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
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
What makes a home a home?
The popular saying is home is where the heart is, or that while a house is made of bricks and cement, a home is made of love. The romanticism aside, home is really about belonging - both to the place one calls home and the people with whom one shares this home.
Making a home for yourself and those you love is no easy task, even when the people living together in it are very similar. As people, there are so many ways that we are different - any and every thing from what we eat, when we eat, our daily routines, the demands of our work, our studies, our hobbies and interests etc can set us apart. For any of us who grew up with siblings, we know how even when we are flesh and blood, it is not easy at all. Interests vary, friendships vary and lifestyles vary even with identical twins. When we are so different from people that we are born to and grow up with, can we really expect to be very similar to someone we fall in love with and try and make a home with?
Even with the greatest of loves, moving in together and starting to make a home together is a risky affair. You might expect that for couples from the same cultural background, it might be easy, but it is often not. So many conversations around household chores are fraught with danger, and even the most innocuous stuff like clearing the garbage or doing the laundry, could set off conflicts, and many start innocently enough with the seemingly simple words, “In my home, we used to …”
This is a home you are building with this new person in your life and yet so many conversations start off with these few words that separate you from this partner, put you firmly back in the family you came from and this partner is now the outsider. The partner then quite predictably replies with experiences from their family, and the conversation gets more and more distant - two people talking about the homes they came from rather than the home they are trying to build together. The 'We’ and 'Our Home’ become forgotten in the rush to claim older homes and separates the couple into individuals loyal to their own respective families.
It takes a lot of presence of mind to be able to remember that the new home need not be anything like either of the old ones. The pressure to replicate and comply with the rules and regulations of where we grew up is high, but doing so at the cost of the other person's own vision of their home will end up in either or both feeling alienated and not feeling like they belong.
Making a home is a lot of work and the work starts with the awareness and acknowledgement that this is hard work. Everything is up for grabs, nothing is given as granted and each thing has to be negotiated between the people making this home together.
As published in The New Indian Express
Tired of New Year Resolutions?
Here is a game you might want to consider playing with your partner, provided you have in some way, form or shape been together for significant periods ot the year so quickly passing by. It is quite a simple game that we call “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times.”
Each of you take a couple of sheets of paper. If you want to be dramatic, take a sheet of white paper and write in blue ink for the best of times, and take a sheet of yellow paper and write in red for the worst – twist it about as you please, but the requirements are quite simple. You each write a letter to the other about your best time that year and the worst time. There are no pre-conditions, and no constraints on what it is that you need to write. Put the letters in an envelope, and give it to each other to be opened in your new year. You could make a ceremony of it, open it together, open it separately – whatever suits you, but take some time to think over it, and see what happens for the two of you.
There are a number of possibilities.
Either the best or the worst, or both could have you featuring prominently in it, or not at all. You might have known about it or maybe it was something that never registered for you and yet you see it means so much for your partner. It could be something you considered trivial at the time it happened (“Your mother made me rotis, knowing very well that I prefer rice. I suffered for the whole week, and nobody even noticed” - for example) or something major that happened you think ought to have been noticed, but was not (“I broke my back and was bed-ridden for a month!” – for example)
The point of it is to notice what happens to you both as you share what is written. Do you find yourself empathizing with the other’s experience and feeling a warmth for them, or do you find yourself looking for you in your partner’s letter? In other words, is it about you or is it about your partner?
In relationships, we want to ideally be able to love our partner as they experience themselves, and share what their life is like, but in reality, we are rarely able to achieve that ideal. Most times, we are looking for simpler gratifications. We want our best times to be about each other and worst times about some body else, but where we played a supporting role (“I lost my best friend, and only having you with me helped,”) and we might hate it if the worst times was squarely about us and best times didn’t feature us at all. And that’s what makes this exercise quite powerful.
It can be a simple sharing, but could also be deeply insightful in terms of how you love.
In love, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times.
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
One of the tropes in Indian movies of the '80s was on the spontaneous sexual escapade of youngsters, often depicted by the proximity of combustible substances spontaneously bursting into flames. That and two flowers kissing. In Hollywood movies and lately in our own movies, things have become more human - the actors playing the lead characters actually kiss and do stuff.
The problem though is it is still so much spontaneous combustion.
Our TV serials and movies value spontaneous physicality in totally unrealistic and very harmful ways. You see two people look at each other and next minute, they are eating each other's faces off and two seconds later, one has jumped and has legs around the other's hips.
Growing up on a diet of such messaging, would it not be disappointing that neither you nor your partner do those spontaneous high-jumps? Do people's legs even work like that at will and if the partner isn't quite ready, can you imagine the tumble?
Our backs are fairly fragile things as anyone who has experienced any degree of spondylosis can attest. One small twitch and we might be laid flat for days on end. If we look at a bare human skeleton, we see how our spine hinges on our hips so precariously - like a spinning top on the ground, one tiny end of a rickety, tottering set of jointed bones balanced on a hip. After observing that, it makes one really concerned what pressures we put on our backs. It takes a great amount of physical training and fitness to take that much pressure on your backs.
Other than gymnastic acts for talent shows on TV, I am yet to see one real life moment with real people where they literally jump on each other. We see dogs and babies spontaneously jump and even they are trained out of it. Hardly any adults do it unless they are trained cheerleaders, athletes or performers putting on a show.
Think about it. If a grown person asked if they can jump into your arms, throw their legs around you, wouldn't you want to take a moment to check in on whether you are up for it? You might think for a bit before saying, “Ok, fine!” say “I am ready!” & when they run to you, you might still have second thoughts and say, “No, no! Stop! I can't!”
Why would it be different just because it is a possibly romantic or sexual situation? Wouldn't we want to be more careful in such situations? If we are being fully honest, while we may romanticize the idea of spontaneity, in reality, we don't really want to be surprised physically. We want to be able to say No. We want to be asked and given the time to consider what is being asked for us.
If all we see in our movies and shows are spontaneous combustion, we lose sight of actually expressing desire, asking for consent and more still, don't realize we want to consider our response, and that it might be No and even if we say “Yes” first, we can change it.
In real life, do we really spontaneous combust?
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
There is something about being in a steel tube hurtling at 100s of miles per hour, up in the air at over 35,000 feet. Air travel is significantly safer, at least statistically speaking, than most other modes of travel. For the most part, other than the take-off and landing periods, it feels almost like nothing is going on. We might just go about the day, eating peanuts, watching a movie, enjoying the airline food or taking a nap, not remembering that we are indeed a mile high in the air, in a closed container, hurtling through at rocket speed. If we take the time to think about it, we probably will have a few moments of anxiety till we reason with ourselves that it really is quite safe, that we are being taken care of by professionals and that there is absolutely no reason to worry at all and that it really is OK to just go back to enjoying that book or whatever else.
What does air travel have to do with love or relationships, you might ask.
There is, of course, the oxygen mask warning that every flight mandatorily talks about before take-off: In the unlikely event of an emergency and cabin pressure dropping, oxygen masks will drop from just above your seat, to pull one and put over your face, tug on it to get the oxygen flowing and breathe normally. And then, there is the kicker: put on your own mask before assisting any one else, and that includes children and your beloved. That is of course great advice for any of us on self-care first.
Let’s look beyond that and consider what is it that triggers the oxygen masks falling in the first place. It is the loss of cabin pressure. There is an optimum amount of pressure that is needed to be maintained for passenger comfort, for everyone to be able to breathe normally, feel comfortable with the air temperature and just be OK.
If you think about it, relationships are much like flights. They are wholly improbable events that somehow magically occur every day for millions and millions of us. At the outset, it feels absurd to think that two people can actually stay together for years and years, hurtling through careers and society at breakneck speed, staying afloat through turbulent air pockets and be calm and relaxed right through. And yet, it seems to happen all the time, and quite successfully at that.
What is that cabin pressure that couples bring upon themselves to maintain that sense of comfort in the face of fairly hostile environment? What keeps relationships from crashing down?
We may not often realize it, but relationships need to have that bit of healthy pressure being maintained. Just the right level of expectations, regard and respect. Too much and it implodes. Too little and the whole thing drops, and it is a “Put on your own oxygen mask” situation of each for themselves first.
Enjoy the flight. Keep the pressure on.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
As kids in school, we studied The Gift of the Magi by O Henry in high school English. This famous story is of a loving couple, too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts, and too desperately in love to not do that. One sells off their long hair to buy watch straps for the other, while they sell off the beloved watch to buy combs.
We also read The Nightingale and The Rose by Oscar Wilde that year, with its story of the sacrifice it took to make a rose red a precious gift for a beloved, and how it is tossed aside for something else, casting away in that bitter act what it meant to sacrifice for love’s sake.
Between those two tragic love stories, our heartless English teacher had us teenagers in tears, more so because we were expected to write ‘precis’ versions. Does love really require gift exchanges? Would it really be impossible to love and be loved without ever exchanging gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, etc? Is it humanly possible to be perfect gift givers, or are designed to be tragic magi in our gifts, irrespective of our levels of poverty?
So much of our culture is built around ceremonies of gift giving. Traditions dictate what gifts are appropriate and when. There is a whole list of what to give for which anniversary. One could interpret it as anything from a handwritten card to money, to property, or, going by certain movies, divorce papers!
These gifting protocols may have helped some people but for many others, it also builds expectations. One is ‘supposed to’ give wood for the fifth anniversary. Sure, you could Google something that sounds appropriately woody enough, or close enough to hopefully pass, but then, it also has other expectations that it needs to be personal, it needs to have value for the recipient, something that they can cherish because otherwise, it is just a useless gesture.
Why has gifting come to occupy such an important place in relationships? As a measure for how much one loves the other in its physicality and demonstrability, gifts seem to offer some value, but it really is hollow if gifting is the only measure of love offered. If those high school stories really hold any truth, it is this: Gifts aren’t as important as love.
So this Christmas season, gift only if you really want to.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Can you think of one thing that can really tell if you and a prospective partner have a future together or not? Many would say that the crucial thing would be to see if you have compatible friends, or to meet the prospective in-laws and see how that visit goes, or better still, to get both families to meet each other and see who survives the evening.
All good trials, but to really test a relationship, there is just one true test and that is to travel together for at least four days and three nights. Seven nights would be ideal, but three nights at a minimum. Seven nights, so that questions of laundry and the such come up, and even if one can keep up a facade for a couple of nights, seven will surely test it.
Everything from deciding when to go, how long and where, are great ways to get to know each other. Does one say beaches and other say hills? One says scrimp on travel and splurge on good food, and the other says stay in luxury but go easy on food. What about shopping? And time spent in museums, or heritage sites? How about whether you take that GoPro along or avoid electronics altogether? Are either selfie-obsessed? Or take pictures of every food item consumed for your Instagram feed?
What travel reveals about the person’s tastes and preferences are endless, but even more fascinating is the insights you get when sharing a room together for so many nights. You get to truly know their intimate physical selves, and that’s not talking about sexual aspects - just the every day things. Do they like the right side of the bed? Do they brush before bed? What does their morning face look like? What is their real smell like, devoid of all perfumes and other stuff? Do they snore? Do they hog the bed sheets? How are they to travel with as a companion? Are they pleasant, can they stand complexity – what if a train got cancelled or the hotel bungled up the booking or you made a mistake? What is their personality like at 3am after a 10-hour drive to the hotel and you find that you had mistakenly booked for November instead of October?
Nothing reveals more about a person as much as what you can see of them when travelling together. Best done by yourselves, but a couple of friends might not make it bad. If you can survive a week-long trip, chances are you will survive the other tricky things like planning a home together, meeting families or friends and more.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
Think back to the first tingles of when you really fell in love. The feelings are not always pleasurable. In fact, sometimes they are downright unpleasant and come close to sensations one associate with being ill.
There are the butterflies in the stomach, a nameless ache, a longing that seems to sap your energy, a moodiness that keeps one from enjoying all that one usually did. In fact, the descriptions of falling in love are the stuff of every other sitcom. One of my early favourites had the lead describing all these feelings to the beloved sidekick who exclaims, “You are not in love. You have got the flu!”
From a different perspective, falling in love has been described as being equivalent to a cocktail of psychotropic drugs.
Something that elevates your mood to dizzy heights, and brings you down crashing again, and puts you through that wringer so many times.
One could describe it all chemically and biologically through hormones and other substances and that we are genetically programmed to react in such a manner to prospective partners, and it is really that age-old game of nature playing over and over again.
One could also turn to romantic literature, or even spirituality to understand the whys and the wherefores of this falling in love. Whatever the origin of this falling in love might be, the one undeniable fact is that the experience of falling in love is quite something else.
The question we are asking is this: Can the sensations of falling in love be addictive? If we are indeed comparing just that falling in love feeling as equivalent to a cocktail of drugs, could it be possible that one gets so addicted to love that one just needs to keep on falling in love, over and over, again and again, with different people each time at different places? Could one be a love chaser?
The short answer is: Yes!
Though not quite a clinical diagnosis by any stretch, one could exhibit quite a bit of addictive behaviour about love. For some people, the chase and the falling in love is where all of it begins and ends. They may be so taken up with those early feelings, that when the rubber hits the road and it is time for love to mean something more and become a relationship, they might just scoot, and go on to chase another love.
The difference between a more ‘real’ love and this kind of addictive love chasing is simply this: Is the passion and the attraction shallow, or it is a deep, profound and life-changing connection? If it is the earlier, then chances are that the charms are superficial, the attention surface-deep, the romance and the wooing more momentary, repetitive, patterned and sensational – and above all, the focus is more on one’s own feelings of being in love, rather than the person one is in love with. So, look at your own love feelings: Are you in love with love, or with your loved one?
As written for published by The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.