Some women fear the fire, SOME WOMEN SIMPLY BECOME IT”-Maneesha Ramakrishnan
22 April 2017
Maneesha Ramakrishnan is one of the most affected people of a fire mishap at Carlton Towers, a multi-storeyed commercial complex near Old Airport road in Bengaluru; Maneesha survived the tragedy and is known as the Queen of Carlton fire.
“Whatever my accomplishments ,all of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child ,and in ways I have managed to fulfil almost all of them .My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams,-from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky that defined my forty-seven years of life , as I share my story despite it all you know ,breathing through an enabled tracheotomy, oh yes the loss of my sense of smell too ,I truly believe I am mightily blessed to be alive ,fully alive ,in great measure ,because of the things ,I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way. I am able to tell my story, with a passion I feel to help my co-voyagers by restoring ”faith” in their life.
I inhaled the smoke in a huge quantity during fire mishap at Carlton, which left my vocal cords permanently constricted and my voice could only be partly restored through repeated tracheotomies during the accident. I have been an employee at an investment firm and was known to have had a good voice and excellent communication skills, my verbal praises and speeches are now just a faint murmur.
My smelling sense is blocked and has lost it permanently. I now breathe with the assistance of a tube which has been surgically implanted in my larynx. After the incident I didn’t give up and tried to stay calm.
I believe the life experiences before the fire tragedy actually helped to face the deepest form of suffering with sanity. I have been moulded to come across and face the deepest suffering. I had very loud and strong childhood which introduced me to myself, my feeling. My mother even today reminisces on how I used to sit uncomplainingly and cradle my brothers, singing lullabies to them. She confessed having three of us in a span of three years was heartening and overwhelming in ways for her to carry through, and that I was of so much help as a two and a half year old.
In the early seventies we lived in Air-force campus where the milkman would bring his buffalo home with those big aluminum jars, and a measuring cup, milk her and give our quota. I was drawn to that simplicity and looked forward to his coming and especially the sweet buffalo, her quiet innocence touched me. Soon, I observed that the milkman offered a little more of milk each time, and I felt myself feeling that utter gratitude for the little more that he poured into our pan, and I wanted to be that, that “little more” walking that extra mile in all what I do, going through some stormy days I tell myself, “just a little more ” and now I gently remind others for “just a little more.”
I carry very few, yet profound memories of my school days, few because academically I was insecure. Until a life-affirming experience unblocked the learning valves few years back, my mother now considers me intelligent. Yes, it took a good 43 years of yearning for an acknowledgement. In the fifth year of my schooling we were taught the poem “Jhansi Ki Rani”. I remember me opening the page in the book and glorifying her majestic picture on the horse with her child tied on her back, and that feisty aura the sword, captured my soul in unimaginable ways, the words inscribed in the poem “Khoob Ladi Mardani woh toh Jhansiwali Rani thi,” invariably became my life story, we lived in a lane called Jhansi Rani lane after my rebirth.
I got married to my neighbor and I found such humble love with his family. They loved me and I felt like a princess. Then I became a mother when I was 20 and my life’s mission – Akarsh – was born. Unfortunately, my marriage wasn’t what I had visualized for myself – so I walked out. My husband did not want the divorce so he threatened to kill himself and eventually fractured his foot by putting it under a lorry (truck). I was concerned about my child spending time with him, but I made the decision that my son was going to have both his parents. I knew I would not have a happy marriage, but I wanted my son to have a normal childhood. Though we were divorced, we stayed living together.
Soon I conceived my younger child Dhruv. In fact, I saw him in my dream even before I knew I was pregnant. All my friends warned me against having another child, but I followed my heart. When I was three months pregnant, my ex-husband was stabbed 16 times and was in critical condition. He survived and told me that he fought to live for us. I shifted my attitude completely and nurtured him back to good health while neglecting my own health.
My little son was born with many medical complications. His brain hadn’t developed; he had seizures and was in the ICU for 15 days. My baby was on very high doses of medication that was very expensive. The pediatric neurologist said that they could not guarantee a recovery, but instructed me to make sure I gave him plenty of love. I did and still continue to do so.
Things were not good and my brothers took the three of us back to my parental home. I earned small pocket money to buy things for my children: their undergarments, a ball, and biscuits. With the support of my best friend, I got a part-time job.
During that time I followed an advice named “Agony’s Uncle” column and led my life from his answers to people’s queries. I soon started going for counseling sessions with him. I was taken by surprise each time he praised me on my character and he convinced me to be the loving being that I am. He gave me a beautiful sense of me. He was very handsome, charming, with a voice to match his looks, and great sense of humor. He was also a Malayali psychologist. One day, he proposed to me and I accepted.
I left my parental home, with my children, and moved in with him. Since we weren’t married, my children and I stayed at a hotel at night. The kids had a tough time adjusting to an authoritative figure that was 20 years senior to me. I was so grateful to this man who protected us. We had a beautiful wedding. I was dressed as a Christian bride in white, fulfilling a fairy-tale childhood desire completely. My growth and confidence started making him feel insecure and with a lot of shadows I discovered in the marriage and things started falling apart. He said we needed to part ways, but he said – “Thank you for the best years of life that you have given me.”
I was devastated, but fortunately had a good job then. I moved to a little home with my children and we were very happy. We lived a beautiful freedom. I soon realized that my job, which made me come home late in the night, was affecting my boys adversely. I was called to school and was humiliated by the staff for not tending to their education. In a spur of a moment, I quit my corporate job to work in their school. I was determined to succeed and moved in again to my parental home. That decision was “my crowning glory”. My children and I blossomed with all the blessings from the parents of the children whom I taught.
In one year I received a great offer from a UK based company, moved out of my parental home, and designed a 3 bedroom home, as per the boys’ wish. I had the freedom to deal with it and to feel the way I wanted. Five years went by and I was working hard with people who accepted and trusted me completely, who identified my potential and enjoyed my presence. For me it was my first home away from home. I believe that is why my office saved my life.
I have always given much more than I expect. I can nurture and provide safety to all in my care. After going through an early motherhood, a bitter divorce and marriage with my therapist, but in vain, are we not all human after all.
It took me a year-and-a-half to actually settle down and come stable with my physical conditions and psychological behaviour. Having gone through seven surgeries and repeatedly contracted infections reduced my weight by around 20 kg. Infected kidneys, an episode of pneumonia and bronchitis incurred great expenses. Struggling with it, I received a little financial help from government.
My journey wasn’t easy. It brought in various other complications. After recovering from the frequent infections, I did try to work in a MNC, but couldn’t continue due to the air-conditioned environment, which was inappropriate for my tube-facilitated breathing. Though I received a considerable amount as settlement from my previous job, it was not enough to meet my mounting medical expenses.
My early stage medical bills were paid by the state government. In September 2013, I had to undergo fiber-optic laryngoscopy and tracheotomy to reduce fibrosis and create space for me to breathe. For the surgery, I raised funds of Rs.40000 through friends. Sustaining the family with no incomes and earnings and with such a health condition has been a very difficult task.
After regaining the stability and ability to travel on my own, I have always been in contact with the state health department officials to get my share of the relief fund for accident victims. In their reply, they always mention that the government fund is to help the poor who cannot afford medical treatment. And I, being all dressed up fine; they think I’m doing well. The health officials have been careless, have lost my documents and are delaying in responding to my requests which is a time consuming procedure.
The event of the fire and the tragedy is something that I’ve come to look at as a significant segment of the journey that I have been on, in this lifetime. It is not about getting over it or healing. No. It’s about learning to live with this transformation. For the experience is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools.
Gratitude is the theme of my life. If someone takes a small step for me, I would take ten steps in respect to show my gratitude. And that brings me to a state of mindfulness. I have witnesses a series of setback, and then yet again raising up with tears, fear and zero self-esteem, but then seeing my two innocent souls my heart gets pumped with full of responsibilities and I resonate a living.
Life is a tightrope walk. But I don’t see only the tightrope. I see how blessed I am, with all the love and compassion that holds me. I remind myself daily that I am “God’s favorite” – that I will never be let down; I will always be looked after. I have learnt to accept the tightrope as an integral part of my Life. I hold on to positive feedbacks with all my might, designed with a special nerve by our Universe. After the tragedy, I was called brave, superwoman, I didn’t understand, did I have any other option or choice?
For me, my life mantra is, “Revolutionary love” as a choice, an act of will. “It is a choice to extend the kind of love I have for our people to those outside of my tribe, to those who do not look like me, even those who hurt me,” “When you quiet the voice within you that divides yourself from others, you lose yourself…you fall in love.”
All while my life was reminding me and making me learn to walk through horror. My body said Don’t BETRAY your SOUL ANYMORE, Accept Yourself. You have gotten up yet again, after the nights of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and doing what needs to be done to feed the children, and the world that surrounds you. You are rare; you have obeyed even while facing death for “love”. From then on, my nickname “REPRESENTATIVE OF LOVE” came into existence. I have been celebrating my survival and myself ever since.
My experience have taught me that the never ending demons – self or other, same difference – are only a huge cry for the most love I can create. Always I find these encounters are my greatest and most treasured teachers. I have learned a lot many things about life and imbibing such traits. Remember; however, until they transform into relentless lovers, – they all do with time and attention – they are still never ending demons. On our journey of life, we will face enormous challenges, to face them; to fight is all that we got to learn.
I am Woman Of Courage, because I believe that love is what we are born with, fear is what we learn. The unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of “love” back into our hearts, and to experience that love in ourselves and others is meaning of life. Nature repairs, unconditionally.”