“Time moves slowly, but passes quickly” ~ Alice Walker
You don’t know how quickly time flies, even though you hear about it often. One moment you are the child, the student, the amateur, and in a blink of an eye (or so it seems), you find yourself on the other side – the parent, the teacher, the experienced amateur (if not a professional).
From child to parent
I thought about my mother last month when my daughter arrived from America with two suitcases. It was her first trip back home after moving to California to pursue her Master’s degree. She was thin and jetlagged, tired but happy to be home. I remembered the same feeling from decades ago when I had returned to Mumbai eighteen months after my first flight out to Washington DC.
Of course things were different then. Although I was pursuing my Ph.D, I was already married, with all the benefits and burdens that came along with that status. But I was happy to be in my mothers embrace in the small apartment which had always been home.
When I left six weeks later, I knew that something had fundamentally shifted. Not in my surroundings, but within me.
I was no longer just the daughter who claimed her spot in the family but also an independent person with dreams, desires and experiences that had not been part of my psyche before I flew from the nest.
And now as I pulled in the suitcases and hugged my daughter, I wondered how (when?) I had become the mother waiting for her daughter to arrive. Wasn’t I still that spunky outspoken child, that young woman with unbridled dreams?
I thought about the day twenty five years ago when I had held a tiny squirming bundle in my arms, wondering how to grow this infant into a kind, considerate, productive adult.
I knew nothing about breastfeeding or diaper rash, teething troubles or the terrible twos. As I slowly learned how to help my child develop a healthy body and curious mind, teenage and its associated angst arrived at my doorstep.
To be honest, the troubles were not just on the child’s part. I had my own. Balancing between work and home, family and self, outer pressures and inner desires got more complicated before things unraveled.
And then I chose to leave behind my penchant for perfection along with the baggage of a long marriage and moved forward tentatively, never sure what lay ahead. My only companion was a comforting thought – I will be OK. We (my child and I) will be OK.
From student to teacher
In India, Teacher’s day is celebrated on 5th September.
When I was a diligent schoolgirl, I wrote essays about the significance of the day, narrated stories of devoted students and inspiring teachers. I liked going to school and was in awe (or was it fear) of many of my teachers. Yet, I never considered becoming one.
When I was in college, my father once asked me if I wanted to become a teacher and I absolutely refused. The week after I defended my Ph.D. dissertation, one of my academic advisors in the US asked me the same question. Again I said no.
It seemed too much effort for too little return. I liked interacting with students and seeing the understanding dawn on them when they grasped concepts that I was explaining. Still I felt it was not my calling.
Life sometimes takes you down roads you never intended to walk
Many years later, after I had moved back to India, left my unhappy marriage and was creating a new life for myself as a single parent, once again I was offered an opportunity to teach. This time the opportunity involved teaching Master’s level students in Hyderabad.
For a variety of reasons, this time I said yes.
- Was it because I was older and wiser?
- Did I do it for the money (which is never that great for teachers anywhere)?
- Was it because I felt the students would be more mature?
I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for changing my mind but I am glad I did it. For about 4 years I encountered many students, boys and girls, who sat through my classes with glazed eyes (as I taught) or incredulous looks (when I asked them to speak up in debates having nothing to do with the syllabus) or wide grins (when I accompanied them on a picnic and a friendly game of paintball!)
When you are fully engrossed in doing your bit, you don’t really think about the long term impact. The satisfaction of teaching lies in igniting the student’s mind to their own potential. While I wished the best for each of my students, I didn’t know how they would turn out.
Each year on Teacher’s Day, I receive messages via phone, email, and social media from my students thanking me and updating me on their lives. And I am moved by their thoughtfulness, especially since it has been almost a decade since I met many of them.
The transition from student to teacher took time but when it did, it felt natural. I was prepared to do what was required of me but also to do more, not just teach but tailor my words and actions to be coherent, to be exactly what they needed to hear and to push them into thinking for themselves. Instead of following the herd or simply skimming the surface of life, I wanted them to jump in and participate fully in creating their unique life.
From writer to author
A year ago, at this time, I was preparing to send advanced review copies of my book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After – a memoir of divorce and discovery, to readers. I was nervous, unsure of how it would be received. After all, fiction comes from imagination but a memoir is a true story. It comes from memory and introspection and a willingness to share your truth with others. Praise, if any, would make me feel validated. But criticism would be extra painful. Because both the story and the telling of it would become suspect.
Soon the reviews started pouring in. Almost all were extremely reassuring and supportive. Even as my writing work for the book came to the end, I knew the work of ‘author’ was just beginning. As an independent author, I had full responsibility for getting my book into the hands of readers.
Marketing was something I had no idea about. But I wanted my book to reach those women who were at the same crossroads that I had once stood on, not sure whether to stay or leave my marriage. I wanted them to know that they would be OK.
And so I set off on learning how to make sure my words would reach its intended audience. Today I have over 100 reviews for my book across various Amazon marketplaces, have appeared on multiple podcasts and Instagram lives, written pieces for various magazines and most importantly, connected in person with so many readers.
I have also launched a podcast, Rewriting YOUR Happily Ever After, to continue conversations with divorced women to break the silence and stigma that is culturally associated with divorce in India and South Asia.
Choosing how to direct my limited time and energy towards a meaningful goal, figuring out my sweet spot for this multifaceted life that I lead while keeping an eye out for the next thing has been a fabulous adventure that I now want to share.
In a few weeks I will launch a newsletter, The Coherent Writer, for those who seek to craft a purposeful path to a creative life. If you are a thoughtful writer who wants to create an enduring body of work, leave a legacy that you are proud of and have fun while doing it, please subscribe and join the community.