CoVid lockdowns are relaxing, but positive cases continue to climb up mercilessly, especially in Bangalore. One is quite careful to avoid going out as much as possible, and a lot of us are self-isolating at home. This act of self-care and social responsibility is not a noble act or anything like that, but just common sense and self preservation that is playing out. We all should be doing that, but we also see in the media and in real life that not everyone is holding up the social etiquette that is demanded in these times. Half the people on the streets are wearing their masks below their nose, many wear the mask but pull it off when they need to sneeze or cough, or worse still, if they feel like they need to clear their throat and let fly a glob of their snot on to the street somewhere. We see people wandering around without much of social distancing, and milling around.
A lot of people are getting really angry and quite agitated with all these happening around them and feeling the powerlessness and helplessness that goes with that. There is much anger and frustration building up amongst those bearing for themselves the burdens of safety and hygiene. It is exacerbated in these trying situations, but even under ordinary circumstances, we see that anger and frustration that we experience with the world around us staying with us much of the time. It might be from things we notice in the workplace, on the streets, in government offices, in social circumstances - pretty much anywhere, really. Given the power differentials and how we as a culture, find it hard to speak truth to power, there is just so much that is being bottled up.
Where does all that anger go?
The only place that all this bottled-up negativity and pain finds some expression - at home, and often, the expression of this rage is at the cost of the most vulnerable people at home, be it children, the elderly, the people without independent economic means, the dependent partner and the such. For far too long, well-intentioned elders would advice the suffering partner and the children, “This poor creature is out in the world facing all sorts of harshness, and if we can help them get some relief, then so be it!” Children are shushed and told to behave lest anger finds a soft target in them. Food given great attention to, lest plates and food go flying in fits of anger.
We are told to accept bad behaviour as just “angry behaviour,” and sometimes, in perverse ways, we are coached to accept such behaviour and violence as even a show of love.
Should love be making space, cushioning and holding all this anger brought into its space from outside? Is being a punching bag love’s labour?
The answer is a clear and emphatic No. Love is not a dumping ground for anger, and any attempts to paint it so, needs to be called out for the toxicity that it is.
As written for The New Indian Express
There is something wonderful about witnessing someone experiencing being in love.
There is a lightness about their being, a spryness in their walk, a twinkle in their eyes, and just the hint of a smile on their lips. You can see it a mile away and, when in close quarters, it almost feels like those feelings flow out and lift up those around them. There is a certain energy in that which is just delectable, like the sweetness of the honey flowing out of an over-full beehive bringing in eager bears who wanted the same in their life. That is just exactly the kind of energy that attracts and one to the person in love.
It is a story you find in every major love story - the story of the ubiquitous best friend who is helping out the one in love, who does all the labour of creating situations or escaping people that are against the lovers, just so the lover can get closer and closer to the object of their love. Shakespeare had it, and the old classics have it in whatever language you read them in, whether in Sanskrit or Tamil or Kannada or any other languages - the trope of the friend helping out the person in love is always there. Even in most of the modern love stories on screens, there is a wingperson or two for the star or the stars of the film. The love of the leads is only one part of the story - the stories of those supporting the lovers and even basking in it are rarely the centre of the stories we read or watch but they are just as rich and sometimes even sweeter that the main love story as it were.
In real life, it might not happen as often as one might like. Perhaps one would be lucky to have helped a friend or two find each other, fall in love and enjoy that experience. In families, maybe the odd sibling or cousin might have had the experience. The rare parent might experience the sweetness of seeing their child go through these feelings, and if they did much of the parenting really right, might even be allowed to participate in bringing that together. If and when one really sees it happen, it is like seeing magic unfold in front of you and that is really something special and wholly different from experiencing it for oneself - somewhat like watching an artist paint a masterpiece versus just seeing the finished work of art.
The jealous sibling or the covetous neighbour who would kill to try and take the love for oneself, only to see it disappear in tears knows this - the pleasure of seeing something as magnificent as love expressing itself and truly enjoying it requires one very special characteristic - the ability to witness without envy, a compassion that seeks not to possess but just to appreciate, a spirit that can enable without needing to own for oneself.
Loving others being in love is something precious in itself..
As written for The New Indian Express
One of the biggest fears people have is of dying alone. People often enter into relationships with little else as a motivation to be in a relationship other than the idea of not being alone when old, sick and certainly when dying. Of course, there is no guarantee that such company will be there at the time of sickness and death, but the hope of such company is enough for people to take the long leap into relationships even without love and all the other things that one typically looks for, and in any case, as any cynic will tell you, the tragic truth is that in any relationship, chances are that one of the partners will just not get to enjoy that companionship at death, having to outlive the others.
The life of the survivor in any relationship, especially one that had much love in it, is something quite different than one expects. Grief is a painful thing to live with. It makes itself felt in a million ways, many of them totally unexpected, and yet, all of them correct and valid at that time. There is no wrong way to grieve.
Love lost to death hits us in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. You might just be driving a car to work, park just as always in your usual spot, and something might just crush you back into that dark abyss of grief as if it were just yesterday that you lost your love to grief. You might be laughing with someone, even flirting, trying to make something happen and you might find yourself back in grief. There is no telling quite how or when grief finds itself back in the moment, back in your reality.
The idea of "moving on" is not about being done with grief or forgetting about the person lost as much as it is about making space in your life for yourself and maybe some new people in it that can bring you different and wholly new meaning in how you relate and even love. For many, acts of love itself can be a gateway into grief that has been denied, and being in a moment of great tenderness and love can bring forth a geyser of grief where one might find oneself weeping and sobbing for what was lost.
Grief is a theme that many people in relationships visit with their beloved, often as expressed wishes to be the first to go. Sometimes, people even fight over it in that tender way, wanting the right to die before their partner. Yet, in love, one might also find oneself wanting to outlive the beloved, just to spare the pain of the bereavement to their beloved believing oneself to be hardier to that pain.
We may choose to ignore loss and grief, leaving it to the vagaries of fate, or we can choose to engage with it, talking about it with tenderness and affection, even making plans for it. To love fully is to love in death as well.
As written for The New Indian Express
Smart phones are so ubiquitous. People use their laptops and personal computers only when they need to really type out large pieces, or work on multiple documents or when they have to work on software that is only designed for such computers. All other connected life is on the phone now that phones operate with equal or greater computing power as compared to computers, and there is internet everywhere. Very few actually use their computers to access social media, dating sites, news or anything else that one gets around to on a daily basis, unless they are on some kind of digital detox and are limiting their access to their mobile phones.
More and more smart phones these days come with fingerprint and face scanners that can unlock the phone. Gone are the days when the only option was a complex pattern or a numerical pattern were the ways to lock a phone, now it is your own face or finger that does the job. Most people set the unlocking pattern to their thumbs or index fingers, and sometimes, just for convenience, store all their fingers as unlocking patterns on their phone. It makes sense if you think about it – what if a couple of fingers get hurt and are damaged, or in full masala movie style, you are in trouble and only your little finger can reach the phone!
Jokes aside, smart phones and their being locked or unlocked is often a sticky issue with people in relationships. It is much more common to find people insisting that they have access to each other’s phones rather than have people who are quite OK that phones are each other’s private spaces and do not need to be accessed. Many take the half-way path where they ask for and get access (“just for emergency sakes”) and give the same open-door policy to their partners. The rare person uses their partner’s finger to unlock their phone when the partner is deep asleep or not in a conscious state, adds their own into the security system, just so that they will have access should there be need to have such access at all, and maybe not let the partner know at all because they want to avoid arguing over something that might never really happen.
How people in relationship access each other’s smart phones then becomes quite an important issue for many people in relationships. They want to be able to see each other’s WhatsApp conversations, messenger history, browsing history and everything else. With people taking their phones to their toilets and glued on to the small screen, with wireless ear-phones on almost all the time, there is very little that others in the relationship get to know of one’s lives unless there is an open sharing.
Issues of consent, transparency, connectedness and so on that have been the key concerns in relationships. More than rechecking your phone’s security protocols, people need to talk about these issues with their partners, or risk them playing out on a screen very near you.
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
The heat is on. Quite literally, Bangalore’s heat-traps are sending temperatures soaring in the mini-climate zones around the city with some amateur meteorologists already taking to Instagram with 40 degree C readings on their car’s thermometer. As the summer starts its build-up, we in Bangalore wait eagerly for our famous April showers for welcome relief but we have all of March to go through before we can expect those blessed storms. In the meantime, we tolerate the dry heat as best as we can. It is not just the streets that are seeing temperatures rise, but even at home – in relationships, that is.
As temperatures rise beyond comfortable levels, our moods too get a bit frayed. We are more irritable, a lot more easily exhausted and generally stressed out with the heat. Now, put two such people together, both looking for a way to get comfortable and chill a little, chances are that even the small requests like for a glass of cold water, or an errand such as getting out to photocopy a PAN card for some official purpose can get one really snappy. “The fridge is just a few feet from you. Go get yourself the cold water,” might be the reply for the first, and “Couldn’t you do it when you were out in the morning? Or tell me when I had gone to buy veggies in the morning? I am not going anywhere before 6pm!” and that can leave both quite upset and fuming, yet wondering what just happened.
Fights seem to break out for no reason and they seem to stay in the air like the bleak summer haze shimmering over the black tar of our city’s roads. They may not be long arguments over serious matters. In fact, they are quite likely to be about the most mundane matters, very short and very vicious tongue-lashings, as if neither has the energy to really rake up issues and argue logically or appeal to emotions. These summer fights are like the sudden gusts of hot, dusty wind and the dust-devils they stir up which dissipate as quickly as they start. They only seem to accentuate the weather and the general irritability rather than actually be about anything really personal.
With the heat being what it is, all one wants is to cool off and most of the time, that seems like a solitary activity – not something one necessarily wants to do in close proximity with others.
On the flip side, any ability to actually present a cool, comfortable place for someone you care about is met with serious gratitude. A cool home, ice in the fridge, fresh water chilling, water melons and other cold snacks, light salads – any and all of these just make one go “Aaah!” and feel the heat dissipate. Nothing like that welcome coolness to make one grateful, and heart grow fonder. The appreciation is bound to show, just as much as the irritability.
So, are you going to let summer get to you, or can you be cool?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
The coming of summer in Bangalore always seems so very sudden. Even up to the first week of February, everyone still has their quilts out and the ceiling fans are quite still through the night. We don’t need heating, but certainly don’t need any cooling either. Then quite suddenly, within a couple of weeks, it gets so very dry and so very hot. The winter just passed has had so many Bangaloreans connecting back to how Bangalore used to be, the long, pleasant weather causing reminiscences about winters past and how wonderful it is to have a taste of that old Bangalore weather yet again.
Now, even though it is not even March, places in the city where all the trees are gone and it is just another steel and concrete mess, temperatures are already above 35 degrees. People around Bangalore are likely making the transition from quilts to summer blankets very quickly this week. The ceiling fans are getting dusted off and conversations are starting about whether this will be the summer when Bangalore will finally lose its “A/C City” tag to become yet another city full of droning air-conditioners, like in much of mainland India.
Relationships are quite often like that in how the mood of it changes rapidly.
Let’s say the beautiful Bangalore winter is like the honeymoon period of any relationship. It is pleasant, comfortable and there is a lot of space to just chill and be with each other. When it gets over, life moves on into some kind of general routine, and there are times of connectedness and others when it is not so much. Then, quite unexpectedly, we sometimes get a longish second honeymoon – like our longer and more pleasant winter that just passed. After many, many years, there comes again a time when there is a strong sense of that connectedness, there is joy in being together, love in the air, fond smiles and affection overflowing – and then, in a manner of weeks, it dissipates and we are back to humdrum relating, as if the cool winter is over and the harsh summer has set upon us already with barely any springtime in between. It is so rapid, as if to shake the whole thing off, that it was unbelievable in the first place that the ease and chillness of it was ever warranted at all.
Either we are like Bangalore where things get dry and dreary, or we are like Leh-Ladakh where we get far too cold and distant after brief summers of joy, or we plod along in the sweat and steaminess of Chennai with just that little Margazhi season of fun and happiness. Can relationships be in a state of forever pleasantness like, maybe, Hawaii? Can the honeymoon last forever?
It is the rare relationship that can sustain pleasantness right through.
For the vast majority of us, we need to learn to appreciate the subtler joys of the changes in how we relate in our lives – like how we look forward to mangoes in this summer heat.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
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
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
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
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.