By Suma Varughese
Sunday dinner was especially festive this week. Mom’s sister, Geeta, was spending the weekend with them.
She was much younger and for Mom she was as good as a daughter. She always said that Geeta was her firstborn. Geeta was going through a traumatic time at home and everyone was determined to give her a really good time, especially Mom. She had made a vegetable biryani, a delicious Kerala coconut veg curry, amazing paneer and potato cutlets, and some ajwain parathas. A reverential silence prevailed until all of them had managed to stanch the sharp pangs of hunger. Now, meal over and dessert still to look forward to, everyone became more sociable.
Geeta groaned. “I can’t believe I have to go back tomorrow,” she said.
Mom patted her on the back comfortingly. Geeta’s father-in-law had come to live with them after the death of his wife a few months back. There was no love lost between them because he was an extremely autocratic and dictatorial person who had made her life hell during her early days of marriage. He was now an invalid who needed care around the clock, and was extremely cantankerous as well. Geeta, who was childless, had had to give up her job to look after him. But his constant demands, unwillingness to be pleased and nonstop cribbing was trying her patience to the extent that she could hardly take it any more.
Her husband, fearing that she would have a nervous breakdown, had sent her over to Mom for a weekend, while he took care of his father.
“I am so close to telling Sudhir to put his father into an old folk’s hospital. Every day the words come into my mouth and I hastily bite them back again.”
“What stops you from saying them?” asked Dad curiously.
“I just don’t want to do anything I would regret,” said Geeta.
Ajoba had been listening to everything gravely. “I am so glad you feel that way, Geeta,” he said now. “It is clear that you and he are locked in a karmic equation and it is better for you to go through this than bring it artificially to a close. Because if you do not go through it with your father-in-law, and complete it, you will find yourself caught up in a similar situation once again. Life is relentless. It will not let us off the hook until we learn our lessons.”
“That’s an interesting way to look at it, uncle,” said Geeta. “I had not thought of the karmic angle, but now that you mention it, I had a similar issue with my boss. He was so autocratic and disrespectful. He would give me projects without briefing me on exactly what he wanted and when he wanted them. I had to prod at him to get the information out and if I goofed up, he would throw a furious tantrum. I used to be so unnerved. I simply did not know how to handle the man, any more than I know how to handle my father-in-law.”
“That is what you need to learn,” said Ajoba. “You need to learn to handle intimidating behaviour without losing your poise or confidence. You need to learn to establish firm boundaries against disrespectful and insulting action. You need to grow in confidence and capability.”
Geeta quailed. “That is a lot of lessons to learn,” she said. “I am not sure I can do this.”
Mom put her arms around her, “Of course you can,” she told her. “You remember how you could never learn to ride a cycle? But you persisted and persisted until you got it right.”
“I did, didn’t I?” said Geeta, brightening up.
“Your strongest quality is determination and determination will help you achieve anything in life,” said Mom.
“Wow, Didi. Thanks for reminding me. I tend to get so demoralised being around Sudhir’s dad all the time. I really have started feeling bad about myself. And Sudhir and I are having fights about the situation too. I keep letting off steam at him, poor fellow. He takes as much as he can but sometimes, he retaliates and then things get pretty ugly.”
“Perhaps the first thing you need to realise is that this situation has come to you because you have drawn it, and not because you married Sudhir. So stop blaming Sudhir and take responsibility for the situation,” said Ajoba.
Geeta pursed her lips. “Hard to do but yes, good point,” she said.
Ajoba continued, “When you are in a karmic gridlock, the most important, indeed crucial thing, is to never react. The more you react, the more entrenched you are going to get into the situation. Your job is to free yourself of karma, not add to it, so you have to cultivate the strength to never react. This would be the hardest part of your tapasya. Of course you may get angry and so on, but never indulge in any act that will further increase the gulf between you.”
Geeta listened intently. “I will try my best,” she said. “I certainly do not want to attract this situation in my life again.”
“Here is what will help,” said Mom, “Start working on yourself. Go deep within and discover this person called Geeta. Uncover her psychological and emotional needs. Learn to love, accept and forgive her unconditionally. Befriend her and become intimate with her. She is all you will ever need. She – your real self – is all you will need to overcome this karma. She will give you all the wisdom, strength and support you need.”
“Wow,” said Geeta, “that sounds impressive. Looks like I am finally going to meet my soul mate.”
That is exactly what it is. We are our only soul mates.”
Dad chipped in, “The more you discover and accept yourself, the freer you will be. It is a long journey but a very worthwhile one. And there will come the day when your father-in law will be as cranky as can be and it will not bother you at all. You will either be able to put him in his place with a gentle rebuke, or you might even reach a space where the insults will simply not affect you and you can continue to relate to him with equanimity and compassion.”
“And when you get there, then the insults will stop coming. You will command respect because you will be so peaceful, calm and centred,” said Ajoba.
“Wow, uncle, I can hardly wait to get started. What you have said has added so much meaning to this situation. I now feel I have the strength to go through it because it is going to teach me to be a better person!”
“And on that note, let us have some mango ice-cream,” said Mom, bringing in the dessert.
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