11 December 2011

A War and A Family

Conversations is hosting its FIRST Guest Post. And can it be anything but special?

Since the time I understood the concept of guest posts, I wanted only 1 person to begin that trend here & that is my high-school friend Suzaan. Her blog - Colors of My Thoughts. She was my first reader & the first person to comment on my posts. For one whole year, this blog got comments only from her (& rare appearances by 1 or 2 other readers mostly my students!)

We read each other's minds through our blogs. She lives in Kuwait & I havent seen her or even heard her voice, after we passed out of 12th Std. Yet I feel close to her. Thanks to blogging.

Read on for her first hand account of the Gulf War.
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A War & A Family

We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases & toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain & kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, & trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.
- Erma Bombeck

When the war broke out in August 1991, I was back in India on a vacation with my mom & siblings for 20 days. We were at my grandma's house when a neighbor walked in & told my mom," Kuwait has just been invaded." My mom didn’t understand. She was blinking as if "WTF" & ran & watched the news. I heard this panic filled scream & watched her run towards the nearest telephone booth. The phone lines didn’t work & then all hell broke loose. In a couple of days, she turned into this bitter, angry woman who didn’t eat & got crazy when any of us laughed & played. I was going to turn 12 & had no idea what was happening. How am I supposed to know what war is? I knew the British had invaded India but wasn’t that through some company?

Every time we fought amongst ourselves, my mom would beat me up. She was frustrated; she had 3 kids here & the love of her life, maybe dead out there or God alone knew what had happened! Days passed into weeks & she made me watch every piece of English news & translate it 10 times a day. I was sick & tired of watching bombs go off, refineries on fire, tanks running down the streets & armies moving in the country. I wanted to play, to have fun.

People around started wondering if our good times had come to an end. Our relatives shied away from us fearing they’d be approached for money or help. Some would laugh at us coz now we weren’t NRIs anymore & we kids were constantly told by others," you guys will have to learn to live life like us...no more expensive chocolates & nakhras okay." Some form of indifference was being formed & that’s when my mom decided she had to move to Mumbai with her sister. The news channels were informing that every country was sending their planes to Kuwait to pick up their citizens from the war zone. Camps were being organized for every nationality & people were moving out of Kuwait into camps at Iran, Jordan, & Saudi.

Once we came to Mumbai, things got a little better. My aunt calmed my mom. My mom would catch me by my shoulders & ask," can you even imagine what must have happened to your dad out there? I’m worried here & all you can think of is food & play. What kind of a daughter are you?" My immediate response to that was," Mom, you worry too much. Dad is fine & so are our aunties. They are doing well & will be coming home on my birthday. Who else would bring me my cake huh?" And my mom would scream, "Ohhh" & ask me to get lost.

End of August we received a phone call from Tehran. It was my dad. While my mom couldn’t utter a single syllable, my dad explained to her that he was doing well & the sisters were great. They were taken care of & will be coming to India in the next available flight. When my mom hung up, she had this serenity written all over & the first thing she did was hug & kiss me nonstop. She asked me how was I so sure & I told her, from the very first day an angel told me that everything was okay & my dad was going to be home for my 13th birthday.

She relaxed after that. She cooked meals with my aunt & never shouted at us. On 4th September morning, I woke up & saw my aunt preparing breakfast. She asked me, “I thought you said your daddy would be here” to which I replied," He will be”. I walked into the sitting room & I felt this tingling feeling. I ran outside & there my dad & his sisters were coming out of a taxi. I ran out, straight into his arms screaming daddy. It was a reunion to remember. I kept screaming," I knew you’d never miss my birthday, I love you daddy." I ran in & told my mom dad was here. She dropped the pan on the floor & ran into the living room. She stood by the door, shocked. She didn’t say anything while my brother & sister were hugging him. She stood by the door, tears flowing & said nothing. I thought about all that screaming & beating & for what! To stand glued to the door without a word to utter!

I now know the hell she went through & how difficult it had all been. We were shunned by some relatives & experienced poverty even. I remember pining for a piece of chocolate toffee but couldn’t afford it. I remember wearing hand me downs of neighbors’ & living off people's generosity for a few years. I remember not being able to celebrate Christmas coz even buying a kg of meat was a big deal. I remember not putting up Christmas trees & decorations coz we didn’t have any. I remember my parents crying over how thin we kids had become. My dad felt awful each time my brother asked him, “Can’t we even buy a small cake for a birthday.” Mom would make us sweet rice balls instead to have as sweets. Life was difficult. For someone who hadn’t used the stone to wash clothes for over 15 years had to wash on those granite slabs. To use detergent soaps as less as possible coz we couldn’t buy soap cakes every now & then. How we had to switch to lifebuoy soap for body & hair.

When my parents came back to Gulf, they promised themselves & us, they’d make a good saving & make life better for us & that none of us would experience poverty again. It made us the people we are today. It made us realize the value of everything - not taking things for granted, being respectful, honest, hard working & helpful. Money isn’t everything & relationships between family & friends are just as important. No matter what happens, family unites in times of grief, poverty & happiness. Gulf war has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. It taught us many things & now since we all are married; we know more than ever, what an epic struggle it had been for our parents to rebuild a future for both of them & for us.

In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, & love you show to one another, & by the hopes for the future you have as individuals & as a unit.
- Marge Kennedy

64 comments:

  1. Quite a telling experience, I must say.. And alls well that ends well :)

    Poverty teaches us to live whereas excess money teaches us to enjoy... Eventually, living is more important!!

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  2. OMG!! That's quite a big life's experience you and your family have had, Suzaan!
    Glad that all's well now, and it has made you strong and what you are today! :)

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  3. aal iz well that ends well. somewhere something , some one more powerful than us is watching and taling care of everything.good things happen to good people.

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  4. i have been trying to write something here for quite sometime but didn't know what to write. quite an experience.

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  5. Binu,Shilpa,Maniac hunter and Debajyotighosh - Im glad you liked my post.Im not a fabulous writer but rather write as I would say it.Have to take some tips from Sujatha.
    Before that I had no idea what life without money meant and that experience taught me what a tragedy can do to families and relationships.
    Thank you Sujatha for the Honour of posting my blog post here.Thank you for bearing with me and for leaving you hanging there for a month or more.Love you Sujatha,you are a good friend,a talented writer.Will be waiting for that book of yours.

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  6. I can relate to every single struggle you mentioned here because I had gone through a similar crisis. There were nights we slept not being sure to witness the next sun rise. And then there were times we felt a bottle of soda to be very expensive.
    If not for the hardwork, tireless devotion and determination of my parents to fill our tummy and educate us, I wouldn't be here blogging today.
    Now, my parents head a small scale business and we can afford all that we wanted then. But having gone through that phase of life, we realise life is worth much more than the luxury money can buy. My parents keep aside that money which we otherwise would spent on luxury to help uplift many economically backward families and educate children.

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  7. So right Leo Paw.My parents struggled to make up for all that was lost and now we are less of over spenders and more about saving and doing bits of charity every now and then.We 3 siblings are married now and we now realise what it must have felt like to see 25 yrs of life just vanish into thin air and to make it all up....Wow...God has been our guide and strength through it all.

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  8. this post is a saga in itself...
    it was very engrossing n I was wondering sometimes how odd times in our lives teaches us a lot of lessons...

    n yeah at the end "family" makes u strong n powerful enough to face oddest of times together.

    simply a fantastic read !!

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  9. I read it with awe..really sometimes or should I say most of the times, its only adversity which teaches us some thing..these tests in the life make people stronger and better..

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  10. Quite amazing the experience Suzy had during the Gulf War and such a sweet description of your friend and blogger by you.

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  11. well... have no words for this... words cannot describe the agony and pain of this family or any other family in a war torn country... and it should only be felt...

    sujatha satya... well i think i am the last one to comment on your blog so :P :)

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  12. No words, but just tears by the time Daddy returned! How a tremendous and disastrous war can teach lessons! And yes, only when you see your parents earn every penny with a lot more of hard work, do you value that penny! And for us 'NRI's' it means a lot more!! The first time I had come back from the Gulf and joined a school near home, everyone used to make fun of me saying I was not an Indian and what not! But deep inside all I knew was that I was a much better and patriotic Indian at heart than any one of them, and that I knew the value of every paper that was there in my Dad's purse!!

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  13. Wow...what an experience you had. Kuddoos to you and your family. Makes me wonder does everything happen for good? Money...it is only when one doesn't have it does one realize how expensive is a chocolate sweet.

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  14. Erma Bombeck at the start and I was sold!She is one of my favourites.

    //It made us the people we are today. It made us realize the value of everything - not taking things for granted, being respectful, honest, hard working & helpful. Money isn’t everything...//Humble beginnings help us dream and push us to work towards those dreams.Very good read indeed.

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  15. If we do not experience poverty even once in our life, we never learn to appreciate things that we normally take for granted. Living on minimum resources is not only a teacher but also a guide. A guide that shows us all the good things in life with full clarity.

    I guess every family has its moments of tragedy and good times. Any family can handle the good times, but it takes a solid family to handle the struggles together. Well written.

    Destination Infinity

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  16. I do not what to say. I would not like to go through this experience other than the reunion moments..

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  17. " No matter what happens, family unites in times of grief, poverty & happiness." lovely lines.. the para where ur dad came in .. I literally had tears in my eyes... such a beautiful narration.. no wonder SuJu is such a big fan of yours Suzaan..:) :)

    SuJu what an opening guest post.. gr8 selection loved every bit <3 <3 <3

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  18. A very engrossing account of the turmoil the family went through!Such times make us realize who are real friends are..

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  19. Life is not a bed of roses; it's indeed the people who struggle a lot during times of war. Inspiring post!!!!

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  20. That is some experience , War is never good and what they show on TV and media is not so much as normal people have ot suffer. So many would have suffered the way your mom did .. but no news in media and I loved the lines

    "People around started wondering if our good times had come to an end. Our relatives shied away from us fearing they’d be approached for money or help. Some would laugh at us coz now we weren’t NRIs anymore & we kids were constantly told by others,"

    OH yes I can remember it so very nicely we are good only for money when that is there all are pally with us and soon it stops

    I am so glad your dad is fine and that you are all tgether GOD BLESS and wishing that WAR never does anything like this to any family ..

    Bikram's

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  21. @Suzy, I have goosebumps all over me, as I read this!! This is the first time, I have read a first hand experience of a person who has been through a wartime.. !! At a tender age of 12, you have shown such courage and patience!! hats off to that!.. and what you mother has gone through, no words....

    Yes, Being in tough times and poverty, keeps us grounded..Its only when we strive for something hard.. do we actually know it's worth!!

    Awesome post!!Loved it totally!

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  22. Jyoti Misra,Renu,RAchna,Muhammad ISrar,Writing Bee,Bemoneyware,Sharmila,Destination Infinity,Rajesh,Sukupedia,Rahul,Sriramnivas,Bikramjit and Jenny - Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    We had a country to run back to,Imagine what the Afghanistanis,Iraqis and palestinis go through everyday coz they are in the end,In their homeland.My cousins would tease me,"Now do your nakra about this and that,You are just like us." I then realised they actually hated us for being NRIs.These were people who would surround me at all times and pretended I was a blast.
    “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”
    ― Rabindranath Tagore

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  23. It was such a touching post.. Not just for the family bonds but the lessons learnt through hardships..

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  24. Amazing post.. I loved every part of it. Specially the ending quote :)

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  25. War, I hate this word. And you gave me one more reason for hating it more. Tough times teaches you. Best teacher in the whole world, I would say. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

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  26. Very touching! It was so painful to read the hardships you had to go through. I can't even imagine how much agony your mom would have felt. And the hardships after sent a shudder too. It needs a lot of strength to go through this and I admire you for that. I was very happy to know that all ended well but felt terribly sad that all this happened in the first place.

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  27. This is a very touching post indeed. Often we talk about war but I dont think we can even feel a percent of the sadness and frustrations that people who witness the war first hand undergo. Thank you Sujatha for introducing a wonderful blogger like Suzaan :)

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  28. Im overwhelmed reading all these wonderful responses.Thank you all.
    A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her. ~David Brinkley

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  29. Touching story.Feeling somewhat speechless...I guess only someone who goes through such a experience can truly understand the pain of it..

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  30. Hi Sujatha;

    Happy to nominate you for this award,
    Hope you will like it
    http://deepak-doddamani.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-first-ever-blog-award.html

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  31. thanks for sharing the experience.
    touching.

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  32. Happy to nominate you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Check it out below!

    http://myspace-ss.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-first-ever-blog-award.html

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  33. What a moving post. War truly is a great teacher. I am glad for you and your lessons, Suzaan, and hope you will choose your wars well going forward. What a fabulous first guest post, Sujatha!

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  34. Your faith and belief that your Father will be alright, irrespective of your age and even if you didn't understand what exactly was happening at that time. Maybe that belief got you and your family through that tough time. Our family is the most important thing in our lives and we will do everything we can to hold on to them as long as we can. That horrifying experience has made you the person you are today. And I am happy for you and your family. :)

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  35. Thank you for sharing this.

    A timely reminder to us that, no one can foresee struggle in life. Problems will come and the best we can do is to hold on to our own and face it with optimism and work towards your future.

    Money doesn't always come first and family matters.

    Thank You so much for sharing..

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  36. Imagine our Earth without wars,occupation,infringement...if only there were no geographic boundaries .... no more greed for annexing territory!

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  37. I loved reading it. It has made made her what she is today. the fact that she got through that time has only made her stronger.

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  38. @Rachna: thank you Rachna

    @Israr: naah! You weren’t the last one to comment :)

    @Sunita: thanks Sunita. Muah!

    @Prasana: thanks Prasanna. my pleasure completely :)

    @Subhorup: thank you Subhorup. M glad you liked it :)

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  39. Suzan you have probably been blessed as one og Gods favorite children, cuz you experienced such a big change in your life and were too young to understand much out of it. the silver lining is that perhaps that experience brought your mom even closer to you :)

    very well narrated post, i could almost visualise every scene you mentioned.

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  40. i feel honoured to nominate your blog for the versatile bloggers award please visit my post link
    http://alkanarula.blogspot.com/2011/12/versatile-blogger-award.html#links or my blog http://alkanarula.blogspot.com for more details

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  41. Loved reading it!! Very touching post.

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  42. Thank you so much for the heartfelt comments.
    There will come times in your life,trying times,moments when you think this is the end of the world,you need to tell yourself over and over again.This cant be it or else I would have been dead.You will snap out it eventually with tons of pains even,but you will come out it ,stronger and for the better.

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  43. liked it and could sense the fear and insecurity which you face. I am happy evreything went well..nicely written.

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  44. Loved treading this post. First time on your blog and this one really touched my heart. :)

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  45. Really touching post.
    No words to explain what i actually felt.
    But yes life teaches everything, which makes the man internally strong to with stand the moments and hopes for something good to happen.
    Thanks for sharing the experience.

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  46. @Suzaan - Holy Crap! A first hand experience of war... I am numb now from what you described... I will always pray that nobody has to go through what your mom went through! And cheers to her for being such a bold woman... It is not an easy task... I really cant find the right words to explain what I am feeling right now...

    @Sujath - You really cant ask for a better first guest post!!! It is awesumm!!!

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  47. @Adi: welcome here Adi. I am glad you liked the first post you read here on my blog.

    @John: thanks John.

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  48. OH MY GAWD! I am speechless. So, emotional and touching. What war can do to a family, this is the first time I am knowing someone who had experience from close quarters!
    I am sad that I did not read this post long back. But, I am so glad that I did it finally!

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  49. @Sahana: i am glad too...that you read...finally!! :))

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  50. Thank you wonderful people.Just so you should know,I know of people who never made it back to their good lives and struggled for years and years to come.God has been great and has blessed our family.May God never ever bring such a day in anyone's life ever again.

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  51. Suzaan,
    I applaud you and your family for staying together, very strongly. Relationship are often tested during tough times. What a story -- Bravo!

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  52. A tale that teaches how to weather violent storms in life and move on with it.

    A write up with wonderful narration and having tinges of human emotions that touch the heart.

    You are a wonderful writer.

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  53. My God. What the Mother would have gone through all those days? I agree that Money is essential to lead a good life, but anytime any day the bonding between our family and the love and affection shared and it is the company of our near and dear that matters the most.!

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  54. Thank you guys.Thank you everyone.
    Sujatha...Im surprised at the response.Thank you giving me the encouragement to write this.

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  55. @Suzaan: you are always welcome dear :) i should thank you for writing for me & something as touching as this post. i agree with everyone here that the post touches your heart on many levels & lingers on because none of us here have ever known or actually felt what it is to be affected by a war so intimately.

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  56. Love you for saying so Suji halwa.

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  57. We get to learn a lot from the hard times we go through in this life. I'm glad that eventually your family overcame everything. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It really motivates the inner being within oneself to be contented with what he has. Inspires one to fight back with the difficulties and rise above all of them.

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  58. War is something no young children should have to experience even if it makes them stronger and more appreciative of the good things in life. Thanks for sharing this very touching story, Suzaan.

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  59. War is something so painful, especially when one understands that it is fought for economic gain rather than for some perceived notion of good vs evil. Thanks for sharing your story and allowing us to hate it even more....

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