Akshita Bhatia and I were classmates at law school. Sweet, vivacious and charming, Akshita immediately drew your eye because of her affable nature. She was incredibly popular at college and though not academically inclined, she was constantly immersed in extra-curricular activities. She was also one of the few people I knew, who did not possess a mean bone in her body.
While studying law, she also tried to do a company secretary course but gave it up when she realised it wasn’t her passion. It was in her final year that she began working for RAW Enterprises, an event management company in Pune. Her job was simple: Get clients. Her social skills were so good that she was confident enough to start her own brand: UNEQ events.
My desire to sit down and talk with her first arose when I heard about the terrible tragedy that had struck the Bhatia family: The loss of their 16 year old son, Ayush, in a scooter accident. He died on the spot. What came after that was probably the hardest year of her life: Grieving over the loss of her brother.
When I last spoke to her, I asked her how she was doing and she said she’d thrown herself into her work so she wouldn’t have time to think about it.
I was worried; Akshita, like so many others that have gone through tragic losses whilst still very young, believed that staying busy would stave off the pain. When I decided to start the Happy Place series, I knew instantly she had to be my first guest. Not only because I wanted to understand how she found her happy place but also to give her the chance to talk to someone.
We scheduled a Skype interview last week; it was one of those profound experiences of my life that I will not forget. I’m preparing to start working at Court this year but I am also training as a counsellor. So I had some idea about how to conduct the interview.
God it’s been so long since I saw you! When was the last time we saw each other?
I think it was our final exams? Yeah. Summer 2018.
I want to start with your career actually. Because you’ve had a very interesting journey. You were doing law and at some point of time, you decided to go for event management. How did that come about?
I think even during college I was into events. I was very socially active. I used to coordinate shows and choreograph dances. I did take Law seriously for a while. I actually did an internship at the Supreme Court. When I joined RAW enterprises, I was mostly into corporate events. That’s where I learned more about the business of event management. I was more of a freelancer there but when I started doing well, I realised I could do this on my own. That’s how I started my own company, UNEQ Events.
How did your parents react when you told them about starting UNEQ?
My parents have always been incredibly supportive. When I switched careers, my mother was a little upset. She thought I’d already put in so much hard work into becoming a company secretary and now I was dropping out of that course. My father was cool about it from the get go, he said “OK. Fine. If you want to this, then do this”. I think mentally I always have their support.
I only heard about Aayush recently. It was a classmate who told me about it. I don’t think a lot of people knew what had happened. If it’s not too hard for you to talk about it, can you describe the exact moment when you found out about the accident?
(Pauses) When we found out about it- that was so messy. I have so many relatives but none of them are in Pune. So at that time, I knew there was no one to take care of my parents. When the Inspector at the hospital told us about it, my father was absolutely shattered. My mother took about 45 minutes to actually understand what was being said. Then she started crying. Then I called up some of my friends and they came over immediately to look after things. Then I had to tell my relatives about it. I can’t describe that exact moment, but, looking back, I think I knew that I had to pull myself together and just hold everything in. For Mom and Dad. I had to be there for them. When I came back home, there was too much to be done. So it was only 2 days later that I finally allowed myself to cry. And when that happened- I couldn’t breathe. I just wanted to get it all out because I knew I had been holding it all in. The biggest problem was that my mother blamed herself for the accident. Because she’d given him the keys.
Moms find a way to blame themselves for everything.
Exactly. And that was my priority. To make her understand that it was not her fault. I didn’t want her to get into that loop. We had family that came over to stay for a while. I feel I’ve been quite lucky in that respect, having such good friends and relatives. But after a few days, they had to leave. And so for the next 6 months it was just the three of us. We just focused on trying to heal ourselves as a family. We didn’t ask anyone else for help or anything. Because nobody can help you.
Nobody can really understand what you’ve gone through.
Yeah. So it was just me, my mother and my father. So if one of us was feeling down, the others would cheer him/her up. It helped that people kept coming and going- friends, family, just people coming over. That made it somewhat easier to move on.
Did you find yourself becoming closer to certain people during that time? Like some people from your family or some friends?
Family and friends were a big help, that’s true. But the truth is, I didn’t want to be dependant on anyone. Because if you become emotionally dependant on someone and then they’re not there for some reason it becomes quite hard to take that. I’ve been very transparent with my parents about my feelings. I’m very vocal so I don’t run away from my feelings.
I think what’s actually helped you here is your core personality, which is very open. So you didn’t block yourself or anything. You just accepted what was happening.
Yeah….yeah. I’ve never thought about it that way but you’re right. It did help.
I’ve seen my friends go through trauma, and most people just shut down. That depression just hits them and they can’t get up in the morning. Whereas with you, I wouldn’t even think anything had happened. You’re still the same person. You’re still funny and kind and cheerful. Is this your way of dealing with it? Do you think you’ve changed after what happened?
No no, I’ve changed a lot. In a broader sense, I’ve grown up. I’m mentally stronger. The thing is, my mind is so flexible now because it just accepts everything. I know I can survive whatever comes. There were days when it got really hard, though. Sometimes, I could still feel his presence. I would remember the good times and I’d also remember how much he annoyed me. (Chuckles) But then I would cry because there’s not really much else you can do. I really do think there’s a positive side to everything. That’s always been my philosophy. Self-healing. When someone else asks you to heal, you may not understand. Self-healing is the best way to get through it.
That’s been your coping mechanism.
Yeah. And you have to be with yourself. Keep talking to yourself. I spend so much time with people because it’s part of my job but I’m always with myself. I never stop talking to myself. You’re right about the fact that it depends a lot on your basic personality. I’m someone who can’t hold on to negative things for a long time. I have to let go of them. Your atmosphere also has a lot to do with it. The people around me have been very good to me.
You’ve been able to see something good in all of that.
I have. It’s all down to my parents because they’ve meant the world to me. My mother, she’s an amazing woman. Everything I am today is because of her. (Pauses, thinking) You know….there’s always that one thing that makes it seem better. We always talk about how when the accident happened, it was so major that had he lived through it, his life would have been a complete waste. So in a sense we were relieved that when he went, he went. He didn’t have to live out the remainder of his life in agony. Yes, he was only 16. But those 16 years were happy. So as long as he was here, we gave him the best life we could have.
He didn’t have to suffer.
(Wipes a tear from the corner of her eye)
That’s something my Mom and Dad and I always tell each other.
Come back next week for Part 2 of the Interview. Akshita and I talk about how she holds on to cherished memories, making peace with God, talking to Ayush even though he’s gone and finding her happy place.
To know what the Happy Place series is all about, click here.