Please Note: This is Ep.7

Please click here for Ep.6

This was another difficult post to write and is published with the gracious consent and blessing of my parents.

I considered splitting it into two shorter posts to make it an easier read, but I thought it better to get this topic out of the way in one go.

Deep breath! Here we go.

7. Happy Anniversary! 

After we’d moved to our new home, when my brother and I were old enough to go to school, my mother worked in a Tesco supermarket stacking shelves with toilet paper. She tells me she saw so much toilet paper that at night she’d dream of rolls of it raining down upon her. At the same time, she was looking for some better-paid work and incidentally ended up being employed by the same Job Centre she frequently visited to find another job. They were so impressed with her that they offered her a position at the same office, and she spent the rest of her working years as a civil servant there, helping other people to find employment.

For some years, while working at building a business, my father was a taxi driver. It was an unstable income; people ran off without paying sometimes and he was physically assaulted on the job. When he was finally able to put taxi driving behind him and focus on business full time, unfortunately for him, he always seemed to be doing all the leg work then getting screwed over by his partners; we nearly lost our home a number of times.

There was a period of a few years where he would be gone for days at a time, either running the convenience store in Surrey (then we’d only see him on school holidays when we went there and helped in the shop, or on Sunday afternoons when he closed the shop early and drove home to see us), or trying to make a business work somewhere else in the country, like Staffordshire (then he was gone for three to four days a week). It was my father’s dream to become a millionaire, to live in a house like the ones we’d sometimes been invited to for dinner parties, and to drive a car like the ones he saw in other people’s driveways.

He would also spend a lot of time at his friends’ house up the road, they were a married couple who had kids too. My brother and I used to be close to them as kids, but that all changed when the old man died; all of a sudden, we felt somewhat uncomfortable around each other.

I felt sure my dad liked that family better than us because sometimes, when I hadn’t seen him for days and I walked home from school knowing that my dad was due to come back that evening, I’d see his car parked outside their house.

Many a time, upon reaching London, he would go there first, whether the lady’s husband was there or not, have a drink and a catch up there, then come home to us later in the evening. Sometimes after dinner, he’d go back there until bedtime. I couldn’t understand why my dad didn’t want to come straight home to us, and whenever he was at home, he was usually extremely stressed out. If he wasn’t taking his stress out on my mother, verbally, emotionally or physically, he was taking it out on me.

I despised him at the time, but I realise now that he really didn’t know much different then, and he was frankly terrible at handling stress.

A tendency towards unhealthy amounts of alcohol and ill health ran in my father’s family. His father and some of his brothers had passed away in their early adult lives and as the youngest son, the pain of so much loss and the pressure to prove himself a success ate away at him. My parents had had a love marriage, so I know my father had at least once truly loved my mother; he always assured her that he wasn’t that kind of a man, violent or abusive, but once the stress kicked in, the hardened, patriarchal traits he’d picked up and brought over with him from Kenya gripped him nonetheless.

In many of the households he’d seen growing up, women were there to produce children, clean the house, shut their mouths, bow their heads and serve food. As a child, I once witnessed my dad say exactly that, “Shut up, put your face down and serve me my food,” and my mother did it without a word.

I wondered why women would stay in such relationships. Why didn’t they have more-self respect? Why didn’t they stand up for themselves? I never wanted to become like that.

It ignited such a fire in me that if my parents fought in earshot of me, I’d run in and jump on my dad, punching at him with my little fists and screaming at him to get off my mum and leave her alone. My brother was a more sensitive soul and shut himself in his room a lot. When my parents fought, he would stay in his room and implode, he’d punch a wall and try to drown out the sound. I was the explosive one, I’d do anything to defend my mother in every way possible and it reached a point where I called the police on my dad and they came and gave him a warning. Needless to say, I didn’t earn any brownie points with him.

In the aftermaths, I’d try to comfort my mother when she cried. Somewhere though, in the midst of drowning in her pain, the mother-daughter dynamic changed and I lost what should have been a natural connection with her too.

My father was tormented in his own mind so much by his losses and struggles that at the age of thirty-nine, he suffered a massive heart attack, the first of multiple attacks to follow over the years.

After that first one, once he was released from hospital, he was at home in recovery for approximately six weeks. My mother worked at the office, took care of us, cooked for us, kept the entire house spotless (with my brother and I helping with some chores here and there), and took care of my father’s every need. His body might have taken a pause, but his mind had not. Used to having the freedom to do whatever he wanted, he was now confined to a chair or the bed and was not shy in hiding how grumpy he was about it.

I think this was a turning point for my mother and it was her faith in God alone that kept her afloat. She dived into the depths of her being and called out to the Lord in the best way she knew how to get His attention, to sing His holy names.

In the midst of the whirlpool we were drowning in, my mother found a lifeline. She converted our dining room into a temple with an altar and invited all her friends and relatives to come and sing together every Thursday evening. We had images of deities from all religions surrounding two beautiful marble idols of Sri Radha and Bhagwan Krishna.

The small group that gathered sang bhajans (devotional songs/hymns) together then shared plates of food and conversation. My father, not exactly a religious man, had no choice but to sit there. But he did enjoy it. Many people came to visit him and he loved chatting with everyone, he loved making new friends. As word spread of the weekly bhajans at ‘Vip and Naina’s place’, people started coming in droves.

Eventually, so many came that the two reception rooms were full of people, and some had to sit in the kitchen or hallway, or on the staircase, but nobody minded. Even the neighbours didn’t mind the noise and the influx of cars on the street.

With all the love and attention he received, my father made a steady recovery, and the bhajans continued regularly for a couple of years.

I’ll always be grateful for what I learned during those spiritual gatherings, I enjoyed learning and singing bhajans and I met some very interesting people. They’d stay talking with us until late into the night – artists, musicians, people from all over the world, with all kinds of spiritual beliefs, people who came from India, and people who been to places called ashrams and followed something called ayurveda.

We became friends with a world-renowned, South Indian classical singer, a famous Indian music producer and the man who first brought bhangra music to the UK. I met a beautiful English woman named Lois who wore saris and wouldn’t blow out the candle on her birthday cake when we presented her with one, because she ‘honoured the light’, as she would say. She simply held the cake, allowing the candle to go out by itself, praying for everyone’s wellbeing with a beaming smile and an otherworldly glow on her face.

Through these people, we got to know of others in the spiritual circles. We met other people who had temples in their homes and visited them for more gatherings. I was introduced to people who had psychic abilities, we met mediums, life guides, astrologers, people who could see auras, and people who performed ritual ceremonies; we had fire ceremonies in the house and we heard of fantastical tales of divine miracles and godmen.

Around this time, I was also regularly going to the ISKCON temple near our house (I’ve written about that here), and my interest in India was piqued, so much so that when my mother was told to visit a particular place in India to pray for my father, I insisted on going with her. I was barely a teen the first time I stepped foot in this holy country, and we hadn’t even left the airport when I turned to my mother and told her, “I belong here. I’m going to end up here. I know it.”

Every week, when the evening of bhajans was over, when the candles had been extinguished, when all the guests had gone home with their lively chatter and musical instruments, we returned to the humdrum of our daily lives. There was no more spotlight on us, there was no more attention, and my father’s smile would vanish again.

He recovered with 40% of his heart permanently damaged but soon went back to his old ways. He was more keen than ever to be out of the house as much as possible and his temper with us never cooled.

I’d go to bed at night and sometimes I’d be woken by the deep bass of my father’s voice, followed by the fearful murmuring of my mother’s coming through the walls from their bedroom next door. My heart would jump and my stomach would knot. I’d listen to hear if the voices would die down or if they would escalate. As soon as they hit a certain decibel, I knew none of us were going to get any sleep that night.

My mother was exhausted from her job, everything she was doing for us and the home, and dealing with my father, plus hosting the bhajans every week. After some time, they reduced in frequency to a couple of times a month, then once a month, until they eventually stopped.

To be continued…

Here is my two cents worth from the perspective of a child:

I feel that parents think they are obliged to stay together for the sake of the children, but if the situation is so tense, especially if there is violence in the household, then I feel children are far more likely to thrive if the parents can live happily, separately. They may even work out their differences with a little distance and a shift in perspectives.

If they still love each other deep down and want to work on the relationship, then that is what’s required – work. Running from one astrologer to healer to another (many of whom were charlatans, we later found out), throwing away your money on them isn’t going to fix anything. And it is pointless to sit down to chant or meditate when you’re shouting at each other the next second. Remembering God in prayer or song might make you feel good temporarily, like our gatherings did, but there is no point without a commitment to change, without compassion for each other, without making a conscious effort to work on our negative tendencies, and thinking of the best interests of the children. 

Perhaps both parties can put their differences aside long enough to go through marriage counselling (which is what my parents eventually did), or ultimately decide they no longer wish to live together and happily co-parent.

What’s most important is that the children feel loved, safe and secure whether the parents are together or not. This happens more often now, but times were certainly different then and children were more likely to grow up in a violent household where separation and divorce were taboo no matter what.

Fast forward to today, and I want to add here that I’m SO proud of my parents now, especially my father. To allow me to speak so openly about our struggles here, to accept help, to admit your mistakes and speak to an independent third-party counsellor with honesty takes courage.

As you all know, I have mended my relationship with my parents, but that too took work, from both sides. I’ll write about this process later on.

In the meantime, I wanted to share something really beautiful that happened just the day before yesterday.

So, I’ve started to speak to my parents via video call on a regular basis now. (Since my initiation, I call them Vipul/Vip Prabhu and Naina Mata ji.) A few days ago, an ashram sevak (volunteer), Divya ji, was sitting with me when my parents called, and we all had a lovely conversation. Vip Prabhu was talking about Swami ji, his new beauty routine (his, not Swami ji’s 😄) and was making Divya ji and I laugh with some jokes he was sharing. As Vip Prabhu spoke, there was a softness in his face (and not just because of the facial exfoliating tips he was sharing with us 😄) and a light in his eyes which were also slightly moist. After the call ended, I was quiet for a long while, then looked up and said to Divya ji, almost in a whisper, “Who is that man?” He’s certainly not the father I grew up with.

The day before yesterday, I narrated this on the phone to Naina Mata ji, and she burst into tears, saying that she’s so grateful to Swami ji, that she’s got her best friend back and they’re more in love than ever.

My parents successfully went through marriage counselling in the ’90’s and 2000’s and worked hard at their marriage. There were many bumps along the way, and with Om Swami ji’s Grace, Vip Prabhu quit drinking a few years ago.

Today is February 2nd 2021, and they were married 43 years ago on this day. So, I wish you a Happy Anniversary, Vip Prabhu and Naina Mata ji! I am so proud of you.

No matter how hard it was, you never gave up on each other. Thank you both for bringing this Mistake Baby! into this world so that I could find Swami ji.

Vip Prabhu, thank you for how hard you worked to give us everything the family has now, I know this was your way of showing your love. Naina Mata ji, you worked all those years to support us, brought us up and ran the household without any help. Thank you for overcoming all the hurdles together as a family. Thank you for opening your hearts to Swami ji and offering me at the feet of Bhagwan. You’ve shown that it is possible, that Divine Love really does heal all.

God bless you both always. May Swami ji always keep you in His Light and take you all the way Home. Jai Sri Hari! ❤️🙏🏻

Please click here to continue to Ep.8