Part 1/3 ........
Part 2/3 ......
Part 3/3 .........
By January, I found myself sitting in music class, cleaning the cobwebs off my voice and relearning my Sa-Re-Ga-Ma. I used to sing with my grandfather as a kid. He took with him the culture of evening riyaaz when he died. 24 years later, I started my classical music lessons. Now that I was singing, I wanted to dance too. I felt self-conscious, I had gained a lot of weight in the last few years, but I had always wanted to dance with the local dance wing, and realized this could be my only chance. I auditioned with them for a show, and the weekdays saw me singing and dancing to the tunes of music for the upcoming show. My muscles screamed in pain, I no longer felt that nimble and flexible I used to feel years ago, and came so close to giving up at times but dragged on for that day I would be on stage feeling proud of myself. February saw me live that moment of pride, performing on stage.
I had a lot of time now but no money, so I started living with a close friend. I helped her take care of her baby, another unique experience for me. Baby and I became best friends, and I learnt skills like feeding a 1 year old, keeping her entertained, talking to her, making her learn new words, and singing to her. By the end of my one-month long stay with her, she was singing Sa-Re-Ga-Ma with full confidence. I had circulated the gift of music I had got from my music teacher, to baby. Taking care of the little one taught me love, patience, and the art of understanding little humans who do not talk to communicate or make themselves understood, not to mention bits and pieces of Tamil. Next, I moved to another friend’s place where I had another baby to take care of, not a little human, but a very understanding and communicative cat. Anyone who knows me would know how scared I am of animals, and I would not even go close to a harmless, innocent animal, let alone live with one. However, I saw this as another opportunity to get over my fears and take temporary responsibility of a living being. Kitty and I had the house to ourselves and we would often sit together in the evenings watching television, playing, or talking to each other. I told her stories and she responded by purring and mewing. We even watched a Bengali movie together once.
By the end of March, I had heard back that I was not granted an extension of my US visa. I was expected to leave the US, my home for the last 4 years. It was yet another calamity that came as an opportunity. I looked at Google maps and asked myself if the world was a playground lying invitingly in front of me, where would I like to play next. I had my answer. I sold most my stuff, packed the rest of my life in boxes at a friend’s garage, left my car in another friend’s driveway, and took off. I took a flight to New York, and another flight that didn’t stop till it reached India. I was in India after 4 years, meeting my family and friends. I rejuvenated myself, felt nurtured with unadulterated love and support that a family provides, and went back to work voluntarily at my old school where I used to teach 4 years ago. I saw this as a unique opportunity to re-establish my contacts, and to do something I was passionate about- teach. All it took me to be happy and feel useful was to discover something I loved to do, and start doing it again.
Before I knew, I had spent months with family, possibly more time than anyone living outside home could ever imagine. It was time to move on. The next 2 weeks saw me backpacking, living, and breathing in the places I had only read about and dreamt of, but had never thought I would visit in this life. I had always wanted to walk the streets of Vienna where my favorite movie “Before Sunrise” was shot, and I did it. I had always wanted to visit an active volcano, and here I was climbing Mount Etna in Sicily. I walked the streets of Dresden, had Gelato in Rome, got a first hand experience of marveling at awe inspiring work of Michelangelo in Rome, stood mesmerized by the beauty of Salzburg, visited the castles of Prague, walked inside the world’s largest ice caves in Werfen, hiked the Alps, even took a train that boarded a ferry while leaving mainland Italy towards Sicily. Map in hand and an indomitable wanderlust, my dream of backpacking Europe, traveling in trains, and living on a shoestring budget had come true.
The best things in life were spread out for me as a buffet, and in 8 months I got a taste of almost everything I had ever desired. Music, dance performance, babies and pets, meeting family, teaching, and walking the streets of Europe. But I still had to figure out my life and decide what I would do after this transitory honeymoon phase. This was my chance to start something new, and learn from scratch, since I had already made up my mind not to go back to doing bench science again. After 8 months of a journey that seemed more like a never ending fun vacation, I wanted to be a student again, but not in the same field studying cells and molecules and writing scientific documents. I wanted to learn more about how people learnt. I applied to a dozen schools, got around half a dozen admits, and went back to school. It was time to start working on that unfinished dream of a PhD. Life had given me another chance to do something I loved, and I grabbed that opportunity and converted my passion for teaching to the pursuit of research. These days, I work on how to make the process of learning more effective. By changing fields, I relearned my sciences from scratch.
My greatest lesson from this journey of unemployment was to see things I built over years, things valuable to me, crumble in front of me, and for me to learn to build from rubble and from the ashes of unfulfilled dreams again. It taught me how to be significantly detached from my dreams to be able to work on rebuilding newer dreams again. I have learnt that it’s okay to have nightmares about losing your job or not succeeding in life or see people leaving you, because your insecurities mirrored through these nightmares will only make you wake up and work harder towards your commitments to ensure that things don’t screw up in real life. I feel like a new person, free of baggage, unfettered from the thoughts of how the world perceives me, and secure in the knowledge that I have taken good care of myself through these months and haven’t failed myself.
My journey through these 8 months of unemployment changed the way I learned to count my blessings. The door that had marked the end of things was also the same door that marked the beginning of brand new, and a better life for me.