It was cold that morning. Late December in Delhi brought its share of fog. Early morning mist wet the windshields of cars parked around them. They stood there, waiting for the auto-rickshaw to arrive. Aditi put her arms around her sister who was shivering. Their mother kept peeking into the fog, hoping the driver would arrive soon.
‘When will the movers bring our stuff, mum?’ asked Aprajita, Aditi’s elder sister.
‘They should reach around the same time as us, they’re all packed and were just loading the truck with the last few small boxes when we left,’ said their mother.
‘Is it going to be weird? Living away from everyone in a new, strange house?’ asked Aditi.
‘Maybe at first, honey. But the three of us will make it beautiful, won’t we? Who else do we need?’
‘I don’t know. Having dad back from Almora would not be so bad.’
Her mother didn’t say anything. She knew it was hard on the girls. It was hard on her, too. More than anyone knew. But they had to do it for their daughters. The painful distance was only a matter of time, she thought. He would soon get a transfer back home, she hoped.
It would be another year before her father came back. But a difficult, hectic life suddenly turned into a stable, happy family time. Years of struggle was now paying back. In Almora, Aditi’s father had worked himself to weakness. He was gradually regaining his health, spending all his free time with his family. After a long time, the house was filled with contentment.
When Aditi passed high school, in one of their parent-teacher meetings, her English teacher told them the girl had a knack for literature. She could read between the lines like no other student. Her writing and articulation left people in awe. And she should definitely pursue this field of study.
But this did not convince her parents of a stable career later in life. They had not worked themselves to death to see their daughter struggling to find her place down an uncertain career path.
They moved to Meerut where Aditi spent the last two years of her school life. As it ended, she applied all over Delhi University for English Honours. But to be safe, her father had her apply for BCA which she never wanted to do.
When her parents made her choose BCA over a potential admission in St. Stephen’s for Literature, she was furious. For months, she felt angry and held it in. Eventually, she settled in her college life as the fun there distracted her from her regrets.
In her second year of college, Aditi saw an opportunity. Times of India were conducting a test, following which the selected candidates would get a chance to study journalism and get placed in Times of India itself. It was a golden opportunity. Aditi saw an exit, an escape route into a world she knew she was meant to be in.
She gave her everything in that exam. She had never been more prepared for anything in her life. Clearing the written examination did not come as a surprise for Aditi. But now was the real test. The interview by one of the most prominent personalities of one of the most prestigious newspapers in the India. She went in and she made the interviewer laugh, she was confident, she was flying. It went so good Aditi was almost certain she would get in.
Weeks passed, she did not get the letter. She was surprised, disappointed but moved on with her life. She was already studying Spanish from the Spain Embassy at that time, so she stayed connected to language.
Two months later, Aditi was looking for an old book when she opened her drawer, and found a letter addressed to her name. She had gotten in. She had been selected for the Times of India course. But nobody had told her.
Aditi flipped. She had never worked as hard for anything in her life as she did to get into this, and she had spent the last two months thinking she was not good enough. But she was. Anger seeped in. She was good enough. Her parents weren’t. They were selfish, and small-minded, she felt.
She went to her father, who at seeing the letter in her hand, slumped into the nearest chair, giving up like he had been expecting this day to come.
‘How could you do this to me?’ asked Aditi through clenched teeth, shivering with anger.
‘You didn’t see –‘
‘No, I saw! I saw I got selected and you kept it hidden from?’
‘What kind of a father are you?’
‘Aditi, lis –‘
‘NO, YOU LISTEN, DAD!’ she shouted. ‘I HATE WHAT I DO! FOR THE SECOND TIME I GOT AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING I LOVE AND YOU TOOK IT FROM ME! I GOT IN! WHO ARE YOU TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS FOR ME?’
Her father stared at her, unable to say anything.
‘You were wrong, dad. You ruined my life. You were supposed to make it better and you ruined it! It’s because of your decisions that I will stay stuck in this frustrating course and field for the rest of my life!
‘I thought you were with me in this. You know what? I don’t care. I want to quit. I’m not going to study any further. I’m just going to quit. Why don’t you find a suitable groom for me, too? I’m sure you must have started looking! Get me married and I’ll fade away in my failure at home cooking food!’
Her father had risked his health in the remote villages of Himachal, worked double shifts, stayed away from his wife so his family could have a comfortable life. So his daughters could have an education. After all this, he felt he had failed. His eyes welled up, and he looked down.
Aditi suddenly snapped out of her anger. She just realized what she had said to his father. She rushed to him and sat on the floor beside her father. As she held his face and lifted it up, a tear slowly rolled down his cheeks and Aditi broke down. She buried her head in his legs and apologized. She got up and hugged his father and apologized again.
Her father opened his mouth, hesitated, and said, ‘I’m sorry, beta.’ His voice choked. Aditi kept him in a tight hug. Moments passed. Time heals things.
Later, Aditi saw the letter again, and saw the seven-figure fee structure and realized why her father had not shown her the letter. Aditi moved on.
When college ended, Aditi joined Tata Consultancy Services in Chennai. She had been there for over two years when she landed a job in Amazon in Bangalore.
When she joined Amazon, her perception of work culture turned upside down. Here, people had ambitions beyond the next appraisal. Amazon is a big company, with over 600,000 employees. And all of them believed that they were responsible for everything that happened. And indeed they were. The small cogs in the wheels were what started the chain effect, like a domino, which worked its way perfectly to the top.
Aditi had a colleague, Zainab. Zainab worked as a UX designer, and in her after-office hours, she helped an NGO, St. Saviours who were fighting to keep the environment safe. They would organize campaigns, do silent protests against companies dumping their waste in the rivers, they would distribute flyers, and make online videos. Sometimes, they would collaborate with content creators online to share their message. All the members had committed twenty percent of their day job salaries for the NGO because funding was hard to come by. Those who didn’t have day jobs committed fifteen hours a day of their time to the NGO.
Aditi had long held a desire to contribute in improving the worsening climate change. And this seemed like a good start. She joined St. Saviours. Being a product strategist gave her a lot of hacks for marketing anything. Getting attention online is the most powerful tool today, and she knew how to do it.
So when a Karnataka MLA made an irresponsible remark about Mother Earth’s existence being all about feeding us and that we are doing nothing wrong, Aditi jumped at it. St. Saviours organized a campaign condemning the politician’s statement, they held silent protests apologizing to the Earth, and urging the minister to do the same in public. They made doodles, videos, and Aditi helped them make everything go viral. People finally heard what St. Saviours had to say. People supported them. Public outrage led to the minister eventually apologizing to Mother Earth in public.
When attention came, the Saviours were asked to attend conferences and events highlighting environment and climate change concerns. Something urged Aditi to get out from behind the computer screen and on to the stage to be the one who creates the content, not just markets it.
She started attending every conference, every meet, and whenever she got the chance, she would voice her opinion. The more time she gave to St. Saviours, the more struggling office became. She thought of cutting down at the NGO, because she had never wanted to slack off in her professional career. But just as she would do something about it, she was asked to give a speech at the Environmental National Sciences.
Doubt seeps in faster than water through pipes. She was trying to get out of something, and now was getting pulled deeper into it. But at the same time, the opportunity was so exciting. How could she let that go? She went for it.
One speech called for another. And then another. Within six months, she had emptied her leave balance account at the office and was travelling to different cities to talk about climate change and our deteriorating environment. She was risking loss of pay days when she decided to call it quits … at the office.
Hesitatingly, slowly, after battling with a lot uncertainty, she had made the switch she had yearned for years without even accepting it to herself. She made St. Saviours her full-time job, and was leading the entire organization as other senior members slowly started to drop out because their jobs and family responsibilities didn’t allow them the time to do it. Aditi herself had been nudging off marriage proposals from her family. She had one focus – St. Saviours. She expanded it all over India, and put it on the world map when the organization pressurized the government to ban multinational companies from dumping waste in the rivers.
It was a huge achievement, something environmentalist had been fighting for in their countries for decades. She was inducted into the UN at the age of twenty nine, and for the next ten years, travelled the world and spoke and influenced people all over to take small steps. Everything would pay off in the future. ‘And if we don’t do it,’ she said at one of the events, ‘we would be paying instead.’
She had her life planned out beautifully. She was going to work till she was forty, then move to Scotland in a small house with a library in the basement and live out her days in peace and happiness. Sometimes, the things we find peaceful, we leave them till the end of our prime years. But why? Why can’t peace be the ambition behind our prime years? Why is it the last resort? Why is peace a destination, and not the journey? Sometimes, we leave it for far too long.
Immense work pressure and travel gave Aditi two heart attacks in a span of one week and she passed away aged thirty-nine. One year before she was going to find her peace.
People confuse peace with procrastination and ambitionless lives. They think it means settling away from the world in a remote place and doing nothing. But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can be in a place with a billion people or a few thousand. What matters is how many lives you affect. And how you affect them.
When we wait to find peace at the end, we have already spent years building up the definition of peace and making it so delusional and impractical that when it comes, it leaves us disappointed. We realize living alone, not having anyone in our lives, does not feel as good as we thought it would. That all those years of struggle and dreaming … was just not worth it. And could you imagine a sadder end?