By Anita Panda
Swapna Mitter quotes John Lennon’s iconic lines to describe her journey: Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. Momentous events happened ‘in the blink of an eye’, as she puts it, throwing her into uncharted waters, forcing her to change, take risks, lose a partner, and find a new purpose to live again. “The show must go on,” she says, stoically.
Born and raised in Kolkata, Swapna’s secure, happy childhood could not buffet the shocks life would throw her way later. The pampered only child of a homemaker-mother and a father who was a High Court judge, she imbibed from her parents the principles of honesty, fairness and compassion.
At 15, however, she was forced to mature overnight when she lost her mother to an illness. The vivacious teenager was at a crossroad after finishing college, and the need to become independent led her to journalism.
After an arranged marriage with IIT-IIM post-graduate Mayukh, she shifted base to Mumbai, a move that opened up an entirely new world to her. The exposure to metropolitan corporate life, global travelling and meeting new people through her jobs in national newspapers enhanced the young woman’s confidence.
The couple then moved to Singapore after Mayukh got a job there; to the USA for five years; and back to Singapore again. On returning, Swapna worked with a Singapore women’s magazine, and then freelanced as a journalist, writing for Singapore’s top publications on a variety of subjects. Currently, she co-runs a company that caters to the writing and editing needs of various clients.
From her modest middle-class Kolkata upbringing to cruising American highways and shopping at Orchard Road in Singapore, life with Mayukh was exciting and stimulating. They travelled to exotic destinations on holidays, attended concerts and sporting events, and went out for fancy dinners and movies.
But Swapna’s cosy world came crashing down in 2011. Mayukh suddenly developed deep vein thrombosis and passed away. He was just 45.
Shattered, Swapna battled grief, anger and numbness, read books and went on a spiritual quest to fathom the meaning of life and death. Support from her friends and family in Singapore and India helped her come to terms with her loss, though bitter court battles kindled by his death showed her the worst extremes of human behaviour.
The blissful memories from her time spent with Mayukh gave her solace every time she despaired. “I did not want to become a recluse,” says Swapna. Surrounding herself with caring people helped her survive that turbulent phase and emerge stronger from it.
She immersed herself in her writing and reporting, but an old desire resurfaced as Swapna entered her late 40s: motherhood. Influenced by reports of girls being abandoned and trafficked in India and around the world, she decided to adopt a girl child.
The rules for adoption in Singapore are simpler than in India, and she introspected over the “right reasons” before going ahead. “I was not looking for a replacement for a companion in my life. Instead, I felt enabled to offer a good life and all my love to a child,” she explains. In 2015, an adorable three-month-old baby girl ushered in a joyful new phase in her life.
Does she wonder whether her little girl will ask her one day about the absence of a father? “Of course,” says Swapna pragmatically. “One of the things we were told at the adoption briefings is to be honest with our children. There will be times when she may miss a father figure but I am confident of making her believe that she can thrive and be whoever she aspires to be irrespective of that.”
Swapna feels fortunate for the presence of support groups to ease the adjustment and to help cope with the challenges of adoption. “My aim is to inculcate in my child the values taught by my own parents,” says the 50-year-old.
She believes one must dwell on the positives even though it is hard at times. Experience has taught her that while grief never goes away, one learns to live with it.
On a more practical level, women must plan for their future and finances, and execute a proper Will to “ensure your kids know who to turn to if something were to happen to you.”
Swapna’s story is one of admirable strength and determination. “If someone had told me this is how my life was going to be when I was young, I would’ve probably fainted. But here I am.” The single mother alludes to Shakespeare as she concludes on a philosophical note: “All the world’s a play. It’s just my role to play and how I enact it is up to me.”
Right now she is happy playing loving mom and keeping her husband’s memories alive through an annual quiz in his name that has created a buzz of late in Singapore.
First published in the July 2017 issue of eShe. Buy the copy here.