Almost every newspaper and household magazine carry a horoscope column. Some carry multiple columns – a daily one, a weekly one, a monthly prediction, one based on your birthdays, another based on the shifting of planets from one constellation to another, lunar ones, solar ones. There are some unusual ones as well – one based on the numerology of your name, or esoteric calendars like the now-defunct Mayan calendar, for example.
The columns have a great readership. Many might just give it a passing glance for a quick check-in “just in case” or for a little light reading along with their daily dose of Calvin and Hobbes and other syndicated cartoons, for relief from all the stories of murder and mayhem. For others, it is a matter of particular importance, and even for the generally cynical population, convinced of the irrationality of 9 billion people’s lives being stuffed into a dozen predictable patterns for the day, there may be times and places when these columns become an important part of their fixture.
Consider a person falling in love for the first time and wanting to really time their confession of love and other feelings to the object of their adoration, or somebody wanting to take their relationship to the mythical “next level.”’ They might be looking for anything that can help shore up their chances at success, time their proclamations, and just get some courage. Horoscopes often become one such tool. They might eagerly wait for the daily newspaper, skim over news of elections, defecting politicians, world cup matches, climate crises and so much other important news, and go directly to the horoscope columns in the penultimate page of the paper, just so they can read their own prediction, match it with that of their beloveds, and look for clues in the two.
What if Scorpio says, “This is a good day for love and lovers. Venus is in your sign and it is the time for love and shows of affection,” and Libra says, “Be ready for annoyance. Mercury is in retrograde and people you don’t like are likely to be a source of irritation to you. Avoid them.” Would the poor lovelorn Scorpio take the risk of professing undying love to the Libran, having been forewarned thus by the daily horoscope? Or would the crushing Scorpio stay crushed under this warning, and wait for a better day with predictions that are more encouraging?
As human beings brought up in cultures of mysticism and the occult, even the very rational amongst us sometimes catch ourselves looking for signs and we read meanings into random occurrences, just to give ourselves a little solace, some comfort and maybe a bit of courage. If it stays a harmless foible, then it just is something for people to share a laugh over. If it becomes a potentially crippling dependence or ends up hurting someone, then of course there is nothing funny about it.
Lastly, here is an idea: What if there were predictions for the relationship as a unit based on the date the relationship was born?
As written for The New Indian Express
Once upon a time, in a busy market, a flower-seller and a fish-seller started to fall in love. They would meet each day at the market, make googly eyes at each other, and playfully call out each other’s wares, enjoy each other’s successes and were just lovely with each other.
Over time, their friendship matured into a relationship, and what started at the market, moved into long walks by the riverside, conversations over shared plates of food and all the regular stuff till finally the fish-seller invited the flower-seller home, and after a long evening, when they went to sleep, the fish-seller slept soundly while the flower-seller twisted and turned missing the smells of the flowers back home, but being a good guest, did not tell anything much. The next day, the flower-seller called the fish-seller home, and again they had a good time and when they finally went to sleep, this time the flower-seller slept easily surrounded by familiar smells, and the fish-seller couldn’t.
After a few weeks of such tossing and turning, they confess to not being able to sleep well at each other’s houses, much as they love each other, and it becomes quite an issue. Finally, they reach a solution: the fish-seller would bring an old, empty basket of fish to keep close when visiting the flower-seller, and vice-versa!
Both were now able to be relatively happy at each other’s place. The point of the story is this: Are we markers of space? Do we need our space to be marked with our things to claim it as our own, and imprint our characteristics on it so that it feels like home and we feel comfortable in it?
It is not easy to be in an impersonal space and there are always some things that feel more like one’s own.
One might be able to sleep wherever and be comfortable for a few nights anywhere, and yet, feel that much more at ease when back home. Isn’t that every tourist’s experience? It is great to be travelling around, seeing the world, sleeping in amazing hotels and camps, and yet it is all so much nicer when you have your own home to come to, your own bed to come back to and your own things around you.
For some of us, the need for our own things is much higher. We take a little bit with us wherever we go. Maybe it is a pyjama, a toothpaste, a bedside kerchief, a mala of beads, a book – it could be anything. It is the rare person amongst us who doesn’t ever need anything of their own and can feel at home anywhere and wit anybody.
If we can’t make space for another’s need for a few of their own things, is it really love? Could the fish-seller really love the flower-seller, but not allow for a bag of flowers?
As published in The New Indian Express
How do you decide what shows to watch? Earlier, even with just the TV and all the cable channels, deciding what to watch with your beloved was not easy, unless you happened to luck out and both of you enjoyed the same things, and weren’t pretending through your courting period just to get each other’s attention.
Now with all the streaming apps offering shared subscriptions and “Netflix and Chill” becoming part of our daily language, there are thousands of hours of programming, season after season of shows from every corner of the world right at your fingertips. All this content is available on every kind of screen now, from TV screens, to iPads, mobile phones and other stuff. There is apparently a fridge with a screen that can stream content. Coupled with the very best of headphones that cancel out noise, it is convenient for people to watch what they like, independent of each other.
If you are out sprawled on your couch watching Game Of Thrones and all its gore, your partner might be three feet away but watching old reruns of The Big Bang Theory and getting ready to mourn that it was ending as well. Of course, for the most part, your partner might be in another room altogether, and telling you to call when it is time for dinner.
It is becoming harder than ever to bond over your favourite shows. You really have to up sell the content you want to watch, or search for shows that appeal to both your tastes. You find that odd Korean drama that also features vampires, or the 90s documentary on serial killers and it somehow gets both of you piqued enough to share a few hours together as you binge watch it all in one night, and then you have to trawl all through the suggested links to find something else.
There are silver linings if you look for it. If you are an older couple, maybe you would rediscover some old favourites that you could both reconnect over. Maybe you’d watch Friends again, or older classics – re-watch the whole lot, and then watch the rebooted versions, admire the hotter, younger actors, the more polished production values and yet diss how the show has lost its earlier charm – think Star Trek. You might find yourself introducing each other to new content or find yourself bonding over content that neither knew you would like.
It is a toss-up, whether these unlimited choices will bring you together, or separate you from each other. There is no telling what it will do, unless you really think about this together. When we are free, it takes so much more effort to stay together.
As written for The New Indian Express
Travel is a metaphor for life in so many ways. Are we travelling for travel’s sake, or are we travelling to a destination? What is more important, the journey or the destination? And is there one destination? In real life, few don’t travel at all, and hardly any journey is done with the one destination. And yet, if we hold travel as a metaphor for life, we are told to look at relationships as if it is the one destination that we are all supposed to arrive, one way or another.
If one is single, everywhere one goes, parents, grandparents and every other relative one could meet in everything from a baby’s naming ceremony to a funeral asks the big relationship questions: Why so late? Do you need introductions? Is a relationship the one destination that we are all supposed to head towards?
Even in travel, it is not as if we celebrate the one traveller who travels from point A to point B and never ever travels again. Nor do we celebrate someone who never travels, or the traveller who is incessantly travelling, so much that there is no saying where they were or will be.
We travel as we want to, stay for as long as we like and leave as we will. The travellers we really celebrate are those that have a story to tell. They may have never ever travelled, or barely, or lots – none of that matters as much as how their travel adventure was, how much they experienced in it and how deep they could relate to their experiences.
What if we treated relationships the same way? Do we really need to treat relationships as if they were a destination to arrive at and never leave again, like the Hotel California from the Eagles song? Instead of chasing being in a relationship as if it were some mythical giver of bliss and everlasting happiness, what if we simply saw it for what it is: Just one other possible part of one’s own life journey?
In our mythologies, we celebrate the celibate as much as we celebrate the once-married and those with 16,000 partners. The celebration of such deified lives is not because of whether and how many they were in a relationship with, but because of the lives they led, the values they upheld and the heroics of living as themselves in the face of many odds.
A relationship can be a witness for a life well-lived, but it is not the golden ticket to a meaningful life – there is none. Our life is meaningful because we give it meaning by how we live it, how we strive for what we value despite the odds, and what we make if it - not necessarily whether we were in a relationship, many relationships or none. Life is the journey, and the destination
As published in The New Indian Express
Have you seen your relationship through a major period of illness? It might have involved hospitalisation or not, but the kind of time we are talking about here is the one that has weeks if not months of at-home care, where the person who is unwell needs assistance with their body. Perhaps they are unable to walk, or get off their bed on their own, need assistance dressing, eating or in any other way need help.
How much do you stay with them and take care of their physical needs? How comfortable were you staying with them and working through the mess that is our body with all its random fluids, smells, textures and everything else? Were you able to do all the small things that a person needs in such a situation with a smile on your face and able to still make the ill person feel valued, and even desired? Or, did you go through that period as a temporary annoyance that just needs to be borne with as much fortitude as possible, but not really a period to be cherished in any way?
Conversely, think about the times you might have been the one in need and how your loved one was with you in those times.
The way we are with each other in times of sickness tells more about how we love and how deeply we love, much more than the times of good health and circumstances. It is something we understand in theory, and when we look at it through the lenses of our lived experiences, we find that there are so many nuances. It is a tricky situation because we have different conflicting needs acting up. On one hand, there is a self-assertion, a desire to be as independent as possible. On another, a fear of being needy, along with a strong need to feel related and reassured. One wants to do as much for oneself, and yet also want to be cared for.
We sometimes are able to overlook a loved one’s freezing in times of medical need, excusing them as being squeamish, sensitive or immature. We may look at an over-functioning carer as being over-bearing, self-sacrificing, taking away your agency, your freedom and really be angry with them, or just annoyed and irritated. If we are the ones providing care, we might feel ourselves overcome with compassion and be in tears along with the one suffering, or on the other extreme, be very annoyed – judging them for their difficulty in managing this much pain when you have gone through much more.
Finding that balance between two people on how much care is welcome, how much space is needed – that could be the journey of a lifetime. If these lessons aren’t learned well, you could be those bickering old couples who can’t stand each other in their old age. Or, you could be that picture book version of the old couple sitting on a bench together – one reading, and the other resting, quietly confident in their care for each other.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
Check in on your WhatsApp conversation with your loved one. How much of it is “What are you up to?” “Busy?” “Just checking in to see if you are free!” and messages like that?
It is one thing if these check-ins are at times of stress such as when there is something going on at work, or at home, someone is ill, either is travelling out or some key errands need to be done. It is quite another, if a lot of it is just about such quick check-ins even when there is really no pressing need for checking. If your WhatsApp history is full of such check-ins, take a moment to think about it –what did you really want when you were asking these questions? Were you stressed and seeking a bit or relief from your partner? Were you missing each other and wanted to get a bit of affection that will let your oxytocin flow? Was it to keep a tab on the other’s day so you feel you are in-touch with what’s going on? Or were you just bored?
If the answer is more of the “Just like that” variety, you might want to rein in that a little. The constant check-ins on each other, wanting to know every detail and stay connected throughout the day, almost as if one cannot really go through the ten or so hours without actually being around each other – all of it can be painted with an aura of Being Romantic, as acts of caring, of being thoughtful. Granted, sometimes it is just that – a sweet, romantic act, and even then, these can quickly cross the line into needy, entitled, demanding, sulky annoyances. You can see it again in the WhatsApp history, when the responses shift from equally endearing “XOXO, Sweetheart! Can’t wait to see you in the evening! What are you doing?” and “Yes, darling! Stuck in office meeting and thinking of you!” to curter, sharper “What is it?” “Yes, busy” or just plain blue ticks with nothing offered in return.
When that happens, it is time to recognize that the constant checking in is getting a bit too much and one needs to back off. Often though, instead of backing off, there is a greater questioning: “Why aren’t you answering?” “I am just MISSING you SO MUCH! And you don’t even care!” “Are you even in love with me anymore?” and while the first few times might get the loved one to squeeze out some attention, it is like trying to get more water out of a starved borewell in peak summer – it gets muddier and muddier, till that well of love is just coughing up ugly, dirty filth. Like our borewells, we often need to be left to recharge without being constantly drained out. We need our own rainwater harvesting, so to say – time and space for one’s own joys to fill up one’s life
Then, there can again be interesting and interested replies to those WhatsApp queries of “What u doing?’
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
If you are a gardener, you know that gardens do best when they are properly cared for – they flourish when there is appropriate watering, enough sun, protection from the pests, weeds are cleared, plants pruned and so on. You also know the one basic truth: you could plant all the seeds you want, but you cannot really force them to germinate. We expect with the appropriate conditions that they do germinate, but it doesn’t always happen. We could plant a hundred seeds, and maybe all will germinate or only a few – it is hard to predict. The one thing we can predict though is that the seed we plant will grow only into itself – a tomato seed won’t become a basil plant, an eggplant seed won’t suddenly start bearing okra.
If you planted tomatoes and suddenly find basil sprouting up, it doesn’t mean that there was some miraculous transformation – it only means that this new plant came up from seeds that were there already in the first place. What does that have to do with love or relationships, you ask?
Think of it: You go about doing small things for the person you love. A bit of shopping here, a bit of dusting there, some conversations, maybe a little cooking. You plant lots of seeds like that all around, and you expect that they germinate into a nice little garden of love. It typically does, when you have the best environment for it. Occasionally though, a small action from your side which you expected to have a certain kind of result, ends up bringing something else altogether. A volunteer plant, so to say, that grows up alongside what you planted.
For example, you might have surprised your loved one with a small box of macaroons. Just for the heck of it. You expected smiles of joy, maybe a hug and a kiss. What if you get a bout of tears instead? You did something nice, and you expected something nice to come out of it, but something else happened. Was it your action that caused this reaction? The short answer is No. Your action triggered something else to express itself – a different seed possibly come there by accident, from somewhere in the past, has germinated and is making itself heard.
Now, in the gardening example, would you get offended that a different plant has voluntarily sprung up when you planted tomatoes? You would likely not. You might observe the volunteer plant to see if it is valuable, like say, basil – and keep it if it is, and if it some random weed, you might discard it. It isn’t personal.
Can you do the same when there is an unexpected reaction for something in a relationship? Can you see that these may not be about you at all? That they are random seeds germinating – perhaps an old memory, a story handed down by parents, something religion or tradition has planted. Can you then see if this is valuable or not and act accordingly, instead of blaming?
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
The coming of summer in Bangalore always seems so very sudden. Even up to the first week of February, everyone still has their quilts out and the ceiling fans are quite still through the night. We don’t need heating, but certainly don’t need any cooling either. Then quite suddenly, within a couple of weeks, it gets so very dry and so very hot. The winter just passed has had so many Bangaloreans connecting back to how Bangalore used to be, the long, pleasant weather causing reminiscences about winters past and how wonderful it is to have a taste of that old Bangalore weather yet again.
Now, even though it is not even March, places in the city where all the trees are gone and it is just another steel and concrete mess, temperatures are already above 35 degrees. People around Bangalore are likely making the transition from quilts to summer blankets very quickly this week. The ceiling fans are getting dusted off and conversations are starting about whether this will be the summer when Bangalore will finally lose its “A/C City” tag to become yet another city full of droning air-conditioners, like in much of mainland India.
Relationships are quite often like that in how the mood of it changes rapidly.
Let’s say the beautiful Bangalore winter is like the honeymoon period of any relationship. It is pleasant, comfortable and there is a lot of space to just chill and be with each other. When it gets over, life moves on into some kind of general routine, and there are times of connectedness and others when it is not so much. Then, quite unexpectedly, we sometimes get a longish second honeymoon – like our longer and more pleasant winter that just passed. After many, many years, there comes again a time when there is a strong sense of that connectedness, there is joy in being together, love in the air, fond smiles and affection overflowing – and then, in a manner of weeks, it dissipates and we are back to humdrum relating, as if the cool winter is over and the harsh summer has set upon us already with barely any springtime in between. It is so rapid, as if to shake the whole thing off, that it was unbelievable in the first place that the ease and chillness of it was ever warranted at all.
Either we are like Bangalore where things get dry and dreary, or we are like Leh-Ladakh where we get far too cold and distant after brief summers of joy, or we plod along in the sweat and steaminess of Chennai with just that little Margazhi season of fun and happiness. Can relationships be in a state of forever pleasantness like, maybe, Hawaii? Can the honeymoon last forever?
It is the rare relationship that can sustain pleasantness right through.
For the vast majority of us, we need to learn to appreciate the subtler joys of the changes in how we relate in our lives – like how we look forward to mangoes in this summer heat.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Elections are coming in a few weeks, and soon, campaigning will pick up steam. Already, it is in every news channel and unless all you watch in your home is Netflix or ongoing soaps on your favourite TV channels, you are likely being bombarded with the pre-campaign propaganda from all channels.
Elections in India have always been such a grand spectacle, full of colour, volume and expression. Every political party brings out their flags, symbols and colours so prominently, and there is so much noise around it - not just in terms of the debates, but also the special songs and in recent years, even stand-up comedy!
It really is difficult to not notice, and whether you like it or not, you probably are talking about politics already with friends, colleagues and social media. Reluctantly or otherwise, you are likely being pulled into debates, and even if you have temporarily unfollowed most political pages on your social media feed, it probably seeps through everywhere.
The general commentary in most circles seem to hold familial units as insular in their political affiliation. There is talk of vote banks and sweeping assessments of how certain populations vote one way and others another. Yet, as a country, we have major political dynasties and even though most continue in the same lineage, there are often diametrically opposing shifts across and even within generations. A parent might be centrist while the child is right-wing, or vice-versa. There are differences of opinion and convictions everywhere. Very few couples with major political rifts though.
The question is: Do you talk about your politics with your beloved? Do you both agree on the politics or do you defer? How does that affect your relationship?
One supposes that if political viewpoints really converge, it quite likely is fairly comforting in a couple, but when political opinions differ widely within the couple, is it really a recipe for disaster?
Politics takes on a much larger sheen than say, movies. A couple could laugh over their different opinions on which actor each thinks is a greater star, but politics doesn’t often get that amused tolerance. Politics takes on a brighter, sharper hue because it is often seen as a direct reflection of one’s core values. If you are on one side, you are standing for, say, secularism, tolerance, liberal attitudes, eco-friendliness and the other side stands for a different set, maybe, pride, heritage, prosperity.
The political affiliation becomes a proxy for all the values one has, and in an intimate relationship, knowing your partner supports a party you are opposed to can be a particularly hard perspective to accommodate. You might find yourself wondering if you really knew this person, or how much they have changed. The arguments can get personal very quickly, because the political is almost always personal as well.
What’s the way out then?
Well, that’s the whole reason for the ballot being secret! You get to choose how much you disclose of your political position, even to your beloved.
The political affiliation becomes a proxy for all the values one has, and in an intimate relationship, knowing your partner supports a party you are opposed to can be a particularly hard perspective to accommodate. You might find yourself wondering if you really knew this person, or how much they have changed.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
What would you say if I told you being stuck in Bangalore traffic can teach you a thing or two about love and relationships? You might find that ridiculous, but let me take just one aspect today and you might see what I mean.
Imagine you are driving quietly along the few two-way tree-lined avenues left in the city. It is a breezy, balmy 26 degrees, and you are in a place of general wellness and happiness. You drive along at an easy pace, enjoyable pace, happy that you are in Bangalore and not sweating it out in one of our huge coastal cities or in the smog up in the North, and all is well in the world. Suddenly, you start hearing a series of beeps, and that rises to insistent honks and a vehicle behind you is wanting to go ahead. There is enough space for them to overtake you and go on without making all that noise, but they do that anyway. You wave them ahead, and they honk as if it is going out of style soon, blaring as they pass you by.
What do you do? Do you just leave them be, or do you want to show them they can’t do that? Do you try and overtake them now, and blare your horn at them to show them what it feels to be at the receiving end of that behaviour? Or better still, do you overtake them and do it smoothly and quietly, setting an example on how they could have done what they needed without really impacting anyone else?
Think about it like this: You are sitting in your balcony, enjoying the view with your cup of tea and the newspaper, feeling all cozy and comfortable, and you start hearing a few beeps and honks from your loved one. You let it be and suddenly there is a lot of blaring. Perhaps they come and sit in the other chair and maybe even grab the newspaper out of your hand. What do you do? Do you quietly take out your phone and read something else? Or do you get angry and shout at them for being such bullies? Or do you, in quite the saintly fashion, ask them perhaps they would like your tea as well, or maybe a fresh cup?
The choices you have in both the situations are really not that different. There is so much traffic in our lives, both in the physical sense and in a more metaphorical sense, in our relationships. Sometimes, we get the unexpected honker, the surprise anger outburst for no known fault of ours. We don’t know what was happening to them – maybe they had an emergency, something urgent they needed, or just pent up emotions. Were they just being a horrible person at that time? Maybe – but if we assume that horribleness always, we may just end up being horrible ourselves.
Like with traffic, perhaps it helps in relationships as well to go with the most benign attribution.
As written for and published in the New Indian Express.
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.