Wholesomeness Of Spirit

I met a school mate of mine today. We met for the first time since we passed out of school nearly three decades ago. We weren’t very close in those days. She was just another girl in class… as must I have been. She was a whiz at math and I was never on friendly terms with it. She was always ready to help us all with math and would show/ demonstrate/ teach for hours on end.

It is only today that I discovered what lay behind the math-whiz persona.

Her mom had severe health issue from the time Neela (name changed) was twelve. She’d wake up at 4.45 am and help with the cooking for the whole day. Her mom’s health challenges continued all through her years in school. With three younger siblings, I can say Neela more than had her hands full. And yet…

Neela was the only one from our batch who got admitted to engineering college in the very first attempt. She never went for coaching (private coaching was largely unheard of those days). Her mother’s health challenges continued to get more and more complicated leading to a need for open heart surgery when she was in the final year of her Bachelor of Engineering degree course.

Recalling her three week stay in Bombay’s Nanavati hospital, she simply said, “I forgot- literally forgot- everything but what I needed to do to take care of my mother. When I opened my books to study for my final exam, I felt as if I was a kindergarten student being asked to read post-grad books.”

Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.

~ Robertson Davies

Once she had graduated (with distinction), she had many job offers; one even from the very prestigious BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Center). She let all her professional opportunities go because she knew her parents wanted to see her married. She didn’t want to give them any anxiety of her account. She got married to a doctor.

Her challenges continued. Her parents-in-law were not in very good health at the time of her marriage. They became progressively weaker within the next one year. For the next decade and a half, while her three children were born and raised, she took care of them, waiting hand and foot. First her father-in-law and then her mother-in-law became bedridden. She took care of them in a way that defies retelling. I was moved to tears as I heard her tell me how she took care of her ailing parents-in-law.

By the time her parents-in-law passed away, one after another, she had been married for sixteen years. She told me there was a period when she hadn’t stepped out of her flat for four years; not even to buy vegetables! Fun, enjoyment and merriment hadn’t visited her for years. She hadn’t the time to lift her head from her life; she was so engrossed.

So it is more useful to watch a man in times of peril, and in adversity to discern what kind of man he is; for then at last words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off, reality remains.

~ Lucretius

Her husband decided that they would go for a holiday to Goa. A family holiday to mark a renewal; to start their lives afresh. They decided to put the years of strife behind them; to begin life anew with replenished enthusiasm. But fate hadn’t done with her yet.

Barely a few hours into their holiday, her husband passed away!

He had never been sick in his life. He hadn’t even suffered a headache, she told me. He complained of uneasiness during their very first night. When the doctor came to check him up, all his vital signs were good. A few minutes later, while they were still debating whether to take him to the hospital or not, he gave one long breath and fell off his chair… quite dead.

Fate still had another terrible card to deal her.

When she reached the hospital, her husband was laid on a stretcher which was wheeled into a horribly dirty store-room.  She was forbidden from seeing him. An FIR had been filed against her because he had died in a hotel room and they suspected foul play. The doctor who had attended on him had quietly disappeared before they reached the hospital.

“I had no time to cry”, she told me today. “I had left my children alone in the cottage we had rented. My daughters were sixteen and thirteen resp. and my son was only nine. As the morning dawned, I remembered that it was my son’s birthday. I hadn’t the courage to tell them that their father was no more. I just sat in that hospital, my mind frozen.”

An hour or so later, Neela realized that she would have to do something to locate the doctor who had attended on her husband. She finally located him through the very unhelpful hotel staff.

“I begged that doctor with folded hands to help me”, she said. “I implored upon him to tell the hospital/ police that he was with us when my husband had died. He agreed after a long time… and then very reluctantly. It took me the rest of the morning to have the FIR dealt with and my husband’s body released to me. I was free to take him back to Bombay.”

By the time she finished telling me this harrowing story- with perfect composure- I was sobbing. I don’t scare easy, but I was today. The thought that went hammering away inside me was: Why you? Why were you given so much pain? Why was He so cruel to you? I wish He had given me some of your pain. You didn’t deserve this!

“I remember me sitting with my children in the airport waiting room, waiting to board our flight back to Bombay. It was late afternoon. The kids hadn’t eaten anything. I asked them to eat some food but they said they couldn’t eat. I certainly could not think of food. Yet, I took a plate and heaped it full of the snacks available there. I ate until I was stuffed full. As they saw me eat, my children too ate. I was relieved.”

Even in its darkest passages, the heart is unconquerable. It is important that the body survives, but it is more meaningful that the human spirit prevails.

~ Dave Pelzer

Once back in Bombay, her struggle to find a source of earning began. Many people advised her to do this, that and the other. Some suggested she leave Bombay; some that she reconcile herself to the mercy of relatives. She didn’t do any of it. With remarkable poise and amazing pragmatism, she used her husband’s life insurance to pay off the loan on her flat and found part-time work. Always a wonderful teacher, she now teaches as a guest-faculty in five schools besides giving coaching to kids at home.

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

~ Haruki Murakami

Neela’s story is not remarkable only because she went through terrible setbacks. I am certain there are those who have gone through worse challenges. What is remarkable is that she came out of debilitating adversity with a joyful countenance and a grateful heart. Her humility is untainted by bitterness; her resilience is unsullied by a betrayed sense of entitlement. Of all that she has accomplished, this purity of heart is surely her biggest victory.

It bears eloquent witness to the Wholesomeness Of her Spirit.

 Wholesomeness Of Spirit

[Oh an in case you’ve been wondering if I’ve dropped dead, I assure you, I haven’t. I’ve been alive and kicking. And THIS is what I’ve been kicking off. Check it out… you’d love it I’m sure!]

Wholesomeness Of Spirit

32 thoughts on “Wholesomeness Of Spirit”

  1. “I am certain there are those who have gone through worse challenges. What is remarkable is that she came out of debilitating adversity with a joyful countenance and a grateful heart.” I agree completely with you. I know a couple of persons like Neela. In fact, I remembered them mid-way through your narration.
    I also know some persons who are the exact opposite; they ignore the many blessings that they’ve enjoyed, but indulge in bitter self-pity over the very few times they’ve suffered adversities.

    1. I suppose you can always find evidence to support your view point. The mind is a faithful servant. If you want it to find evidence of your misfortune, it will. If you want it to find you evidence of your blessedness, it will do that too.

      Of course, there are people who complain chronically. I detest them with all my heart. They waste their own time and that of others around them. There is so much to be grateful for!

      Thank you for your visit, good to see you here!

  2. I mean, it’s so easy to say inspiring. But, one won’t know the inner battle that so many of us fight in life. Truly, your friend held her might and conquered adversity. She’s a true scholar of life. One should always remember her fight when the going gets tough.

  3. Like Alka said, I too was missing such inspirational posts. Your friend is a brave soul indeed, spiritual warriors as some would refer to such people. Thanks Dagny for sharing her story with us. I will remember her for a long, long time.

    1. Beloo, I’ve been engrossed with my rugs and have not been reading or writing for long. I think it is time to return home. 🙂

      Thank you for missing me. It feels very good!

  4. I have missed your posts too, Dagny, and even your presence online. Good to see you back with this great share. Her story is so inspiring. Yesterday, I was watching Satyamev Jayate — the episode was on mental health. And there this lady was telling the tale of her mentally sick brother. The way she stood up for him, gave up her own family and today has helped so many other mental patients including her brother was overwhelming. A true indomitable spirit, a courageous lady! I was reminded of her when I read your story. You know like you pointed out, some take life by its horns. Who has not been dealt fate’s difficult hands? But only some like your friends do it with dignity and courage and inspire others. I have seen my dad in a similar vein. He faced the challenges in his professional and personal life in a stoic manner with so much dignity that he continues to guide me when I struggle with tough moments. Thanks again for sharing her story. I learned from her.

    1. Rachna, Each time you mention your father, I wish afresh that life would give me the opportunity to meet him soon. He sounds wonderful… and he surely must be so.

      Thank you for missing me. I was tied up with one thing after another… apart from those rugs of mine. But all loads of fun. 🙂

      It feels wonderful to be back and to ‘hear’ friends like you again. <3

  5. I like it that she was good at Mathematics and did well, very good at studies for 16 years. Mathematics is the best subject in the world. Education never goes waste. It is an inspiring story of one strong woman.

    1. Welcome to my blog. I’m so happy you found it at last. 🙂

      Neela is indeed a resilient soul. And the most amazing part of it is that she doesn’t think she did anything extraordinary. Amazing!

  6. I’m at a loss for words. How much pain must she have endured and yet her spirit triumphed over it all. She epitomizes the idea that in diversity we find our true strength of character. Powerful woman and hats off to you for telling her story so well.

    1. She has indeed gone through pain that I cannot imagine Shailaja. One after another… on and on. And yet, she has no trace of bitterness or self-pity in her. That is the most amazing thing of all. It was easy enough to tell the story. It was she who did all the hard work. 🙂 Thank you though.

  7. ellytreehugger AKA elly stornebrink

    Wow! What an amazing story! I too feel for this former classmate you met and the life she lived for others, not herself. Such a major sacrifice and yet to come up with an attitude of strength and resilience: that’s so inspiring! Thanks for sharing this story Dagny and great to ‘meet’ you. 🙂 <3

    1. Thank you for your warm words Elly. It is a pleasure to ‘meet’ you too. My friend Neela is indeed inspiring. Thank you for coming by!

  8. I am rendered speechless. There are goosebumps all over my hand. A math wiz spent all her life solving the puzzles of life. How could one person be loaded with so much burden? My heart breaks to even think how she must have felt seeing her husband die!! it’s unfair… so unfair. She is amazing… incredibly strong woman.

    1. Rajlakshmi, You said it! We ask God why we are made to suffer. This was one of the times when I was compelled to ask God why He made her suffer so much. It really wasn’t fair at all!

      I’m so happy you read this one! Thank you!

  9. What a touching tale! Kudos to her resilience through such tough circumstances. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story!

    1. Thank you Vinodini. I just couldn’t keep her story to myself. All of us need stories like these to show us that we too can overcome our worst challenges. Thank you for coming by…

  10. Your friend had it really tough in life. She has battled storms of her life for so long! Hats off to her spirit and grit. Wishing her all the happiness and sunshine. Thanks for sharing her inspiring story, Dagny.

    1. She is amazed to read all the comments on this post. She is so surprised that the things she considered ordinary and run-of-the-mill, aren’t ordinary at all. I’m so happy you read this one Shilpa. Thank you for coming by. 🙂

  11. Ah,So sad! Can God inflict so much pain, one after the another, on His own children! Hats off to your friend for the grit and determination with which she faced one crisis after another! Thanks for sharing the story of this brave lady! Good to ‘meet .you here, Dagny.

    1. You are so right! One wonders why He gives so much pain to his own children. Thank you for your visit. I’m happy to ‘meet’ you here too.

  12. Your friend had a very tough life but she didn’t give up and I salute her for it.’ When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, and she has been an example to her children and relatives. Thanks for sharing her story, my best wishes to her.

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