Three Little Big Mistakes

Over the last year, Mom and Dad have been winding up their 50-year-old sansar in Kolkata so that they can come and stay with us. It is a big deal for us, since we have wanted this to happen for the last many years. It is not easy to turn your back on the material-social life you build up and it is not easy to say goodbye to the people and places that becomes natural extensions of your being. My brother and I and our families have been trying to make it easier through discussions, holidays together, and by pitching in with the packing and sorting.

On one such visit, just a few months back, I was rummaging through old books and papers that were slowly turning into dust. They lay in ancient trunks tucked away behind other ancient trunks and cartons under my parents’ bed. I found a large plastic folder, inside which were things that I had put together as a teenager one time when we were moving house. It contained things – mainly documents and pieces of writing - that I thought were important at that point of my life. Over the next few hours, the papers made me smile. For many reasons. I smiled because what seemed important then and what seems important now are at such great variance. I smiled at the illusion of permanence that seems so real at all times. And I smiled as I realized how little mistakes often lead to big things. Here are three little big mistakes that I am learning from and what they mean to me.

Honoring your parents

This sounds obvious, and I will have to get personal in order to put it in perspective. I know that my disclosures are safe with you. If you do choose to dishonor my confidence, I will accept that your need to violate my trust was greater than my conviction.

We live in times when it is not just fashionable to blame all the troubles in your life on your parents, but also terribly convenient. Modern science tells us that almost everything that could possibly go wrong with this complex organism called me can be tracked back to parenting. We have parenting classes, parenting blogs, and self-help groups for those scarred beyond repair by the lives of their parents. I have spent many years of my adult life believing that I would have had a “better shot” at life if only parents had been, for the lack of a better word, more “parently.” I have always been open about this feeling, and that has made life more complicated, since at a conscious level people do not always understand that love and hate are really the same deluded belief.

Of course, we are shaped largely by the actions of our parents. Moreover, it is possible to believe and wish that they could have done better. The truth is that if they could have, they would have. For some time, I justified their not “having done better” by telling myself that they didn’t because they couldn’t and they couldn’t because I was not important enough for them. It was only after I became a parent myself that I saw the fallacy of my thinking. Nobody plays to lose.

Guest Post: My Mother

When my friend and guide, Yogini shared her thoughts on the passing away of her mother last year, I was amazed at the insights she put together into old age, relationships, death and dying. I knew that I needed to host her experience on this blog. I continued to pester her till she finally sent me this - a poignant tribute to her mother and the lessons learned from spending the final days of life together. Over to Yogini.


My mother lived part of her life in Africa and part in India. She was married at age 16 and the only thing her people exclaimed to her father was ‘where did you give your daughter in marriage!'

Hearing this, my mother determined that she would never let her father’s name down. Her married life started from being this princess in her house to doing every household work including fieldwork, milking buffaloes and making food for 40 people and taking care of in-laws with a terrifying father- in-law, garden work, and fetching water from the wells that were far off. She did all this with an aim to please everyone.

The mental agony of being treated like a child-bearing factory and to put up with a nasty tempered husband, not to mention the sarcasm and taunts of the other co-sisters who had three or four children while she had 13 of which 9 remained alive - it was not something that any of us today can either endure or want under any circumstances.

I do not remember my mother ever complaining about her life. I do not remember anyone mentioning that she shouted or screamed or cried and never heard anyone saying bad things about her. I was too young when all this happened and by the time, I was 18 she was already 54. While I write this, it occurs to me that even when I turned 22 I was unaware of my mother’s age. I lived with her at that time but was not present to my mother’s feelings, likes, or dislikes.

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