Sunday, September 03, 2017

I am a part of my motley family!

As I sat sipping on my coffee browsing through today's paper looking for nothing specific, something about Coping with intra-family dynamics caught my attention. I was reminded of my own struggle, growing up and still on, grappling around the motley crowd of a family that is mine.

Image borrowed from the same piece in The Hindu
When I was 20 I met an uncle after almost a year in a local grocery store and I smiled moving closer to him, perhaps in the hope of reliving the warmth of childhood when pat came his unexpected  response upon seeing me, "Why have you grown so dark"; quickly shredding through my memories like sheets of unwanted paper. My feet stopped, I froze in both movement and thought and wanted to just retreat into my protective inner shell. Was I supposed to look at this as care? Was I supposed to grow beyond those words and look at his statement as only love? I coudn't do so while feeling so small and weak, I just couldn't collect my brave thoughts, that seemed to have gone into hiding at that right
moment, deep inside my own sense of insufficiency. I excused myself and quickly walked away, promising to visit him soon.

Another time a well meaning cousin of a dear friend turned around to her in a family wedding, again meeting her for the first time in two years, saying with a smile, "you have gained weight". Sitting beside her half of me was angry with that cousin for misusing the relationship. The other half was sad to see how with just that one naive sentence, I saw a relationship crumble between their eyes leaving the recipient unsettled and struggling to fill her discomfort and anger with words that didn't mean a thing. They managed to have an exchange that that only brought out coldness. While on the outside they seemed to have had a meaningful social exchange to compensate for all that was lost in those two years, they were left with their own inner struggle.

I do feel sad when as a family, on the pretext of taking the liberty to connect closely, we end up saying things that are bordering on being intrusive and plain rude. Sending clear undercurrents of messages to the other party - stay away from me, or else... and outwardly complaining of how people are just not so nice these days and how they don't keep in touch anymore.

For a very long time I looked at this as a problem for me because of all the others in my family sans me. And for the longest time I could not figure out how to 'fix it' because I did not know then that the only 'fixing' I could ever do was on myself.

Encounters like these with older people got me asking myself a lot of questions; What kind of person do I want to be when I grow old - What are the decisions I am going to make about myself - How am I building myself now, so that I grow old into that person I desire to be. I was having a chat with my colleague about these questions once, when she wisely asked me why I wanted to wait until old-age to be someone I wanted to become. THAT for me was my inner DING. It made a lot of sense to me and left me with one question that would help me - What and who do I want to be now? I sat and penned down who I wanted to be. It was and still is a lot of work every time I consciously choose who I want to be in every in that moment.

This humbling task helped me empathize with the others who seemed to say the 'wrong things'. I understood that they perhaps had not yet made a conscious effort to know themselves and who they wanted to be and that they too were struggling in someway. If I felt irked by someone's behaviour, and couldn't look past it, it could very well mean at that point I did not feel potent enough and kind enough to love them in spite of their behaviour. So I would need to just keep working on being kind unconditionally and unapologetic-ally.  And while I worked on that I might choose to stay away from some of them whom I am unable to love. Well aware of the fact that I am not saying they are no good, but that I am not there yet!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

No means no, but why does it become 'Maybe'

When I was in the 9th grade I had a girlfriend who had a boyfriend already. I remember being in awe of her, like she had achieved something no girl our age could. All the other girls in our the class felt the same way. She had got a guy to love and appreciate her, or so we thought in our limited way of seeing our world at that time. I remember wanting what she had; that love, that attention and that approval, all of which would make sense only if it came from a boy. She and I lived in the same neighbourhood, so we hung out everyday.

It is important that I give a bit more perspective about the place we lived in and the life we led.  We were in a restricted community in the Gulf. Though we did study in an Indian school, the boys' school and the girls' school was separated by a huge wall. There was no way on earth we could be seen looking in the direction of the other school let alone be seen interacting with each other. The local hospitals were designed in such a way that women and men entered the hospital from two separate entrances. All the doctors' chambers would have two doors on either side. One side would open to the men's waiting area and the other to the waiting area for women. Men and women were looked at as different species and were not allowed to be seen together in public, unless of course they had a brood of children with them in all sizes.

Now back to my story, one day I was in my terrace when a boy from the neighbourhood, who I had never spoken to before came up to the terrace after noticing me standing there. I remember the first rush of excitement I felt to encounter the person from another 'species', but it did not last long. You see he was there to confess his 'true' love for my girlfriend. I remember thinking 'what, why her, why not me!'. He had come to gauge his chances with her by talking to me. At that point, my naive self did not know that I had the option of refusing to talk to him. So, I gave him the information he needed telling him that he had no chance with her as there was already someone she was seeing. I don't exactly remember what happened next but we ended up exchanging numbers and started talking to each other occasionally for the next two years after that. We had found a phone friend in each other. He continued dreaming of her and hoped to make her his own someday. He would secretly watch her from far away. Walk in front of her place hoping to get a glance of her. Maybe he kept in touch with me, because I was the closest logical thing about her for him.

I used to wonder what drove him to keep thinking he would one day get her. She did say a "no" quite clearly, but somehow he looked at it as a "maybe". I also did get the feeling that she liked the attention, I would have liked that attention myself. Why would she have to be any different. Two years later I came down to India for high school education and I lost touch with the guy after I moved away. I met my girlfriend only twice in those two years. What I learnt from her quite petrified me. Apparently the boy, my friend, had started climbing into her balcony on some nights and knocked on her glass doors. I can't begin to imagine how frightened that would have made her. Luckily for her his obsession with her went only as far as standing in her balcony and not physically hurting her in anyways. Apparently it was only after this incident that the parents got involved finally sending out  a clear enough "NO means NO" message to him.

As I think about this incident today, I think about the psychological needs we all have growing up. The needs seem to be aggravated for something we are starved of. This was the case with my friend who moved to another country eventually. Things get out of hand when this starving, that one experiences becomes unmanageable for them, iso much so that he or she takes the decision to cause harm to either to himself or to the person who he imagines is causing the pain.

In the movie trailer of PINK (I will be seeing the movie this weekend), Amitabh Bachchan's booming baritone asks Taapsee, "Aapne aisa kaya clear indication diya ki us wakt aap sex mein interested nahi hain?"(What clear indication did you give him to let him know that at that time you were not interested in sex). Although I can see myself nodding my head agreeing to the import and the value of that question, I also know that what may seem like a clear indication to one person, may not be clear enough for another. It is that precise knowing that petrifies me all the more. Moving forward, I believe our work lies in being able to build a culture that bridges the gap between this dichotomy.

As I think of the (boy) friend of mine today, I can only feel grateful that it was not me who he fancied. At that time, for starters, I did not know how to say NO, and if I did somehow manage to muster enough courage to say a NO, what if he didn't understand my-NO. After all remember, I wanted that love, that attention and that approval, all of which would make sense only if it came from a boy. And after all that wouldn't it be only natural for my-NO to be laden with all my needs hidden inside of it.

I'd like to sign off on that note with a fabulous video by Put Chutney and PINK - 'Yes na yes, no naati no"


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Stranded in locks of hair.

So I cut my hair again. This time a boy crop. This is the third time for me. The last two times were easier as I was far away from all probable judging eyes. Again, calling them 'judging eyes' is my judgement of an absolutely harmless curious eye. Wanting to cut my hair was the easier part, getting it done was accompanied by a lot of fear and skepticism of its reception each time.



Growing up in a tambrahm household, I was never allowed to cut my hair. No styling my hair, or beautyfying it. And absolutely no leaving the hair unbound. That was an absolute no - no. My hair always had to be tamed and tied up,  even if it was wet. No standing in front of a mirror for 'too long' was what often heard my dad tell me. I never asked him why and feared him too much to rebel with a why not. I had very long, thick and lustrous hair and got a lot of compliments from all kinds of people. Even total strangers would walk up to me to tell me how beautiful my hair was. They would then have a conversation with my folks and part ways with some words to me, "don't EVER cut your hair". Everytime I heard someone tell me that, I would  smile and nod feverishly savouring the fruit of being approved by an absolute stranger. I kept my hair long because I was appoved of. My life was approved of. I had to keep it that way because it gave my little life some purpose and at that time I did not know any other way to be. 

This need-for-approval is quite an interesting thing. In the beginning (or somewhere when I was growing up.. I am sure I was quite ok in the beginning) I wanted the whole world and their dogs to approve of me. So it was like concentric circles around me. With people who were family, and people who were important to me occupying the inner concentric circles. The outer circles usually consisted of people who I'd probably not meet more than once in my life. Like the people you meet in a train journey. 

One day in my outer-most circle, a very persuasive fake artist found his way trying to sell me 'his' paintings in Bali. And in order to feel approved of, I ended up buying one painting (else he would have thought I was someone who did not know how to appreciate art!). Another time, when 
I was a girl of 11 years, my charming Sudaneese neighbour who had had a party the previous night asked me casually to help her with the dirty dishes. And again, I obliged, so so so much against my will. (What would she think otherwise, I am supposed to be a good girl, you see!). And once when I was much older, a very convincing man tried to sell me time-share, which I promtly ended up buying or else he might have thought I did not have enough money! Oh, the kinds reasons to seek approval were just plenty. 

As I continued working on myself and my feelings something started to become clear. In all the examples I have stated above and in many other such circumstances, what was most important for me at that moment was to say a firm 'no'. So, what stopped me from just saying something as simple as a 'no'? First, the permission for me to say 'no' was not available in my 'script messages'. And if I somehow did muster enough courage to say it i was left a torturous pain of having to handle the consequence of saying 'no'. 

But, thankfully, I embarked on my journey of personal growth, and slowly at first, the outermost peripheral circles started to disappear. It was easier for me to be firm in telling them a no and move on. It was ok for me to be stupid and silly and uninterested and bad in their eyes. Over time the number of circles reduced and the number of people remaining were just a few. I was still feeling quite stuck as I did not make much headway, at least not as much as I had expected. 

Everytime, I even thought of saying no to significant people in my life, I could hear the voices in my head starting to call me 'bad', 'untrustworthy', 'silly', 'heartless' and such. So it dawned on me loud and clear that this was what I had to attend to before looking at the people around me. It was this unapproving voice that I kept hearing all the while and everything I saw and heard from the people around me was a mere reflection of this voice playing out from my head. More like an echo!

So, now the new task at hand was to replace the unapproving voice with a compassionate approving voice. Which simply meant that I had to approve of myself. Appove of myself just the way I was. With all my shortcomings, with all my all my so called 'negatives'. Approve of myself wherever I was, whatever I was doing. I was willing to let go of all the negative patterns that I was wont to indulging in so far. The negative patterns were there because they helped me fulfil some needs I had. They had helped me to survive when I was younger. Now that I was older I could learn new healthier patterns and practise them to get all my needs met.

I kept looking out for potent voices that were kind and compassionate, that I could use to replace my own harsh head voice. I kept listening to them often making them the new 'tapes' inside my head. And slowly over time I started the journey towards becoming unapologetic about myself. I started being authentic in relating to others and more importantly authentic to myself. I stopped defending my turf. As I kept playing the compassion mind tape, I noticed how I could easily be compassionate towards people around me. How all the judgement suddenly did not have any meaning. Ofcourse there were and are times I catch the harsh tape getting turned on now and then. When I become aware of it, I tune into to the compassionate frequency gently.

And at the salon this time while getting that new hairdo, I sat listening to the voices in my head. Every time the hair got snipped a little shorter, the very harsh voice would loudly erupt screaming and warning me of every possibility that lay ahead of me. And sometimes all that voice needed was a little acknowledgement and a little love to get appeased.