I’ve been called me Iron Lady. Super Mom. Super Woman. Perhaps this is because I’ve faced incredible strife and tragedy in a short period of time. Maybe it is because I’ve been the go-to-guy for a lot of my friends and family over the years and my ability to ‘handle’ and ‘sort’ has always overshadowed whatever is happening in my life. Or maybe it is because I used my pain as fuel to keep forging forward in my life despite all odds.
As I stand on the brink of my 40th birthday, I now know who I am. And I am not Superwoman. This invincible tag has done more damage to me than the tragedies themselves. And I am sure a lot of women feel the same way as they constantly try to catch their own tail proving that they can play all their multiple roles with gusto and more importantly – without a scratch.
I had an idyllic childhood. My parents were involved, loving and always there for us. My brother and I had a larger than life father swooping in to fulfil our every heart’s desire and protect us from anything that came our way. Our mother was a devoted stay at home mom who’s life revolved around us. We had doting grandparents, a huge extended family who shared homes and holidays with us and family friends whom we saw every weekend and could only be considered family themselves. My father worked for Air India and we travelled around the world every few years, having the good fortune to be exposed to multiple cultures and leave behind meaningful relationships across the globe. Primary school was in Hong Kong, High School in Canada and University in London. In my last year at university, I fell in love with a man who proposed to me under the Eiffel Tower and we got married barely a year later over a twelve-day extravaganza my parents proudly hosted for me. A few years later we had a son, Nirvaan, the first grandchild on both sides of our families. Life was pretty perfect.
Then – just short of my 27th birthday, 13 years ago, my 56 year old father died of a cardiac arrest on the squash court of the Delhi Gymkhana Club where he played his favourite sport every single day of his life. Just like that. No warning. Not a thing wrong with him. And our world collapsed. My husband at the time, Nirvaan and I moved back from London to New Delhi to be with my family. My heartbroken mother who’s genetic disease took a turn for the worse, went into heart failure post losing my father. My brother suddenly struggled between the expectations of being the ‘man of the family’ and trying to understand who he was himself. My ageing Grandfather who had lost his eldest son, the one who was supposed to care for him in his old age.
For the next 7 years, life was a blur of managing life – raising Nirvaan and his sister Inayat who joined our family two and a half years after his arrival; endeavouring to be a good wife and homemaker, working with Mahindra Retail setting up Mom & Me stores, nurturing my brainchild the Mom’s Lounges and handling my Mother’s time in and out of hospitals as her condition deteriorated. I moved from Mahindra to Fortis Healthcare as the organisation had invested in my concept Mamma Mia, soon after which, Ma was given 18 months to live unless she had a heart transplant. She refused to have it in the USA where my Masi had hers 20 years ago because it would tear her away from her family and her cherished friends. We struggled with the disorganised Organ Donation system at the time and Organ India was born out of my frustration for lack of information and a proper network for families to depend on. We relocated to Chennai to wait for a heart for my mother, fraught with the dual emotions of wanting to save her life and knowing that another family would lose their loved one for her to get a chance. Six months later, we held her as she took her first breaths, fed her her first morsels of food and helped her take her first steps; just as she had done for us many years back. And there was a victory.
I returned to Delhi on a high from my miracle to my husband and 8 and 5 year old children to be told by the man I had given 13 years to, that he had fallen in love with someone else. And he left to be with her. With a mother recovering from a heart transplant, young children, ageing grandparents and a brother who was slipping into an incredibly dark place due to leaning on alcohol to survive our strife, I had no choice but to keep moving. To keep using my pain to fuel me. I threw myself into my single parenthood. Into my new avatar as COO for the Fortis La Femme hospitals. Into Mamma Mia. Into Organ India. And into the years of caring for my mother. And eventually my brother.
Until last year, my brother’s disease took a turn for the worse and he suffered the depths of alcoholism it took over his life. He was brave enough to work through several rehabs and to acknowledge and accept his problem and as a family we did not fear any ‘stigma’ related to this – alcoholism is a disease – and has been declared by WHO as the most deadly disease in the world after AIDS. However, this like all the other trials in our life, took a toll on our family. And then, my mother, like her beloved husband, left us without warning 5 months ago with a cardiac arrest. My brother went to another rehab to get the treatment he so badly needed.
And I found myself, at 39 suddenly alone with my children. No parents. No spouse. No sibling. In a situation, which would possibly be anyone’s biggest nightmare. In a place where I finally realised that I could control NOTHING. I couldn’t save or solve anything really. Not because I was not capable or competent. But simply because that is life and at some point you have to surrender to and trust in a greater power to look after you.
And so I did.
I am grateful to all my extended family and friends for being there for me, around me, just holding me. I am thankful to my beautiful children who seem to repeatedly save me despite all odds. I am lucky to have household help who have supported me for half my life. I come from an extraordinary family legacy rooted in love and happiness. I am fortunate to have had a thriving career so far and have created transformative, innovative concepts for my country over the years.
Yes, I have had years of turbulence. But today I know who I am. I release myself from the captivity of pain being my fuel. I release myself from the belief that I need to save everyone. I release myself from the need to control everything to the point of perfection.
Instead, today, I embrace the future. I embrace the growth and affection of my wonderful children. I embrace the recovery of my loving brother. I embrace my next venture soon to be launched. I embrace my protective circle of friends and family. I embrace holidays and delicious food and happiness. And I embrace the idea of someone wonderful, kind and compassionate coming into my life and loving and being loved by him.
I am not Superwoman. Please do not call me that. I am simply a woman, taking one day at a time. Learning to love and be kind to herself. I pray all the women who read this out there will start doing the same.