Sunday, 22 May 2016

It's Over In A Heart Beat...And Then A Mother's Heart Bleeds...

Yesterday was a Saturday slightly different from our usual Saturdays. We had attended two functions in the school on Friday, one being the High School Award Ceremony where my daughter won four awards and the other was the School Band Concert where my son played the saxophone. So I was mulling over these two fantastic events, even as I was acutely aware that my daughter had less than a week of school left. It had been her last school award ceremony. Henceforth it would be college... My husband left for office and I was gearing up to face the day.
The phone rang. It was a dear friend of ours from Dar days, who recently relocated to India from Tanzania, along with her husband, who had spent a decade working there. Her daughter got married a fortnight ago and I congratulated her as soon as I picked up the phone, expressing sorrow for having missed the wedding due to my own daughter's Advanced Placement (board) exams. She knew for sure, then, that I had not heard the tragic news and she broke it gently to me.
Another very dear friend from our Dar Es Salaam days had lost her twenty seven year old son in a car crash in Chennai, India and her younger son had been injured too. After two days in a coma, he had passed away on Friday morning. It was early morning in Nairobi but I felt like I was in the middle of a horrible nightmare. Even as I expressed horror, shock and disbelief, even as the tears came coursing down my face, my mind went back to the good old Dar days, to the memories I have of her then-in-High School son, to the great times we all had together during our Dar tenure.
Her husband and mine headed different organizations that belonged to the same parent company in Tanzania. They were also walking partners so my daughter and I met him every morning even as she waited for the school bus, when he came to get my husband for their walk. His wife and I met only on social occasions or office events as I was immersed in my then new born son. But we bonded well and became great friends over the years. Her older son used to attend coaching classes in my building so I used to see him and his classmates every evening, while I pushed my son's pram in our compound. These kids would chat for a good many minutes, giggle, laugh, and I would often envy them their carefree life! School, studies, home to eat and sleep, no other responsibilities I would think..while I chased my own rambunctious son around the compound and kept an eye on my daughter playing near by.
But then he went into 12th Grade and thus began the college search. His was the first batch moving to India after 12th from the Indian School, as earlier, the school was only up to the 10th grade. In those days the inter net wasn't as well developed as it is today (think India and Tanzania exactly ten years ago) and my friend began sharing her anxieties about searching for colleges with me. Today, a large number of people informally consult me about schools, colleges, subjects, requirements for application and the like, because of the vast research I have done in the last four years for my own daughter. But it was this particular friend who had laid the seeds for that knowledge more than a decade ago. It was she who told me about the DASA ( Direct Admission Of Students From Abroad Scheme), about the NRI (Non Resident Indian) quota for students, about air conditioned hostels for international students, with private rooms and attached baths, with the mess serving multiple cuisines, about the need to set aside money ear marked for college fees only, as we NRIs pay through our noses for college, as compared to resident Indians. And then we watched as she faced her first year away from her son. It was not easy at all and this is one of the worst aspects of being expatriates in a continent where we have to send our kids so far away for college...
And that was why my friend has been on my mind very often for the last few months because a decade has flown by and now my daughter is also going back to college to India. Last month when my daughter got accepted into India's top private medical college I messaged the news to my friend. She has seen my daughter since you could count her age on the fingers of one hand! I also confided in her that we were hoping for a particular college closer to our home town Pune and we would know soon if she had got into that one as well. She said she had just come back from her chanting group and was full of positivity and she assured me my daughter would get into the college nearer home. She would pray for her, she said. (That is exactly what has happened). She then told me that she well remembered the anxiety that parents face during this period and she mentioned that her son was now well settled and working with her brother. The younger one she said, was preparing to take exams for admission to colleges in the United States. She said 'Have a look at my profile picture to see how my boys look now!' I admired the two young men and told her that she, of course, looked nothing like their Mom! And happy, bubbly, cheerful soul that she is, she truly doesn't ...She told me just three weeks ago that the anxiety for parents is different in each stage of their children's lives, even as she sent tons of blessings and best wishes for my daughter for the new stage coming up in her life. It never ends, she said...
Our last farewell lunch in Dar Es Salaam took place in my friend's house just before we left, over eight years ago. Her husband was very sad to see us go and so I promised him that we would attend the wedding of each first born child, no matter where in the world we were. (And we did attend the first wedding from our group in 2010). I said it would be just like old times when we would meet. No, he said, things are never the same again...How heartbreakingly right he was...and I, in my youth and naivity, could not have been more wrong.
For my dear friend and her husband and younger son, I have no words. Just prayers and prayers that they get the courage to face each difficult day. I will come and see you soon though, whenever you tell me I can...Please know that you are in my thoughts and my prayers.

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