Having indulged in tons of sweets and snacks through the festival period, for many of us, this question becomes the dreaded one. We know we have been a little too indulgent and not particularly aware or conscious at the time, even having told us that it is okay to take a little holiday from Intermittent Fasting, or the Spin classes, or the thrice a week swimming lessons in a refurbished swimming pool that offers warm water and aqua aerobics, or whatever else we were doing to try and keep ourselves fit. It takes a certain kind of soul strength to have stayed fully committed to one’s health goals and the regimen required to maintain it through the festival periods when everything feels so special and “once in a year” occasion.
The question is: Is it easier to stay on those goals if one were single, or if one is in a relationship? Do relationships strengthen resolve or do they weaken it into a kind of settled feeling where one doesn’t really feel the need to be quite so careful? Relationships are meant to make individuals better for the most part. We want to feel more secure, more connected, more loved and cherished in a relationship. Sometimes, it feels like this very same secure loving connection that we so cherish, acts against our self-interest. It is quite the common story to hear of these hot, fit 20-somethings who get into a relationship that is the envy of their tribe, only to quite swiftly balloon out into these unkempt, unfit and slovenly sloths in their thirties, happy to wallow in their togetherness, snug as bugs in a rug, while their more single tribespeople are still slogging out in the gym and doing everything else to stay fit.
The “Have you put on weight?” question is rarely asked between the people in the relationship. They tend to be complicit in the putting on of the weight, and the shared guilt of it keeps them in silence over it. It often takes a health scare or some other such event to reverse the trend. An ominous declaration of the doctor that one or more people in the relationship is ‘pre-diabetic’ might do the trick. Maybe it would be a child who laughs at one’s inability to touch one’s toes. Or a friend who collapsed with a cardiac episode in the middle of watching yet another season of Bigg Boss in their family couch.
Then, the relationship might huddle together for fitness sake. It can then morph from the weighty questions to lighter ones, the surprise gifts change from special pastries to fitbits and joint yoga sessions. We ask each other whether they got our 8,000 steps, and try to motivate each other, setting up a cycle of positive returns. Relationships can set us off into vicious, unhealthy cycles or great virtuous, healthy spirals of growth. Whether we can be conscious of it is really the weighty question.
As written for the New Indian Express
We are in the little interim period after Dussehra and Deepavali where for a few weeks, there are not many festivals or holidays to speak of, before the end of year holiday madness starts. It is a little lull time as if you give everyone a chance to scramble and finish all that one set out to do in the year, before calling it a day. It is a chance to get a look back at the goals one longingly set for oneself, the relationships one is in, work and all other aspects of one’s life and squeeze in as much or all of it, just to be able to look back with relief and say to oneself that the year has been good
In relationships especially, this is a key time where one or the other person is looking at what they had hoped to achieve or experience and try to squeeze it in. “We never did that international holiday we wanted to go on”, “Just eight weeks left for the year to end. Can’t we do at least a short holiday to Vietnam or even Sri Lanka?” or talk of other big longings that had been in the wishlist, perhaps having family to stay over, or household appliances, the upgrade on the mobile, a road trip, a pilgrimage or even as simple as having planned to read five books in the year or watch 10 international films, but not having done any of it.For many, this remembering of unfinished relationship tasks for the year comes with undercurrents of blame, coloured with just the touch of resentment and spiced with that little tone of complaint.
It is like a little harmless-looking worm wriggling on the surface of a calm lake, but if you take the bait, it could quickly blow up into a fight nobody wanted. It is so easy to start off with, “I wanted to go in June to Turkey. Remember? It was just after Trump started his trade war with them and their currency crashed? I said we could afford it, but you wanted to stay back because your cousin’s in-laws had invited for a house warming?” or such other defensive statements, and soon there is blame being thrown around so much, like boxes of soan papdi that are still left over a week after Deepavali that nobody really wants to see for a month at least.
The goals might be very much shared goals and ones that everyone really wishes they could have enjoyed in the year, and life has a way of getting between things. Other things feel like a priority, and things get postponed. It happens.
If we are able to recount and share the missed things on the wishlist without the hidden stings of blame and resentment, it might actually be moments of shared longing, perhaps affirmations of having those desires met, and maybe even a last minute joyful dash that might make it even more memorable.
We just have to watch the blaming.
AS written for the New Indian Express
Are you the kind that likes a quiet Deepavali, full of light and warmth, maybe some music and prayers, lots of good food and company? Or are you the kind that likes it loud and big, lots of fire crackers and enormous celebrations, huge parties with multiple outfit changes? With the increasing cost of firecrackers and the such, Supreme Court regulations on the time when people can go out to burst these, greater awareness on the effects of pollution and general sensitivity to the environment, the tendency is by and large towards moderation, hopefully. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands who would rather defy environmental sense and sensibility towards fellow creatures, and defy laws at that, and assert their power to celebrate as they will.
Thing is, who cleans up after them? Granted, they cannot really undo the poisons they unleashed into the air, but do they take the trouble to sweep up after themselves and tidy up the streets so that these chemicals do not get washed away by the rains into our tanks and lakes from where we get our drinking water? Do they clear up the waste paper, plastic and random metal rods and chemicals into easily collected lots for the sanitation workers? Chances are, that they do not.
If one does not clear up after the literal mess one makes during a celebration full of joy and exuberance, would one expect that they clear up after themselves at other times? In relationships, we are so likely to make a mess every now and then. Sometimes, it is a literal mess like when in a burst of anger, we have upended a flower vase on the table, or tipped over a kitchen shelf and made a mess of mixed up dals, flours, masalas, oils and what not on the kitchen floor. Those are horrible to clear up and someone has to do the job.
Is it the one who made the mess, or is it somebody else in the house? Does the job end up on the person at the receiving end of the outburst? Or does it, yet again, get outsourced to someone like the house help who had nothing at all to do with creating the mess in the first place?
At other times, the mess we make is a lot less literal. We say and do things that are ugly, dirty and stink to the high heavens. There is bitterness, resentment and pain for the person this rage was directed at, and quite likely, for a lot of others in the vicinity, like children and pets. Who then does the picking up of the pieces and cleaning up of the emotional mess? Can this as readily be outsourced to poorly paid sanitation workers? Like with the environmental damage we do around the festivals that come back to bite us through clogged drains, poisoned waters, charred air and scarred animals, the damage we do here comes back to us as well.If you make the mess, you ought to clean up as well.
As written for the New Indian Express
In India, it is mandatory that everyone driving a vehicle has their vehicle insured. The insurance will cover damage the person owning the vehicle causes to others, and to their own vehicles. There are a whole lot of variants of the policy structure, but we can leave those aside for another day. Driving without insurance is a crime and punishable, with a much higher penalty now than in the last so many years.
Most companies offer health insurance for all their employees and their families. For many smaller organisations which don’t have the employee count or the heft to negotiate a group health insurance, the state offers some protection through Employee State Insurance schemes.
Recently, the Government of India launched Health insurance schemes for everyone who wants to avail the scheme at very low costs.
Life insurance gets us tax rebates as well. There is home insurance, and general insurance. Doctors can insure themselves against malpractice. Shop owners can insure their stores against floods, fire, rioting and even terrorism. Buses are insured, cars are insured. Farmers can buy agriculture insurance and protect themselves from the vagaries of the nature. Pretty much any and everything is insurable except relationships. Think about it: Is there any company that you know of that insures against a heartbreak, a breakup or any of the other two hundred things that can go wrong with a relationship? Every day we hear jingles on the radio, popups on our internet pages, advertisements on TV and every other media that we access, calling out insurance policies - unit linked, single premium, life-time coverage, payback policies, education cover and what not, but have you ever heard any advertisements saying, “For monthly premium of Rupees Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine, get insurance coverage of Rupees Twenty Lakhs for any breach of promise of monogamy!” or “One time premium of Rupees Fifteen Thousand covers divorce charges at any time, in case of a non-contested divorce, or a premium of Rupees Fifty Thousand to cover all kinds of divorces!” Nobody offers any such insurance policy to the best of my knowledge.
Are we so certain that relationships will work? When we cover against events such as lightning strikes that might happen for one in fifteen million people, why would we not want to cover against, say, divorces that happens close to one in five marriages? We do so many rituals and make so many promises at the start of many relationships, just to get some semblance of such an assurance. Does it mean we don’t want any insurance for relationships? Or, are the risks so great that no insurance company will cover it and risk themselves?
Only an actuarial at an insurance company might be able to answer that question and answer why there are no such products in the market, none that are advertised for the general population in any case. In the meantime, without insurance, all we have is the assurance we give to each other and hold ourselves to those promises.
As written for the New Indian Express
One of my favourite Birbal stories involves this polyglot who is so fluent in so many different languages that it is hard for even professors of each of those languages to tell that this person is not a native speaker of the language. The polyglot goes to Akbar’s court and showcases the proficiency over all these languages to everyone’s amazement, and is so good that after all the demonstrations, Akbar gets a challenge from the polyglot to see if anyone can determine his native tongue. A lot of people try to guess but fail. Akbar looks to Birbal, and Birbal asks for the night to get the answer.
Late at night, when everyone is deep asleep, Birbal goes to the guest’s room and upends a bucket of ice-cold water on the bed, startling the person awake who screams out for his mother and father in, you guessed it, their native tongue and Birbal saves the day again.
At times of major stress, we typically reach out to calling for our earliest caregivers and usually in the language we used as a kid. When in pain, or at moments of shock, we call out for them, or maybe a divine figure. This is generally true no matter how old one gets. One might be a nonagenarian in an old-age home or a three-year old who stubbed their toe in the playground, and it is still very much the same. We call out for the first caregiver we knew. It is the rare person who does something different.
Yet, there is a moment of transition when the person taking immediate care becomes the partner or someone in a romantic relationship, and not the parent or the earlier caregiver. Families bond over care, especially care at critical times of illnesses and support needed at such times. If one has had a consistently caring family situation, that moment of transition can be quite traumatic in itself and is a major source of conflicts in many families.
Imagine a person is getting admitted to a hospital for a surgery. It requires them to stay at the hospital for say, three to four nights, and they need an attendant to stay with them through the whole period who can take care of them. Who gets to stay with them through it all? Is it the parent, or would it be the new intimate partner they have in their life? When does one start choosing the partner over the parent? Or, does one continue to choose parental support at times like this?
Occasionally, one might have some logistical reason, like perhaps knowing the local language or if there are questions of accessibility, for choosing one person over the other, but under most other circumstances, the choice of who you take with you into hospital rooms and other such exceptional circumstances do indicate that pecking order as it were, in terms of intimacy. Who you choose to be with you says a lot.
And yes, you might still cry out for a parent when in pain.
As written for The New Indian Express
In birthday celebrations, there is the universal “Happy Birthday to you!” song that practically everyone knows the tune and the words of the first verse or two, and maybe even the kids party additional versions of “You were born in a zoo, with monkeys and giraffes,” or the more ribald versions that mark some parties. In a wedding anniversary celebration, there are no major songs that everyone can sing along as the couple cut the cake and so people tend to shout out “Kiss! Kiss!” Many times, that leads to some very endearing moments where one pivots the other on their heels to plant one making everyone in the audience go “Awww!”, or some really funny ones where such an unexpected extravagance causes them to fall awkwardly and the video capturing that moment becomes a happy meme within the group’s instant messaging group.
For the more socially conservative people that avoid public displays of affection or in groups that mix friends from work and personal life, we typically resort to shouting, “Speech! Speech!” when the cake comes out and try to pressure the couple into saying things about each other with the hope that we can then tease them about their words on that evening and for years later, if we are lucky to get some real gems from these speeches.
At such a party over the weekend, clearly unprepared for giving speeches, one half of the couple awkwardly said, “I am so grateful to have had fifteen years with my best friend, philosopher, guide, financial advisor, therapist, best co-parent ever, and everything else. When I first met you, I only knew how much I loved you, and not I know I cannot live without you. You are the sun in my sky. You are the air that I breathe. I am just so grateful you are here with me!” and got teary-eyed. The other one perhaps had one too many, and just said, “I don’t know about all that, but am just so glad we are still having an awesome time in bed!” to loud laughs all around and a very pleased but embarrassed host.
The laughter and fun apart, it sets one thinking: Do we need our partner to be everything for us? Is it the ideal relationship if the people in it can be each other’s best friend, parent, child, doctor, cook, nurse, financial planner, life coach, therapist, lover, confidante etc.? What roles does one necessarily look for in each other, and what roles are we ok to let people from outside the relationship perform for us? If we are everything for each other, does it make us dependent and insular? Do we lose other connections? Do we risk losing ourselves if we lose the other?
Making relationships this perfect bubble might seem so romantic and satisfying, but it is a lot of pressure on it and just having such high expectations can make it crack. Maybe a lighter balance and a lot of laughter is the key to success.
As written for The New Indian Express
The story of the wish granting genie trapped in a bottle that will give you whatever you desire when you release it from its bottle is an evergreen story, with all its twists and turns. You have the versions where the genie sort of becomes friends with the person releasing it from its bottle, stories where the genie is repeatedly trapped by an evil magician, enslaved in its wish granting forever. You have stories where the genie is intrinsically evil and unless cleverly trapped in the bottle, destroys all that it gave and everyone it gave these wishes to once it is free of its obligations. Some stories have the genie as this wise old soul that has seen it all over thousands of years, and is here again, granting wishes one more time to a naïve little soul, trying to advice the young one to use these wishes wisely, but alas, history repeats itself. There are even stories of the genie being mistakenly imprisoned for crimes done by its kind even though this genie itself is quite a sweet old soul.
Whatever the antecedents of the genie and its intrinsic nature, in all these stories, the wishes are asked for with one of two goals – either power through wealth or victory, and love.
Power through wealth and victory is easy enough for the genie to grant – tons of gold and gemstones are showered upon the benefactor, whole cities built overnight, magic carpets brought to life, enemies vanquished in a single breath, nations laid waste, oases made to bloom in the desert. There is nothing the genie cannot do as far as wealth or war is concerned. On love though, it is quite another story. At best, the genie could kidnap the objects of affection of its temporary masters, create magical wonderlands where they might be held in thrall for these people, but it cannot truly make a person love another. Even in the rare version that has a semblance of such forced love, it is a shadow – a vague semblance of the original person that might look and even act like the original but is not really, truly alive.
The moral is quite clear and consistent: You cannot force love. You can have all the power in the world and all the gold in the universe, but love cannot be acquired by wishing for it.
Generations have grown listening to these stories, retelling them to new generations and yet, every now and then we hear of the horror stories of coerced relationships, people forced into relationships with their assaulters, kidnapped partners and what not. What makes it such a difficult lesson to learn and accept? Why do so many of us still find it so difficult to let go of a partner who doesn’t love us back? There is a desperate need and belief that somehow it can happen, but there is no magic.
No genie in the universe that can just snap its fingers and make love happen.
As written for The New Indian Express
When we are young and in the care of adults, sooner or later we do something that displeases them and we are bound to get disciplined one way or another. When we are babies who haven’t yet even learned to crawl and explore the world, perhaps there was very little need to discipline, but from the moment crawling happens and curiosity starts, we hear “NO!” in two dozen ways, have our hands smacked away if we reach for those power points or knives, and we are disciplined in half a dozen ways.
Hopefully, the ways one was disciplined was more a matter of reward for good and expected behaviour and not being the object of emotional or physical violence, but given how we are still raised in this country, the occasional slap or a smack is not even considered physically violent. It would, even in 2019, be the rare person over 20 years old who can say that they were never beaten or slapped or smacked ever in their life by a parent, a caregiver, an uncle, or a school teacher. Even then, where there has been some degree of permission for some physically violent acts as a way of disciplining an errant child, at most places it stops as a child gets into adolescence. There is a popular saying that once a child grows taller than one’s shoulders, beatings have to stop.
Discipline then becomes strictly a matter of negotiation and bargaining, with rewards for good behaviour, or by trying to show up better behaved people and praising them, hoping that they will take the hint and that the desire to be praised and adored will outweigh any instincts to indulge in mischief.
In adult relationships, we still carry so much of the ways of relating as parent and child into our relationships. Often times, we believe we know what needs to be the way to live, talk, dress and behave, and when others in the relationship do not do what we believe is right, we try to think of ways to discipline them. Think of all the times you might have thought about your loved one and said to yourself, “I have to make them change.”
Even when we were children, despite all kinds of social and legal permission to use pretty much any kind of disciplining, there was little that anybody could do to make us change if we were very decided to not change. So, why would an adult subject themselves to any kind of disciplining efforts from another adult, unless they really buy into it?
If you are in an adult loving relationship, and you feel your loved one needs to change, there is little else to do that showing very clearly one’s sadness and disappointment, making sure there are consequences that affect the relationship and hoping that there is enough love to trigger an empathetic reaction to these feelings that the bad behaviour stops. Anything else is just going to make life miserable.
As written for The New Indian Express
August in India has for the last 70 years always been associated with Freedom and Independence. The colours are all around us, there are flags being sold everywhere and even restaurants are putting up buffets with the flag’s colours. It has become quite a day of celebration and soon we will probably have street parties and community fireworks like the Americans do on their fourth of July holiday with family picnics, city level parades and all the other razzmatazz.
This year in India is a little different with the actions on August 5th around Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and how it is polarizing the nation, with disbelief and shock on one side at the sudden and abrupt turn of events with the terms of engagement changing literally overnight, and on another side, people rejoicing on how they would now get to marry certain people and what not. It would be the rare person in India who has not been thinking about what these actions mean for them and the country.
For me, it also set me thinking on how love and freedom work. Specifically, what freedoms does one get when you agree to be in a relationship, and what freedoms does one willingly forego? Are relationships in general, and marriages in particular, an agreement with many stated contractual terms and as many unstated terms and conditions?
Certainly, love and relationships are built on a certain kind of give and take.
People typically pledge to have a loyalty in the relationship, to the exclusion of their individual freedom to have similar loyalties to others. They pledge to be with each other in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer and so on, giving away the freedom to walk away when things are inconvenient or uncomfortable, with the promise that there is a mutuality in this. The freedoms given away are not for nothing, and one expects them to be respected and if all goes well, life is good. People make all sorts of decisions. Some forego property, careers, best friends and what not for the sake of love. Others give away citizenships. Many let go of their freedom to travel alone or hike in groups to travel only with each other.
Then again, there are situations like in a Confessions post that went viral a couple of months ago about two people who fell in love and married, and when they had a child, the mother quit work to stay home with the understanding that the mother was free to get back to work after a couple of years, but the father, having gotten used to having someone home, conspired to find ways to keep that freedom away from the mother, including trying to force a second pregnancy without the consent of this person, and certainly without any indication of their intention.
In contexts like this, would we still say it is love, when one partner snatches away the freedoms of a beloved without their full and informed consent?
As written for The New Indian Express
Mobiles and cheap data have had a massive impact on how people relate and talk to each other. With everyone on their mobiles, the way people use public spaces has changed so much in the last decade or so. Now, there is hardly anyone in public transport without a mobile in their hand, and the screen along with the almost mandatory earphones. It offers such an easy and convenient way to create a boundary around oneself, and hold off uninvited contact much more effectively than a newspaper or a book ever did.
There is something about being on the phone which seems to send out a universal “Do not disturb” message that everyone reads loud and clear, and it is only in times of true exasperation or emergency that one steps over that boundary and says, “Excuse me! Can you look at me for one moment? I am trying to get your attention!” but even that would be only with someone one knows well or the perfect stranger who is blocking your access, and even then, it is only a quick interruption – not a real request to put the phone down and interact.
Check in with yourself: How easy is it for you to bring yourself to interrupt somebody when they are on their phone? I would bet it is really difficult. You probably try to see what they are busy with. Are they playing a game? Watching a movie? Reading something? Chatting with someone? Talking to someone? On a video call? The order of these come with an increasing level of difficulty in disturbing the person. Somehow, we seem to hold back a lot more when we see a person on their mobile, and it is not just difficult with, say, a stranger on the metro but also with people in your own life, no matter how close the relationship. I would even argue that it is probably much harder to interrupt your partner than it is to interrupt a stranger.
What is it about being on a phone that makes people stay back a little?
Considering that mobile phones and data were barely around even ten years ago, the respect and space we accord to someone on their phone might just be the assumption that perhaps they are actually busy with something specific and important, some urgent matter that is more significant than us. But, we are quite aware, given our own mobile usage, that much of it is just passing time, right? Shouldn’t that make it easier for us to interrupt and demand attention? Yet, we typically don’t.
For people in relationships, this becomes quite the bother. People are on their phones a lot more, and since we are somehow programmed to back off and wait, till we just cannot wait any longer, it is creating a lot more distance between people. It is decreasing possibilities of spontaneous and real-time connections.
We are waiting a lot more to reach each other, and that is not great news for love.
As written for The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.