Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1989 : A death in the family

Now this is why good writing shall never ever go out of style. The following piece is from Mint Lounge edition available at

I have copied the article below for easier reading…..


A death in the family

The impact of losing a parent on a young child is immense

Natasha Badhwar

First Published: Sat, Mar 30 2013. 12 10 AM IST

Children flounder when they lose a parent. Photo: Natasha Badhwar.
Children flounder when they lose a parent. Photo: Natasha Badhwar.

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The first time a child lost a parent in my class, we were in class V. I was new in that school. Priya was my best friend even though we had only known each other for three months. I had attended her birthday party in Geetanjali Enclave in south Delhi. Her father died of kidney failure. He had had a transplant earlier.

I remember feeling numb. I didn’t understand what she had lost. I was just quiet. My mother was distraught. She spoke about their family for a long time. She would repeat how young the father had been. I remembered a man with a dark beard. A 10-year-old child thinks all adults are old.

Many years later, we were film students, hanging around an inner courtyard on our campus. A classmate had had to leave suddenly after she received a phone call informing her that her mother had died in another city. I remember going into a shell again.

An argument broke out somewhere near me. Our class argued about everything. Two classmates seemed to be disagreeing vociferously over the impact of losing a parent. They were loud and angry. Hours later, we realized that both of them had lost a parent in their teenage years. They had been deeply shaken that day. You have no idea how it really feels, they were both saying. Screaming from the raw isolation of their experiences.

I had walked away that day. Both of them became my best friends later.

Our children bring home stories from their classrooms. There was a new boy in the first grade with our daughter. First she reported how he didn’t understand English. He didn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom, she said. He drank water from other children’s bottles.

We spoke to our daughter. Children come from different kinds of families. They learn different kinds of behaviour at home. Some children take longer to learn the ways of a new school. Don’t laugh at him. He needs friends too.

She began to tell us lighter stories. He was still being inappropriate, but they had begun to laugh with him, rather than at him. I met him after school one day and spoke to him. He looked away, his mouth slightly open. He is tall and stout but his face is still like the baby he was a few years ago.

Later, my daughter explained him to me. “He only talks to people he knows. He listens to our class teacher, but he is shy. He will talk to me but he won’t talk to you,” she said protectively.

One of our friends called us on a weekend after years of being lost to us. “Tell him to come home,” I said to my husband. “He needs a family. I can use a son.”

Rohit is a successful design entrepreneur. He is also a single child, a single adult and one who lost both his parents in his early 20s. He came over and stayed with us for the weekend. The first night he stayed up late, dusting and sorting everything in our house. We found toys and books arranged according to themes. “I am always trying to build a home,” he said.

Life. Our stories keep converging. They intersect. They cross each other. Sometimes it takes years before we realize what it is that draws us to another. Despite our successful, sorted out external selves, something in us connects to the backstory of the other. These stories may take years to unravel, yet we subconsciously recognize something in the other.

The boy in my daughter’s class. He would ask her every day how long it was before it would be lunchtime. He had difficulty in reading and writing. Girls were complaining that he irritated them.

We spoke to the class teacher about him. “His mother died of leukaemia last month,” she told us. “She had been in hospital for a long time.” The teacher was now making him sit next to her throughout the day. She knew he had special needs. She knew his needs.

Rohit came over one weekend and painted one of the walls on our terrace, splashing it with colours. He shot a photo feature with our children fooling around in front of it. My mother-in-law made him sit next to her and asked him about everyone in his extended family. She is a single child too.

The child in our daughter’s class is changing his school. He needs a special educator, the teacher told me. Since I am a grown-up now, I don’t feel numb any more. I feel that there has got to be something I can do.

“Should I do something,” I say aloud at home.

“Yes, Mamma, yes,” my children answer in chorus.

At the parent-teacher’s meeting last weekend, the teacher pointed out the boy’s father to me. I turned to see a young man taking his place in the classroom with a half-smile on his face. Spectacles. A pleasant, comfortable expression that made me feel relaxed and hopeful.

He had come alone. I told him that my daughter is his son’s friend. “He’s a wonderful child,” I said. “We wish him luck.”

I don’t know why I felt I had to write these stories here. I just wanted to.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

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