Strife for a New Beginning –
Of unspoken Compassion & Goodbyes

“Perhaps that is where our choice lies — in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things, and how we will greet each new beginning.”  — Elana K.Arnold, Burning


I still remember the joy of sharing chocolates with my sister. Her eyes would gleam with happiness when I would return with little gifts or toffees from school.

The bond we shared was one where we were the primary source of happiness and fun for each other, and all that happened in the society, school or our surroundings faded away in our little games, innocent role – plays and hearty laughs.

This togetherness was soon to fade away too. The day was not far when my only little playmate was to be sent to our uncle and his family to be brought up in a safe and secure environment, away from the influence of her parents. At the age of five, my feelings for my aunt, my cousin’s mother, were, like most people in the family, coloured with the views of the society, that, she was ‘not like us.’ I knew about my cousin’s father only from ‘word of mouth’. It was much later, when, I came to know the truth that my sister’s responsibilities had been shed off by her father.

I had always found my sister to be emotionally stronger than me; she would even laugh when being scolded, and I would often refrain from pointing out her mistakes as my grandmother would then hush me down by saying that she has no one to look after her, and that I should be more soft and kind towards her. What I did not understand was why granny did not see her mistake, most of the times. However, much later, I came to acknowledge how deeply ingrained in her was the feeling of care and compassion for my sister.

Though things eventually changed between me and my sister, as our views and environment were no longer the same, she was my first best friend, whose troubles, pain, loss and gain, were always a part of my life and the lives of my parents and grandmother.

The day when I came to know what my aunt had gone through in her marital life and how my sister might have felt as a witness to those unhappy times, I would wonder how she might have lived day and night, in fear and hope, at the same time, an innocent child as she was. I empathized with her even when she caught a glimpse of her mother as she returned to Calcutta, to her in – laws, from the little window at our house, wiping off the tears on her cheeks. I was scared and sad, even on that day, when, instead of wishing my 14 year – old sister, ‘happy birthday’, I was to give her the news that ‘her mother is no more.’

I could never bring myself to talk to her openly about these feelings nor ask her to share her deep – seated emotions with me, but, I believe these unspoken words between us somewhere, made it easy for us to understand how we feel for each other, strengthening our relationship in the way.

My understanding of the deep – rooted compassion in me for my younger sibling, makes me agree all the more with Barbara Ascher when she puts it in her essay, ‘On Compassion’, “it may be that these are the conditions that finally give birth to empathy, the mother of compassion.”

This was not the case with our relatives or neighbours who pitied my sister for her fate, and probably could never imagine that she would be able to establish herself as a distinct individual and hold a potentially strong position in the society.

Their thoughts and reactions remind me of the Hindu Karma theory where our fortunes in this life are said to rely on our past life Karma(deeds). According to them, my sister’s life, her fate, since her very childhood, had possibly been a cause and effect cycle, carried forward from her past life, as I do not, otherwise, see any reason, why an innocent and ignorant little child must be dished out life in all its cruelty and harshness. The cycle of sin, suffering and salvation might be playing a very prominent role in my sibling’s life, as this is how religion, God and life comes to be defined in our society, much similar to the society portrayed in Langston Hughes’ essay, ‘Salvation’. It is strange how religion and mythology overpowers human minds, so much so, we start basing our perception of ourselves and the lives we live, on certain beliefs and religious practices.

As a kid, she could have never understood God’s games and would have always blamed him / her to have never been there for her, to help her, to be beside her, the same way Hughes feels, in his early life, when Jesus does not come to ‘save’ him from his sin.

Her resilience from disbelief in God could only come from the fact that her grandmother and her uncles were there to look after her needs, even though, they could never give her the tender love of her parents.

She had received pity, care and compassion from all sides and had accepted them, sometimes with a grin like that of the helpless man in Ascher’s ‘On Compassion’, while, at other times, with angst, pain, disbelief and questions in her mind and soul, much like Hughes.

She too could not acquire any answers to the numerous questions she had, specifically the questions on the superficial, complacent nature of the society, which seemed so immune to any compassion or true feeling towards her.

They say, ‘Time is the biggest healer.’  I suppose, time can never heal her unspoken and deep – embedded agony and angst, but could only act like a parasite, eating up her memories gradually, so she can remain detached and can live her life as if she has had no past. It is only the present and future that matter in her life.

Though, this has made me sad but, with the passage of time, I have, come to comprehend that it is better if she can carve a niche for herself without her past coagulating against her, even if that means, getting attached to new people and environment.

The society that shows circumstantial or momentary compassion is of no significance to her now and she can erase them off her memory slate completely, once she establishes herself in this society. Rather than a phoenix of an irreconcilable past, she would grow up as a colourful bud, from a new seed altogether, the seed of her dreams, aspirations, ambitions and joys. She would, then, no longer be known by her past, but, as a successful individual shaping her present and future most beautifully.

Sometimes beautiful beginnings happen only after difficult goodbyes.

As for me, I only wish that my little sister builds up the home she had always wanted, a home she could call her own, for she never had one, where she could live with all her dreams and which would be hers forever, making her strife for a new beginning worth the effort.

My feelings of care and compassion for her would never change. It is only because of her, that I could relate better to Barbara Ascher’s words in her work, ‘On Compassion’:

“Compassion is not a character trait like a sunny disposition. It must be learned, and it is learned by having adversity at our windows, coming through the gates of our yards, the walls of our towns, adversity that becomes so familiar that we begin to identify and empathize with it.”

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