How Resilience Trumped Adversity, The Chaitali Way
A week ago, I received a message on LinkedIn from a reader. She was inspired by my post on how Mrs Praveen Sharma had defied all odds when adversity struck her. She mentioned how she relived every incident when she read the piece. She had experienced loss deeply. She knew how much it hurt.
I was curious to know what happened and how she dealt with it. I connected with her.
Her story is inspiring. I sought her permission to share it. She agreed. Some names have not been revealed in this story respecting her wish. I’d urge you to read till the end when it takes an unexpected turn.
Chaitali Mishra’s life was a dream. She grew up as an army kid, moving from one part of the country to another, wherever her father’s job posting took her family.
Marrying Her Soul Mate
In 2003, she met her future husband through a common friend, and they married in (believe-it-or-not) less than two months. Her husband, who was an accomplished lawyer, was everything Chaitali desired in a man. A perfect soulmate.
They were committed to each other in love and life. Before they married, her husband-to-be bought a new home for them. After marriage, they shifted to their abode – which remains home even after 19 years.
Chaitali & her husband were blessed with a baby girl who entered their life in December 2005. Their daughter, Sara, brought abundant joy. Chaitali’s husband was the happiest father in the world.
When Sara was a month old, Chaitali visited her parents for a while. She had hardly stayed away from her husband ever since she met him. They couldn’t stay away beyond 48 hours as he would start to miss her.
This visit was the longest they stayed apart – a full two months. It would’ve been longer had it not been for the tragedy that struck and changed their lives forever.
A Short-Lived Dream
Her husband experienced a sudden numbness on his left side on his birthday. He ignored it. A week later, he faced a similar attack on his way to work. A visit to the doctor followed by a brain scan revealed a huge, malignant tumour that had attacked the right hemisphere of his brain.
He couldn’t find the courage to share it with Chaitali, so he informed her father who broke the news to her. The next two years saw her husband in and out of hospital starting with surgery followed by radiation. He recovered, and again a year later, the cancer was back.
They changed doctors and hospitals as his previous doctor had told Chaitali that her husband won’t survive. The new set of doctors began chemotherapy. He was free of cancer in November 2007.
Yet again – this time in 10 days – the cancer was back – much more aggressive. This time, it spread all over the brain. This time, it became clear that he’d not be cured.
Chaitali couldn’t see her love suffering so much. She promised him she’d manage everything.
Her husband breathed his last on March 19, 2008, with family and friends bidding him goodbye in the ICU.
Losing the Joy of Living
Chaitali was 31 when she lost her husband, 36 years, leaving behind a daughter of two years.
She lived in Goregaon with her husband, daughter, and her in-laws. Suddenly, her husband was gone. Her world had changed, immeasurably.
Her father-in-law contemplated moving back to their ancestral home in their home state. Life was hard to imagine in Mumbai now that his son was no more. She convinced his parents to stay with her. They had always lived together from the day she was married to their son.
‘The house was theirs too, and their son’s daughter was theirs too,” she told me. “It was an emotionally draining experience when they said they wanted to leave. It gives me so much happiness to share that we all have lived together under one roof till today. My family remains intact, and I raised my daughter in our home with the love of both sets of grandparents.”
She wanted her daughter to grow up in her home without depending on others. But before that, Chaitali had to be independent.
She faced her share of advice from all and sundry, as most widows in India do. At such times, everyone has an opinion on how a widow should plan her life, finances, etc. Chaitali decided to have none of that. She’d script her own story, she was clear. But how?
Rebuilding Her Life, Brick by Brick
Her husband’s boss visited her family to offer his condolences. He asked Chaitali if there was any way he could help her. She requested him to help her find a job. She had worked in a bank many years ago, she told him.
The boss reached out to the same bank. And Chaitali was rehired. It was a desk job, managing customers who visited the bank. She immersed herself in work. It was the only way to deal with her changed life. Every spare moment meant brooding about her short-lived period with her husband. Followed by anxiety, depression, and a compulsive desire to give up her life. But then, she looked at Sara – her daughter – her only reason to live.
She would live. But first, she’d work damn hard.
One of her husband’s friends mentioned to Chaitali he knew of a trust that would sponsor her daughter’s education. This was unacceptable to her. She would pay for her daughter’s education. She knew the trust was meant to support the underprivileged. Her destiny may have placed her in an unfortunate situation. But she had no intention to misuse it.
She remains eternally grateful to her husband’s law firm and his bosses. They supported her family in innumerable ways. They paid off the remaining balance of her husband’s home loan as a Diwali gift while he was alive. The firm’s top leadership acted on their own, respecting the contribution of their employee.
Between Mother and Child
Chaitali worked so hard that she began to feel guilty that her focus at work had begun to compromise her time with her little girl. Her daughter had the care and support of grandparents, but a mother is – to a child – only what a mother can be. No one else can take that place.
She began to make amends. As a child, Sara had seen a lot of unhappiness around her and was sometimes scared of her mother. Chaitali understood her sadness affected Sara. She started spending more time with her. She would make sure to cook one dish for her every day.
“We speak throughout the day, and nothing is ever hidden, from sharing small secrets to big ones,” Chaitali told me. “We have our adventures with many holidays together from Africa to Ladakh, from Manipal to Shillong to Agra.”
There were some scary moments too. As a child, Sara swallowed a coin and gave Chaitali the scare of her life. Sara would fall sick very often as a child, leaving her mother deeply worried as a single parent.
Chaitali’s devotion to her work remained. She walked the tightrope hoping she balanced both work and home without letting either suffer. She learned to drive, travel alone, and stay by herself, independently. Many years later, she even bought her own home and now has a succession plan in place. She planned it all. Meticulously.
Meanwhile, Sara has grown up to be a responsible and rational 16-year-old. In Chaitali’s words, “She is so much like my husband…calm, composed, polished, caring, kind, and mature. She is a girl who has grown up with confidence, self-esteem, and pride and enjoys being in her own skin. She teaches me so many things each day.”
When ‘Be the Best’ is your Motto
Chaitali has reached where she has through her grit and unwavering focus to excel. It couldn’t have been easy. In this journey, she changed her job and profession a few times, switching between banking and teaching, and won several awards recognising her talent and contribution in both.
She was a good student who became an even better teacher. She has trained more than two thousand students. Whether banking or teaching, she strives for excellence and accepts nothing less.
Strength from Two Mothers
She worked hard to ensure she can support her family as her husband would have. But she couldn’t have done it without the support of her and her husband’s parents.
Her mother moved in with her when she figured out how tough it was for Chaitali to cope with her husband’s illness, her toddler, and other house-running responsibilities. She continued to stay at her son-in-law’s Goregaon residence for five years – leaving her husband and son – so that Chaitali could focus on her career and other responsibilities.
Chaitali’s eyes welled up with tears while recounting her story. This happened at other times too. The conversation would pause each time. It was emotional for me just to hear it.
It helped that her mother and mother-in-law were very close. She could not have done without either. She cherishes her relationship with her mother-in-law. Chaitali says “My mother-in-law has been a mother to me. She has stood with me through thick and thin.”
Chaitali lost her mother in 2017. It was a double blow – after losing her husband. She coped with each loss differently. When she lost her husband, she clung to all his possessions and treasured each one of them. After she lost her mother, she began to view things differently. She has now gifted some of her husband’s belongings, including his ties to his friends.
Chaitali kept in touch with her husband’s friends, along with her own circle of friends. Recently, she planned a holiday with some of them. She values their friendship. She is grateful to her relatives, and friends, who chipped in – both financially and emotionally – and stood by her when her world tore apart. “No amount of thank you can ever repay the debt I owe to them,” she told me.
Her Message for Readers
I asked her if she has any messages for those who read her story. She began:
“Life has ways of throwing us out of the grid, from the mundane and the usual. It takes grit and strength of character to not give up. Nothing comes easy, but nothing is impossible either. Raise yourself and then offer a helping hand to others. This is what I have lived by. And I’d urge the readers to try it”
I was deeply inspired. But I wanted more. I let her continue.
“Make this journey beautiful. Always remember there are more good people than bad, and so the world survives despite all that goes wrong. Our life is not our own. We share bits of ourselves with our family, our friends, our colleagues, and others who meet us along the way.”
What You & I Can Learn from Her
I asked her if she had any learnings she’d like to share. Instantly she said “I feel investing rightly, financial and succession planning are some things that need to be taught to everyone. My years of experience as a banker and a teacher made me realise that women don’t take finances seriously.”
Chaitali has endured enough hardship to dent her for a lifetime. But I was struck by her positivity despite facing emotional upheaval. Sample this:
She told me “The last two years I spent with my husband hold the crux of my life. I was able to tell him each minute how much I loved him. Today I feel I had those few days to love him, and they remain with me for my lifetime. Imagine so many people who lose their loved ones suddenly, without a chance to say goodbye.”
When Her Story Turned Personal for Me
Somewhere in the middle of my phone conversation with her, she asked me where I studied at school and college. When the name of my school rang a bell with her, she asked me ‘Which Batch?’ When I answered, she said I may know her husband. And then she mentioned his name – Sanjay Mishra.
Sanjay was a year senior to me. I remember only a handful of my seniors from school. Sanjay is one of them. I remember his boyish good looks, his pleasant demeanour, and his impeccable manners. He would leave an impression if you knew him.
The world is a small place. We have all heard and said this at some point in time. Till a day before, Chaitali and I had not known each other. One of my stories resonates with her. She writes to me to share her feedback. I reach out to her to hear her story. And then I find out that Sanjay– a senior from school who I admired – had left this physical world 14 years ago.
At the end of filing this story, I was thankful that I write. I got to know Sanjay’s story and the story of the family he has left behind, only because of my writing. If I did not write, Chaitali would not have read my article. And I would have never got to know their story.
What next, I asked her.
“My dreams are not over,” she said. “I’ve started to learn singing, I dream of travelling the world, I want to study textiles and I also want to help enable women to work, in such a way that they can support their families even financially and remain independent.”
Chaitali heads the Learning & Development vertical in a reputed organisation in the financial sector. Kudos to her hiring manager. I can’t think of anyone better to play that role. There’s so much to learn from her. And I am sure you agree.