Valentine's Day is marketed everywhere as the day of love. There are pink and red hearts all over the city from ice cream parlours to bookshops, movie halls do special film screenings, restaurants have curated multiple course meals for the day, flower-sellers make a killing on their roses. Love is celebrated as if it is the one thing that really matters in life, and for many of us, it might feel as if it really is all that matters. For many who aren't in a relationship despite really wanting to be in one, Valentine's Day can be the worst - it is like a diabetic being forced to really through candy stores, chocolate factories, cupcake bakeries and the such one after the other without end.
There is probably just one category of people who suffer a lot more, and that is the people who are bubbling over with love on that day, only to have their heart crushed by their beloved. Did you know that a significant number of breakups happen around Valentine's Day? Some studies have shown as much as 7 to 10 percent of all breakups happen on this day. Another lot happens around New Year's, and a third lot happens around anniversaries.
What is it about Valentine's Day that makes some people call off relationships? It is not just the quick Christmas - New Year winter loneliness triggered coming together that gets called off with the early signs of spring. It is even relationships that have stood for years that often get broken up on this day. Has Valentine's Day become some sort of a day of testing of one's feelings for another person? Does the heightened focus on love in all its colors, flavors and sizes make one check in for the authenticity of their emotions towards their beloved? Is it harder to lie to oneself about what one feels towards someone when it is blown up extra large and one can't ignore the superficiality of those feelings?
So many of us are in love with the idea of relationships, of being a 'we' and 'us' together, of finally not being alone that we might take up a relationship just because it allows us the temporary relief of not being lonesome, of belonging with someone, of being seen as 'taken.' These seen such beautiful phases in life and we want so badly to feel those emotions that we take up relationships that aren't really soul-satisfying. We might even make do with such connections, feeling satisfied that atleast there is this much and it is better than nothing.
When we are really pulled into looking at our relationship by the social magnification that happens on days like Valentine's Day, we have no choice but to take a deep, hard look at ourselves. It becomes really hard to deny our truth if we aren't really in love, just as much as it is if we are and if we need to break up to give ourselves freedom to get to real love, so be it.
As written for The New Indian Express
The Golden Globe awards are over, and so are the BAFTAs. The Oscars are around the corner. If you are excited about feature films, documentaries and the entertainment industry in general, you might be really interested in all these celebrations of the craft, to the extent of staying up or taking time off to watch the telecast live, track it on twitter and if you are really a huge fan, you might make it a full party at home, perhaps with chips, salsa and drinks, or go the full hog and have a barbeque with friends and family dressed up to cheer their favourite movie, maybe even have a side of betting to make it spicy.
Awards season can be exciting, but for many others, these awards mean nothing at all, and they would be doing all these party-like celebrations for other things, like cricket, for example or American or European sports. Maybe some of you had Super Bowl parties and got your game on for Kansas, and others did something like that for European football. Maybe it is neither movies or sports, but pageants or MasterChef – the lists of awards and celebrations are endless. In a world where practically anything has an audience and special occasions are live telecast somewhere or the other, on the internet if not on cable TV, we get to celebrate these things live and on as big a screen as we want.
Whatever the hobby or interest area that you are keen on, there is something magical about watching it happen. The movie buff could very well just read about it on social media next day, and the sports fan could just watch the highlights along with the news or on Hotstar during their commute, but there is so much joy in watching things live, especially with loved ones.
Love is something like that.
One could also be in a relationship where everything is functional, and things happen by calendar appointments, routines and structures, with hardly
any emotion. Most of us though, want to love like it is the big awards night. We want out love to be the big winner, to be celebrated with friends and family, to see it live. That probably is one of the primary reasons why people have major weddings and commitment ceremonies for which they call hundreds if not thousands of people, throw enormous feasts and make sure it is an event everyone will remember – like having Jennifer Lopez and Shakira dance together for a Super Bowl and keep this one so special.
One could love quite privately, and really not want the huge big blowout of a party, but chances are that you’d still want to celebrate it in a more intimate manner, like the sedate but special ceremonies of the Nobel Prize announcements and the dinners after. The scale and size of the awards, and how public they are might be different, but loving and being loved can certainly feel like the Best Picture award on Oscar night, and by all means, celebrate it.
As written for The New Indian Express
How often would you like to be told that you are loved? Just think about it for a moment and honestly consider the question - would you like it if your beloved tells you they love you every day, a couple of times each day? What if you hear these words whispered first thing to you reach morning, and last thing before you go to sleep? How about if they tell you the three magic words once every few days or even once in a few months back when there is something extraordinarily lovable going on? And what if they tell you these words really, really rarely to the point that you can't even remember hearing it?
For most of us, just thinking of the decreased frequency of hearing these words can be quite the dampener. We can feel our heart rise at the idea people of being reassured of being loved often and on the other side of the same, if we imagine being never really told we are told, we can feel our heart sink. We might tell ourselves we don't really need it and that we are quite alright without hearing it, or we might try and read that meaning into many different things, but the truth is that we do want to know that we are loved.
Now, consider the other side of the same question: how often do you express love for your beloved? How often do you say those words, or do things that clearly show you love this person? Do you show or say your love as often as you would like to hear it? Do you say it a lot more than you hear it? Or are you more tentative in your expression of such love, waiting for it to be told so that you can reciprocate? Is it easier for you to love or to be loved?
Chances are that we are different in how much we express love and how much we want to experience being loved on an ongoing basis. The difference is rarely genetic or just how we are built - it is a result of how our previous experiences were. How we were loved, whether it left us hurt and made us retreat into ourselves just so that we feel safe, or did we get to love deeply and safely, and were able to let it go lightly - that is what makes the difference.
If we were beloved in our lives and if we had good endings, we learn to cherish being loved and not fear its loss so much. We are ok to share those emotions even at the risk of losing it, and we have faith in ourselves and the world around us.
A good love, well-remembered doesn't usually take away the ability to love again and as deeply. In reality, a well-loved person is usually able to love again deeply, and that is worth aiming for in all our lives
As written for The New Indian Express
When was the last time you were at a clinic for a regular health check?
Ideally, all of us need to go in for a regular full-body health scan every so often. Doctors recommend annual check-ups for all people, half-yearly for people over forty, and quarterly for people over sixty, even if there are no known health issues. If anyone has a chronic health condition like diabetes, thyroid issues, blood pressure or any of the hundred things that could go wrong with one’s body, then there is a definite requirement for ongoing monitoring and management.
Chances then are that you probably go for these health checks every quarter, if you are a good patient, and in any case, at least once a year. While the first visit or two might be nerve wracking, after the first few visits, you get to know the routine really well, become quite familiar with the staff and maybe even really friendly with them. You know them by their look, might even know them by name and definitely smile at the staff with a sense of recognition and familiarity, and they very likely return the warmth, even if the place is crowded and you know they may not really know you or remember you personally.
It is the rare patient that remains cold and aloof in such places, and the rarer doctor, nurse or staff that is curmudgeonly in such a place. Even though it is a clinic, there is little that is clinical about such places, with the staff acting as though they were indulgent teachers in a nursery school and the patient behaving as if they were naughty children hoping to get the approval of their elders in the class. The family of the patient assume the role of parents in such situations, at once protective of their ward while at the same time, behaving like the guardian of the patient. It is evident in how the staff and the patient look at the blood and other body function test results – it is hardly different from how they might have behaved in a parent-teachers meeting when they were in junior school.
When you treat your body with this much regularity of care for its health, what would it be like if you took similar care for your mind, and more to the point, how would it be if you checked in on your relationships in this manner with regular checkups, and if you discover any issues, then to really work on it?
Love and relationships are like any other function in our lives. They can be running along peacefully for a long time, and you never know that some issues are cooking below the surface till they explode, like how we might discover an underlying blood pressure issue or diabetes quite suddenly, or discover there is a slightly off heartbeat in a regular ECG as part of an annual health check. Issues in our relationships may not be readily apparent.
Maybe we need regular health checks for love as well.
As written for The New Indian Express
Having indulged in tons of sweets and snacks through the festival period, for many of us, this question becomes the dreaded one. We know we have been a little too indulgent and not particularly aware or conscious at the time, even having told us that it is okay to take a little holiday from Intermittent Fasting, or the Spin classes, or the thrice a week swimming lessons in a refurbished swimming pool that offers warm water and aqua aerobics, or whatever else we were doing to try and keep ourselves fit. It takes a certain kind of soul strength to have stayed fully committed to one’s health goals and the regimen required to maintain it through the festival periods when everything feels so special and “once in a year” occasion.
The question is: Is it easier to stay on those goals if one were single, or if one is in a relationship? Do relationships strengthen resolve or do they weaken it into a kind of settled feeling where one doesn’t really feel the need to be quite so careful? Relationships are meant to make individuals better for the most part. We want to feel more secure, more connected, more loved and cherished in a relationship. Sometimes, it feels like this very same secure loving connection that we so cherish, acts against our self-interest. It is quite the common story to hear of these hot, fit 20-somethings who get into a relationship that is the envy of their tribe, only to quite swiftly balloon out into these unkempt, unfit and slovenly sloths in their thirties, happy to wallow in their togetherness, snug as bugs in a rug, while their more single tribespeople are still slogging out in the gym and doing everything else to stay fit.
The “Have you put on weight?” question is rarely asked between the people in the relationship. They tend to be complicit in the putting on of the weight, and the shared guilt of it keeps them in silence over it. It often takes a health scare or some other such event to reverse the trend. An ominous declaration of the doctor that one or more people in the relationship is ‘pre-diabetic’ might do the trick. Maybe it would be a child who laughs at one’s inability to touch one’s toes. Or a friend who collapsed with a cardiac episode in the middle of watching yet another season of Bigg Boss in their family couch.
Then, the relationship might huddle together for fitness sake. It can then morph from the weighty questions to lighter ones, the surprise gifts change from special pastries to fitbits and joint yoga sessions. We ask each other whether they got our 8,000 steps, and try to motivate each other, setting up a cycle of positive returns. Relationships can set us off into vicious, unhealthy cycles or great virtuous, healthy spirals of growth. Whether we can be conscious of it is really the weighty question.
As written for the New Indian Express
We are in the little interim period after Dussehra and Deepavali where for a few weeks, there are not many festivals or holidays to speak of, before the end of year holiday madness starts. It is a little lull time as if you give everyone a chance to scramble and finish all that one set out to do in the year, before calling it a day. It is a chance to get a look back at the goals one longingly set for oneself, the relationships one is in, work and all other aspects of one’s life and squeeze in as much or all of it, just to be able to look back with relief and say to oneself that the year has been good
In relationships especially, this is a key time where one or the other person is looking at what they had hoped to achieve or experience and try to squeeze it in. “We never did that international holiday we wanted to go on”, “Just eight weeks left for the year to end. Can’t we do at least a short holiday to Vietnam or even Sri Lanka?” or talk of other big longings that had been in the wishlist, perhaps having family to stay over, or household appliances, the upgrade on the mobile, a road trip, a pilgrimage or even as simple as having planned to read five books in the year or watch 10 international films, but not having done any of it.For many, this remembering of unfinished relationship tasks for the year comes with undercurrents of blame, coloured with just the touch of resentment and spiced with that little tone of complaint.
It is like a little harmless-looking worm wriggling on the surface of a calm lake, but if you take the bait, it could quickly blow up into a fight nobody wanted. It is so easy to start off with, “I wanted to go in June to Turkey. Remember? It was just after Trump started his trade war with them and their currency crashed? I said we could afford it, but you wanted to stay back because your cousin’s in-laws had invited for a house warming?” or such other defensive statements, and soon there is blame being thrown around so much, like boxes of soan papdi that are still left over a week after Deepavali that nobody really wants to see for a month at least.
The goals might be very much shared goals and ones that everyone really wishes they could have enjoyed in the year, and life has a way of getting between things. Other things feel like a priority, and things get postponed. It happens.
If we are able to recount and share the missed things on the wishlist without the hidden stings of blame and resentment, it might actually be moments of shared longing, perhaps affirmations of having those desires met, and maybe even a last minute joyful dash that might make it even more memorable.
We just have to watch the blaming.
AS written for the New Indian Express
Are you the kind that likes a quiet Deepavali, full of light and warmth, maybe some music and prayers, lots of good food and company? Or are you the kind that likes it loud and big, lots of fire crackers and enormous celebrations, huge parties with multiple outfit changes? With the increasing cost of firecrackers and the such, Supreme Court regulations on the time when people can go out to burst these, greater awareness on the effects of pollution and general sensitivity to the environment, the tendency is by and large towards moderation, hopefully. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands who would rather defy environmental sense and sensibility towards fellow creatures, and defy laws at that, and assert their power to celebrate as they will.
Thing is, who cleans up after them? Granted, they cannot really undo the poisons they unleashed into the air, but do they take the trouble to sweep up after themselves and tidy up the streets so that these chemicals do not get washed away by the rains into our tanks and lakes from where we get our drinking water? Do they clear up the waste paper, plastic and random metal rods and chemicals into easily collected lots for the sanitation workers? Chances are, that they do not.
If one does not clear up after the literal mess one makes during a celebration full of joy and exuberance, would one expect that they clear up after themselves at other times? In relationships, we are so likely to make a mess every now and then. Sometimes, it is a literal mess like when in a burst of anger, we have upended a flower vase on the table, or tipped over a kitchen shelf and made a mess of mixed up dals, flours, masalas, oils and what not on the kitchen floor. Those are horrible to clear up and someone has to do the job.
Is it the one who made the mess, or is it somebody else in the house? Does the job end up on the person at the receiving end of the outburst? Or does it, yet again, get outsourced to someone like the house help who had nothing at all to do with creating the mess in the first place?
At other times, the mess we make is a lot less literal. We say and do things that are ugly, dirty and stink to the high heavens. There is bitterness, resentment and pain for the person this rage was directed at, and quite likely, for a lot of others in the vicinity, like children and pets. Who then does the picking up of the pieces and cleaning up of the emotional mess? Can this as readily be outsourced to poorly paid sanitation workers? Like with the environmental damage we do around the festivals that come back to bite us through clogged drains, poisoned waters, charred air and scarred animals, the damage we do here comes back to us as well.If you make the mess, you ought to clean up as well.
As written for the New Indian Express
In India, it is mandatory that everyone driving a vehicle has their vehicle insured. The insurance will cover damage the person owning the vehicle causes to others, and to their own vehicles. There are a whole lot of variants of the policy structure, but we can leave those aside for another day. Driving without insurance is a crime and punishable, with a much higher penalty now than in the last so many years.
Most companies offer health insurance for all their employees and their families. For many smaller organisations which don’t have the employee count or the heft to negotiate a group health insurance, the state offers some protection through Employee State Insurance schemes.
Recently, the Government of India launched Health insurance schemes for everyone who wants to avail the scheme at very low costs.
Life insurance gets us tax rebates as well. There is home insurance, and general insurance. Doctors can insure themselves against malpractice. Shop owners can insure their stores against floods, fire, rioting and even terrorism. Buses are insured, cars are insured. Farmers can buy agriculture insurance and protect themselves from the vagaries of the nature. Pretty much any and everything is insurable except relationships. Think about it: Is there any company that you know of that insures against a heartbreak, a breakup or any of the other two hundred things that can go wrong with a relationship? Every day we hear jingles on the radio, popups on our internet pages, advertisements on TV and every other media that we access, calling out insurance policies - unit linked, single premium, life-time coverage, payback policies, education cover and what not, but have you ever heard any advertisements saying, “For monthly premium of Rupees Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine, get insurance coverage of Rupees Twenty Lakhs for any breach of promise of monogamy!” or “One time premium of Rupees Fifteen Thousand covers divorce charges at any time, in case of a non-contested divorce, or a premium of Rupees Fifty Thousand to cover all kinds of divorces!” Nobody offers any such insurance policy to the best of my knowledge.
Are we so certain that relationships will work? When we cover against events such as lightning strikes that might happen for one in fifteen million people, why would we not want to cover against, say, divorces that happens close to one in five marriages? We do so many rituals and make so many promises at the start of many relationships, just to get some semblance of such an assurance. Does it mean we don’t want any insurance for relationships? Or, are the risks so great that no insurance company will cover it and risk themselves?
Only an actuarial at an insurance company might be able to answer that question and answer why there are no such products in the market, none that are advertised for the general population in any case. In the meantime, without insurance, all we have is the assurance we give to each other and hold ourselves to those promises.
As written for the New Indian Express
One of my favourite Birbal stories involves this polyglot who is so fluent in so many different languages that it is hard for even professors of each of those languages to tell that this person is not a native speaker of the language. The polyglot goes to Akbar’s court and showcases the proficiency over all these languages to everyone’s amazement, and is so good that after all the demonstrations, Akbar gets a challenge from the polyglot to see if anyone can determine his native tongue. A lot of people try to guess but fail. Akbar looks to Birbal, and Birbal asks for the night to get the answer.
Late at night, when everyone is deep asleep, Birbal goes to the guest’s room and upends a bucket of ice-cold water on the bed, startling the person awake who screams out for his mother and father in, you guessed it, their native tongue and Birbal saves the day again.
At times of major stress, we typically reach out to calling for our earliest caregivers and usually in the language we used as a kid. When in pain, or at moments of shock, we call out for them, or maybe a divine figure. This is generally true no matter how old one gets. One might be a nonagenarian in an old-age home or a three-year old who stubbed their toe in the playground, and it is still very much the same. We call out for the first caregiver we knew. It is the rare person who does something different.
Yet, there is a moment of transition when the person taking immediate care becomes the partner or someone in a romantic relationship, and not the parent or the earlier caregiver. Families bond over care, especially care at critical times of illnesses and support needed at such times. If one has had a consistently caring family situation, that moment of transition can be quite traumatic in itself and is a major source of conflicts in many families.
Imagine a person is getting admitted to a hospital for a surgery. It requires them to stay at the hospital for say, three to four nights, and they need an attendant to stay with them through the whole period who can take care of them. Who gets to stay with them through it all? Is it the parent, or would it be the new intimate partner they have in their life? When does one start choosing the partner over the parent? Or, does one continue to choose parental support at times like this?
Occasionally, one might have some logistical reason, like perhaps knowing the local language or if there are questions of accessibility, for choosing one person over the other, but under most other circumstances, the choice of who you take with you into hospital rooms and other such exceptional circumstances do indicate that pecking order as it were, in terms of intimacy. Who you choose to be with you says a lot.
And yes, you might still cry out for a parent when in pain.
As written for The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.