To 8-year-old Chinnu,
You are the smartest, most sensitive little girl I have ever come across! It makes sense, too: born to two genius minds and compassionate hearts, you have been treated like a princess and lacked for nothing. It looked perfect; a doting father, an understanding mother, a little brother on the way that you threw a fit for. I remember when you made handmade greeting cards for every Mother’s and Father’s Day, birthday and anniversary. I remember how you would sneak out of the room after Mom fell asleep so you and Dad could watch late-night movies. The weekends would be for homemade meals by Dad and trips to McDonald’s. But, of course, he also fulfilled those late-night food cravings, and Mom would sing lullabies. Do you remember when Dad sang you the National Song because that’s the only one he knew? And when he ran back home from his work because you called him while running a temperature. Or when you and Mom spent time spring cleaning and talking about how you’d always be together no matter how old you grew up! You were such an honest, open and expressive kid to your parents, no matter how introverted you were with the world.
Looking back now, I can imagine how hard it must have been to lose dad. Your world changed, flipped. He was your rockstar, your hero, your strength. I still can’t wrap my head around how you handled it. Although it’s been 18 years, I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. It was all so quick. Until they got him home. And then, time seemed to stop there. And a part of my heart remains suspended in that moment. The phone rang, and someone on the other end said there’d been an accident. While Grandma panicked, you tried calling Mom. Once she came home, I remember she took you to the terrace and gave you the news – “Daddy is no more, so if you need to cry, do it here. Once you go down, you have to be strong.” So that’s what you did. People trickled in slowly at home; you watched their reactions through the window. Your only company was your dog, Raja. He stayed with you, and as night fell, he settled near the ice slab of Dad’s body. He knew.
You watched mom stay strong and not shed a single tear. She had lost the love of her life, and all she could do was kiss his forehead and stay there. When the day came to say goodbye, the memory of watching Dad be let go and turn to ashes is still seared in me. I remember Mom breaking down. I guess that was when you lost both your parents; Mom was never the same after that. In an instant, you had to grow up and take responsibility. Learn how to deal with pain, hold down the fort, and multitask. Life wouldn’t be the same again.
You have always been an adult in a child’s body, and life hasn’t been very kind to you. Yet, you have been strong, responsible, and conscious of taking care of those around you. I know sometimes you wish for someone to see you. I do. When you pass by the park where you’d walk Raja with Dad and take a little hurt, I see you. I see you when you love the monkeys and ants in your neighbourhood to bits. When you tried to be there for your hurting cousin, I saw you. I saw you when you had to side with Mom against her in-laws’ abuse. You have always had a clear sense of right and wrong. You have loved fully and without bias.
I admire how you managed to find little moments of joy amid everything. While Mom struggled, running back and forth to the hospital, courts and banks, you had important moments with your baby brother. You taught him how to walk, fed him, and made him laugh loud with weird dance moves! You cooked with your cousin, learnt little baking tricks and focused on your studies. You wrote essays, poems, drew and painted. And what a poet you are! Your certificates and magazine poems are an ode to that. Remember this about yourself the next time you sit down to write one. You are unique. You are special.
All those who cringed at you for bringing home a sick dog or for attending a wedding for the food; their opinions do not matter, my love. Your acceptance of the world far exceeds the judgements people throw at you. You have been unrelenting in your pursuit of saving little lives around you, even though you don’t know it. Mom had it tough too. She had to toughen up and take care of two kids while fending off the naysayers and people who wanted to take advantage of Dad’s death. Not having an adult figure around to listen to you, not having Mom have your back when you needed it the most, and not being seen or heard by those closest to you has affected you. You can’t talk to Mom like you used to; it’s like there’s an invisible wall built up now.
But all of this has also made you stronger and kinder. I know you miss Dad; you don’t understand why he had to die saving another little girl. Because you were also a little girl who needed her dad to come back home. You try to look for some meaning, some solace in the saying, “Everything happens for a reason”. I don’t know the reason yet, but I know that although you feel alone at times, Dad is always watching you. He is proud of you for not giving up, not becoming bitter or harsh, and keeping the love alive.
Your friends in school didn’t understand you at times, and that’s okay. They grew up different, more opposed to the bitter parts of life, which you saw much sooner, so they didn’t have an understanding or the maturity you had to develop. They didn’t consciously isolate you in a fight. I now understand that they were kids, too, trying to fit in. You were never born to fit in. I am so proud of you for not hiding or running from situations life threw at you. While you cried at school, you also never shied away from shining through your studies or captaincy. Not even while expressing yourself to the first crush you ever had and him running away! Maybe now I would take a day for myself if all this was happening at once. But you faced them all head-on, even without knowing it.
A particular incident that broke but strengthened you. The girl you looked up to wanted you to be physical with her. When you said you didn’t like how it felt, she told you a little story to convince you. When an older relative in the house saw this, instead of reprimanding the culprit, both of you were slapped for “indulging” in it. I wish it could be easier to admit or at least acknowledge to yourself that this happened to you.
My only advice to you would be to be kinder to yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes, to stumble. Although you have been conditioned to be the best in the room and nothing short of perfect is expected or accepted, you don’t always have to be so hard on yourself. Take little steps to accept yourself, to love yourself the way you do others. Your psychiatrist told Mom that you were slipping into high functioning depression, but your cousin went around calling it “attention-seeking behaviour.” It doesn’t matter what she says; what matters is what you do for yourself and how you accept yourself, flaws and all. I understand you’re a tad bit young to completely fathom the gravity of what I’m saying, but please trust that intuition inside you. Be as kind to your mistakes as you are to those of others. It will take time for you to open up and make your own set of friends; build your own circle. It won’t be easy, and you’ll make a lot of errors. But, please don’t beat yourself up about it. Peer pressure always exists. Hold on to little victories and little moments of happiness.
Better days are coming, I promise. Your little joys will get you to a stronger woman. So, keep enjoying the rain, communicate your problems even when there is no one to listen, and do not ever feel there was a mistake in trusting anyone. At every step, there has been at least one person who’s had your back; do not doubt that. It will all make sense in the coming years. But, for now, rest easy, child. You are safe. You are present. You have taken care of things well beyond your years, and you have done it exceptionally well. Don’t let anything convince you otherwise.
Written by Praneetha @the_biophilic_world
Illustrated by Kimberly Hoffman @kimhoffy