I was born on June 5th and my parents named me Ishiktha Thomas. As the daughter of a forest officer, my childhood was spent in the hills of Andhra Pradesh, India and I had the advantage of residing in the forests in the midst of wildlife. I started my schooling in Anakapalli and moved to Hyderabad couple of years later. The first time I realized that I had an unusual name was when I was in the first year at school. My homeroom teacher took five minutes to understand my name and spell it correctly, by when I had started crying. While in school, I was a very shy and introvert person who loved to stay in the background and looked much older than my years. As I was very timid, my friends used to make fun of me and at times I would be in tears.
I remember the day, I lost my mother when I was just 8 years old. My mother died little far away from our home in an unexpected accident, crushed by her own car against a neighbour's tree due to brake failure. I was the only witness. She was a truly amazing mother. The 8 years I had spent with her were a blessing. She instilled in me principles and values that will be with me the rest of my life. I regarded my mother as my teacher, my role model, and someone who always cheered me up. Most people thought she was my older sister if they were not told the truth. However, she was my mother, yet young and gorgeous. She almost looked like a fairy to me. She never failed to be where I needed her, no matter when that might be, and her death was unbearable. I couldn’t adjust my life without my mother whom I loved deeply.
Although my father, Henry Thomas used to try his best to take care of me, I felt very insecure and unhappy when he married another woman since he thought no man of his age should remain unmarried for the rest of his life. A lady named Catherine Thomas entered my life as a step-mother with whom I was never attached. My memory is of her reclining in a huge easy chair in a corner of a large hall, lost in thought, and she always seemed to wear a stern look. She was a disciplinarian with a mischievous smile. In spite of her busy schedule as a nurse, she used to spend a lot of time with me trying to figure out how to please me. She was an authority figure, I have to admit, but I never felt she would be able to take my mom's place. We had our issues, things I could tell only my biological-mom that my step-mother would never knew. She tried to get to know me better but I made it hard.
Years started rolling by and she was always very affectionate but I never felt a sense of attachment or gratitude. I remember that call. One evening, while I sat at home working on my computer, trying to figure out how I can create a PowerPoint presentation, the phone rang. My step-mother spoke in a tense tone to one of my dad's colleagues and I could feel that something was wrong. After attending the call, she was breathing heavily as she broke into tears and I was told that my father had passed away due to a massive heart attack. I couldn’t bear the loss and felt a sense of loneliness. I had so many emotions – from anger to sadness. To me my father had always been someone with a nice personality. He was a disciplinarian and had an amazing fund of knowledge... the proverbial encyclopedia. I always thought of him as a "big man." I missed my father terribly, and he was robbed of my life. Though my step-mother took care of me to ensure that I was doing well, I couldn’t change my attitude and always felt like I was living with a stranger.
I planned to leave my home and stay in a hostel. The thought of being alone, away from the watchful eyes of my step-mother, was like a gift packed in an attractive wrapper. Just the thought that my step-mother was not going to be around to monitor my movements and I would have freedom to do whatever I felt like was enough to make me want to join a hostel. As I was heading toward the hostel, I felt so desperate to reach the place and be a free-bird. But it was only when I started living there that I realized that it was a mirage.
Things became glaringly visible only after I got into the hostel. I thought about the things that my friends had told me about hostels, which became true - the ragging, the strict matrons, the villainous teachers, the sport teacher’s cane! Ragging, for instance, was prevalent in most of the colleges in India and in a more severe form in hostels. Seniors made life miserable and at times there was physical violence too. I wanted to feel at home in the hostel, but my classmates made it a point to make me realize that I wasn’t at home and would never be as long as I lived in the hostel. Rage seeped away and terror slowly conquered me. Everything in my life seemed to be absent from the moment I moved into the hostel. Liberty, relatives, friends, self-identity were replaced by regulations, obedience, more regulations and more obedience.
Apart from the food, washing clothes or managing the atrocities of the seniors, there was insufficiency of water and even basic facilities. The privacy in my life was taken away by sharing the room with people I hardly knew and with no air-conditioning, the hot and airless room put me in fear of not sleeping even for a second during the nights. Through the letters my step-mother wrote to me, it dawned on me that she cared about me. My step-mother cried a lot on the day that I went to the hostel, and even after that, I came to know that she cried at times. For the first time, I missed my step-mother’s cooking about which I had always complained, and my room, my bed, and my past life. It was about love and concern that was lacking when I was away from home. I had few friends who were helpful and there was someone to give me medicine and a glass of water in the case of a headache, but it was the soothing touch of my step-mother's hand that I longed for. I was unable to overcome the hardships and never was able to take it in their stride.
I felt hopeless, stupid and futile. My chest felt constricted by a cord of pain, my head ached from little sleep, and my eyes were sickened. My tender hand was shaking, I couldn't suppress the tears. I was unable to accept the grim reality of life and experienced extreme agony. Life, as I knew it, came crashing down on me. I felt angry and worthless for not realizing kindness and warmth of the poor soul who was like a guardian angel in my life. I never told my step-mother that I loved her when I lived with her and when I realized my mistake I didn't have her beside me to express my gratitude.
This period in my life taught me the love and affection of my step-mother that I failed to realize. This journey to the hostel in search of freedom in life made me realize my stupidity and incapability to understand my step-mother. I understood that it was better to be late than never and God gave me an opportunity to reciprocate the kindness of my step-mother. This awareness of the truth around me made me understand that she was more than a step-mother because she took me under her wing like an angel when I went back home. My love for her will continue going and running and going and running and running.