Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say, ‘My heart is broken.’ ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness -- I felt enveloped in some or all of these feelings after bauji passed away. Now as I look back, I understand that I must have suffered from the trauma of a broken heart.
At 14 years of age, I didn't know what to do. The feelings were real. They terrorized me, like the shadow of a monster on the wall. You cannot catch it. You cannot wipe it out.
But one thing I can tell you: Mental health issues are real. They always were. But in those times, there wasn't a lot of awareness around it.
What was happening to me was that my body was unable to bear the trauma of my bauji passing away and went in to a shock. The shock in-turn pushed me into a deep depression. I often found myself lost in a deep abyss and despite my best efforts, I could not pull my self out.
Sometimes, I would feel as if I was getting chocked. I couldn't breathe. I wanted to call out to my Mati but no words came out of my mouth. I felt exhausted all the time. Slowly, my body started getting into convulsions. I would lose consciousness and went into darkness. When I regained consciousness, it seemed as if I was in a trance. My body refused to respond to any medical treatment.
People who have never dealt with depression think it’s just being sad or being in a bad mood. That’s not what depression is; it’s falling into a state of grayness and numbness. And at that point, there seems to be no exit.
I was in class ninth at that time. I could not attend school. After Bauji's death, we had to shift from the three bedroom apartment in Lodhi colony to a one bedroom apartment in Neta ji Nagar in Delhi.
We were a 10 people family. Fitting into a one-bedroom pigeon hole was nothing less than a nightmare. My elder brother had now donned the responsibility of the head of the family. Means were limited. Hard times had fallen on the family.
This is the point where I would like to introduce you to Soma. Soma was my mother's younger sister. Simple, god-fearing and responsible, yet shrewd, far sighted and practical, Soma Mausi was always an epitome of love and support.
My mother was in mourning and shock. She knew there was a long road ahead. Alone without a husband, she was still coming to terms with what had happened and what needed to be done.
Soma Mausi visited us in Delhi during this time. She was fondly called the Chanakya of the family. She quickly took matters into her own hands.
I now think it was fortunate that I had bouts of my convulsions in her presence. I say this because it was because of those convulsions that my life took the turn that it did. Often good things come disguised in hard messages or events. If we trust the process, everything eventually falls into place.
She looked at my Mati's helplessness in handling me and told my mother that she was taking me to Ambala with her. I still remember her words, "Janaki, enough is enough. I am taking Harish with me to Ambala. He will study there." She explained to my mother that a change of environment would help me recover faster. Soma Mausi was so right.
She then called my elder brother Shyam and instructed him to get me admission in SA Jain college, Ambala City. My mother's emotional protests did not deter Soma Mausi.
In Ambala, Soma Mausi lived in a 100 year old depleted house. There was a snake in the house which kept on moving from room to room on the first and the second floor.
We often located his dead skin at closed spaces like wooden almirahs fixed in walls. Surprisingly, the snake never harmed any one. We rarely saw it. My Soma Mausi worshipped lord Shiva and the snake as lord's servant. She tied a black thread on our leg as mark of Shiva's protection.
The house was getting worse and one day one of beams in central room caved in and a big hole emerged. We could see moon and stars from this gaping hole. Life was tough but full of laughter, happiness ,joy and mirth. We loved each other's company.
In Ambala, I had convulsions maybe two times, but I started to recover rather fast. Soma Mausi had given strict instructions to my two cousin brothers and four cousin sisters to behave absolutely normally with me.
Soma Mausi's upbringing of her children was so noble that even my cousins tolerated my bad behaviour. Because of my mental state, I would often get irritated, lose my temper and sometimes even slapped them in a fit of anger. None of them reacted. They would go to the next room and I could hear them sobbing. I felt guilty and ashamed of my actions. I went to my cousin and apologized.
I would like to narrate another incident that I have never forgotten. One day, when I came back from college, I found my cousins waiting for me. They told me that the aerial of our imported national transistor was broken during a scuffle between them. Mausi would be highly annoyed if she came to know about it. Only I could save them. They pleaded with folded hands that I should own the responsibility for breaking it as mausi would be soft on me.
I thought now was the time to repay my cousins who did so much for me. First thing I did was to take transistor to the market and get it repaired. I came back home and told mausi I broke the aerial by mistake but had got it repaired. She gave me a smile, patted my back, nodded her head and walked away.
A new city and a new college. I was looking forward to my new life. I started participating and enjoying social conversations again. Slowly, I also started learning how to deal with Bauji's death.
With increased confidence came the capability to make mistakes. Another incident which touched my heart is when I went to Ambala cantonment to watch the Haryana State Table Tennis finals with my college friends without informing Mausi. The matches finished late at night and we missed the last bus to the city. The next available option was train at 1 pm at night. By the time I reached my street, time was 1.30 pm. I was mustering courage to call my cousin, when I heard voice of my mausi, "Harish wait, I am coming down with a lamp".
As we reached inside the house, I started apologizing. Mausi stopped me midway and said, you must be hungry. Have your food first. Soft coal was burning in the angithi and food was getting heated up. She served me piping hot rajma with fried potatoes and soft chapatis laced in ghee. She kept water for two cups of tea on angithi and asked me to narrate what happened. I told her every thing. She spoke just one sentence, promise it would never happen again.
I touched her feet and vouched that it would never happen again. That was end of this horrid episode. I kept my promise as long as I was at Ambala.
It was only and only Soma Mausi's love and labour that made me stand back up on my two feet and embrace life. She was more than a mother to me. She was the anchor to my sinking ship, a beacon of light, my own mother Teresa. She taught me the importance of family.
Life was tough but full of laughter, happiness, joy and camaraderie. We loved each other's company. My Soma Mausi completely cured me of my mental and physical diseases through her love, compassion and care. I shall forever remain indebted to her. She asked for nothing in return, a perfect example of detached action, Nishkam Karma.
My college session started and so did the ragging. Seniors were always on the lookout for boys from Delhi, usually considered snobs. As I slowly walked towards the college corridor, a group of seniors confronted me. Their leader was Sugan Hooda, a Jat from Haryana. He was a champion wrestler and title holder in his weight in inter-college championship.
He looked at me, an innocent looking young boy in kurta pajama and V-shaped chappal. Kaha se ho, he asked haughtily. Sir Delhi se, was my reply.
He said, You look more like you are from a village. I replied sheepishly with folded hands, Sir, I'm a poor boy from Delhi. My father passed away last year. My elder brother could not afford my college education in Delhi. My Mausi brought me to Ambala so that I can complete my graduation. He looked at me for a while and declared, From today you are under my protection and no one will touch you. Go to your class.
I heaved a sigh of relief. I was now safe in college. Next day, there were cricket trials to pick up the college team. I reached the venue at scheduled time and registered myself. One look at me and the sports teacher said, please come in cricket gear.
I pleaded my inability as I did not have a kit. He said ok but at least put on PT shoes. I looked down and kept quiet. He asked one of boys of my age to lend me his sports shoes for trials. He obliged. The college captain, Des Raj was at the crease. I took the ball and marked my run up. I was the left arm leg break bowler. My first ball was blocked. The second ball turned sharply from the leg stump and whizzed past off-stump, a big turner. The captain was puzzled.
My next ball was pitched on middle stick. The batsman went for the turn but it straightened and uprooted middle stump. The sports teacher was impressed and so were the on lookers. Next batsman was a tall, slim Sikh boy. He marked his crease and blocked my first ball. He hit the second ball in the covers. I flighted the next ball and tempted him to go for big shot. He took the bait, missed the shot and the ball ballooned in the air. I negotiated the ball and took a good catch. Every one applauded.
In true sportsman spirit, the batsman raised his bat, clapped it and said well bowled. I gave him a smile with a bow. The sports teacher took me aside and noted my particulars. I requested him to get me full fee concession from sports quota as I could not afford it. He asked me to meet him in his office in the afternoon. He promised to talk to the principal.
At 3 pm, I entered the room of my sports teacher with a polite may I come in sir. He gave me a smile, shook hands with me and said congratulations, you are selected in college team and principal has agreed to grant you full fee concession. I could not believe my ears.
I started crying. He patted me on the back and said calm down. He called for some tea. He asked me about my family background. He said now that you will save the 20 rupee college fee. Please promise you will buy a good pair of PT shoes next month itself. I promised and left his room expressing my gratitude to him. I purchased a good pair of Bata PT shoes next month itself and playing cricket became more fun.
One year passed and then my elder sister Sudesh joined me in Ambala. Our magnanimous Mausi welcomed her too. Sudesh had got a job as school teacher in the village Shahjahanpur, a distance of 26 kilometers from Ambala city. It was a tough journey. She had to take a Punjab roadway bus early in the morning up to Shahjahanpur and then cross a river, mostly dry during the year, to reach the school.
Once during the monsoon season, the water level rose suddenly as she was in the middle of the river. She lost control and was swept away by swift water currents. The villagers standing on the river bank ,jumped into the river and saved her.
I vividly remember the day she got her first salary. She put the entire amount of about 150 rupees in my hand and said go and get some nice pants and shirts. I do not like seeing you in old kurta pajama. She hugged me and kissed me.
I cried like a child. She said, from today, I will take care of all your needs. I went to the market, purchased cloth for a white trouser and white shirt for my cricket matches. I also purchased cloth for khaki trousers and a light blue shirt. All in best quality pure cotton.
My clothes were stitched and ready in two days. It was the first time I wore new clothes. After that my sister kept on furnishing my wardrobe at regular intervals. Even today, when I am seventy seven, my sister keeps furnishing my wardrobe with the same love and affection.