For the last few months, I was operating on auto-pilot with the simplest default mode on. I was probably worse than a robot as at least a robot, has some direction configured. If someone had asked me to describe myself, then I’d have been at a loss! Let’s see what could have fit …

A process consultant? Eh!

An aspiring writer? I wish!

A health enthusiast? There have been days!

An experimental baker? Huh huh!

A questioning traveller? I try!

An awesome flower-chaser? Well… Yes!

That is one out of six … one and half if I give myself some benefit of doubt. That’s about it.

But now … I have at least one answer.

That I am still a person – and not a bad one at that. My consistent second-guessing of my mental state and of the Void I was peddling in is at peace. I am loving this … experience – it’s not quite a vacation- I don’t want to box it in. I have earlier written about the work my mother has been doing in the tribal village areas of Northeast India – possibly the most cut-off part of the country both culturally and geographically.

Since five days I have been immersed in the medical camps and the cathartic sense of purpose. These days are more real to me than the last few months. I am with people who still struggle for the most basic of facilities – for whom the word “doctor” is a distant dream. Yet the warm welcome, the outstanding hospitality and attention to details are simply wonderful! There is no power play, there is no politics, there is no personal vendetta. These are people who know work has to be done and are bent over backwards to ensure the dental camps operate smoothly.

No hiccup is too bad. No hurdle is too great. Why worry when there is a problem to be solved? Where there is a will… there is a way or at least a workaround! (I witnessed numerous classic textbook examples). Here I worried about my future, my life decisions while these people have no idea about their present. Yet they smile, yet they toil and yet they put the people above the individual. And for these fleeting moments, I am a part of this system, feeling their confusion, their pain and their hope.

I want to hold on to this warmth. As I write this after climbing half a hill to get range, I feel the cooling warmth of the autumn sun illuminating the valleys of rice fields and misty mountain tops. I want to bottle this light in a crystal decanter and preserve the pulse of those golden rays around me. A reminder that I too am living, breathing and thinking organism.

Not Just a Mother

My sister (L), Mom and Toothy Me (R)
My sister (L), Mom and Toothy Me (R)

My earliest memory of my mom is climbing into her lap to have chocolate milk. Sitting in her lap was mandatory to gulp it down! Her smell was home with traces of Pears soap. It stays the best sniff my nose has ever taken!

She is a dental surgeon and has built an extremely ethical brand for herself. She loves travelling and participates in treks including the mighty Everest Base Camp. Along with the majestic sights of Himalayas, she also took in the adversities faced by the locals lost in the mountains. Her pricking conscious drove her into building the legacy she inherited from her father –

“You can serve the nation through your profession.”

In 2000, she partnered with a non-profit to conduct free dental camps in the dense North East India – where help hovered at a non-existent level. Armed with medicine bags, makeshift equipment and a steely resolve she started a life-changing journey, approximately 2000 miles from home. Red tape, extreme weather, minimal transport, zero network, language barriers and patients caught in a time rip were few of the problems she faced. Yet those people, touched that a doctor actually cared to visit, went all out to support this 100 pound female.

Fourteen years, seven states and thousands of patients later, she has set up five clinics where doctors come all year around. She also published a book where she breathes life into her experiences and received numerous national awards for her work and book.

Yet, it took me years to truly comprehend the gravity of her work and the outstanding contribution she is making. Because, she was still MOM! I was too naïve to understand that my mom is also a woman – an exceptional woman carving her identity.

She was there for our exams, shopping trips, family functions, weekend getaways, spring cleaning! From gently waking us for school to waiting up for lunch, she was there and she was there in her element. She did about a thousand and one jobs a day and effortlessly loved, laughed, comforted and supported without even a sigh of exhaustion. The night before her book launch, she was asking for my food wishlist to carry back to hostel. She found the time to make my favourite sweets and get me a new dress. All before one of the most profound events of her life!

Until she was on the stage and I heard prominent dignitaries speaking about her, she was MOM! That evening, resplendent in flashlights, she became Dr. Pratibha Athavale.

Woman. Doctor. Humanitarian.

How did I fail so miserably in understanding the woman I love so fiercely? Yes, I was proud of her; I could wax eloquent to show off her work and that she is my mom. But the essence of the woman within her, of the caregiver inside her got woefully sidelined.

Now as she takes the spotlight I am happy that I feel and recognize the heart and soul of her work. I connect with her at a level beyond belief. We converse as two women. But the best part? In all her speeches – first and foremost she is still being Mom, seeking us out in the vast audience to share her happiness and appreciation.

Mum! 🙂 You are on fire…