The loss of a loved one. My dear beloved father, the backbone of my life had taught me so many lessons of life. It was the biggest turning point in my life when he suddenly left for his heavenly abode on 15-Oct-08. We were in utter grief, amidst a lot of responsibilities such as my brother’s wedding which was planned on 21-Dec – just 2 months away.
Another was the financial crisis we found ourselves in – my father had left no record of his debtors and creditors in his diary. The very next morning, we had strangers coming to our door asking for money which they said they had lent him. All of us were clueless and shocked. It is also true that none of those who had taken money from him (and we knew there were some who he had helped whenever he could) came back to return the money they owed him. With the help of family and friends, we sorted out the matter.
One day, just to get away from it all, I decided to go out for a walk. I came across the Crossword Book Store and impulsively stepped in. The first book I came across was 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne. The first sentence I read in it was ‘Death of my father’ and the beautiful quote 'As Above, So Below, As Within, So Without'. I bought the book and started reading it each day, and working on myself.
My mother, till now a docile lady, suddenly emerged as a strong woman. She refused to cancel the wedding and started the wedding preparations. Once the wedding was done, I again felt a void in my life. How could I overcome this aimless situation! In the year before, I had appeared for my Visharad Exam (graduation) for Kathak and had failed. I wanted to go back to Kathak but did not know how – I did not want to learn but I wanted to impart my small bag of knowledge to others.
One day, I was waiting at the school gate to fetch my kids and saw a few special needs kids coming out. I felt inquisitive and after talking to the watchman, I sneaked into their classroom. It was a government-run class for underprivileged special needs children in the Jasudben M L School premises. As I entered, I met the Principal, Karandikar Ma’am and she welcomed me warmly. The idea of teaching these bunch of cuties suddenly struck me. I asked Karandikar Ma'am about the same. She was hesitant and told me that they wouldn’t be able to pay me anything as their education was completely free. I requested her to let me try teaching them as it was my first time too. My fees, if at all, would be their love and blessings. We fixed up 1.30 to 2.30 pm on Thursdays for the Kathak classes.
It was destiny that the very first Thursday of the class was my dear Pappa's birth anniversary – 17-June. We performed a small puja and commenced our class. By the end of the hour, the warmth of the children, Karandikar Ma’am and teachers was so very overwhelming. As I came out of the classroom, I met my children who were shocked to see my tears flowing down my face. I narrated my experience, and they too were moved by what I had to tell them.
Initially I used to feel scared as some of the children were aggressive, but the teachers helped me. There was a small speech and hearing-impaired Muslim boy who was quite shy but would grasp all that I taught very well. He would go into hiding as soon as I would enter the class, but once the practice would start, he would be transported into another world. One day, I observed that he did not join his hands when praying. In sign language, he told me that his father had asked him not to do so. Seeing his talent, I had to make him Krishna for the next act. There was also another girl who took it upon herself to keep a chair ready for me before I walked in. She would call out to her classmates to gather around and would take care of my bag, ensuring that no one touched it.
A few weeks later, we celebrated Guru Purnima with a small puja, followed by some yummy vada pav and sweets. Then in December, we were invited by the school authorities to open the school’s annual event, ‘C’est La Vie’ with our dance performance. This was the first time that the kids were performing on stage in an auditorium! Buoyed by the experience, we then enrolled in the inter-school competition held for all the municipal schools in Bandra H West Ward. The children performed in the 'normal category'.
The Administrator-in-charge Ghatge Ma’am loved the performance and insisted we perform at the All-Mumbai level, again in the ‘normal category’. This was an unexpected honour! We were welcomed with open arms and a huge round of ap-plause at the Dadar Hindu Colony BMC Headquarters. After the performance, Ghatge Ma’am insisted that we wait for the results. It was such a tense moment for me - the 3rd place was first announced, then the 2nd place and finally, the 1st place – we had won! We had done it!! What an unforgettable moment that was, as we were called to the stage and greeted with a standing ovation by those gathered! Tears of joy rolled down my eyes – could this really be happening! Was this for real! This unexpected love and respect – so unconditional and unbounded.
The children were soon performing at many events, winning all the 3 places in different age categories. More importantly, at all places, we were competing in the ‘normal category’. Soon I was teaching another batch of kids – all above the age of 18 and self-employed too – they would make and sell lanterns, paper bags, diyas, etc. This went on for 7 more years. We had to stop because of the lockdown. We tried to do online classes, but it was difficult due to lack of gadgets and connectivity issues.
I am waiting for the right moment to come back again and receive more energy and love from these children who have given a new meaning to my life and showered me with so much love and attention.
Few lessons I follow:
Gratitude is the best attitude
Accept! Appreciate! Let go!
Equanimity is the key to happiness