I grew up in India and moved to the United States as a 20-year-old. I built a career as a lawyer, and now, in the third act of my life, I am exploring being a writer. I published my debut work, Postcards from Within: Random Ramblings of an Ordinary Human, in July. The book is my memoir of an introspective life journey that spanned nearly five years when I returned to India to take care of my mother before her passing.
My mother was a remarkable woman; one of the greatest privileges of my life was to take care of the one who gave me life. While on this path, I came face to face with my own vulnerabilities and failings, and questioned the foundation of my life. Postcards is a compilation of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and observations from that time. Below are selected excerpts.
Once during one of our precious dialysis afternoons, Ma shared something wonderful with me. She said that every once in a while she experienced a feeling, a sensation of joy or satisfaction or happiness, near her diaphragm. She said she tried to pinpoint it and hold on to it to experience it for longer, but the sensation was fleeting. She also said that she got various smells, such as the smell of earth. Not just petrichor, but the smell of the earth even without rain. One smell she described was that of aag ki tapan — the smell of the heat emanating from fire. She asked me if I knew the smell, and I did not. She said it was not the smell of the smoke or the wood or the coal or the object in the fire or the fire itself. It was the smell of tapan — the smell of heat itself. What a beautiful share; it made me incredibly happy. It made me think that the two smells she described were two of the fundamental elements of life — fire and earth. How interesting. I wondered if this had a deeper significance. I was blown away that someone going through such a rough time in life had the capacity to perceive such positive, energetic thoughts. I was inspired and so proud to call this woman my mother.
During this phase of my life, the single greatest thing life was trying to teach me was to stay in the moment. The instant I stepped even one toe out of the moment, everything fell apart. One day I wrote, “Today I wish this were not my life. I feel like I am being punished. Is my misery coming from how challenging it is to be a 24/7 caregiver? Or is it coming from what others are doing and what I am missing? I think the latter, because caring for Ma is a privilege. And in caring for her, I am always in action, which is very fulfilling. But the moment I get distracted from my goal, the misery commences. I have to remain in the moment. I cannot envy others’ joys and successes nor derive solace from their failures. I have to remain focused on what I am committed to doing. Sometimes, like today, it may not be a pleasure to play the caregiver. But I know it will always be a privilege, and for that I am grateful.”
Life had created such circumstances for me that I was unable to wish for two of my most heartfelt desires at the same time — to be with my husband and for my ma to have as long and healthy a life as possible. The fulfillment of one was a certain unfulfillment of the other. So I wished for neither. I did what I needed to do. The insight life gave me was that I could only live the moment in the moment. I had memorized this lesson. But the wisdom of the lesson had yet to materialize.