Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Ninety Days

“Around the world in 90 days” used to mesmerize me as a young dreamy eyed girl, wanting to see the world. An avid reader of Enid Blyton, I used to imagine the London Bridge, picture postcard houses with beautiful flowers in the window sill, rosy cheeked kids playing in the sun, cows grazing in lush green meadows. 

The daydreams usually culminated in a long sigh as I was pulled back to reality… reality of a life with my mother and my younger sister in Digboi, reality of growing up to be a son in the family and “taking charge” , and the reality that some daydreams are best cherished as dreams.

Little wonder then, that February 7th, 2004 was probably one of the happiest days in my life. It was a day when I was awarded the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship, for 12 outstanding women professionals in India, for a three-month course on Women and Leadership in the University of Bradford, U.K.

The three months that followed before my departure for the land of my dreams were one of panic, worry, turmoil, ecstasy, sudden bursts of laughter, pride and almost childlike disbelief… this couldn’t be me… I couldn’t be going all the way to UK and that too for three whole months…

Three months… it seemed like a lifetime to me. With three large suitcases, a huge handbag, a laptop (on loan from office) and a heartful of hope, I eagerly looked out of the window for my first glimpse of Bradford, as the coach from Manchester airport rolled into the city at 9 pm at night.

We were put up in Wardley House, a student accommodation, with independent rooms. I was very excited and immediately put up pictures, and little curios I had carried from home, to give my room a “lived in” look. All 12 of us arrived in Bradford by May 15th, and after a few initial hiccups, we were on our way to life as a student….

The three months that followed was an experience I can never forget. The interactive classes, the professors who were established experts in their subjects, our study trips to London, where we actually met a baroness and visited the House of Lords, Wakefield, Manchester, Haworth, the Chevening dinner at the York railway museum, where we got an invitation from none else but the Queen herself (Her Majesty’s office), my two weeks in London where I did a project with my parent company J Walter Thompson, the life as a professional in London traveling in the tube… these were Life’s blessings to me, Life’s way of telling me that dreams are not just dreams, they are the seeds of hope and fulfillment.

Life has been a strange teacher to me, and I have learnt to accept all trials, tribulations and joys in life as ways of teaching me how to appreciate what I have, instead of complaining about what I do not.

I learnt about the lives of the women in the UK, and realized that though they are more exposed and experienced and maybe have an “advanced” way of thought, they have their own set of stress points. Whether it be work life balance, their way of coming to terms with the impermanence of relationships, their positive outlook to life.

The most important learning was the fact that they often listened to that “Inner Voice” or their hearts. They were not stuck onto a single career, or a monotonous way of life and their spirit of experimentation, and “no looking back” attitude were stepping-stones for the confidence they had in themselves.

These three months taught me that a woman’s life is to be celebrated, not scorned. And that, our strength lies not in being “one of the boys” but in our own special way of leading through emotions. Leadership for us is about complementing the accepted norms found in men with our own softer feminine values.

I was away from the mad race of Mumbai, the never ending run for money, career and material possessions. When I had forgotten to look up at the morning sun or the beautiful night sky. Bradford taught me that it is these daily pleasures in Life that make us look forward to each day with new hope and enthusiasm.

But the unforgettable part of Bradford had nothing to do with UK per se or to the fair skinned inhabitants who I had befriended. The unforgettable part was my acquaintance with a family who had lived there for years, who had made Bradford their home away from home, and yet had left their roots strong and intact.

I met Dr. Karuna Das and his wonderful wife, Rumi at the fag end of my trip. They are the only Assamese family living in Bradford, and together with their two daughters, Paporee and Pranamee, have made Bradford their home. In their house, I experienced the warm amalgamation of the best of both worlds- the lifestyle of a “Brit” family peppered by strong Indian/Assamese values.

Dr. Das is a person who has silently contributed to Assam what very few people of a much higher stature have ever done. He is a person who has actively encouraged Assamese artists to come to the UK and delight the hearts of the Assamese populace there with their culture. He has encouraged and patronized many cultural organizations and has even had Dr Bhupen Hazarika as his guest more than once. The doors of his house and heart are wide open, for encouraging young talent from his homeland. No wonder Dr. Bhupen Hazarika conferred upon him the title of “Sagar”… Dr. Karuna Sagar Das.

It’s been 12 years since I left Bradford. I came back to my life in India, with renewed hope and vigour, and with great confidence in myself and the people I work with. Life met with changes. Some big and some bigger.

But those ninety days will forever be in my memory for showing me where Life can take me.