I cross a river twice a day to leave home for work and return to myself at home again. The Yamuna is old and unkempt, yet it flows as it must and rejuvenates itself every now and then. I no longer look at it with the awe and admiration that other less familiar rivers inspire in me, but the river still feels like a moment of connection. We have been witness to each other’s growth, challenges, triumphs and defeats.
On the commute, I often find myself taking out my phone to start typing in the Notes app. My fingers seem to be more familiar with the voice in my head than my lips are. I need to write to know what I am thinking.
I have decided to turn 50 a couple of years in advance, I typed one day, as my car crossed a bridge on the river. Forty-seven and 48 sound precarious to me; 50 feels stable. Solid. Grounded. A high plateau with a great view, with both sunrise and sunset available on demand. Winds to enjoy, a place to park my cycle, a spot to pitch my tent.
I imagined my years as a vast panorama, and myself at a place where I can look back and ahead with a perspective that this view in my life affords. I feel incredibly lucky to have reached here—agile and healthy, sometimes overwhelmed, very busy, sleep-deprived and high-functioning. Sometimes I feel more anxious than I remember being before, but I suspect this is because I am more in touch with my feelings. The numb years are behind me, the feeling years are here to stay.
In another note on my phone, I find these lines—I am packing to cross over to the second part of my life. I want to shed memories, but memories seem reluctant to shed me.
When I think about it a little more, I want to be fair to the memories that almost seem to be my superpower. Last month, I was back in Ranchi, the city I was born in and where I lived for the first seven years of my life. I didn’t go back to look at my school gate. I don’t want to un-remember the sepia-toned image of me as a little girl walking through it towards independence and self-discovery.
As we criss-crossed the city, I noticed the diversity of the faces on the streets. There were people from Jharkhand’s tribes, there were those who seemed like migrants from other states, there were the distinctly Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods, and there were others who seemed to belong to the state from the way they draped their saris or wrapped a gamchha around their necks. I tried to imagine my young north Indian parents in this city decades ago. I remember the freedom they enjoyed, the community they sought with others who had arrived here to work in the 1970s in the steel industry, as well as the insecurities that haunted them, making them want to move back to bigger cities.
A distinct memory situated in my childhood home in this city is news of the defeat of the Indira Gandhi-led Congress party in the 1977 Lok Sabha election. Just like they did on Holi and Diwali, our neighbours had gathered in the veranda of our home. There was jubilation among the adults as the 21-month-long Emergency came to an end.
I suppose the trick with memories is to repurpose them. Unpack them again for the lessons we might find in their folds. Indian democracy was still young and the people of India had collectively harnessed its strength to reaffirm the power of the people. What we did once, we can do again, I thought to myself, remembering the innocence of the little girl watching the euphoria of the adults.
Some of the finest lessons that come with experience are knowing when to quit and when to hold on to issues, relationships and places. Discovering that it is okay to be quiet and it is okay to have said what feels like the wrong thing to say. There is enough time to try again, to start anew, to discover that you were wiser than you knew all along.
I am still startled to discover how easily I retreat into myself when I am in new groups. Becoming invisible must have been a survival technique I learnt as a girl growing up in a world of unexpected threats. Sometimes I watch myself seeking the comfort of anonymity all over again in places where attention is at a premium.
I am still surprised at how important I have become in my personal and professional spaces. It’s hard work but it is nice.
There are many things I will leave behind on this side of the landscape of life. I will abandon the package labelled guilt. I will leave behind some shyness, and many layers of shame. I will take my unexpectedly loud laughter with me. It is part of the heirloom I have inherited from my mother.
I will expand on my understanding of motherhood. It means becoming the earth—rejuvenating myself, resting a lot, communicating with the sun, the sky and animals. Spinning on my own axis, but slowly, so I don’t get a headache every day.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.