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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Impossible is my best friend

There are so many things I have done in my life because someone told me that I couldn’t do them. Not possible, they said.

I mean it in a good way. I was in a famed gastroenterologist’s consultation room in New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences one afternoon. I had left college in the middle of class, taken a DTC bus and arrived there to battle the rush of OPD appointments. I used to suffer from frequent, debilitating stomach aches. Repeated X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, endoscopies and many alternate therapies later, I was sitting face to face with the kindest doctor I had ever met.

“I believe you," he said. “I believe that the pain you experience is real. But we really don’t know what causes it."

“What can I do?" I asked.

“Only you can manage it. Pay attention to what you do before it begins to hurt."

“I’m usually outside in the heat," I said. “At bus stops, or walking on the street."

It was more like a counselling session. The doctor suggested that I change my lifestyle to manage the pain. I had had major internal injuries a few years ago as the result of an accident. Now I had these “stomach migraines".

“Don’t go out so much," he said. “You don’t have to climb mountains and run in the sun. Do only what your body allows you to do. Maybe you are not strong enough."

I was 21 years old. I needed help. The first part of the doctor’s advice was all the therapy I needed. I believe you, he had said.

The second part of his advice changed my life forever. In the kindest tone, an expert had asked me to stay indoors because I was not healthy enough to live fully. I could not accept that fate. Stomach aches or not, I wasn’t giving up on myself. My self-pity vanished as I walked out of the hospital into the bright day outside.

I climbed mountains, crossed rivers, walked miles and splashed in oceans as part of my work and holidays for the next 15 years. I chose the most physically gruelling work I could find. I carried equipment and rucksacks, my stomach aches travelled with me and I managed them as I had promised the doctor.

All I needed was an expert to suggest to me that I cannot do what I was born to do.

Not all experts are so gentle when they tell you to stay within your boundaries. We are a society of excessive naysayers. No and Don’t are among the most frequently directed words at children. Don’t go there. Don’t touch. Don’t climb, don’t crawl, don’t put anything in your mouth. Instead of letting them be as exploratory, curious and expressive as they are, our methods push children to experience their world as forbidden, unsafe and unfathomable. Apparently this is our love and concern. Frankly, we just seem to want to perpetuate fear. And be lazy.

As we grow up, the list of don’ts is always longer than the dos. You can’t take a night bus. You can’t walk on the streets of the city. You can’t study what you like. You can’t quit what you don’t like.

You can’t have three children. You can’t love them equally. You can’t have children and work and friends and love and beauty. You can’t say what you feel. You won’t make it alone. Life is terrible, come sit and exchange notes with me.

Today I want to thank all the people who didn’t believe in me. The PT teacher who wrote me off for being a thin child. The neighbourhood boy who said I couldn’t learn to cycle because I was too old. The physiotherapist who mocked me for being privileged. I thank those who disapproved, because they hurt my pride. And pride doesn’t take it lying down. Hurt pride is an accelerated motivator.

Listen carefully to what they say you cannot do. If it hurts, then find a way to un-hurt yourself. You can be respectful as well as defiant. Otherwise, we will be left with regrets. And I don’t know what use regrets are, they make the most boring small talk.

Children, they need our approval. We might as well give it to them, or they get hooked to our disapproval. “Really?" they are going to say. “I’ll show you."

Think about it, what was it that you were told you really couldn’t do? How did you do it? Excavate the story from your own life today.

My husband leans in to see what I am typing here.

“What are you writing about?"

“Things I did because I was specifically told that I wouldn’t be able to do them."

“Like marrying me," he said.

“Gosh," I said. “I hadn’t even thought of this one."

If I had been texting instead of writing a “very serious column", I’d put a big fat smiley here.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

Also Read | Natasha’s previous Lounge columns

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