The Heart Must Agree- A Stranger’s Advice

by Varunika
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This incident happened around the same time when Kiran Bedi had become a household name. She was being lauded globally for her path breaking reforms at Tihar Jail. My father, a lawyer himself, thought of her highly, too. In fact, he always said to me, if you want to be like someone, be like Kiran Bedi. I, of course had other plans. To cut the long story short, being an IPS /IAS officer was THE profession in my home.

I must have been 11 maybe 12 then. It so happened, that a distant cousin’s marriage was being solemnized in Ranikhet, a hill station in Uttarakhand. The travel time between our place (Nainital) and the wedding venue was approximately 2.5 hours. My parents could not make it to the wedding due to their work schedule. In those days, not attending a wedding would inevitably land you at the receiving end of lots of tongue and cheek remarks and wry smiles, which in turn would ensure that you feel guilty. But my parents, well they can go on guilt trips even before something has happened! So, there I was, conveniently sent off to the wedding, along with a few close relatives, in a private bus. I was their saving grace. Once we alighted from the bus, everyone was escorted warmly to the wedding venue.

It was then that I saw her.

Even in a typical Indian marriage gathering of the 90’s, characterized by all that bling and drama, her unmissable panache grabbed my attention. I thought she was the most well-dressed and graceful lady in the whole gathering, sitting in one corner of the lawn, sipping a cup of coffee, keeping to herself.

The thought of walking up to her and dropping a hello, did cross my mind. But the naivety and inhibitions of an 11-year-old, pulled me in a different direction. Here’s what I did! I found myself a chair right behind the area, where she was seated. Maybe she would turn around and smile if I got lucky. So, I sat there for more than an hour, looking for a window for some sort of interaction. But that didn’t happen. On the contrary I was ear dropping all her conversations. Two -three ladies in the marriage function joined her and started their transactional talks. It was during this chit chat session that one of the ladies questioned her about her decision of taking voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Services “So how are you feeling now after taking premature retirement? Must have been a tough call to leave the post of a commissioner?”

COMMISSIONER!!! SHE GAVE UP THAT POST! WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT? I could barely contain my bewilderment. I do not remember what she said in response to that question, as I was unable to process how someone could give up something as prestigious as an IAS profile? There I was, being told often by my father that every girl should aspire to be like Kiran Bedi and here, a fine lady like this one, had just left such a robust designation. My inexperienced and primitive self was stuck at that question.

Anyways, the wedding met its desirable end, and some sort of divine intervention took place because I ended up seated right beside her, in an ambassador car! Somehow there were more people going back by the bus, post the wedding and there weren’t enough seats left. True to her courteous and civil demeanor, she offered to drop me home. I was beyond delighted and lapped up the offer!

Several times during that journey, I attempted to initiate a conversation, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I was star struck. I was awestruck. And the fear of making a poor impression by making small talk, was hovering around my head. I thought it’s best to keep my mouth zipped. She, I think had sensed my discomfort and decided to break the ice.

“Varunika, your name is right? I hear you study in Ramnee. Such a beautiful name and such a legendary school to be studying in!” she said flashing a big broad smile.

I barely managed a nod.

“What does Varunika mean? Tell me, I am intrigued.” She asked sounding genuinely interested.

“Varunika means the goddess of rain. People with these names tend to be very intellectual and analytical.” I beamed. I don’t think I have ever been as proud to disclose the meaning of my name, ever in my life as I was at that moment.

“Oh, that’s wonderful Varunika!” she responded with equal zest in her voice.

“And what do you aspire to be in life Varunika?” she immediately popped the next question.

“I want to be like Kiran Bedi!” I was quick to reply. Finally, my father’s chanting Kiran Bedi’s name had found a suitable purpose. I was convinced that I had impressed my lady! Ever sat in an exam after mugging up the answers to only the mock test paper, and then realizing that the real question paper is an exact replica of the mock test questions? Yes, I was in that sort of zone! I felt like such a champion. By now, I had grown comfortable talking to her and decided to pop up THE QUESTION.

“Aunty, I heard you were the Commissioner of Police, and you left it? I was wondering why would you do it? I am sure you have a big reason to do that!” I just blurted out.

She looked at me, chuckled a bit, took a deep breath and said “It wasn’t easy, but my life was in a chaos. My husband who is an army officer was stationed in a remote location; I had to send my child off to boarding school in another part of the country; I was posted here in Uttarakhand, far away from my family. It was all falling apart. I had never imagined that my job would cost me my family. It wasn’t a life I had imagined. So, I took a call.”

I wasn’t convinced. In fact, I was now confused. I questioned her again expressing my disappointment “So, you left the job? How? Why?”

What she told me after that, stayed with me forever.

“When I couldn’t handle my own emotional turmoil, I sat down one day with a piece of paper and pen. I questioned myself what mattered to me the most. Family was the word that stared back at me from that piece of paper. I tried to prepare a list of my priorities and the word Family was again at the top. That’s when I decided to retire. But that doesn’t mean it is the gospel truth for everyone. You may grow up and have a different view. It’s just when you get stuck, you should try writing down your choices, confronting them. Your answer could be different to mine. But your heart must agree.”

I looked into her eyes, and they were the most honest pair of eyes that I had ever seen.

The journey ended shortly after that. She went her way and I, mine. She must have been 40-45 then, I am guessing. And that was the only time I met her. But somewhere deep down, I had safely tucked her advice. The heart must agree.

Years later, I found myself writing down my choices on a piece of paper, during all my testing times.  And I have done this quite a few times by now. My choices may not have turned out to be exemplary or the kind that appease a lot of people, but my heart agreed to them.

Call it serendipity, or call it whatever you will, I stumbled upon her video on you tube a week ago.

She was in deep discussion mode with the anchor. Hair chopped off (pixie cut of sorts), clad in an elegant peach Tusser silk saree and her same self-assured self. Still difficult to disengage yourself from her aura. She must be 70-75 years of age, but she is all things graceful, even now.  How did I recognize her? The anchor asked her the same question! Her answer hadn’t changed, even after so many years, decades actually.

I admit having stalked her on social media and eventually finding her on one platform, although she doesn’t seem active. I have sent her a friend request and am happily awaiting a response!

As we gear up to celebrate teacher’s day, how wonderful it would be, if we could wish those people as well, who enter our life as strangers and are recognized by our hearts as teachers. I truly believe that I keep bumping into strangers like her because the algorithm of life cannot be decoded only through classroom or under parental guidance. Sometimes a small conversation with a stranger could be our biggest lesson for life.

Happy teacher’s day!   

P.S. –I have deliberately omitted her name as she has not yet accepted my friend request. We are still strangers and I still need her permission!


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Mrs Manju Pal September 5, 2021 - 4:28 PM

Nicely penned…..

Varunika September 5, 2021 - 7:55 PM

Thank you mom😊

Vassundhara September 5, 2021 - 8:17 PM

I actually uttered a big waow at the end of my reading.

Varunika September 5, 2021 - 8:53 PM

awwe. I am glad it came out that well! love .


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