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The value of self-reliance

Image credit — Google Images

Dad’s an all-rounder. He is a fixer of things. Like a genie, he almost always find solutions to the problems of our house. From fixing a flat tyre to recalibrating an old grandfather clock, from setting new lights to sealing a faucet leak, from repairing a broken window panel to finding the right kind of manure for the rose shrubs; Dad’s someone you can always count on. But what happens when that person has to physically rely on his family for basic daily support? It hurts. It breaks you a little inside. Maybe a little more.

Since Dad’s surgery in early September, he has shown remarkable resolve to independently take care of himself. From walking and showering, to now eating and driving, Dad’s been inspiring in a lot of ways. However, there are certain aspects that he still needs assistance with. The tracheostomy tube needs regular cleaning and maintenance. He experiences extreme weakness on some nights, requiring head massages. Often right after taking any meal, his coughing increases and he’s unable to handle it himself, needing our help.

As he coughs relentlessly, you can see the pain and helplessness in his eyes. He tries to control it, not cause any disturbance to the ongoing dinner or lunch, but we all stop to make sure he is okay. One of us starts rubbing his back, while the other hands him a tissue. He starts pacing up and down the hallway, hoping to ease his wind tract. With the advent of winters, it takes him a while to sooth his cough down and get back to a normal breathing rhythm. As he calms down, he signals us to resume our meals. Later, he even joins in to check if the kids got their favourite mutton piece or not, or if Mum finished her chapatis. In fact, he even scolds us for not eating enough.

We have normalised this dependence of his on us. Maybe because we don’t want him to feel that he is no more independent completely. His mind is self-reliant, but his body has been betraying him. When he realises that reality he gets extremely disheartened, breaking down some times. On other occasions he obscures it out by managing to take care of the broken things in the house. Whether it is the burnt power socket, or an old gas stove, Dad’s been patching up stuff like a pro. He is claiming back his routine and himself, one fix at a time.

And that independence is extremely important. Once a week, he lies in a chemo ward for nearly five hours, getting himself treated. The remaining days of the week, he works towards taking charge of his body, his mind, and his life. Of course, it does not work all the time. There are evenings, when the work takes a toll on him, as he lies in bed, complaining of a headache. But knowing that he still has it in him to manage the mess is a boost of positivity.

The satisfaction of getting a job done is immensely comforting. And when you do it all on your own, it pushes you out of disappointing thoughts. It enables you to move towards normalcy in abnormal times. It helps you to acknowledge the difficult reality and live with it, rather than fight it and lose miserably. It transcends you through finite possibilities of a hopeful future, without losing faith. It helps you push the envelope.

You know you still have the survival instinct as you fix the geyser’s power socket, while standing on a washbasin. Cancer can suck it up.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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