It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.
Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?
If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?
I’m sitting on the balcony with the early morning sun shining through.
Lucie and I are back from our first walk of the day. We stopped and chatted to one of our neighbours who has husband and son at home. They’re not bored, using the time constructively connecting via the net and playing music.
As with anything else the level of awareness and understanding makes such a big difference. People just don’t understand the situation and what to do. I could fall into an easy trap and say eduction helps people understand and act. But we know it’s only partially true. Manjula was a great example of someone who was incredibly aware, in my terms. …’together’ with little if any education. She couldn’t read or write but was so clever, witty, linguist, who was a great connector, wise and SMART. Am I showing my bias again?
I have my breakfast of fruit, muesli and tea here waiting I’d just nipped out to give a poor older woman walking past a small token. I do sometimes amend my own rules. I notice a group of men having a chat on a street corner having parked their two wheelers. They have absolutely no idea of what it means to maintain distance. One has a mask on so it’s alright then, not much use by the way. Education? Awareness? Haven’t the first idea? How in any situation can we engage people’s hearts and minds? Enable them to make good decisions with their own and everyone’s interests at heart? Tall order
The city corporation have sealed off one of the parks, we have three close by. Here’s the sign notifying people.
The announcement of the lockdown was on the 23rd and came into effect on the 24th (the one day curfew was the 22nd). The sign posted on the 25th closed the park on the 21st….. doh.
Breakfast. I’m desperate Dan…..
Next, maybe managing Lucie’s boredom and my hypochondria
She always has and always will. Whether it was her love shared through her wonderful cooking, her gifts, sometimes cash when people needed it and most of all her warm personality. It was in Manjula’s nature to love and connect with people here and around the world. Manjula would draw people to her. Her insights, generosity and extraordinarily sensitive to people’s plight was an integral part of her, maybe resulting from the hardships that she experienced throughout her life.
As a celebration of our engagement we gave gifts: she cancelled what was left of the outstanding loan to Vasanth for his auto rickshaw and gave cycles to the driver’s children and to a project that helped trafficked young people.
Her giving has continued through the funding of meals at a local ashram, the benches in our local park. What next?
We’re looking for ways to continue to reflect Manjula’s beautiful personality and her connecting to people. We’ll keep you informed through this site. Do feel free to make your own suggestions of help we can give in Manjula’s name.
Our latest guest Giacomo (aka Siva and his partner Anita) who has visited Manjula and I in Mysore many times have left a donation towards the next projects we support.
I’m stepping over stones into my new world.
As I prepare to return to Mysore after almost two months away it seems daunting.
I’m tired and it’s exhausting dealing with the turmoil of my emotions.
I really don’t know if I’m ready to go back. I need to but I worry what it will be like. Maybe I should have planned to be away longer but that would mean putting off the inevitable. I need to follow my own insights and advice and remember our wonderful time together over nine years, our fun growing together and creating something special.
Wherever I am whatever I do, I carry Manjula with me. I’m always bumping into memories of Manjula. I miss her so much. I wonder if I will ever move on from all this and if I really want to. Am I going about it the best way? Am I expecting too much too soon? I just don’t know. For much of the time I’m not really motivated to do anything. I think about her constantly, miss her terribly, I have lovely memories and overwhelming sadnesss. It’s a friggin nightmare.
But it’s not the total picture.
It’s as if……
I’m crossing a river.
I step gingerly, stone by stone, crossing the unwelcoming swirling white water. I step on a wobbly stone that pushes my heart into my mouth and brings tears to my eyes, others are unpredictable being partially immersed, others shift erratically with a manic intent to topple me into the churning waves. If I was to fall in at this depth it would be of little consequence but in this current state it’s maybe a challenge for which I’m not equipped.
My muse, Manjula continues to stimulate, encouraging me to act and move forward. I find a firmer footing. I feel her support, her arms hugging me, she whispers her love. I realise that we choose the routes we take.
I can look back and can see that there might have been different approaches to the challenges we faced. An alternative might have rescued my darling from this untimely death but we just don’t know and have to go with what we did choose and hold our wonderful memories close.
I know she forgives me and will always be with me.
Our (Manjula and my) friends are really really cool and warm.
After three months I can appreciate (wrong word if it ever implies like!) three distinct and overlapping stages (not quite the right description) that also still exist, often all at exactly the same time.
The first is raw, extreme grief that fills your every moment when not concentrating on physical practical action things such as rituals and sorting things out. It still raises it awful ugly head and manifests itself in salty wetness every single day. Needless to say it also involved anger, pity, it was frankly messy. Sharing my feelings and the support of friends around the world was superb. Overall though it was and still can be really shitty. More on the three buckets of grief can be found here.
Second stage became more obvious and vivid when I was at Liz’s house (big ex, mum of my boys and still a great friend of Manj and I). On a small corner table was a photo from my eldest son Ben’s wedding with Manjula in the group. During the evening I found myself looking away from her picture as I was overcome by sad feelings. At that moment I properly realised what I’d been doing and what I needed to do next. The sad memories of the difficulties she experienced, particularly at the end and of her being snatched away needed to be and were being replaced by lovely memories of our time together, the adventures we’d created and how much of a difference we’d made in each other’s lives. I therefore spent more time Looking at her photo, appreciating her beauty; remembering the joy and the wonderful life we’d created. Things slowly start getting better.
Third stage. I’ve now met up with our friends in India, UK, USA and Canada to share our memories of Manjula. People’s care, kindness and compassion has been immeasurable. I now feel that whilst the above ‘stages%’ are still very much part of my life, and things will continue to be raw for some time, I need now to start pulling things together a bit, get a bit more focussed. To move from any regret to remorse, check article here. A critical part of that will be to confirm and clarify, speak out to Manjula, ask her forgiveness for the things I didn’t do, or wish I’d done more of or better, and recognise the amazing things we did do, thanking her for her time with me (that continues) and being an absolute star.
I love you Manjula and always will.
It happens but once in a lifetime
It takes a fair amount of preparation.
The proud father.
Some are already finding it all too much
Satish explains that both he and his wife are from villages where it’s still very important to celebrate this event
On the day itself he rushed home
It’s now a couple of weeks later on a specially chosen auspicious day. Hundreds of family and friends are expected. There will be a ceremony, gift giving, photos and a slap up meal.
I think that close proximity to the only foreigner at the event might be what’s worrying them.
It’s filling up…… it’s like waiting for a performance.
It’s ….. Sukrutha, Satish daughter’s coming of age, traditionally in villages it would be very very significant as it would signify that a young woman was ready for marriage.
it’s still very important for Sukrutha and an added advantage is, she can now wear big earrings. 🙂
Manjula would have been very sorry to miss this important event in a girl’s life. When Manjula reaches the same age. She had no idea what to expect and when it happened knew absolutely nothing about it. It was an altogether different experience. There was no family there let alone a gathering. She was working away from home as a maid and her madam spotted what was happening, cleaned her up and explained that she’d started her periods.
It obviously came as a major shock to Manjula. What a difference with a stable family and caring parents.
A girls’ first period, known by some as a ‘date’, would traditionally signify that she’s ready for marriage. Clearly not the case nowadays but still incredibly significant stage as she becomes a woman. The celebration of the event is a great opportunity to bring people together and create community, still especially important in village life.
Manjula’s very different background meant she was already out working at someone’s home separated from her family and without prior knowledge of what was to happen. Where was her mum in all this? Look at how early she was working away from home all on her own.
Fresh from the Pooja
We travelled to the 11th day pooja. Held by Manjula’s brother in the village maybe four hours drive away
I’ve already relayed some of the sensitivities when we met to plan this Pooja. Here. They’ve shifted the day so our closest Indian friends Tanuja, Satish and Vasanth aren’t able to come, bugger. To support me I do however have Tom and Amy, and two other friends Steven (thanks for the photos) from Australia and Imran, who was going to prove to be a godsend, as he’s the only one to really understand and be able to interpret!
The Pooja or ritualistic prayer is mostly a request. The 11th day Pooja is part of the process of helping Manjula’s spirit be released from her body and the here and now. This helps her break away and start her new life in a new form or maybe hang around a bit!
As we arrive the cooking of curries (plenty of meat) and rolling of the Ragi balls is being completed.
We’re ready to rebuff any attempt to try hang on to her jewellery. Within minutes they’re asking for it to be left here until the morning. As agreed I’ll be taking it with me immediately after the Pooja.
Raju, Manjula’s brother is having his head shaved. I’d floated the idea of me being shaved but this was dismissed out of hand by my Hindu advisors Tanu, Satish and Vasanth.
Together with anyone else wishing to express an opinion, there was a clear consensus. It would be toooo complicated. A sort of Indian open house has spoken. (Everyone has an opinion about everything, of course)
Manjula’s photo was the centrepiece she was garlanded and then surrounded by offerings. Of things she liked, maybe.
I placed my garland, her Mangal
Sutra and ankle chains on her photo.
We took it in turns to do twirls with the incense and fire.
It’s obviously an important ritual for a Hindu. It’s also an essential part of bringing communities together.
As one of our party said. There were two people there with tearful red eyes. Manjulas cousin also called Manjula who you can see in a couple of photos here and her brother, Raju. Otherwise it seemed like Manjula was just a quiet voice almost incidental to the whole thing.
We now have a clear view of what would have been Manjula’s life if we hadn’t met and fell in love.
She was brought up in the Bamboo bazar slum in Mysore so not a village but most definitely this level of poverty
But it’s not the living conditions or the poverty that seems the greatest challenge but the harshness of some of the people. the sister-in-laws branch of the family are astonishingly direct and focussed on money, Manjula doesn’t really seem to figure
It was time to go
Relatives were asking for Imran’s cell no in case they needed help ie money and so they could make a call if anyone was in hospital or otherwise needed help.
We’ve done our bit and it’s time to go and now realise how hard it was for Manjula and how she’d escaped this life and blossomed in her new one from nine years ago.
I need to get out more.
Sunday was the second Mysore literary festival. Great to get out, meet old and make new friends.
Discussions about wildlife and how we can promote conservation, Roy’s films, presentations on Mysore Palaces and our wood inlay traditions, all great stuff.
Maybe the best of all for me was hearing from a young woman from a very poor background who at age four had been given a new opportunity in life. A philanthropic organisation sponsored her residential education through to her 20s. Not straightforward. An amazing life opportunity but controversially perhaps takes her completely away from her family. I’ve ordered her autobiography. More later.
A different segment and layer of society in Mysore. Mostly women, middle class and of an uncertain age.
Great people watching and meeting. I only knew a handful of the maybe 150-200 people..
I do realise from this, that with the challenges at home and the build up to busy-time I do need to get out for a bit of newness now and again.
“My hometown is Mysore. I was born and raised in Mysore. I have struggled a lot as a young girl. My father sent me to school, but education wasn’t something that came easily to me. I attended school till 5th standard. As I wasn’t good at studies my father stopped me from going to school. After leaving school, I started doing household chores, tying flower strands and other things. As a small girl, I learned many household works. As I grew up, as I started to acquire some knowledge I started to make money by tying flower strands and selling.”
“My mom left us when we were still young. She had a quarrel and disagreement with my father and left us all and went to her father’s house. Later, my father raised us all even with some difficulties. My mother came back after a while, but my father didn’t let her in. My father married another woman, she didn’t look after us very well, and she didn’t give us enough food. Later my younger brother started working at a hotel; he would bring us food for the nights.
As we grew up and started to learn things, I joined as a housemaid to a family in Bangalore. The family for whom I worked wanted a housekeeper for their younger brother’s house in Bombay. They took me to Bombay and I worked there for 10 years. Even there, I looked after a baby for 3 years and the household works for the rest of the years. I never came back to Mysore. After 10 years, the family shifted to Singapore, they offered me to continue the same job with more pay. I didn’t go as my family was here in India and it would be difficult for me to come back from Singapore. I came back to my hometown, Mysore.”
I’m not altogether sure what happened at school. One of the stories she tell me is she would ask the teacher if she could leave the classroom to go for a number one (pee). Then legging it, with her brother left in the classroom having to carry her bags home. What a naughty girl! I don’t think she was there very often. There was a big bust up with her father and it led to her being taken out of school. This was the very school featured in our tortuous journey to get her transfer certificate (TC), to get a PAN (tax) card to get a passport as the TC was the only evidence she had of her birthdate. check here
There are so many things to unpick here: starting work from a very early age, her mother abandoning her and then returning ( a pattern she repeats to this day), relations with her various ‘step-parents’ (their favouritism and neglect) and the fluid marital relationships in some communities in India, the multiple jobs to earn a crust, life as a maid travelling across India to work with an unknown family in a completely alien city or even travelling internationally into what can be quite stark and challenging circumstances (more of that one later). Which seems to be a pretty standard thing for ‘children’ from poor families..
One of the obvious observations is that its a pretty hard life if you’re poor in India (and no doubt elsewhere). Here in India, have been incredibly stoic, dealing well with life’s paradoxes, whilst necessarily being resilient, adaptable and creative. It’s one of the first things we notice as first time visitors and as we get to know the country and it’s people better, we notice how wonderful they are and how mean some can be.