By Suma Varughese
Leaving home and coming to a big city is an adventure, but it can also be an ordeal. How can we be sure to meet this rite of passage triumphantly, asks Suma Varughese
The Sathe family had a guest for dinner – the daughter of one of Ashwin’s cousins living in Sanghli. Arpita, as her name was, had come to Mumbai to pursue her college education. She was staying in a paying guest facility as she had been unable to get into a hostel. It was clear that all these changes in what had been a very sheltered life had virtually traumatised the girl who was just 17 years old. She was sitting now, wan and pale, hardly opening her mouth but making the most of the delicious homemade food she was getting after a long time. Mom had really made an excellent Maharastrian meal which included puris and shrikand and vangi bath.
After the meal, Ajoba looked at the child. “How are you, beti?” he asked her. Arpita grimaced and looked away, not wanting to show them how fragile she was feeling. Finally, she said effortfully, “I am missing home so much. I don’t have any friends, the lecturers do not even notice you because there are so many people, and my paying guest lady is really mean. And she cooks horrible food!”
She felt as if she had been torn away from a loving, comfortable nest and thrown into the sea. She was very intimidated by the girls in her college. They were all so fashionably dressed and their accents were stylish.
Unfortunately, she had a slight Maharashtrian accent and already she could feel that she would be dismissed as a ghati and not allowed amidst them. Her clothes too were not too modern and she minded that her dress sense was dated.
Slowly, it all came out and Aji and Mom clucked over her predicament like a pair of concerned mother hens.
“I am shy, you know, and not able to make friends easily. And suddenly to be thrown into this sea of strangers is terrible. And nobody cares!” she cried. “That is what kills me. There’s just no one who cares whether I live or die. I so much wanted to come to the big city and I had so many dreams of making an impact. But I feel such a nobody. I don’t want to turn tail and go home but am not sure I can last out. I am so lonely!”
Everyone shifted uncomfortably. Ashwin kicked himself for not having invited her home earlier. Poor little mite. Having to battle with the big bad city was bad enough at any age but at 17, it was an ordeal. Nisha made up her mind that she was going to champion this girl. Alka, an avid fashionista, decided to give her a makeover and help her cultivate a trendier appearance.
“First of all,” said Dad, “You have to recognise what a truly brave act it was to leave all that was familiar and comfortable and come to the city on your own. You need to really acknowledge that. And I for one, applaud you for it.” Everyone spontaneously joined in and Arpita was treated to her first ovation.
She giggled, embarrassed but pleased. “None of my friends would come. They wanted to but their parents would not let them.”
Dad continued, “Secondly, you need to form a support group. It could be your family and friends at home, your facebook cronies or whatever. A small inner circle of people who believe ardently in you. Use this group to confide in. Let their faith in you be your support and strength.”
“I don’t want to bring my parents into it,” said Arpita, “because they will begin to worry.
|Sathe family fact file: The Sathe family lives in Mumbai and consists of Ashwin Sathe, a trainer and counsellor and Abha Sathe, a writer of children’s books. Ashwin’s parents, known as Aji and Ajoba, stay with them. Ajoba is a retired college professor turned Vedanta teacher. Ashwin and Abha have three children: Avijit (20) an engineering student, Nisha (19) in her second year in college studying Eng Lit and Alka (16) in her class 10. The family meets every Sunday over dinner, where problems are thrashed out and solutions offered.|
But yes, my brother and sister can be part of the group. I have some really good friends too who think I am quite something. I have not yet told them what I am going through because I did not want them to think I had not become an instant star. But yes, I will share and use their faith in me.”
“Excellent,” enthused Dad. “And without even asking anyone I know that all of us want to be part of your support team too.” Everyone nodded vigorously. “Spend the weekends with us and allow our love and care to immunise you to the city’s indifference. If you know that you have some people who care, you will not mind so much.”
Arpita’s eyes shone. “Thanks, Chacha,” she said joyously. “That would make all the difference in the world.”
“Thirdly,” said Dad, ticking off each point with his fingers, a habit he had, “Never forget who you are. Here in Mumbai, the sheer number of people force us to evaluate only on the basis of silly things like appearance and accent. But that is no reason for you to go by their evaluation. You are a university topper, are you not?” Arpita nodded modestly. “You are also excellent at athletics and very active in dramatics and debating. Plus, I know from your parents that you are a much loved and appreciated person. Remember these things. Repeat them to yourself all the time. This is who you are.”
Arpita nodded, looking much happier. “Yes, that is who I am,” she said. Added Mom, “This is a rite of passage for you, Arpita, and you need to summon up all your strength. If you successfully cross this challenge, you will become a person in your own right. I would strongly suggest that you work on your self-esteem and learn to support yourself through this whole thing. Make friends with yourself, dear, and keep on giving yourself positive strokes. Stand in front of your mirror and tell yourself how awesome you are. When you know that the one in the mirror is a true friend to you, you will never feel that lonely, ever. We only have ourselves, you know, and we have to learn to make that enough.”
Arpita nodded, “Yes, Chachi, that is true,” she said.
Nisha said her say, “Arpita, my friends and I are going to see a movie tomorrow night. Why don’t you join us?” Arpita looked as if her cup had run over. Going out with Nisha would be so cool. And Nisha’s friends could soon become hers. Alka put in her bit, “Arpi, can I take you to my hairdresser next Sunday evening? We can go to Cotton World later and pick up some clothes too.”
Arpita nodded blissfully. Whew, she was now on safe ground. With the Sathes rooting for her, her friends in the background. and her own self lustily cheering her on, her stay in Mumbai would soon become a triumph.
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