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Sunday, July 15, 2001
Life Ties

A sportsman spirit to see you through life
Taru Bahl

A 20-year age gap separated the sisters, Radhika and Preeti. Radhika was a tomboy, who loved climbing trees and challenging the colonyís lads to games of marbles and gulli danda. It was natural for her to inculcate the spirit of true sportsmanship, as she learnt to take victories and failures in her stride. Unlike other girls she fought her own battles. She pooh poohed their la-di-dah demeanour - their lacy frocks and the way in which they shed crocodile tears the moment someone teased them. She also mocked at the way in which other girls summoned mamma to straighten things out for them. She never understood why they were so possessive about dolls and toys.

She was a no-fuss child. The only toy she asked for was a ball which had to be replaced in quick succession. This she shared with the jing bang, using it in ingenuous ways - to play cricket, throwball, aim at ripe mangoes in forbidden gardens and to tease the dogs inviting them to out run her. Whenever she did get into a spat, she knew how to settle scores. Surprisingly, her frank and forthright manner earned her the loyalty and admiration of her friends, including boys !!

When Preeti was born Radhikaís initial reaction was horror. How would she explain the arrival of a newborn, who could pass off as her daughter but certainly not a sister. She flatly denied the tiny oneís existence. This was perhaps the only time in her life that she stubbornly refused to come to terms with a situation her mind had rejected at the outset. But as Preeti began to smile and recognise people around her, it was difficult to remain aloof. Acceptance followed and from then onwards Radhika felt responsible for Preeti. What disappointed her was that Preeti was just not interested in games. In fact the moment you teased her, she would burst into tears and then the better part of the day would be spent pacifying her. She was extremely possessive about her things and hated sharing.

 


When Radhika left for Ahmedabad for a four-year-course in design, it was Preeti who missed her the most. From then onwards, the sisters though sharing a blood bond and love for each other, were left to carve out to their own future. Radhika did well and was hand picked by an MNC which sent her to Germany for training. When she returned, she announced her decision to marry a German colleague. There was no scope for the family to protest. For Radhika had always been her own person. Since her fiery independent spirit matched an equally mature mind, they had confidence in her. Not only did she take the right decisions but when she didnít, she had the ability to cope without becoming a wreck. When her marriage fell apart and she decided to fight for the custody of her nine-year-old son her entire fraternity of friends, family and colleagues stood by her. Each pitched in to rehabilitate her. The company offered her a transfer to Bangalore and she took it up. She had to put the past behind. It was difficult to leave an established support system and start from scratch but she took on the challenge head on and turned around operations in the nearly sick units of the company. It was her sportsman spirit which allowed her to adapt to change, to not buckle under pressure and to see a lesson even when the chips were down.

When she turned 40, she decided to set up her own studio. Friends dissuaded her. Investments would be high and markets were down but she felt that since she had stopped growing in her job, she had to create extra stimuli by doing something new. Besides, her son was leaving for the USA for undergraduate study and she knew that the pangs of loneliness would be severe. The prospect of moving back to Delhi, setting up a new venture would keep her occupied.

Around this time she met a much older Air India pilot. He initiated her into flying. He would take her on solo flights in hired airplanes. They married when she was 46 and he 54. These were the most beautiful years of her life. When he died of a sudden and swift cardiac arrest at the age of 62, her world came crashing down. She felt she had lost the will and energy to start life afresh. She wanted to hoard her memories and quit working but pending orders forced her to continue. As an industrial designer, she moulded different materials, miraculously creating and shaping things. Gradually the persistent pain faded. Initially she willed herself not to remember him, banish all thoughts of self-pity, rush to her son for comfort, medicate herself for sleep and de-stress. At the same time, she didnít want the one true love of her life to become her weakness. She wanted to think of him and of the times they spent together with joy. She wanted to derive strength from her memories of him not by running away from them but by consciously remembering and revelling in them. She planned an exhibition dedicating it to her memory of him.

Critics remarked that she had never done better. From here onwards she could talk to him via her sculptures and models. It was as if he was always there with her.

Preeti, meanwhile, had quit studies and opened a boutique financed from her fatherís savings. She resented being born when her parents were past their prime and their resources had dwindled. Although not conventionally beautiful, she was attractive but she over estimated her looks and abilities. Bridegroom-hunting became an ordeal. Rejecting boys on the basis of their height, teeth alignment, income and family responsibilities was beginning to exasperate the family. Gradually, the flow of proposals reduced to a trickle. She made no bones about the fact that everyone had let her down. She would die an old maid and it was all their fault. By the time she was 30, the only stray proposals which came were of divorcees or widowers which were unacceptable. She only had her modest boutique to keep her busy. When her parents passed away she was left with no one to blame except Radhika. She did not see that Radhika had braved worse odds in the 55 years of her existence. What she did see was an exuberant, smart woman who had a wide circle of friends, a well-settled son and success. While she, like a stepsister, had been left picking leftovers. Radhika knew she could do precious little to change her sisterís way of thinking. Her efforts at drawing her into different activities had come to naught because it always boiled to comparisons, accusations and cribbing.

One day Radhika decided to have a hard talk with Priti and tell her exactly what she thought of her pathetic existence, even if it meant souring relations further.

She said: "You have been existing, not living. You have made life an apology. You have chosen not to be happy and well-settled. Since you were not willing to own responsibility for your actions you always found people whom you could pin the blame onto. Sure you have had a lonely and unfortunate life but what did you do about it ? You didnít have to be married to fill your hours with interesting things. You were unhappy and made everyone around you miserable and guilty. You hoarded all the things that went wrong, all the hurts, insults and letdowns and carried that emotional baggage with you. You never allowed yourself to cross over to the next stage of life with a fresh body and mind. It was always tainted with the negative images of your past. I wasnít born with a golden spoon. Doors did not magically open for me. In fact after you were born our parents expected me to fend for myself. You were a frail child and they were so caught up with bringing you up that I was all but forgotten. Yet it was I who was closer to them though it was you who lived with them. You have no right to hold us responsible for your miseries. You have still not missed the bus. Marriage is not the be all and end all of a womanís existence. You can invest the rest of your years with sunshine if only you leave all that emotional baggage that you insist on carrying with you. Everything will fall in place. Your friends and cousins will rediscover you. You will be more open and receptive to ideas. Your business will pick up. You may or may not find your dream man but chances are if he is there, you will spot him now. More than anything you would have learnt to live life not merely exist."

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