You will live on Part 2

In the first part of this interview, you’ll recall that Akshita talked about her job as an event planner, the loss of her younger brother and the strong bond she has with her parents. Now, our talk turns to life after. Cherishing the memories of her brother, keeping her faith in God and asking herself the hardest question of all: Can she ever be happy again?

There’s something quite strange I’ve noticed about loss. When you lose someone you love, you wake up each morning believing they’re still there. So you’ll notice interesting things during the day and you’ll tell yourself ‘Oh they would have loved this/that’ And then there’s that jolt when you suddenly remember: You’re never going to get the chance to share those little things with them. Does that ever happen to you?

Oh God that happens to me all the time. Every day, maybe I see someone eating something, a favourite snack of his and I’ll think of him. Some song will be playing on the radio and I’ll remember how much he loved it. I still have his old clothes at home. I’ll send a text message to his number and I know nobody’s going to text back, but I feel it’s reached him.

There are gentle reminders throughout the day, of our loved ones, even after they’re gone. And I’m very grateful for that.

She adjusts her phone camera to show me the framed picture of Ayush behind her on the cabinet, bedecked with a beautiful garland. She tells me she still talks to him.

My biggest issue with any kind of suffering is this: How does it affect our faith in God? Do you feel that your relationship with God has undergone a transformation, since it happened?

Actually, my family and I have never been very religious. We pray and we follow all the necessary rituals. After a death in the family, you don’t celebrate anything for a year. My mother will occasionally visit a temple and light some incense. But nothing apart from that. My faith in God is the same as it was before: God is more about the strength he gives you than anything else. I don’t look for God anywhere because he gave me the strength to go through what I had to. We actually pray a lot to Ayush.

Because he’s still with you.

Yeah. I believe he’s always here. Besides, my parents always taught me that God is about doing good. Do good and be good. Instead of going to a temple and putting money in the donation box, help the poor people sitting outside, begging for alms. I give them food and clothes. That’s how I do my bit.

That entire ordeal has opened you up to the possibility to feel for everyone.

Yeah it has! And because Ayush was that way. He wanted to make everyone happy. That’s how we live our life now. Following his legacy.

I was fascinated with what you said before, about talking to Ayush. I’m very curious about this, so I’m going to ask you to do something for me. If Ayush were here with you right now, what is the one thing you think he’d want to tell you? What is the one thing he’d want you to know?

(Ponders this for a while)

I think he’d say “I’m proud of you”. That’s what I think he’d tell me today, if he could.

Do you think he’d be proud of the way you and your family have dealt with his loss?

Absolutely. He was like that in real life. He wanted to see me happy and see me dancing. He was very sensitive. Very respectful of his elders. He was amazing with little kids. If we ever crossed the road, he’d hold my hand and take me across and I’d be like ‘Oh you’re going to do this now, are you?’. If we went to a petrol pump, he’d tell me ‘Di, you stay here. I’ll fill up the gas’.

At this point we stop for a moment, because there’s something she wants to tell the people who might read the interview.

Don’t wait to tell your loved ones that you love them. If there’s something you want to do for them, do it now, because you might not get the chance to do it later.

She tells me how she was trying to be a good older sister but there are things that she regrets. She says she didn’t open up much to him because she was busy. She didn’t take him out very often with her friends because she didn’t want him to be exposed to that ‘night life‘ too young. She wanted him to be mature enough to make the right decisions for himself. Then there was so much she wanted to do for him. She imagined when he went to college, she’d give him a little extra cash so he could do something special for his girlfriend. That’s what hits her the hardest. She’s never going to watch him grow up.

You realise life is too short.

It is. And so unpredictable. If I find someone spreading negativity in my life now, I leave them. I don’t want the hassle. If I hurt someone, I apologise. If I love someone, I tell them. I don’t wait.

There’s always a place which I call my ‘happy place’, which I can go to in my head if things get too hard. It’s saved my life so many times, the idea of this happy place. So when there are days like that, days when you’re trying to be strong but you’re not able to be, where do you go? Do you have a happy place?

Oh. Music! I don’t think there’s any physical place which I can escape to, but mentally it’s always been music. And music affects me at a very deep level. If it’s a happy song, I smile. If it’s a sad song, I cry. It’s an instant connection with me. So, music. It has the power to change your perception of life entirely.

Any favourite genre?

No no, anything goes. Whatever is playing I’ll listen to it. So if I go clubbing at a bar then-

Then you’re listening to Punjabi Pop and doing the Bhangda

(Laughs) Yeah. Wherever I am, music is my happy place.

I’ve struggled with PTSD in my 20s and I remember telling my mother that I’d eventually come out of  whatever shit I was going through, but I’d never actually be that happy again. I’d live the rest of my life somewhere between happiness and sadness. Do you ever get that feeling? That you won’t be happy again?

Yeah I do. There is always an hour or two in the day when I get quite….low. I can’t deal with anything. So I’ve learnt to keep myself busy.  My mother wouldn’t let me think I was depressed or anything. She’d tell me “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re fine.” And then my parents put me in dance class and things like that to keep my mind off things. That’s the only way I think you can get through it, to keep busy.

I want happiness and sadness to be the same now.

On this note, we end our interview. I admire the way the Bhatia family has coped with their trauma, but I have to admit that something does concern me. Akshita may be dealing with it in her own way by keeping herself busy. But I know from experience, that unless you talk to someone and resolve your issues, trauma has a way of catching up with you when you least expect it. I’m afraid Akshita might not even realise what is happening when it does hit her out of the blue. So she promises me that if she ever finds herself struggling to stay strong, she will seek help. As a trainee lawyer and counsellor, I ask her to reach out to a mental health professional should she ever feel the need for it.

Because even strong people are allowed to ask for help.

Akshita and her parents believe that Ayush is watching over their family. They pray to him and thank him every day for his blessings. I believe wherever he is, Ayush is watching over his family.

And he’s doing a good job of it.

{Author’s note: For grief counselling, you can visit this website and go through a list of services available in India}