First, an old story: Once, at the end of their education, four students who were graduating asked their Guru to give them blessings and wealth with which to start off their lives. Each were given a few pebbles and told to take a long walk, and that where any pebble fell, they would find wealth. Along the way, when the first pebble, they dug and found coal and one person, was thrilled with it, thinking “I can build an empire with this!” and settled right there, while the others kept walking.
After a long time, the second fell, and there was copper, and another happy person settled with that, thinking “This should be surely enough for me for this life.” A third fell on silver much later and a relieved person happily settled, saying “I have spent enough time looking. This is enough.”
The fourth though, kept walking.
After a long, long walk, when the pebble fell and there was some gold, it seemed like after all that trouble they went through, surely gold was not enough, that there should be more if only they strived for more and so the pebble was picked up and onwards the journey continued. Diamonds were similarly discarded, so was platinum, and lots of other precious aspects. Finally, there was nowhere further to go and nothing more to be found. The pebble rose up and fell on the head, crushing it to smithereens.
What’s the point of this story in a column about love?
If you read this story again, and thought of wealth as love, you might then make a connection. At first read, it might look just like a story about settling down and not being too greedy. You might find yourself focussing on the hapless fourth who kept going on and on till at the end of the road, they were crushed by their own greed. That’s fair enough, but a closer read might show you a change of language of how the person finding the wealth changes from being thrilled, to happy, to relieved, to almost desperate. Read it yet again, and you see time passing inexorably.
As a metaphor for finding The One, the story then has similarly interesting questions one poses for oneself.
Do you find potential, work on it and build up your wealth for yourself? Do you wait to find for more obvious wealth, and then enjoy it for what it is? Do you discard the obvious wealth and strive to find the golden dear, so to say? Or, do you strive beyond it, no matter what cost in time and health, looking for that absolutely perfect, everlasting and inexhaustible source running the risk that you never find it and just get crushed in the process?
As all cautionary tales go, this one too only serves to highlight that searching for love is like searching for wealth. You have a choice to make between multiple dimensions of potential, time, perfection and much else.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
When we talk of mental health, we see the focus fall squarely on vulnerable populations. Women, queer people, people with disability, disadvantaged communities and other minority populations are especially vulnerable to mental health issues, with many studies reporting incidences of mental health issues being two to ten times that of men.
Barring organic causes of mental health issues, much of the mental health concerns stem from having to cope with an oppressive society, which is patriarchal and divisive with the dice loaded in favor of the Man. Roles and rewards are very particular, with the Man on top, with far greater control over resources and opportunities, and reaping significantly higher rewards. Working through and often against such a system is tough, and leaves vulnerable populations exhausted, scared, anxious, depressed. This is where mental health issues stem from.
The idea of ‘Man’
The mythical Man in these arguments is cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, educated, and is from a majoritarian community. But even without some of these identities, the idea of the Man as the oppressor is a strong narrative.
Men are not immune to mental health issues, even though the social norms are in their favor. This is because often they are struggling to meet the high expectations of patriarchy, and in that process, cannot be true to their own individuality.
In recent years, the idea of ‘alpha’ men and the others, the 'beta’ men has gained traction, notably after incidents of violent terror attacks. Commentary has centered around how the beta men, feeling invalidated and oppressed by the system that rewards only the alpha, find themselves extraordinarily deprived, especially of sexual partners and opportunities. This frustration, coupled with poor coping skills and access to means of violence, creates spaces where the continued experiences of rejection and ensuing feelings of powerlessness can become a murderous rage. Even for the so-called alpha men, expectations of ongoing perfection, perception of competition and a constant need for appreciation sets them up for their own mental health issues.
There are no winners in patriarchy
While patriarchy does affect the women, queer and others disproportionally, men aren’t spared either. The idea of the Man is quite rigid, and comes with rigorous, unspoken rules, especially when it comes to mental health.
There is hardly any patriarchal society that does not have the following rules, among so many more darker rules:
Bullying is often machismo defending its fragility
This cultivated machismo doesn’t do well under situations of confrontation. Any situation that threatens to break through that sliver of fragile and shallow machismo, and expose the reality of the vulnerable, desiring and needing man, results in explosively violent defence. Bullying of women, transpersons and liberals could all be seen from this lens.
Threats by other representations of masculinity, such as by more gentle men or gay men, are also often met with such violence. A Singaporean study, for example, found that kids told to ‘man up’ were four times as likely to become a bully. This is to portray themselves as being strong, which creates a vicious pyramid of bullies.
Bullying by the uber macho men is often a result of such a threat to their machismo, be it the school ground bully who shakes down the ‘geek’ and the ‘nerd,’ to the homophobic man, who is violent towards trans and gay people.
Should there be spaces and means where people could explore their own fragilities, would bullying to shore up one’s own masculinity happen as much? Would bullying still be as prevalent?
Mental health issues as a weakness
A tragedy arising from this valuing of a rigid patriarchy is the denial of the reality of mental health issues of men, especially those seeking to shroud themselves in the machismo to project their alpha credentials. The idea of masculinity leads men to disconnect from their emotional experience. While others may more freely confront their anxieties, moods and thoughts, men seeking their uber masculinity would see acknowledging it as a weakness, and work hard to mask it, deny or overcome it.
Consequently, more men are violent because only anger is seen as manly.More men kill themselves because failure is not an option, and because they see themselves as solely responsible for their circle of influence. More men live and suffer in their own private mental hell, without ever reaching out for help.
What if we lived in a gender-free world?
With the awareness of the ills of patriarchy, liberal societies around the world are doing a lot more to break down gender stereotypes, invest in social education of gender equality,empathy across identities, values of compassion and understanding. School systems in Europe, Canada and elsewhere in particular, are investing in early education along these lines to dismantle patriarchy from early on, starting with primary education. Legal systems in these countries too have moved towards equality and non-discrimination, with more and more laws becoming gender neutral as well.
Early results do show that among youngsters, the wide gap in mental health issues between genders and communities does reduce, with much less reported bullying and aggression that continue well beyond the time of such interventions.
A more radical approach would be to try and dismantle gender altogether in social circles and identity formation. What if people did not care about gender as much? What if there were no gender coding at all in societies – no pink/blue segregation, no clothing/makeup differences, no hairstyle/footwear mores? What if there were no barriers to communication of feeling or thought or behavior?
Would a society where the idea of gender was utterly fluid and inconsequential to identity formation have far fewer mental health issues? Would there be far fewer social issues such as sexual violence, gang-related issues etc?
In recent times, some societies are experimenting with the idea of taking away the concept of gender as a core aspect of identity formation altogether. In some Scandinavian countries, there is a movement to gender-neutral terminologies, naming and schooling. Whether it would really change how people identify themselves in the gender spectrum, and whether it would really breakdown the gender walls and dismantle systemic issues that directly correlate with mental health issues – that remains to be seen.
Is it another year already?
We almost didn't remember today was an anniversary until Facebook reminded us.
It has been a wonderful year at InnerSight, with our strong focus on #Affirmative #Counselling for All, and our growing #EAP/ #Corporate work including our #Inclusion related work. In 2017-18, worked with over 500 counseling clients with close to 3000 hours of counseling, more than 200 hours of workshops and training sessions, more than a dozen ongoing corporate relationships and we continue to stay affordable, with sliding scales and "pay as you can" options for anyone seeking help, and support community events and action as we can.
We have also been thinking of a "Pay it forward" idea where people can help pay for others' counselling, thanks to a few individuals who started us off in that direction.
The year ahead looks very promising, with a bit more focus on group work, more support and training. And we are very excited, humbled and grateful to be able to continue in this vocation.
Thank you to all our clients, affiliates, partners, families, friends and well-wishers. We seek your support going forward as well.
Happy anniversary to all of us at InnerSight!
Imagine the worst fight you have had with the love of your life. You may have been screaming at each other, maybe came close to being violent – hopefully, stopped well short of it, and you may have continued on and on for hours if not days. Maybe you made up, maybe you decided the fight wasn’t worth it. Maybe you just let time heal and let other things become important enough so that the fight no longer mattered.
The point is this: How do you know a fight has ended?
The challenge for many couples is that when they stop fighting, one party might believe the fight is over, while the other might just believe they have taken a pause in the fight – an interval in a long movie, just to attend to some other things, and the fight has been marked as “To Be Continued.” If it is the latter, then on another day and time, it might join yet another fight to snowball into a much bigger deal than either fights by themselves. Of course, it becomes a really big, ugly deal if both parties to the fight are in the “To Be Continued” mode – then, the interval could be really short, and each break becomes shorter than the previous one.
As more “To Be Continued” fights pile up like a bed-side library full of books that one has never completed, it is more than likely one day to topple over and crush you. As the pile increases, there is less and less faith that anything will ever get resolved. Soon, there is either a giving up and an uncaring attitude, or there is an active rage that throws out everything, or it becomes an irritation in itself and there are fights about fights. And then fights about that.
To continue with that image of a pile of unread books, what would it be like if couples could pick up a book now and then to see if they want to really finish it now, or do they want to clear the clutter? Imagine yourself doing it quite literally for all the incomplete things in your life, be it books, or those shows that are left at 40% seen on NetFlix, or those half done craft projects in your closet. If you really took stock, how much of the clutter would you keep? How much would you clear away?
My bet would be that you would probably find that there are a lot that you simply grew out of and that you just don’t want any more. Maybe a few that you want to keep for later, and maybe one or two that you really cared about and find that you want to attend to right away.
So, what would happen if you actually kept an active roster of open issues? A journal exclusively for all these “To Be Continued” fights that you are having with your loved one? Could it help you let go, and yet hold on to what is really important?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
Ever noticed that everyone acts as if there is a league game going on as far as dating and relationships go? It is quite a complex league structure as well, with the leagues being decided on so many factors including looks, age, fashion sense, economic class, education, job prospects and so many other things – half of which we may not even be able to crystallize. Still, every now and then, a friend might pull you back from approaching someone you feel attracted to with the comment, “Chill! Way out of your league! Don’t go hurting yourself!”
Are there really such clear-cut leagues in society? Are we destined to be a layered, beleaguered society? Are we constantly looking to trade up in this league game?
In matters of love stories, often times the celebrated legends are the ones that break through the barriers, where the leagues don’t matter. There are gods who fall in love with humans, royalty that falls in love with a theatre person (Hey – that story is repeating just now as well!), the rich person and the poor artisan, and hundreds of such stories of people breaking barriers in the name of love. Those are the stories we celebrate and tell generation after generation – not the story of how one industrialist married another, or other general relationships though sometimes they are fun as well.
So, when every other story is about breaking barriers and love succeeding in uniting people across levels, why is it that people stay within their leagues? Why do we get warned about what is within our league and what is not?
The real story could possibly be about the degree of risk involved, and whether one has the appetite for the risk. Each of us gets quite accustomed to our own ways of life, and while there is always room to adapt and change, drastic changes are a lot to handle especially if there are expectations of permanently adjusting to a new lifestyle right away. It is not easy to adjust to a lot more than what is one used to, or a lot less either. The notion that the lovers find it within themselves to make do and be happy is often belied in reality by bitter struggles for resources and support. Sometimes, the romanticisation such as in the musical Sound of Music, glosses over the difficulties the family goes through with their relationship that breaks through barriers of age, class, parenthood. The book is a lot more honest on that account, but in both, they do survive and manage to thrive all the same.
Professing love and courting love is anyway fraught with risk. There are no guarantees that your love will be reciprocated in whatsoever manner. You might get rejected for any number of reasons, and yet one seeks it all the same. So, why let questions of who is in or out of whose league matter, if you are up for the risk?
If you don’t mind dusting yourself off and moving on with whatever else life brings up, then go on – break a league.
As written for published in The New Indian Express
If you have read mythological stories, or their Amar Chitra katha versions at the least, you are bound to come up with the most awesome and awful stories of what love might demand of a person, and to what lengths and depths a person might go for that. Think burning a thousand ships to not let your love get away, travelling to the netherworld to chop off a demon’s head to get their earrings as a token of love, agreeing to let seven infants be murdered – our mythologies are replete with stories of horrible things that people agreed to in the name of love, never mind that they are all later somehow sanitized as having been necessitated by Fate or whatever.
It is one thing when it is an adventure-rich story, but quite another when one does dreadful things in the name of love in real life. If you just grab a newspaper on any random day, you would see stories of people killing spouses so they can marry each other, persons going through cosmetic surgeries to be like each other, robbing, looting, murdering, assaulting – every horrible thing one can imagine, really.
Fact is, people have been doing amazing, wondrous things in the name of love, like build the Taj Mahal, but they do horrible things as well in the name of love like kill other suitors, imprison their brothers and other things. Gods and emperors might get to whitewash the deeds they do in the name of love by divine will or a grand edict, but for the regular junta, there is no such luck – one typically gets caught sooner or later.
In our everyday life, perhaps we don’t get to the extremes, but ask yourself this: Does love inspire the best in you? Or does it bring out the worst in you?
Possibilities are that you would have done, or at the least imagined doing some pretty horrible things. If you are being quite honest with yourself, I would imagine that you can remember one or more times that you have done massively wrong things or a number of times that you have done smaller things such as eavesdropped, spied, manipulated, lied, deceived, stole, broken passwords, stalked or any number of such ‘bad’ things that you would never think of doing in any other circumstances and would actually be quite against. Generally, one would think of such actions as a failure of character.
Perhaps, that’s why they say people fall in love.
Are we destined to have such falls? Can’t one, to use the cliché, rise in love and do only the awesome things?
Think of love as energy, as a power. Just like fire, whether it cooks a meal or burns down a house is dependent on what place it has in one’s life. If one lets it fully take over one’s life and love becomes obsessive, the more dangerous and hurtful it is. When love is held in its place, it can light up your world.
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
Not many of us in India had heard of the Beta revolution or the Incel revolution till a few weeks ago. The terms have been coming up in the news after a 25 year old Canadian suddenly drove his van onto a busy pedestrian area in Toronto in April 2018, mowing down a dozen and more people, murdering ten people in the process. His social network history suggested that this random terrorist act was not one of a political or religious nature, but was really coming from his conviction that a Beta Revolution was on its way, and that Incels needed to act for themselves to assert their ‘rights.’
Incel stands for Involuntary Celibates, and the Beta in Beta Revolution stands for men who are not ‘Alpha’ males, or the guys who aren’t getting the first pick of what they think the world has to offer in terms of sexual opportunities. To their way of thinking, Beta men are those men who are not as much of a ‘prime catch’ as Alpha males are as far as looks and abilities go; Alpha men attract women to themselves, including ‘Beta women’ who supposedly use make-up and fashion to up-sell themselves, and thereby deny Beta men their ‘rightful’ women. Men like these who lack opportunities (or skills) to find a sexual partner call themselves ‘Involuntary celibates’ – they don’t necessarily want to be celibate, but believe that women are just not ‘available’ to them. That it may have more to do with their lack of social skills rather than anything else does not appear to strike these Beta men.
All the terminology aside, when I think about it, there is really just the one question that comes up for me: How does sexual frustration become an ideology that can trigger someone to mow down strangers in an act of violence?
In my work as a counsellor and as a mental health professional, I talk sex a lot with my clients. Sex and sexuality is an important part of the work of any mental health professional. It comes up in all kinds of contexts such as attractions, longings, sexual functioning, infidelity, loss of libido, sexuality differences, quirks, compatibility within a marriage, and so on. Sometimes, it also comes up in painful ways as histories of abuse, assault and rape.
There is no doubt that sex and sexuality has a lot to do with an individual’s personal mental health. When an individual’s sexuality is repressed or in any other way hurt, it can leave them with significant psychic scars that may affect them in their personal lives and relationships, as well as professionally and socially. Sexual abuse especially is hurtful. It doesn’t affect just the sexual aspects of the person abused, but their whole selves. When a child goes through sexual abuse, it is particularly abhorrent. The impact of abuse is often such that the abused person ends up repeating patterns they were subject to as a child when they are adult, thereby perpetuating cycles of victimhood. On the other hand, healthy understanding of one’s own sexuality, being able to express it safely and sensitively by ourselves and/ or with consenting partners, finding one’s sexuality acknowledged, validated and even encouraged – all this and more have a lot to do with how a person feels about themselves and helps them feel secure, confident and active.
While we have come a long way from the singular Freudian focus on sexual energies and reducing most mental health disturbances to sexuality, there is no doubting its significance for an individual’s wellbeing. The approach is a lot more holistic now. When someone presents themselves as sexually frustrated, we work with them through education, permission to experiment, coaching on handling rejection, developing coping skills, social skills and so on, and over time they develop better ways of dealing with their sexual desires even where such desires may not be fully met by a partner for whatever reason.
Thanks to the Internet and its abilities to create and support communities, people can and do find support and solace. Even the terms ‘Involuntary Celibates’ and Incels appear to have started in such a fashion, with a woman seeking support for the particular kind of loneliness that she was facing. However, as things often happen, it morphed into the dark and ugly monster that produced the Toronto Van attack.
Having gotten introduced to the terms through that attack, I was curious to see whether there were Indian avatars of these. A quick Google search shows that while it is indeed quite a widespread, even if subterranean and largely online-only phenomenon, there wasn’t much on India.
How come we don’t hear of Indian Incels? Where are the Indian Betas?
It isn’t that the Indian space is immune to such deep-seated feelings of sexual frustration. If anything, there is more than enough evidence to show that we are indeed quite a sexually frustrated society – there is no open conversation on sex or sexuality at any age, some forms of sexual expression continue to be illegal, gender-based segregation is the norm even in schools and institutions that are supposedly co-educational. We have the police and goondas who take offense to seeing a couple even hold hands in public places. Morchas are taken up to curtail something as simple as celebrating Valentines Day.
Is there an Indian Beta Revolution brewing?
In India both men and women are expected to be celibates in our marriage-driven culture. Sexual activity before marriage is certainly frowned upon, and once married, sexual expression outside marriage is not OK. Given the increasing age at which people are getting married, especially in the urban centres, that leaves a lot of people celibate for much longer than they would wish, and certainly for many of them, years of active sexuality are spent in enforced celibacy or in keeping up an appearance of it.
Amongst all the floating dots, are there any connections? The ‘Love Jihad’ is potentially a version of such a revolution – the fear possibly not being just one about religious conversion of women, but just about appropriation of women, who are becoming ‘scarcer’. Then there are the issues of the collapse of the arranged marriage system as seen through increasing separations and divorces, and that gets blamed on mobile phone usage, the Internet and all-around increased exposure to modernity that makes women more conscious of what is possibly available for them. Early in May 2018, a politician pushed for early marriages of women, just to avoid such scenarios.
Many commentators have speculated that the increasing sexual violence and cases of rape are a symptom of the increasing sexual frustration of the Indian underbelly going unaddressed. The number of children reported as having been raped and then murdered has been skyrocketing – and in many such histories, it is more and more alarming to find that under-aged boys or young men are involved such as in recent incidents in Bihar, the Kathua case and many others. And then there are communities of young men networking through WhatsApp and other mobile social groups finding each other to jointly prey, as evidenced by reports of a 20 year old being arrested along with his four accomplices for running an online child pornography racket.
It is not that this is a particular set of people who are ‘depraved’, and despite communal and other angles being attributed to these incidents, they really appear to be part of a larger issue. We observe this in news reports that cut across regions, religions, class and societies in India. While lack of suitable employment, forced migration and young adults finding themselves suddenly thrown into a cultural milieu very different from their own may partly account for some of these outbursts of violence, the increasingly younger ages of the perpetrators of sexual violence shows that this is a larger structuralissue. This is a deeper crisis of masculinity, of a warped sense of entitlement and a culture that often shields abusers rather than holds them accountable. This is not to excuse individual responsibility but there is also no wisdom in evading social responsibility.
In some ways, perhaps this Indian Beta Revolution, is already on and has just not been named. By not being mindful, maybe we are spawning an Indian Beta Revolution amongst mummy’s spoilt betas who believe that any vulnerable person, be it woman, girl or child could be theirs for the picking.
One wishfully hopes that thisis perhaps the last big gasp of patriarchy seeking to reassert itself in its dominion over the discourse of sexuality and society, or like in the horror movies, that one last swipe of the zombie before it is forever put down.
Are we teaching and practising empathy and compassion that cuts across class, community and gender barriers? Are we acting to lessen feelings of frustration and alienation and to increase feelings of belongingness and wellbeing? If not, we will have a public health crisis in the brewing.
As written for and published by TARSHI's InPlainSpeak
So, you walk into a party and notice this old friend of yours with a particularly attractive, charming new person. You can see everyone’s eyes on this new person and there is a buzz around. What would you do? Quite likely, you’d either ask the host of the party or other friends who are already there, or if you are particularly risk-friendly, ask the friend themselves – “Who is the arm candy?”
Maybe they are in a deep and meaningful relationship. Maybe it is something new they are trying out. Or maybe it is a one-night thing – just for fun. One never knows, but you and probably much of the party has asked this question. Maybe you have been someone’s arm candy yourself or had your own arm candy for a while.Now,imagine that this person persists in bringing someone new, attractive and charming every once in a while. A new arm candy, so to say,very often. Just stay with that image for a second. Imagine what it feels to be the person bringing someone new to a party, and imagine what everyone else feels and what the new person goes through. Pause for a second with that memory and ask yourself this: Who is experiencing what for whom in that scenario?
If I were a betting person, I would bet that there are all sorts of feelings floating around in the room. At the first instance, one imagines there is envy, lust, jealousy, admiration and disbelief. Emotions that might reflect how the person with the ‘arm candy’ wants to be seen by their peer group and a lot lesser about how they feel about the person they are bringing in. Really then, this is them interacting with the group, trying to position themselves as somehow more powerful, attractive and sought-after.
This is them in love with themselves and maybe in love with the group as a whole – not necessarily with the persons they are with. Again, as the pattern continues, if there is a new person often, those feelings of envy, jealousy and admiration, might either solidify into a thinly cloaked hate, or it might mellow into an amused tolerance – mostly depending on where each person in the group is with their own lives.
If someone has been struggling to even meet people let alone form relationships , they might react differently from others who have their own steady relationships. If you are the arm candy though, watch out if your new found love interest is asking you to meet friends at a large party. Have your guard up if anyone refers to you as someone’s arm candy. It just might be a signal that perhaps the relationship is not between you two. You may end up getting hurt if you go in without knowing that you are only an object in someone else’s love games with their group. Of course, being arm candy can just be fun as well.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
Ever noticed how people in love call each other ‘honey’ and 'sweetie'? There is hardly any reference to other tastes. Occasionally, we might see a reference to a hot chilli or a spicy pepper, but that is more about sexiness and attraction rather than feelings of love itself. And no, it isn’t yet another western notion that has come to India. People in India have been calling their lovers ‘laddoo,’ ‘jilebi’ and what not. I haven’t heard anybody call their sweet-heart ‘mysore-pak’ or ‘kaaju katli’ but someone out there probably does use these terms for their loved one. A ‘paal payasam’ or a ‘kheer’ might be stretching it, but other more solid sweets – there is probably a person high on love somewhere calling out to the object of their affection with what could be the menu card of their local mithai wallah.
When we are not sweetening it, we are quite likely babying it. Babe, baby, coochie-pie, kutti, kanna and every other thing that we last called a cousin’s 6 month old.
What is it about love and sweetness and cuteness? What makes us become a melting pot of sweet, gooey chocolate when loving some one? Why do we go on and on with sweet nothings ?
Are all these terms just empty calories that is going to fatten up the person, or is there anything actually nourishing to the soul about these sweet endearments that make us use them?
It really shouldn’t be a surprise, but it turns out that we are all suckers for the kind of desire that the sweet words imply. When our loved one addresses us with the sweet endearments that show us we are special to them, we react with a specialness as well. Often times, even without realising that we have kinda softened, we reciprocate in some similar fashion. We may not use the sweet words ourselves, but we might be paying a bit more attention to them, feel a bit less hostile or angry, be less agitated or upset.
Try it out next time you are having a fight with your beloved. For the first couple of times, have the argument using only their given name through the whole fight. No pet names. No sweet terms. No terms of endearment. Just see how long it goes and how bad it gets before you both work it out. Observe yourself, and observe your partner. A few days later, when you have the opportunity again (and I am sure there will be) use your pet names for them, use the terms of endearment, the sweet talk – and observe again what happens to the fight. Are you fighting as hard or as bitterly? Does it go on for as long? Are you both more willing to make up, or less so? Just notice what happens.
For the everyday conflicts, I would bet that fights where you remember to use your sweet somethings (and mean it) are shorter, less harsh, and more easy to recover from.So, go on. Use those endearments.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
There was a joke going around the internet the other day: A couple is talking about what it would be like if one of them were to die, whether there would be a second chance at love for the survivor, and after a few minutes, just to cut the conversation down, one person tells the other, “Let’s make a pact. Whichever of us dies first, I will marry again.”
Joking aside, talking of death and dying is a seriously difficult thing to do among lovers, especially where there is no immediate pressing need to talk about such things. There are, of course, the semi-flirtatious use of loss and death in conversations like in the joke above to reaffirm commitment to each other, with the expected answers being in the lines of, “I cannot live without you,” or “Love dies for me the day either of us die,” or “You may not have been the first person I kissed, but you certainly will be the last.”
Even in non-romantic situations, trying to start a conversation about it can be met with: “Why such dark thoughts?” or, “Stop. You are scaring me!” or, “Are you OK? Should we go to the doctor or something? Shall I call your mother?” We don’t want to engage with these topics at all thinking them to be bad omens and macabre.
With the Supreme Court ruling a few days ago on dignity in death, and allowing for passive euthanasia and living wills, these conversations really do need to happen in living rooms and bedrooms across the country, and yet it is the rare couple that seriously talks about death, its effect on them and what might be needed to work around it.
If you are in love with someone, and you trust them with your life, your bank account login details, your google mail password and even your old Tindr account, then why not trust them with death as well? Let’s face it. Death is an integral part of living, so why should it not be a part of loving as well?
We are not talking stuff like the Gerard Butler movie P.S: I love you, or for a younger generation, The Fault In Our Stars. Though loving in the face of death, like in these movies, is important as well, the emphasis is on whether we should wait till death announces a date with us? Would we really know, anyway? Quite sadly, in all likelihood, each of us know a few people lost tragically too soon to accidents, incidents and illnesses.
So. can you as an act of true love, talk with your lover about death? What you’d like to happen in the event of? What worries you or scares you about it? What projects of yours would you hope outlives you? What of your other loved ones? What secrets would you want handled? What do you feel happens after death?
Of course, keep it clear, direct. Don’t bore your loved one to death over it.
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.