Friday, September 21, 2007

A Relationship We Treasure

I first saw her walk into the classroom with long confident strides. Tall, slim and dusky, she looked like a girl with a sense of purpose. Bright active eyes with a hint of a puzzle and an easy friendly smile, to reveal a perfect set of teeth.

As I watched her, I told myself, this is the girl I’d like to befriend. And I did. We were in the same class, doing our Masters in Clinical Psychology.

She was your classmate and you became friends—what’s so unusual about that? you may think. But it was different, and it is still so.

Our first interaction was while taking down the syllabus for our course. And then we found ourselves going to the same hospital for our practicum. We shared our day-to-day problems----the recent death of my sister, which I was coming to terms with, my newly-marriedness and its associated adjustment difficulties. She was juggling around with journalism assignments, music classes and deciding on whom to marry. She surprised me with her vast and varied range of interests--she was game for anything.

Since I was new to Mumbai those days, she took it upon herself to educate me about the city. She didn’t have to do much—just watching her go about her different schedules taught me a lot. Always to stand up for herself and others, she’d assert herself without being aggressive and invariably with a touch of humour.

I clearly remember the day when she took the havaldar on duty to task at Chembur station. We were on the local train and there were a group of vendors squatting at the entrance with their wares, making it difficult for us to get off the train. She requested them not to block the entrance and explained our difficulty---only to be rebuked and teased in return. They turned really nasty as the train reached Chembur station, and to our luck there was a havaldar at the station, who was preparing himself for a short nap on the bench nearby. She requested him for help to deal with those nasty women, only to be met with a cold stare ---and a “why do you want to disturb my siesta”—look from him. Something snapped within her that moment and she marched off straight to the Station Master. When the erring havaldar was called, she told him that if he wanted to sleep, he could take off his uniform and go home and sleep comfortably!

That was so much like Vasudha! (that’s her name). She had this uncanny knack of mimicking people and have us rolling with peals of laughter.

The nature of our subject was such that we had to interview persons who came to the psychiatric wing of the hospital, administer psychological tests and assist the psychiatrist in the diagnosis. As we saw individuals not much different from us, going through the trauma of mental illness or near mental illness; as we saw the pain families went through when someone close to them suffered so, we felt so humbled. People go through so much and still manage to live, and even smile sometimes!---such a thin line between sanity and insanity. It brought to the fore many existential questions----the meaning/purpose of life. What exactly is deviant behaviour? Why when two individuals face the same difficult situation, one breaks down and the other manages better?
And all this would figure in the long discussions we had with each other. We could think our thoughts aloud to one another. They were enriching, insightful discussions. And it also helped us de-stress.

Looking back, those two years were glorious years when we learned so much about each other and about life in general. Then, we each had to go our own way-----she got married and moved to Saudi Arabia and I to Hyderabad where my husband got a new job. We kept in touch briefly after that, and as the pressures of our other commitments gained more importance with time, we lost all contact with each other.

Until I chanced upon an article about her in a magazine. The picture that accompanied the article took me time to recall—yet it was unmistakably Vasudha. She had a doctorate from an American University now, and had set up a place in Chennai for children with learning disabilities. I lost no time in writing to the magazine for her address and re-establishing my contact with her.

And then I went to meet her (I had moved out of India and live in Singapore now). Although it was 15years since we met, it seemed as if it was only yesterday. We seemed to just take off from where we had left. All those years did not alter what we felt for each other. Not that there weren’t any changes at all. We had grown and matured, had good careers, had adolescent children. But yet, we found it a joy to be with each other, were so comfortable with each other, and extremely glad to have re-established our relationship.

We are both in the same profession, almost the same age. She has started off on her own venture, while I have taken a break from my career. Were there traces of jealousy, envy, comparisons of our relative achievements? Absolutely none. There were no walls built by either, so none to break!!

A relationship we treasure.
This was written in August 2002. V-excel Education Trust which Vasudha started is doing a fantastic job of helping so many children -and their parents--see some light in their otherwise difficult lives.
I am now working on a meditation project in Singapore and also teach Psychology at the local Open University.