Her positive spirit shines through the narrative as Tina Praveen, shares with us a life of love and loss…and renewed love. She has a deep connect with people and a great commitment towards her loved ones. I would say she was forced to re-imagine herself and her life, due to circumstances that were clearly beyond any human control. She writes with an easy flow of words and makes reading enjoyable as we join her in her childhood travails and subsequent move through work and career.
She seems to derive strength from all her early experiences and uses that to go beyond the challenges thrown at her and to look within and without for affirmations and gratitude. I am humbled by the honesty with which she chooses to share herself and her thoughts, as it is not easy to revisit such moments in life. I see a need to reinvent our beliefs and belief systems when the choices we have are suddenly and unexpectedly taken away from us.
(Tina Praveen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Why am I telling you my story?!
I have always been described as the proverbial story teller or narrator among my friends, in fact been infamous for the extent of theatrics I add to any incident I’m regaling them about. But when it comes to talking or writing about me…I seem to be facing a wall! I wonder whether I even have anything worth narrating that people might find interesting. Sowmya approached me to write my story since she considered me as one who has reinvented herself midlife. I was genuinely surprised. I honestly don’t perceive myself in that light. I have never been a woman who has consciously made an effort to do so, or like some others who’ve had the resilience to break free from a life of bondage or suffering, or even someone who aimed to give additional meaning to her life. I was very much a happily married housewife, laid back and contented….with no other aspirations or ambitions to pursue anything other than being a good wife to my husband and mother to my only daughter. But the course of life changes and so do you……..
My early years
My father was a doctor in the Indian army and as a result I had a typical “fauji” upbringing, where one is always ready to move, change cities, houses, friends and schools at the drop of a hat!! But I loved it all…….These frequent transfers, ability to adjust to all kinds of environment, interact with people from all over the country are factors which I guess makes life in the forces so unique and intriguing. I can only describe my childhood as a very happy one with very poignant memories of Shillong where I started my schooling at Loreto Convent.
I remember while studying in Nursery, my elder sister would invariably forget to pick me up from my classroom, where I would be waiting for her. Together we had to board our bus to return home as her classes ended an hour later than mine. It was only on reaching home my mother would realize that I had been left behind. It would be quite some time before Dad (he was a Gynecologist and always on call) could free himself and come to pick me up. During these moments, I would become a fervent follower of Lord Jesus and would sit in the school church pew waiting for deliverance and cursing my sister for being so irresponsible and insensitive!!
Another memory that’s etched deeply in the recesses of my mind is that of our neighbors who lived downstairs. They were Nagas by origin. During Christmas and other festive occasions they would roast a pig alive by tying its limbs, turning it upside down and burning it over a fire. The pig would squeal in pain and hearing it was enough to make one’s hair stand. I often wondered how they even relished eating it after making it undergo such third degree torture!!
When we were posted to Pune, I befriended my neighbour’s son who was a paraplegic. While in NDA, he was ragged by his seniors who had kicked him so hard on his back that his spinal cord was injured and he became a paraplegic for life at the tender age of 16! I was in my 2nd Std then. Despite the age difference we became the best of friends. I would feed him, sponge him, help him brush, scratch him when he would feel itchy, read to him. I shared all my secrets with him and so did he. He finally passed away eight years later. During that time, I would often accompany him for his physiotherapy and walks. Met many, who like him, were incapacitated or unfortunate to be leading such painful lives. It made me realize at that young age itself to value, appreciate and feel blessed to lead a healthy, carefree life.
I had just completed my 10th Boards, when my sister, who was studying for her MBA then, while returning from college was hit by a car and met with a very serious accident. She had several fractures and was severely injured. Her accident not only affected her life but made a deep impact in mine too. I got admitted in hospital to take care of her as my father was posted in Lucknow (we were in Pune) and if my mother were to nurse my sister, I would have to stay all alone at home. Thus, my long journey in hospitals began….
Eight surgeries and 10 months later, walking precariously with crutches, my sister was finally discharged! So was I! Boy! Was I glad to come back home! I had missed out on school all this while, but I had received a different education altogether while in hospital. I can only describe the experience as a very eclectic one. In short, I learnt to respect life and consider myself as very fortunate…and appreciate the fact that I was alive and kicking!
With time, I completed my post graduation and started teaching Public Administration in Lucknow University after qualifying my Lectureship. I started pursuing my doctoral studies too at the same time. Teaching in the University was again a remarkable experience. So unlike what I had led so far. Life in the defence forces is bereft of caste, religion and creed. One is just a human being! Not so in Lucknow University. The dynamics of the organisation are defined by the caste you belong to. It was initially extremely difficult and claustrophobic to adjust to such an environment, having been brought up so liberally. But I learnt the ropes with time and tried my best to remain unaffected. Fortunately, on the academic front, it was very enriching. Teaching post graduate students, some even senior to you was also pretty intimidating at times. I started enjoying it once I learnt to immunize myself against the caste system that prevailed. The University was also a hotbed for politics where students (these were our future politicians undergoing training) would fire bullets at random!! In fact, I had a close shave one day when someone fired a country made rifle and it whizzed past my ear!!
Falling in love…
I fell in love with a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force! I had met Praveen during a friend’s marriage. He was the groom’s friend and I was the brides. We met then and after that, only during our engagement! We fell in love through letters. In fact if somebody is to ask me today what is the most precious possession of my life… my reply would be Praveen’s letters to me. We wrote to each other every single day till we got married. When we were to get engaged, honestly speaking, at the last moment, I started getting cold feet. Wondered if I was doing the right thing for I knew him only through our letters. We were culturally apart; he was a Kannadiga Brahmin and me a casteless Bengali! He was a vegetarian and I, a hard core carnivore! He believed in rising early, I was nocturnal! Oh the differences! I suddenly started having fears whether he had pyorrhoea, or had dirty finger nails, or had the habit of shaking his legs!! Doubts were unending…but by then there was no turning back. Not that I have any regrets then or today. Marrying an Air Force officer meant following him all over the country to all far flung places he would get posted to. I never even once considered staying away from Praveen and pursuing my teaching career. I guess I was too much in love and being with him meant more to me, or else one can only describe me as someone lacking ambition! Two years into marriage and my daughter, Naina was born. Ten years of complete bliss, never expected married life to be so idyllic. Praveen and I often wondered why other couples complained and fought with each another.
Adjustments, compromises were never issues with us. At times a certain fear set in….this was all too good to be true… seemed too perfect…would it last??
It didn’t… Praveen, while test flying India’s first indigenous transport aircraft Saras, met with a crash in March 2009. My world fell apart. Life seemed to come to a standstill as darkness set in. Imminent death of a loved one is very traumatic, but mourning their loss becomes even more unbearable when it happens all of a sudden without any exit signs. I was 36 when I became a widow and my daughter 8 when she lost her father. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. It all seemed so surreal. I hate reliving those moments but if at all I have to, it still seems so unreal even after all these years. I built up anger against Praveen for he had promised me we would grow old together. He had no right to leave me this way….? We had so many dreams we’d dreamt together…and now they were to be only empty promises… I remember how heart wrenching it was and still is whenever I tick the “widow” column whenever I am to fill a form. Find it difficult, believing to this day that he is not in my life. People spend varying lengths of times to come to terms with loss. There is generally a pattern one follows, denial, anger, desperation, depression and finally acceptance. I went through it all. But sooner or later one has to come to terms with the loss. Tears need not be a marker of the depth of your grief, or your strength as a person. I realized I didn’t have to gulp my tears to be strong, or retreat into a shell. Here, I would like to thank my friends immensely who reached out to me. Credit goes to them for helping me tide through these difficult times when I found myself obsessed with grief, unable to function. It’s my friends who stood by me and were pillars of strength.
My mother, on the day of Praveen’s accident met with a massive heart attack that very evening on hearing the news. They were in Lucknow and I was in Bangalore then. She had to be operated and was in hospital for nearly a month after that. It was only later that I got to meet her and share my sorrow. But by then, it was she who was crying on my shoulder while I offered her consolation. Dad in the meantime had aged dramatically. The stress I guess was too much for him to handle. In my greatest need, my friends were with me through thick and thin.
Also laudable is the love, affection and strength that my in-laws provided me. My mother-in-law I must mention here is an amazing person with qualities that border on divinity. I haven’t come across anybody as selfless as her. Her mere presence brought about a calming effect on my turbulent state of mind. Getting back into the mainstream of life was not easy. But the guiding force that brought about rationale into my life was my daughter, N. Her responsibility brought me back on track. Praveen may not have kept his promises…but I had to keep mine. I had to bring her up the way he would have wanted. That was enough to keep me going. I had led a sheltered and cocooned life all these ten years. Coming back wasn’t easy. One loses confidence. You feel you’re from a different generation altogether. You were never a part of the race, but now that you have taken the plunge, you don’t know the rules of the game.
Life moves on…
Picking up the threads is a tedious job but I have learnt from experience, time is the best healer as well as teacher. Difficult times also teach you to handle difficult situations. I had to run from pillar to post, getting things in order. The humongous amount of paper work that one needs to do is scary. Making unending trips to organisations, banks, post offices, RTO, municipality, tehsildar, getting certificates made, changing over things to your name, paying taxes….the list is endless! But one learns…as I have learnt. I learnt to handle frustration. I learnt patience which in turn helped me learn how to get work done in any situation. I learnt not to rely on anyone as work gets done the fastest when you are doing it on your own. I learnt time management. I learnt a lot many things, but the greatest thing I learnt is making and trusting my own decisions. Sometimes it’s a lonely path when the onus and responsibility of every task lies completely on you. You blame yourself when things go wrong but you never praise yourself when you’re right. Today, I have come to terms with life and accepted it with all the good and bad things it has to offer.
Life taught me very young to appreciate what one has in life, for there are millions of others who are not that blessed. A strong education, supportive and loving parents, in-laws, a healthy and intelligent daughter, a decent living, good friends and a married life which may have lasted only ten years but couldn’t have been better! In conclusion, I can only say that remembering with tears is one way to love and letting go with a smile is another. I work as an H R Manager and get to interact with people. I like what I do as I love to be amongst people. Also my days are busy and full with hardly any free time for despondency to set in. One thing though I am still learning is to be both fathers as well as a mother to N. Don’t know how much of justice I will be able to do to this dual role, but I’m trying. N on the other hand, is growing up fast and seeing her grow gives me the greatest joy. Only regret is that I am not able to share her achievements and success, the parental worries that one faces with children and other issues with Praveen. But I dread the day she’ll leave her nest. That’s the day when I will actually need to do some reinventing!!