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Monday, February 16, 2009. 2100 hrs.

Coping with unforeseen situations makes you feel vulnerable and on edge. This is
completely natural when things around us are shifting and changing rapidly, and the
change is not to our liking. When life deals us a rude shock or throws us off track
mercilessly, we do panic. To panic or to be resilient, resourceful and find a new way to
deal with the situation- this is a choice we have to make. How do we weather rough

The first time I experienced death was in 1977, in a hostel room in Ludhiana. The one
line of a letter, received in the afternoon post, brought my world crumbling down. My
grandma had passed away. Memories flooded past me. Her presence was an unforgettable
part of my childhood and teenage years. Sitting there all alone, miles away from family, I
felt utterly lost. A part of me was dead and gone forever.

The ensuing years saw me experience this sense of loss many times. I had lost my father
in 1985, much before my marriage. My in-laws passed away in 1989 and 1990. I lost my
uncle who was close to me in 1990 and my mother in 1995. Ma had Parkinson’s disease
since 1985 and spent her last five years with me. I found it difficult to accept my
brother’s death, which occurred in 1992. Loosing someone of your own generation can be
quite a shattering experience, as I learnt. Finally in 2004, I lost my husband. Losing a
spouse has no comparison. I did pick up the threads of my life all over again.

During this period (in 1988), I also had an accident, which left both my legs in a cast.
After four excruciating months, I had to learn how to walk again: first with the help of
two crutches, then one and finally, without any support. It was a soul-searching
experience, especially because it came just two months after my wedding and a
wonderful career-high trip to Japan. It was also an agonizing time, mentally and
physically; exacerbated by the lack of a proper support system. With the responsibility of
two little ones, aged six and three, ailing in-laws and no full time domestic help- I
realized that I had to come out of this fast to take charge of my life, marriage and career.
A poster on my bedroom wall read, “I am not afraid of tomorrow, because I have seen
yesterday; and I love today”. That’s it. Ultimately, we all learn to cope. So did I.

We all have various ways of dealing with change and unpleasant surprises. As time
passed on, I learnt, building and maintaining solid and supportive relationships can make
all the difference in how we weather tough times and sudden changes. Close friends and
loved ones can become our best support system. At some point in our lives, we all have
relationships with people who are negative, aggressive, or maybe even pessimistic. They
are generally very good at keeping attention and energy focused on themselves. Such
relationships leave you feeling drained and depleted. When you’re striving to keep a
positive outlook on life, the best thing to do is avoid such people altogether.

A sense of humor goes a long way in lightening the load, when times are tough. Do not
miss out on opportunities to laugh in everyday life. Seek out reasons to laugh. If it’s
difficult to find one, look for it in a funny story, movie, or television show. After all,
scientific studies have shown that laughter is healing for both the body and mind. Deep
breathing is another oft recommended healer. Taking a deep breath fills your system with
a good supply of oxygen, which in turn makes your stress levels drop quickly. When you
allow yourself a moment to breathe deeply, you are able to absorb an adverse situation in
a positive way. This way, you’re better prepared to handle a messy situation with grace.

In tough times, focus on the one closest to you – YOU! It doesn't mean that you should
ignore others or neglect your responsibilities. Instead, it implies that you make yourself
(and your needs) the topmost priority in your life. Something as small as setting aside 15
minutes of a day- just for yourself- can make a huge difference.

If you have difficulty focusing on yourself, here's one thing you can try: Think about the
things you enjoy doing or the things you would like to try (on your own or in the
company of others). Whatever you choose must satisfy your body, mind, or spirit and
leave you feeling uplifted.

Reading is one of my favourite pastimes. I enjoy reading poems, short stories, novels, and
articles on the whole gamut of topics from management to parenting. The rhythms of
both music and dance make me respond and I love traveling, seeing new places, meeting
people and keeping a good home. A lively imagination has provided me much solace.

My creative passion finds vent in cooking and gardening. Cooking can be as creative as
singing, dancing or painting and must be pursued with a certain reverence, since food is
one of the most essential features of our existence. For me, cooking represents a quiet
time to unwind after a hard day. Tending to my plants fills me with a sense of delight and
satisfaction. It gives me immense pleasure to see a tender leaf or a bud. It is a very
‘grounding’ pastime, and I get to share it with others by spending many glorious hours
talking about our cooking or gardening experiences. Of course, I have my own pet
theories on both cooking and gardening!

In the daily rush to meet deadlines and fulfill obligations, our creative selves are the first
casualty. And that's not a good thing, as our creativity is so closely connected to our
sense of self-fulfillment. Creativity helps us to experience the magical and playful side
of life. It lets us explore our passions and express ourselves artistically. Your creative
expression can be simple and spontaneous, or focused and directed.

Sadly, many people don't consider themselves creative, especially if they don't write,
paint or play music. But that is a limited perspective of creativity. There are many forms
of creative self-expression with different kinds of execution and levels of expertise.
Within each and every one of us exists an artistic being just waiting for the opportunity to
shine and, that is not to be taken lightly!

Looking after yourself actually puts you in a better position to give to others. It sets an
example for those you would like to help and, even better; it enables them to take care of
themselves. Only when you’re happy can you spread happiness around.

Periodically assessing yourself is important. The evaluation criterion is: “Within the
framework and under the circumstances in which I have been forced to function, have I
been able to do my best?” Life, as the popular adage goes, is like a pack of cards.
Complaining about the hand you’ve received is no good. What matters is how you play
with the cards you’ve been dealt. In retrospect, my life had its share of ups and downs; at
times, it was a real roller coaster ride- but this has only added to my zest to life.

I used to have a very busy schedule. Monday to Friday, my job as a scientist in a premier
Indian research institution kept me occupied. Since 1987, when I fell in love with and
married a widower with two daughters (aged six and three), combining the demands of a
family and a career has been a tightrope walk. My daughter’s birth in the fourth decade of
my life was a delightful experience. Motherhood brought its own share of ecstatic and
agonizing moments. The years have been eventful- and not all of them pleasant. Yet, my
life experiences have not embittered me. Instead, they have given me a deep insight into
human nature. For instance, I have learnt that behind a cultured facade, people can at
times be terribly vicious.

No college or university offers a course in the art of living or how to get the maximum
out of life. We rush through life in a mad pursuit for acquiring degrees or reaching the top
rung of the career ladder. But you need to live life well at all levels- and that requires a
conscious understanding of everything that life brings to you. Adversity forces you to
become innovative by pushing you to seek new directions to overcome obstacles. It
humbles you, makes you flexible and yet, more determined. It makes you reprioritize
your life. As the protagonist in one of my favourite books reveals, when asked what the
secret of life is- It is to endure…