The fairy tales we grow up on had so much enchantment built into them.
One of the tropes was that of a happy family that for almost no fault of their own, fall into the bad books of an evil magician, who curses them with all sorts of bad things, and life would have been hell. Just in time, as the curse is starting to have effect, a benevolent fairy god-parent sneaks in just after the cursing evil magician is gone and gives a small gift that keeps the cursed royalty in an enchanted state of stasis for years, if not decades till finally the enchantment wears off with a magical kiss and all is well again. That is typically how the story goes.
What does that have to do with love and relationships? Think of it this way: We might be happily going about our every day life, when suddenly something awful happens. Something quite unexpected and for hardly any fault of out own, and it throws our lives out of whack. It might be something like an old long-forgotten ex- coming back into life like the evil, cackling magician in the fairy tales, dropping a bomb on the new life with some story or a debt that wasn’t serviced, or in true Bollywood style, a child that people didn’t know existed till them. It could be anything really – maybe a change of job, a posting abroad, someone falling critically ill, loss of wealth from a stock market crash, not necessarily involving an active, malevolent person, but something that changes our lives altogether.
These times when our relationship goes through some serious strife, it can come to a breaking point, and one wishes there was a fairy god-parent who could somehow magically freeze the relationship, give it time and space to suffer through that period, and maybe, just maybe, there will be that magical kiss at the end of it to heal the relationship.
We don’t have too many fairies floating around in real life, and we are forced to find substitutes for them. It might be a kind parent, a good friend, a therapist, a colleague – anybody could be that person in real life. We just need someone who can hold the trauma, to have time to process what just happened and allow for our shaken lives to stabilise again. Sometimes, it is a gentle holding, and at other times, it is a scolding from a good friend like in the 1980s hit Hindi movie Masoom, where the idyllic life of the couple gets shattered with the arrival of an unexpected child, and there is a lot of emotional distress, till finally the character played by Shabana Azmi gets one nice little lecture on how life could throw up unexpected surprises and yet, there are blessings there if only we can get over ourselves – and we got ourselves a sweet little ending for that movie.
In our lives, we do have these fairy godparents around us in abundance. It is just up to us to make use of them.
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
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
Have you ever found yourself in an argument with a loved one where you are starting to talk about how upset you are, and in a very short time, find both of you getting caught up in ascertaining what were the “exact” facts of the matter? It could be about saying who said what, when and in what tone, what happened and where it happened. Sometimes, the search for facts can get you into loops of memory – you might be saying, “It was Tuesday evening, we were just outside Corner House on 12th Main in Indiranagar,” and your partner might interrupt saying, “That is clearly not correct. Corner House shifted from there months ago!’
The argument then gets side-tracked into which ice-cream place, where and what, and nothing productive emerges from the discussion. The fight was in all likelihood about feeling let down or hurt in some way, and wanting to let that come out – nothing to do with where this ice-cream place is or was, when it was visited, what was had there.
We see it so often when someone is bereaved – people coming in to offer their respects often ask the bereaved for the facts: when did it happen, how, who was there at that time, which hospital, what had been tried to resuscitate the person and so on and so forth to the point where sometimes the grieving persons get angry and tell them off. Are the facts so important? Could the person offering condolences just focus on being of some comfort, pay their respects and be off?
We get facts and truth quite mixed up. They are really not the same at all. Truth is there is something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. The attempt is to get some sense of comfort and companionship over that – not cross all the ‘t’s and dot all the ‘I’s. It might be important in a court of law to get the facts all lined up, but in real life relationships, truth is a far more important matter.
So, what makes us dig up all these facts and figures when we just want to say, “You were rude to me. I got hurt, and I wish you’d help me feel better?”
I might have had the banana-split or maybe some gelato, and it might have been Milano and not Corner House at all – the facts of it are not as important, as the truth that I was miffed that you took 3 big spoons out of mine, and when I reached out into your sundae, you turned away and that made me upset. I just want to say that I want fair sharing – that’s all.
To listen to that truth, one needs to be able to actually hold interest in the other’s experience and drop the defensiveness for a little while, to know we might hurt even without intending. If we can do that, we might be able to say, “Hey, Sorry!” and go on to further sundaes without much incident.
As written for and published in 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
It is the flu season. At doctors’ clinics all around, there are people sniffling and coughing, looking bleary-eyed at each other and wondering what sort of flu it is. For most of us, the doctor would give us a quick look, and after deciding it is none of the scarier variants around these days (H1N1, KFD, Zika and what not,) declare it is a viral fever and send us back home to rest, telling us that there is nothing to do except keep ourselves well-hydrated, take a paracetamol for the fever and wait it out.
There is probably no other time that one is grateful for relationships than when one is unwell. The idea of rest and relaxation at home and being taken care of is so therapeutic for the patient, but what does it do to one’s relationship?
When you are sick and need to rest, what kind of patient are you? Do you get needy and clingy, and ask for your hand to be held? Do you get possessive about the TV and demand that only your choice matters because you are sick? Do you meekly go away into the bedroom, bemoaning how your illness is taking a toll on everyone? Or, do you act as if nothing is the matter at all and that life needs to go on – do you try and continue to work, getting angry with the people around when they try to get you to rest? Are you the disobedient patient who will try and sneak in the ice-cream or something else that is against doctor’s orders?
If we are being honest with ourselves, we will likely confess that we are not exactly the model patient. Some of us seek extra love, and others seek to test the love available. A few try and distance themselves from loving attention, while yet others make their illness a matter of public record. We might regress to being childish, talking in baby-tongues and sulking or crying, and ask to be cajoled and pampered like parents would. We might act like a martyr and be self-sacrificing, but still, do a bit of drama around it.
How we behave if there is something major is often quite different – there is a far greater degree of concern and worry, and everything is different, but when we fully expect to get better in a few days, it is as if we give ourselves permission to almost enjoy this aspect of being able to love each other as a parent-child as well. We act less like the adults in a relationship and take on a distinctly more parent-child kind of relationship. The nurturing required becomes more like a baby and a caregiver than two adults.
Just like with a parent-child relationship, being able to get the care we need from a partner influences how deeply we bond with each other. The flu can be an annoyance, but it tests relationships and can also help deepen the bond.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
The American sitcoms make it look so perfectly romantic. The glitzy New York skyline, Times Square brilliantly lit-up, the big ball getting counted down to the drop at midnight, and fireworks go off in perfect sync as the year changes and it is a new January 1st. It looks even better if there is a bit of light snow just starting, everyone dressed up cozily look up into the skies collecting pretty snowflakes on the tips of their noses, and of course, every couple has to - and as per sitcom rules, there can be no exceptions to this rule – gather each other into their arms and share a nice, long kiss that straddles the magical midnight seconds into the new year, only to disentangle well into the new year.
It is another matter altogether that Dec 31st is likely to be extremely cold and quite unpleasant a time to be in New York. It is cold, miserable and you really need a lot of New Year cheer to go through the day.
Despite the reality of the cold, the fact of the matter is that couples everywhere now have that expectation hanging over their heads. Even if they are not in Times Square watching the ball drop and getting into a kiss, wherever they are, they really must have the moment with each other and kiss each other. Woe to anyone who just happened to need a bathroom break at that minute, or had just stuffed their face with some hastily-ordered biryani, or worse – if you were even just chatting with anybody else during that 1 minute. You may just as well kiss the year goodbye, and forget about kissing your partner.
Does the new year kiss really have that kind of magic?
Maybe you are not a midnight person and you are very much asleep by the time the new year rolls in. Many couples quite likely have no interest whatsoever in these reveries and are in bed by their usual hours, making sure to shut their windows against the predictable midnight revelry. Other more traditional couples might turn up their joint noses at this midnight madness, and wait instead for Navroz, or Chithirai or any of the other two dozen New Year’s Days we have in the diverse calendars of the world. A few might have other, more pressing priorities to bother with this.
The naysayers aside, for a lot of us, it means something – not because there is literally magic in the air at that hour, but because we decide it means something to us. We put in that magic into that New Year kiss. We tell ourselves that with that new kiss to start the new year, we are committing afresh to a happy new year with our partner, that we wish and hope with all our hearts that the year brings us joy – whatever the circumstances of our lives might be.
The magic is fully ours.
So, go ahead if you like it – seek your partner out and share that New Years moment.
As written for The New Indian Express
It is one thing to date someone, and quite another to introduce them to your family given all the pressures that come along with it becoming ‘official.’ The pressures are even more if the family is the one doing the job of introducing you to prospective partners, and then waiting on you to say ‘Yes’ – a ‘No’ usually gets a lot more questions, arguments and even conflicts in such situations than a ‘Yes’.
In either case, when a relationship becomes ‘official’ it takes on a whole different avatar, because now it is not only your relationship with your partner, but also their relationship with each and every other significant person in your life. Inevitably, there will be some conflict or the other, and since you are the bridge between the two, you are often the battleground. You then become not only a witness to a whole new set of relationships, but also often times, an arbitrator, a judge and executioner
At first, it might start off just as an FYI, something they think you should know as it concerns your partner, but soon enough those comments become more insistent, more pressing and more demanding, till finally it becomes a real question: “Would you please tell X that what they are doing is not okay? Would you please make sure that X acts in a certain way?”
So, whose side will you be on? Will you judge what is the ‘right’ side and join it? Or should you be neutral? Or something else altogether?
Judging the ‘right’ side could more than likely make you part of the problem, with the affected party screaming at you that you have lost all sight of objectivity, that you are blinded by love or duty or whatever else they can accuse you of. Your partner might say, for example, that you are letting them be alone amidst the wolves that are your friends and family, and your old relationships might accuse of you of having changed so much, of having become a pushover in the hands of this new love of yours.
It is tempting to try and play the neutral party, the one who is above all these quarrels and can take a benign, objective view of the whole matter and be the person arbitrating between the warring parties. Being Switzerland works great for nations and politics, but in intimate relationships, neutrality is harder than it seems and attempts to be neutral are often seen as not being supportive to either, and all parties disengage. Neutrality doesn’t really get you anywhere, and might actually damage everything.
Alternatively, should you account for the newness of the relationship and just be on your partner’s side?
There are no clear answers, of course, but if you stood with your new partner even if privately you might have a word or two, you might get some brownie points for the longer term.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
What would you say if someone told you that in any loving relationship, there are always two children who are in love? No, we are not talking of puppy love between cute 4 year olds.
What we are really saying is that each of us as adults have our own inner child within us, and when in a loving relationship, what we are really seeking is for our inner child to be able to relate to the inner child of our beloved. The inner child is not merely a metaphorical child within us, but almost a literal one – it is like a younger version of us is very much there living inside us, carrying with it all the playfulness, the attention-loving, the creativeness of that child.
Often, that child gets socialized out through our growing up years. We strive in growing-up to achieve a very different ideal of the cool, calm, collected adult who can make great decisions, is goal-driven, is purposeful and resourceful. Such adulting is seen as a goal in itself and given tags of ‘maturity’ and ‘objectivity.’
Of course, it is really important that we do become such strong adults, but it is so often at the cost of that inner child, who gets stifled and bottled up, forgotten like so much of the music and dance that we might have learned and enjoyed as a child. Somewhere between senior school and university, the child gets ignored or worse, actively shunned or repressed, or just retires to a corner. The playfulness and competitive joy of games and sports gets relegated to weekend hobbies to make space for the serious business of being an adult.
Now, when two people fall in love, is it really the adults falling in love with each other’s eruditeness and ability to balance their accounts? Or are they falling in love with the undertones of mischief, fun, play and joy that are there if you scratch the surface of the seriousness of their education, jobs and social connectedness?
Chances are that it is the two children within us connecting and falling in love. It happens quite unconsciously. Think of any romcom that you like – be it the When Harry met Sally types, or the Modern Family types, you are very likely to see the romance click through in those cracks when that inner child shines through the cultivated adultness. If you look at your own love, you would see it as well.
When we do find someone that we really connect with and fall in love with, it is more often than not seeking to somehow make that inner child come alive again, but within the safety and security that the adulthood offers. The challenge is that often times, that connection again falls prey to the pressures of adult life and succumbs to the pressures of EMIs, Career progression and the such.
But what if we could be conscious of our inner children? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could let them live and love forever?
As written for the New Indian Express
The last few years have seen a major upswing in how many horrific sexual assaults and violence have been getting reported. Just when one thinks this is the worst that could happen, every new month even more such stories emerge, each with unbelievably sickening histories of how, where, how many, for how long and so on and so forth. With social media being so active and so many news channels on the air and in print, there is no shortage of public discussion and outrage. The call for action is palpable in every public arena possible.
A person must literally be living under a rock to now know about all this happening.
While there is so much in the public arena, let’s talk about what might be happening in the more private and intimate spaces of a loving relationship when such news breaks.
Often, there is nothing.
Early in the relationship, many unspoken rules get formed. We make a pact as it were, on what is OK to talk about, and what is not. Sometimes, it is directly spoken about and agreed (“I don’t want to hear about what you discussed with your school friends unless critical,” for example or “I don’t understand your work at all. Please don’t bug me with details about some issue you solved.”) Mostly though, these rules come about based on what we observe. How did your partner react to a movie scene showing the hero forcefully plant a kiss, for example. Or, what did your partner do when you talked about a friend who was molested in the metro, or when there is some more innocuous news on TV, say for example on an inter-community marriage.
One makes decisions pretty early to say how much the relationship can bear, and one edits oneself accordingly – and that’s generally OK.
Thing with news reports such as on sexual assault is that for many people who have gone through sexual violence in the past, these news stories when they break or when they are being analysed and spoken about in detail, it can be triggering. The new reports might bring up old trauma and pain, even after having spent much time and effort in getting some degree of healing. It is at such times that one starts to really feel the need for a safe, loving space to just talk and if there is any kind of spoken or unspoken pact that the relationship is not open for such painful but necessary conversations, then it gets really tough. Sometimes, it can even threaten the relationship itself.
As a loving partner, if you think you need to be the one to be able to support your partner through any such pain, that you want to be the shoulder that gets leaned on, remember that you cannot suddenly become that person overnight. It is a privilege earned through all the small interactions. Watch yourself on how open you are for the small conversations if you want to be there for the big ones.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.