, the tremors came rolling in. My bed was rattled more than twice. Twice I jumped out of bed. Twice I ran to the door and held it half open. And the third time, I ran down the corridor to their room and knocked on the door. They were sound asleep and didn’t hear the frantic knocks nor feel the building shaking or trembling. Thankfully, I had remembered to take the key card of my room with me. I crept back to my room shaken and scared to death. I didn’t come here to die, I thought miserably. If I don’t die in a building collapse, I’ll die of fright!
Thank god for tiredness. I fell asleep against my will and woke up to the kids knocking on my door. It was time to go down for breakfast.
I had survived the night, the temblors, and I was feeling very hungry. I would tell them about how I disregarded their advice and how I ran down the corridor and knocked on their door real loud, later on. When they’d eaten and would be in a better frame of mind with a great brekkie tucked in, I’d be safe from some admonishing and reminding that I could injure myself too just by running helter-skelter.
We had till noon to check out so they took me out for some retail therapy. That always works. I forgot the tremors until one came up while we were in the mall. Being in a huge building that’s shaking and seeing the escalator sway, even though not too much, triggered the fear again. And trust me, it’s hard to control the panic and keep oneself standing quietly and wait for the tremor to subside. I watched people go about their business calmly. I wondered if I’d ever be able to build that sort of insouciance towards tremors.
You can read more about all the interesting and funny things that happened, in detail, here: Chile Diary – 1