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.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Who is he.

“Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake somebody else up, so that they can feel this way, too.” — Lemony Snicket

Someone I don't know has passed away. And I came to know of this through a common friend commenting on a page. Something took me to that page and I read about what so many had to say about the person who had departed. Of how they were touched by him. Some knew him for years and some had met him only for a couple of minutes and exchanged just a few words. He had touched so many hearts and in a way left a fragrant part of him with every one of them.

I don't know him, yet I do feel that I do. I am almost certain I have met him and conversed with him about everything there ever is to talk about in this world. Who is he?

How is it that I am touched so deeply by someone whose name I have first heard only with his passing. And I am compelled to pour my thoughts out to make sense of my feeling. I did not cry. Yet there is grief. I sense a deep loss. It is an intense feeling of connectedness and love. Although I am miles away from where he was, yet I have allowed him to touch me in his departure.

Who is he? I learn that he had a happy life. I have never met him or even seen him, so how do 
I know that. 'Happily' is the imprint of him and his life that I have in my head as I learn about him. Slowly he started becoming an image inside my head with flesh, blood and smiles. In my mind he came alive the way I chose to see him. And now he is someone whom I had never known but now know so well.

I realised. I don't need to know another to be touched so deeply. To be left behind with a fragrance so strong without ever having to meet him. So powerful is our soul and so mysterious its ways to connect.  I grappled out to understand what it is that his reaching out to me in his dying meant for me. And I realised. It was about choosing. Choosing who I wanted to be in my life. Choosing my life in life and even in death.

Even in death he chose to touch lives the way he did when he walked around. He chose love over everythng else. Even in his silence, he chose to play a wave of beautiful music of love and gratitude. Even in his separation he chose to bring together people with love and not make them run away in fear. 

I heard him speaking my my head in my own voice - to me - telling me he is me as much as he everyone else. He asked me what I wanted to choose for my life to be while I lived and while only my thoughts lived.

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” — Henry Miller