Skeletons in the closet

We all have our demons that we battle with, every single day. This battle takes away a fair share of energy and mental peace. We live in times where it seems everyone is at unrest. Everyone is struggling with too many things humanely possible to handle. But somehow we do. Every single day.

I have been dealing with anxiety since I was a kid, been taking medication for almost 8 years now. I was also recently diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder – an illness that is debilitating and draining at the same time. Needless to say, I live with a lot of weight on my chest every single day. This weight doesn’t just come from my illness and anxiety though – it comes from certain bad decisions that have stayed with me like ghosts under my pillow. Their shadow follows me around everywhere, never letting me forget the error of my ways.

Certain situations become so messy and complicated that they render your ability to differentiate between right and wrong completely useless. You feel numb, almost like an inanimate item being flung around without truly understanding what’s happening. It’s only once the dust settles that you realize what the storm destroyed in it’s wake. What can you do then? Besides looking around and lamenting at the fact that things went wrong? How do you undo a bad decision?

This is very hard to write about, but I need to start acknowledging what has happened so that I can find ways to overcome it. Also because – hiding and living under a rock does no good when you’re trying to deal with the ramifications of something. It’s best to face your fears, actions (good or bad), feelings and thoughts head on. Fearing them will only make the burden worse.

It’s hard living with this burden. After years of mulling over it and thinking about what to do, I finally decided to do something to undo that bad decision. Will it work? I don’t know. I am not sure. But I will go to bed every night knowing that I tried to retrace my steps and fix it. If there is a silver lining, it it this – I don’t stop fighting for the right thing until the right thing is done. It has been long overdue. If I want to shed some of the weight off my chest, I will have to make sure the right thing is done.

I will keep trying.

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Dear Indian Parents, why so entitled?

Now this is something I feel I need to talk about, especially in the context of our society. I haven’t written in a while and my writing skill has become quite rusty, but I have been feeling extremely confused, hurt and misguided lately and I needed to vent. So, coming to the question I am trying to pose – Dear Indian parents, why are you so entitled? Why do you think that you are entitled to your kid’s love, respect, obedience, compliance and support? Why do you think that your kid, in some way, is obligated to make you happy?

Because you went through pain to have them? Because you invested time, money, emotions and energy into raising them? Because you made sacrifices and compromises? Because you fought with others to keep them happy and safe? Because you put their well-being above your own? So now that they’re a little grown up and have a mind of their own, you expect something in return for everything you did? Wait. Was this arrangement supposed to work in this investment-ROI like fashion? Why wasn’t I told?

Before addressing the core issue here (which is extremely unhealthy and screwed up) I would like to pose another question – Why do people decide to have kids? Is it because you are already in a happy place in life, and feel emotionally, mentally and financially secure and strong enough to be able to share love with another human being without expecting anything in return or is it because you’re extremely unhappy with your life and feel that a kid will make it better? or because you’re lonely? or because you’re too bored in life and want a ‘project’ to work on? or because you can’t stand your spouse and want a reason to stay in the marriage? or because you are concerned about your old-age? or because you want someone else to fulfill your incomplete dreams? or because you want to fill a void in your life?

What is it?

I truly feel that people don’t decide to become ‘parents’ for the right reasons, especially in our country. Even if we exclude the people who are pressurized into having a child, the remaining percentage don’t have very healthy reasons either. That is where the dysfunction begins and keeps spiraling out of control. If you decide to have kids for any reason other than unconditionally sharing love and raising a healthy human being who will be (and should be) independent enough to make his/her own choices, then you my friend, have a problem. You are invariably going to download all your problems, issues and sorrows onto your kid and expect him/her to somehow a) either give you a solution or b) be the solution.

There are so many parents who tell themselves – we will not end up being like our parents. Well, bullshit. You are your parents plus more issues. It is so difficult to dissociate ourselves from our parents’ identity and personality in our culture – it takes a lot of awareness and almost an entire lifetime’s work to achieve that. Why? Because most of us are brought up within enmeshed relationships. Boundaries? What are those? Our parents have a right to know and interfere in everything. Free will? What’s that? I can only go out with friends that my parents like and marry the love of my life as long as my parents approve. Questioning parents’ decisions, opinions and beliefs? Prepare for a crash landing, kids. That’s never going to fly.

We’re never taught to be individuals with our own separate set of beliefs, opinions and principles. We’re always an extension of our parents. Any form of disagreement is seen as disrespect. (Because ‘respect’ is gulping down your opinion and putting your parents’ happiness above your own) Respect is a concept that only works one way, because parents will never respect our choices and decisions. And if those choices fall way beyond their radar of “what’s ok” – then you’re officially a rotten kid and have given them so much pain you should die in a pool of guilt. In short, the term ‘Indian parents’ should officially be synonymous with ‘insecure’. They’re so insecure about themselves that they cannot stand their kid being too different, or else – a question is raised on everything they did based on their belief system so far in their life, and they cannot be in that uncomfortable position of accepting that they might have been wrong at some point. (The horror)

You see, part of being a secure and mature human being is the ability to empathize and accept your mistakes when you make them (everyone does). In my understanding, Indian parents are neither. But the blame isn’t just theirs, it’s a dysfunction that has been passed down generations.

Coming to the core issue – if you think your kids owe you anything in return for your love and care, then you have issues that need to be dealt with before assuming that you deserve to be parents. Love, respect and care are mutual emotions that should be given unconditionally without expecting anything in return. If you are going to guilt trip your kids about your sacrifices and financial investments – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to use the victim card to get what you want – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to expect your kid to support you emotionally – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to shove your beliefs and opinions down his/her throat – Don’t be a parent. If you have a problem accepting your kid as a separate individual who will have different opinions – Don’t be a parent. If you cannot accept the fact that your kid will not always agree with you – Don’t be a parent. When you bring a child into this world, he/she needs you and depends on you for physical, mental and emotional well being and continues to need you until he/she becomes an adult. You do not, and should not, need or depend upon your kid for any of those.

You don’t have the emotional bandwidth or maturity to be a parent. Please deal with your issues first. Also, if you do your parenting right – your kid will shower you with unconditional love and support, without you having to ask for it. A child’s first impression of the world is his/her parents. If you have truly loved your child without emotionally fucking him/her up – he/she will always stand with you and before you. Try it.

A kid’s love is a precious gift. It’s not your right. You chose to have a child and bring another human being into this world. If you’re putting your best foot forward to take care of him/her, it’s not a favor or a debt the kid has to repay later. If you have problems, they’re your responsibility, not your kids’. In US, if you put undue pressure on your kids or raise them in unhealthy households, the social security services will come and take your kid away. They have an accountability system in place. Raise your kid in a healthy environment or lose your right to be parents. Unfortunately in India, just having given birth to a child is enough criteria to qualify to be a parent. You can do whatever the fuck you want with that child. Because maa ke charnon mein swarg hota hai.

If a kid is being abused emotionally and physically in a house, there is absolutely nowhere he/she can go to seek safety and protection. We just have to wing it. And the number of kids being raised in abusive and unhealthy homes in our country is shocking. What is even more shocking is that most of them don’t even know they’re being abused.

I may not be a human child’s parent, but I am a pet parent to a wonderful and amazing dog called Brownie, who I adopted out of my own free will. It is my responsibility to make sure that she receives care, love and a safe environment. I didn’t do it because I wanted a watch dog or because I was lonely. I did it because her being there truly made me happy. Sometimes I have to put up with messy situations, she poops and pees anywhere, she tears everything apart, she whines for no reason and doesn’t listen to a single command, she demands too much attention, interrupts work and hardly shows any affection in return – I get annoyed sometimes. But I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. If I wanted a picture perfect dog who would sit when I asked her to sit, stand when I asked her to stand, mingled only with the dogs I liked and showed affection to me all the time – I would just sit and watch Scooby Doo on TV.

Even after 4 or 5 years, if I give her too much stress or take away her sense of safety, she will either show me aggression (biting) or simply run away, and I wouldn’t be able to do a single thing. She felt threatened and left to preserve herself. Is she obligated to stick with me despite the stress and abuse, just because I took care of her for so long?

NO.

I am just glad that I have a dog who will bite me if I cross her boundaries, as compared to a human child who will continue to suffer in silence thinking it’s okay just because I’m a parent. Nothing scares me more.

 

Choices

The power of choice is not given enough significance in our country. People attribute their predicament to almost any factor except the one that matters most – they chose to be where they are. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but everyone always has a choice. People like to look at themselves as victims in a lot of situations to escape the burden of that fact. Saying “I had no choice” is a defense mechanism we all use to make ourselves survive the night. Coming to terms with the gravity of the fact that no one is to blame for who, where or what we are besides ourselves can be overwhelming.

I have come across different sections of people constantly using the “I had no choice” card in our country – specifically middle aged women who are disappointed with everyone and everything in their lives. They’re miserable and blame people around them for their misery. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone from my family say “I couldn’t leave him. I had no choice”, “I couldn’t continue with my job. I had no choice”, “I couldn’t follow my dream. I had no choice”, “I couldn’t take a stand for the right thing. I had no choice”…and on and on and on. They paint such a sad picture that even Nargis from Mother India would watch their lives in awe. Hearing their tales of sorrow makes me feel sympathetic for a while, even pitiful. But my sympathy and pity only extend so far. Letting things happen without taking control of your own life is nobody’s fault except your own. You chose to be powerless. Period.

The other side of the coin is the never ending blame game and guilt tripping. They blame their husbands, in-laws, children, relatives and even neighbors for the smallest of their problems. Had to quit working? Husband’s fault. Had to be submissive? In-law’s fault. Had to work like a slave in the house? Children’s fault. Your child is more interested in movies than studies? Relative’s influence. There are mosquitoes in the house? The neighbors probably didn’t drain the water from their cooler. They’re simply the helpless victims who are at the epicenter of everything evil. What is unfortunate is that their children perceive them as victims and grow up believing that everyone around has wronged his/her mother in some way. They tend to develop a very skewed idea of what’s “good” and what’s “bad”.  The absolute worst is when their mothers use that perception to guilt trip them all the time. Ever heard the following lines?

“I did so much for you. Is this how you repay me?”

“I went through so much pain to raise you. All those sacrifices. For this day?”

“I work like a slave every single day, just to provide you a good life. What do you do for me?”

“You will take care of me when I’m old, right? I have no one other than you”

Etc. Etc. If your child is your investment – you’re doing something wrong. If you’re child is your emotional punching bag – you’re doing something wrong. If you think your child is obligated to do things to make your life better – you’re doing something wrong. If you think your child is not doing enough things to make you happy – you’re doing something wrong.

It was not your child’s decision to be born into your family. It was yours.

Which is not to say that men don’t act the victims or don’t play the helpless card. I have come across my fair share of men constantly cribbing about how destiny has failed them at every account. How they had to do what their parents demanded of them and how they had to marry a girl of their parents’ choice. These sad, miserable men then dump all their unfulfilled wishes on their children and then start the blame game all over again. It’s quite the vicious wheel that can keep on spinning for generations if we don’t stop and see what we’re doing. Are we parenting or are we just finding ways to channel leftover resentment through kids who had nothing to do with it?

What I’ve also seen is how people tend to fall apart when it comes to making a choice. They may appear strong and decisive through words, but when push comes to shove and they actually have to choose between X and Y – their whole graph crumbles. Life is a journey that is full of difficult choices. We can try to dodge such crossroads all we want but they will keep coming back unless we make a decision. We can take a longer route to buy time, or try to find an easier way out; but it never really works. Passion or money? Relationships or career? Kids or no kids? To fight for what you believe in or settle for a comfortable life? To voice your opinion or swallow it to avoid hurting someone close? To be honest and get hurt or lie and be safe? To do what’s right and stand alone or to do what’s easy and stand in the crowd?

It’s not easy making a decision. We may talk all we want about what we would do if we were faced with a situation hypothetically – but honestly we don’t know how we will react until it hits us in the face. You don’t know how you’re going to dance unless the music comes on. But you do have to dance; their is no avoiding that. Unfortunately  most people leave the dance floor despite having made tall promises about their ability to be courageous.

In the end, there are two universal truths: 1) You’re always looking for ways to sleep better at night. 2) You always have a choice. Make it.

A Leap of Faith

I sometimes wonder if I walked into this world with a special type of kismat – one that guaranteed non-stop action and chaos. I feel like I’m constantly on a roller coaster ride, and even though I enjoyed it in the beginning, now it’s simply wearing me off and making my nauseous. In Geet’s words in Jab We Met, “Bahut excitement ho gaya ab is raat mein. Boring bana do ji is raat ko ab”

A boring life would be such a relief. I wish I didn’t want to be a professional dancer. That way, I could do what my parents wanted me to without the burden of that choice. How simple and straightforward life would be, if all I had to do was follow a pre-laid, well structured and 100% positive-results-guaranteed wala plan towards success and happiness. Then I could build my life around getting good grades/a high flying degree and then getting a well-paid job that would give me just enough liberty to take a month off every year to go an exotic location like The Maldives or Bahamas and take endless selfies for my jealous colleagues to see. In a nutshell, how I wish I wasn’t someone who endorsed and practiced the idea of ‘choice’, because it comes with a truck load of responsibility and accountability that can suck the happiness right out of you like a dementor.

This post isn’t about how pathetic my life is. It’s about what I’ve learnt, time and again, from my experiences. A lot of people advocate the idea of free will (just like me). But there are very less people who are willing to face the consequences of their choices. These are the ones who shout “Mah lyfe, Mah rulezz” until reality kicks in and they scurry away like rats. Life is unfortunately a bitch and even though in an ideal world, the ability to make one’s own choices would be celebrated, we live in a far-from ideal world and even farther-from ideal country. A country where a 15 year old student does not have the liberty to pick the stream that he/she wants without the consent of at least 51% of his/her (existing) family. A country where a woman does not have the liberty to wear what she wants without the entire city ogling her. A country where a couple cannot decide to marry without the 100% consent of their (even the dead ones) families. A country where a person does not feel supported or encouraged enough to follow his/her passion. A country where a director cannot make a film with the following – sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, history, religion, politics, poverty and cows – without having either the censor board or some political wing/religious fanatics/people who have nothing to do with their lives and are sexually frustrated, jumping down his/her throat.

A country where someone cannot express his/her opinion without the fear of being physically attacked.

Even then, people who strongly believe in their choices and beliefs, stand by them no matter the cost. Whether it is a gay couple fighting for section 377 to be scraped off or a straight couple fighting with their families to let them get married – These are people who make their choices and stick to them for life.

Then there are people who make their choices and later chicken out because of the fear of (a) family, (b) extended family, (c) society and/or (d) failure. Interestingly I’ve seen how the combination of ‘fear of family’ and ‘fear of failure’ works wonders when it comes to someone changing their stand. Our society has manufactured some very standardized templates of “success” and anyone who strays too far from them risks the chance of ending up a loser AKA not earning enough money and a ‘respectable’ job. Let’s just make it simple.

Success = Money {jhooti izzat + commendable social standing (AKA foreign return) + expensive clothes + tons of hypocrisy + PROPERTY (oh, heaven)}

Just multiple everything with money. I took it common.

As a dancer, I’ve come across many people who give up on their passion and talent simply because the idea of taking it up professionally scares the heebie jeebies out of them. It’s a risky career in terms of every parameter. There is absolutely no guarantee of success and even if it does come, it does not fetch too much money. It is a life full of uncertainty, disappointment and lack of money. People don’t take our profession seriously and think we’re wasting our lives. That kind of pressure is too much of a burden to carry apart from the challenges that the profession has to offer. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting along with being physically demanding. Most people want to keep doing it “on the side” along with their mainstream profession. Some people choose to go ahead with it, but crack under the strain midway.

And then there are people who sail through despite all odds. They may have been kicked out of their houses, looked down upon by immediate society, faced failure multiple times, been discouraged by peers and colleagues – whatever the situation may have been, they make it out alive. And there is only one driving force behind them – conviction and commitment.

This is the kind of force that enables us to make decisions and stick to them in all areas of life – career, relationships, friendships and even the commitments we make to ourselves. Whether it is to lose 5 kgs in 20 days or to begin a start up with a small idea. If we believe in what we want and where our heart lies, then we would find that mustering up courage is not such a difficult thing to do. We just know that we’re doing is right. The end.

Unfortunately, nowadays people “know” a lot but stand for nothing. They have a lot of information but no knowledge. They have degrees but not real education. They want many things and forget about what they need. They make money but not wealth. They invest in property but not in themselves. I remember reading about the difference between a “crowd” and a “group”. A group has a face; it stands for something. A crowd has no face. Just people scurrying around trying to nab the closest possible gratification.

I guess that’s what all of us want now – immediate gratification. If something doesn’t fetch success immediately, it’s useless. If someone doesn’t make you happy anymore, they’re not worth it. If a relationship is causing trouble in your life, drop it. If a job is putting you under too much strain, change it. If your wardrobe isn’t getting you any attention, get a new one. If your profile picture on facebook isn’t getting enough likes, click a new one.

We have nothing worth fighting for in our lives. We have nothing we would put our necks out on the line for. There is no commitment, passion, loyalty and most importantly, love for anyone or anything. None of us know what we want, or why we want it. We just know it will make us instantly happy and therefore it is something we are willing to take a step forward for. Taking a leap of faith for something though? No, that’s just not practical anymore.

 

Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.

The Key

Guy De Maupassant and Roal Dahl are my inspirations for short stories. Hope you like this. Feedback is appreciated.

_______________________________________________________________

“What do you want to eat for dinner?” asked Sunita, as per her routine.

“I don’t know, whatever you want” replied Madhav distractedly, his eyes still on the television.

“You’re just going to complain about how I keep making the same thing!”

Madhav sighed irritably, “Fine, just make Paneer!”

Sunita shook her head and went back to work. This was a standard conversation in their house. Every day at 6 in the evening she would ask her husband what he wanted to eat for dinner, and he, wanting to get the conversation over with quickly, would reply with anything that came to his mind first. But it seemed as though Sunita could never really please everyone in the family, which included Madhav, their son Rajat and her father-in-law. If Madhav craved Paneer, Rajat always wanted to have chinese and her father-in-law, whom she called Bauji, always wanted something simple like Daal. It seemed like deciding what to cook for dinner had become her life’s existential question.

She thought that it was just one of the pitfalls of being a housewife in a middle class home. She had got used to the cycle, and it was her comfort zone. She was content.

Their son, Rajat, was 12 years of age and like all boys of his age, loved smart phones, hated ghar ka khaana and was obsessed with his PlayStation, something that his father had consistently refused to buy until very recently. He was not very academic, but was extremely inquisitive. Everyone in the house was exasperated with his never-ending questions. A normal conversation with Rajat went something like this:

“Mumma, what are you watching?”

“I’m watching Balika Vadhu, beta”

“Why is everyone so dressed up all the time?”

“Because it’ fiction, and that’s how they make it appealing”

“Why are they replaying everyone’s reactions again and again?”

“To make an impact”

“Why are they talking to themselves? We never talk to ourselves”

“Rajat, enough! Go do your homework”

Her father in law, Vikramlal Singh, was a patient of diabetes. He was extremely prone to a heart attack at any time because of the condition. Although they made sure that he got his treatment regularly, the doctors said that some part of the risk would never be eliminated. Deep down, Sunita knew that his time was drawing to a close, and that nothing they did could stop that from happening. But despite that, she put in all her effort into making his last days as comfortable as possible.

Her relationship with him had always been earnest. He never treated her like an outsider. Yes, he had his demands but he never tried to enforce them with anger or manipulation. He had given her time to settle down in the family and get used to the environment. She had got to see his vulnerable side when her mother in law died. He was shattered. It was then she realized that he had lost the only support system he had – the person he had spent more than fifty years of his life with. She must have been such a seemingly permanent figure in his life, that her absence was now more real than anything else. Strangely enough it was her who comforted him more during that phase than Madhav. He was more engaged in fulfilling his duties as a son, and had neither the energy nor the time to be emotionally available. Or perhaps it was simply because a man couldn’t be seen being vulnerable in their culture. It somehow subtracted from his manliness.

 

As was her daily ritual, she climbed up the stairs to Vikramlal’s room to give him his medicines. Her body clock had now adjusted itself to the demands of each hour. She didn’t need to look at the clock to know the time anymore. She considered it to be an exceptional skill, and often dreamed about conducting time management workshops for corporate professionals simply because she had a natural flair for it.

Bauji, it’s time for your medicine, you need to sit up”, she said vaguely as she walked directly towards the medicine cabinet.

He was lying on one side and didn’t stir as she pulled out the drawer and picked out the medicines. She walked over to his bed and shook her head in slight exasperation – he always did this when he had to take his medicines.

Bauji, you need to stop this drama right now, it’s not going to fool me”, she said in a knowing voice. He didn’t respond. She walked forward and lightly shook him. When he didn’t respond then either, a flicker of panic ran through her body. She shook him harder, and he simply turned and fell on his back. Realization crashed over her like a strong wave and she reacted instinctively.

“MADHAV!”, she yelled out of blind fear as she fumbled around to find the cordless phone.

“MADHAV! Come here right now!”, she yelled again.

Finally managing to find the phone, she dialled the nearest hospital’s emergency number with trembling fingers. In the meantime, Madhav and Rajat came rushing in to see what had happened.

“What happened?!”, cried Madhav as he rushed forward to check his father’s pulse.

“I think he’s had a stroke!”, she replied in a quivering voice, while waiting for the emergency line to respond, “C’mon, pick up! this is supposed to be an emergency number!”. Finally, after the phone had rung 10 times, someone picked it up.

“Hello, Fortis Hospital. Emergency. What can I do for you?”, replied a cool female voice.

“Hello? Yes, I need an ambulance immediately at 64, Sector A, Vasant Kunj! My father in law has had a stroke!”

“Please hold mam. Let me check the availability”

“But-”

The call had already been put on hold. She paced around in anger and panic with the phone against her ear. She chanced a glimpse at Rajat who was rooted to his spot, shell shocked. His brain could not comprehend the situation. He was standing at the foot of the bed, staring at his immobile grandfather.

Madhav suddenly got up and said, “Forget it, let’s drive him to the hospital. There’s no point waiting for an ambulance”

At that moment the lady on the phone got back and said, “Mam, I’m sorry, but there are no ambulances available as of now. But there might be one available within half an hour, would you like me to send it?”

“WHAT?! We can’t wait for half an hour!” cried Sunita. In the background, Madhav repeated, “Listen to me Sunita, forget it! Let’s take the car and go!”

“I’m sorry mam, there is nothing we can do here. If you tell me right now, I can make the booking for you or else -”

Madhav snatched the phone from her hands and cut the call, “We’re going. Where are the car keys?”

“Must be in the key basket” replied Sunita as she made to dash out of the room.

“Wait! Help me carry him downstairs first” said Madhav.

With a lot of difficulty, they both carried him downstairs and placed him on his wheelchair. Sunita then went to check for the car keys in the key basket. They weren’t there.

“The keys aren’t here!”

“What? But I kept them there when I walked in..where could they have gone?” replied Madhav

“I don’t know..Rajat, did you pick up Dad’s car keys?”

Rajat meekly shook his head and said, “No mumma, I haven’t seen them”. Perhaps he realized the gravity of the situation, because for once he wasn’t letting his inquisitive nature get the better of him.

“Damn it!” cursed Sunita. Tears had now begun to form in her eyes as she paced around helplessly. Madhav went into a frenzy as he looked for the keys in the room, wrecking everything in his path. He pulled out drawers, threw out papers, smashed vases in a hurry and even pricked himself on the edge of a table.  Rajat, too, had begun to weep. It’s uncommon for children to see their parents crying; they consider parents to be infallible. Perhaps the stench of desperation and helplessness had affected him too.

“Maybe we should just ask Chopra ji to take us!” said Sunita. Mr. Chopra was their friendly neighbour who lived right next to him. He had always been cordial with them.

“Okay, yes, let’s do that” replied Madhav when his search came up empty.

 

***

Thankfully for them, Mr. Chopra agreed immediately and pulled out his car. The ride to the hospital was in agony. Every moment wasted was a moment closer to death, and Sunita didn’t think she could deal with another upheaval so soon. Tears were flowing down her face endlessly, and she wasn’t even aware of Madhav’s arm around herWhen they reached the hospital, they yelled until someone came rushing and carried Vikramlal to the nearest ICU. Everything after that was a blur. The on-call doctor was paged, who came running in. They spent an hour trying to revive him – everything from CPR to Defibrillation to atropine injections, but nothing worked. He was declared brought dead.

The days soon after were a series of compulsory rituals. The official cause of death, as declared by the doctors was Hypoxia. The fact that he had diabetes acted as a catalyst. He had been having problems in breathing moments before his cardiac arrest. He could have been saved had they been a few minutes early. Sunita felt as though she was reliving the old phase again, except that this time the pain was much worse. The same old people, the same old condolences, the same old superficial crying. All she wanted was some solace to deal with her grief, not people swarming around her, least of all those who did not really care at all.

They didn’t really leave the house for 4 days except for the funeral. Mr. Chopra drove them. In fact, he had really stepped up to help them, because they weren’t really in any state to do any marketing. The kriyakaram was done. The ashes had been safely kept in a kalash in the mandir. A big photo had been mounted on the wall, with a flowery garland adorning it. Some relatives were still buzzing around the house, talking about Vikramlal’s glorious life. Some of his friends were still trying to console Madhav, explaining to him that he was now the man of the house in every sense.

In order to feel a sense of normalcy, Sunita excused herself from the sitting room and went into her room. She wanted to do something that was a part of her routine, she wanted to feel distracted. So she gathered all the dirty clothes from the room and carried them to the bathroom. She was going to wash them until fatigue overpowered her grief. But as she was about to wash Madhav’s jeans, a pair of keys fell out of his right pocket. She picked them up and almost dropped them again out of shock. They were their car keys. He was wearing the same jeans the day Vikramlal died. Her brain seemed to have gone numb, she didn’t know what to think.

At that very moment, Madhav knocked on the door and said, “Sunita? Please come downstairs! Everyone is asking for you”

And she just sat there, staring at the door for an eternity.

 

Emotional Self-Defense: Tougher than it sounds

We all like to think that we’re strong, that we’re not susceptible to the mind tricks, manipulation and blackmail that are so often employed by prospective sellers, relatives and love interests around us. But the truth is that not even the best of us are completely immune to an emotional attack.

What exactly is an emotional breach? Firstly, we all strive to live with an emotional equilibrium – a state where we want, but not need another person for emotional stability. A state where our decisions and opinions are relatively objective and unbiased, where our selves are in an ideal divide of a 1:1 ratio between social acceptance and individuality. An emotional breach happens, no matter how small, when our opinions and decisions are influenced by someone else’s opinions and decisions, when we start to seek validation for our own actions from someone else, and when our emotional stability starts to depend on someone else.

In today’s world of unlimited options, everyone is trying to sell you something. It may be something as mundane as Colgate toothpaste, to something as complex as emotional security. How does someone sell you something? Not through complex marketing models and intricate advertising plans. That comes later. They simply appeal to the very basic demands of human nature. Take the case of Colgate toothpaste. The very basic demand? The need for dental hygiene. Why? Because the consequences are dire otherwise (as depicted through the rotting teeth animations throughout). Next step – Why colgate? This is where Robert Cialdani’s principles of “Social proof” and “Authority” come in. Social proof says that if something is being pursued by a large number of people, it gains validation (notice the “Bhaarat ki 90% janta ne maana Colgate ka kamaal!”) and Authority says (I’m deriving) that if someone in a position of perceived authority claims something, it must be true (“Bharat ke top dentists ke dwara verified!“)

Selling emotional security offers a far greater challenge. Maslow placed it right in the middle of his pyramid because it’s what we need right after our instinctive needs are satisfied. Our parents and immediate family offer us that security until a certain point of time. We are brought up to believe that parents are going to be a permanent part of our lives until they die, hence it is unfathomable for us to perceive and comprehend the concept of “branching out”. For us, parents and family symbolize safety, security and comfort. But that, in our social context, is an ideal situation. “Perfect parenting” is an utopian concept. There is always some form of dysfunction that exists in every family. It can be abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), addiction, dishonesty, financial co-dependency and unavailability. This dysfunction affects kids in more ways than we can see. What is also does, is create a void, which demands for someone else to come and fill it.

This is where a prospective partner comes in, promises to fill that void and offers the emotional security that was absent previously. When you form a bond with someone not because you want it, but because you need it, it becomes a ‘toxic relationship’. This dependency can then be manipulated by the other person to get you to do what he wants, or lead to abuse in all it’s forms. This is probably what the typical ‘playboys’ or ‘Casanovas’ pry upon – a woman’s need to feel ‘loved’ and ‘special’. They use principles like “liking”, “scarcity”, “reciprocity” and “commitment” to manipulate. At the outset is the ‘charm’ factor which acts as the ice breaker. It attracts you to him, holds your attention. He seems to be smart, handsome and respectful. At first you’re only attracted, but as you let him ease his way into your life, you also provide him the power to affect your decisions. Once you’re hooked, he knows you will do anything to keep him in your life. Because that’s how he’s manipulated your need. That’s how he’s customized his behaviour to fit the vacuum perfectly.

“Scarcity”, as a principle, is used by businessmen to create a sense of urgency among their buyers to buy their product. They send out a message of the product not being available in higher quantities or for too long, which makes the buy invest in it regardless of it’s utility at that time. It is also used by people in an unfair power equation to wield control over the other person. Say, a very popular girl, loved and sought by a lot of guys, gets together with an average looking boy, who isn’t too popular. She can use the “I chose you, even though I could have chosen so many other better looking boys over you. I can just leave right now” card with him to get her way. This makes him feel as though she is a prize he ought to cherish more than anything, or else he will lose her. She’s not ‘available’ for him to be with her when he wants.

This situation can also be viewed from the perspective of the “reciprocity” principle. When a person manipulates you by making you feel like you ‘owe’ them something, it’s known as reciprocity. People in toxic relationships often fall victim to this tactic. In the above mentioned case, the girl is also making the boy feel as though he ‘owes’ her something because she sacrificed other prospective choices for him. This is also most commonly seen in our society in general, especially during weddings. If someone gifts you something expensive at a wedding, you automatically feel ‘indebted’ to return the favour the moment you get a chance.

‘Money’ is a major parameter used to judge others in our society, especially North India. It plays a major role in defining someone’s opinion of you, in deciding the power equation between two people and consequently their behaviours. If someone lends you a large amount of money, you automatically become indebted to that person, not just financially, but in every way possible. The word ‘No’ is pushed out of the relationship. The dowry system is a prominent example of reciprocity. Ours being a patriarchal society, getting the daughter married is much more important than getting the son married. Hence the girl’s family feels indebted to the boy’s family for being so generous to them. The dowry system worked for as long as it did simply because of the unbalanced social (and power) equation. Not to mention that it still does not flourish, but under other names like “gifts” and “help”.

This is how emotional breaches happen. Every single time a decision you take is even slightly influenced, you have lost your emotional equilibrium. The key step to defending yourself against such breaches, is recognizing the manipulation from the word go. If someone is constantly harping on about how much he does for you, he is manipulating you. The technique of PROI (Prediction, recognition, observation and Intuition) is extremely helpful in strengthening emotional self-defence. Your insight and judgement needs to be strong enough for you to predict X’s behaviour, recognize the harmful and manipulative elements, observe the behavioural patterns and pay attention to your instincts. One of the major mistakes people make while either buying a product or buying someone’s offer of ‘love’ is ignore instincts. If you feel, in your gut, that something isn’t right – it probably isn’t.

At the end, I would like to reiterate that everyone is trying to sell you something. It’s up to you to recognize whether you want it or not.

The curse of the 20’s

So you’re now in your 20’s. The teens are over, so according to your social learning, you should now turn into a responsible person overnight. “Bade ho gaye ho beta, zimmedari ko samjho” – becomes your daily music. Friends, parties and most importantly selfies begin to take a backseat, while your career starts crawling to the forefront. There are options to be explored, potential ROI of your chosen field to be discussed and very importantly, wedding planning to start.

Each year that passes by without you having achieved any of the subsets of the above, your forebodings and fears increase. What if I’m a failure? What if I never get anywhere in life? What if I’ll always be financially dependent on my parents? What if I never get married? What if I’m impotent? Unless you’re a rich dude from a rich family, these thoughts will plague your mind like the Ebola virus. Having entered the 20’s club myself a couple years ago, I deal with these thoughts every single day of my life. I try to imagine my life 5 years from now, and can’t seem to see anything but a couch and a pillow.

For a long time, I was under the impression that I was born to do something great, that I was different. But now that I’m letting the years pass me by, I’m beginning to wonder whether all I was suffering from was delusions of grandeur. I have ideas that I want to explore and pursue, places that I want to visit, different fields that I want to experiment with; but none of that ever materializes. It’s all just in my head. Like everyone else in my age group, I too am shackled by the ‘karna hi hai’ thought process.

What makes everything seem worse is when I see people around me doing well for themselves. FB feed has officially shoved me into depression. I see people getting new jobs or getting married every single day. It’s a harsh reminder of my own imperfection. I’m surfing reddit, twitter and instagram while people are out there doing something worthwhile.

We’re living in a century that has spoilt us for choices beyond imagination. Every single time you go out to do something, you have hundreds of options glaring at you from every direction. Which one to pick? Which one will offer maximum utility? The truth is, no matter what you choose, you will always feel buyer’s remorse. If you choose to do MBA, you may spend years thinking about how it would been if you chose MA. If you choose to become a driver, thoughts of becoming a waiter will torture you forever. And on and on it goes. In the end, despite having a plethora of choices at your feet, you choose to not take a step in any direction at all.

I want to be a writer, a dancer, a psychologist, a cook and a driver. But I don’t know which way to go first; which opportunity is worth giving up for something else. And it just seems as though I’m letting this confusion rule my life instead of working towards something. Can’t I get a mysterious signal from gravity so that I can find my way towards a high-functioning facility that will transport me to another planet via a worm hole or something?

The murky world of online dating

This is the phase where the highly romanticized version of romance sells best. We’re also the generation that wants instant gratification. So what is the one place that offers both? – Online dating. It cuts right to the chase by establishing the intention of the concerned parties very clear – “We’re here to meet someone and date/fall in love”. In the real world, reaching this stage takes one helluva time. You meet someone, you sort of like them, you sort of try to make small talk, and if that small talk is engaging enough you pluck up the courage to ask them out. Even then, the date might or might not work, rendering all your invested time and effort in case of the latter quite useless. However on an online dating site, you can simply choose not to reply or hit that block button if it gets annoying.

In short, online dating saves you a lot of time, trouble and even mild heartbreak. It’s also an avenue for people who are just looking to meet new people. But all said and done, how effective is it really, considering the fact that most of these sites are plagued with trolls and creeps? How much can you trust someone you’ve been talking to only virtually?

If I were to sign up for one of these websites today, I could very easily download a picture of a beautiful girl, make a fake profile with a fake description, and attract a lot of attention. My profile would be hoarded with requests and messages. Why? Because in a shallow world like online dating, the first approach always depends upon physical appearance. Anyone contacting you will first browse through your photos. Because for most online dating is just a pass time to indulge in some flirting, the overall personality doesn’t really matter. They log in, they flirt, have fun and then leave. In the real world, it’s so much tougher to have a plethora of choices offered to you on a platter to choose from. Which makes large scale flirting very difficult. An online dating website however is like a virtual store of prospective matches, offering you the luxury to flick through all of them in one go. So you could be sitting at home in your pyajamas, having pizza, stinking like a pig and still getting an ego boost out of browsing through your matches like they were on sale.

A very small percentage of people exist who actually want to meet someone. That could either be because they don’t get to meet interesting people in their immediate social circles, or because they’re introverts who have trouble mingling with people. These are the people who lie less and try to strike up a real conversation. But assuming that they do manage to find a suitable partner, how much of that is reality? Who we are virtually is very different from who we are in reality. Being online does two things – gives you the power to be whoever you want and reduces the risk of complete vulnerability (Although cases of cyber bullying are becoming a serious issue, but more on that later) Many times we don’t feel confident about who we are – we think we’re too fat, too ugly, too stupid, too lazy..so on and so forth. But online, we don’t have to reveal any of that. We can actually come across much cooler and attractive virtually, simply because it almost never gets to the point of revealing our true selves. But if it does, that’s probably when for most people, the bubble bursts. In short, there are hardly any people who would be willing to reveal their honest, true selves online (This applies to reality too, now. But the magnitude increases virtually)

Coming to what could easily be called the most dangerous aspect of internet dating – cyber bullying. The genesis of cyber bullying lies in one simple categorization. There are two types of people who use Internet Dating – 1) The emotionally vulnerable ones who are looking for a connection to fill a void in their lives and 2) The predators who are looking for cheap thrills. These predators come across as extremely charming at first, they know how to sweep you off your feet, how to make you feel special and loved, and how to make you fall for them within days. They ‘win’ your trust by expressing empathy. The victim, in such a case, doesn’t realize that he/she (Mostly she) is walking into a trap of emotional manipulation. For eg – It may start with the guy forcing the girl to tell him what she’s wearing, then sending him intimate picture and then having intimate conversations. The girl may not be comfortable with this at all, but she, being emotionally vulnerable, doesn’t want to lose the guy who is supposedly in love with her. It begins with threats and intimidation – “Do it or else you will not see me ever again!”, “You were a nobody, I gave you attention and this is what I get in return?” and “You’re not even that pretty, and I still gave you so much time and attention” so on and so forth. By the time the victim realizes the full consequences of what has happened, it is already too late. There have been numerous examples of people whose lives have literally been destroyed because of this. Amanda Todd, a girl who ultimately committed suicide because of all the hatred she was facing, had shared some of her intimate pictures with her boyfriend online. Jessica Logan also committed suicide for the same reasons. Ryan Halligan, Megan Meier, Tyler Clementi – all were victims of cyber bullying.

One might think that they are too strong for something like this to happen to them. They couldn’t be more wrong. This can happen to anyone, anywhere. It can happen to people who are bullies in real life, by people who are victims in real life. The virtual world is a place of masquerade, and no one is ever what they seem. Whilst not completely wrong, online dating requires a person to be sufficiently trained in emotional defense to identify and block the people who send off red flags. In the end though, before we get into any time of dating, we must love ourselves before falling in love with someone else. Another person being the reason for your survival is never healthy.

Chasing Life – Part 2

He asked me as if he knew what must have conspired between the two of us. He knew, I thought. There was no point in lying.

“Well, she uh..told me that her family had conspired to put her here. To get a share in her father’s property. She told me she didn’t really belong here”

He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “Dr. Neeti, All I can tell you is to be careful of what you believe of what comes out of these patients’ mouths. They’re smarter than you think”

I wondered for a moment if he was implicitly telling me that Smita was lying. Did he know more than he was letting on?

“Sir, you must have read her file. Is she lying to me?” I asked before I could stop myself.

He contemplated my question for a while before answering, “I can’t share the details unless the family approves. But I can tell you this – the events are true, per se. But what she said about her family’s intentions and her own..well, those are as clear to me as they are to you”

I felt even more confused than before. I wanted more details, and it seemed as though he understood my longing to know more, because he said, “I can understand how baffling this might be for you. But this is how it is. Intentions are the toughest to understand. Take it from someone who has been there, done that”

My brain was in overdrive and I heard his advice only distantly. I nodded vaguely and eventually said, “I want to have a look at her file. Let me know when her family approves”

He nodded and said, “I’ll let you know as soon as possible”

With that, I took his leave and walked out of his office. I have 6 more days to go, I thought, maybe I’ll be able to figure it out by then.

There was no answer from her family over the next two days, but I still spent a lot of time with her and other patients in the wing. Smita, as it soon transpired, was a smart girl who loved reading literature and watching movies. She was in her second year of B.Com when she dropped out and decided to pursue her passion for writing full time. She showed a lot of her stories and articles that she had worked on after being admitted. I had to admit, she was quite talented. It was obvious that she was extremely passionate about what she did, because she went on talking about it for hours.

I met a few others patients who had rooms close by. Almost all of them parroted the belief that they didn’t belong here. Each one had a story to tell. But none of them convinced me as strongly as Smita had. It was not about what they said, in fact, 2 days later Smita’s story was still the most implausible one that I had heard; it was the vibe of hopelessness and misery that they carried around themselves that gave them away. Their eyes had the sort of blank look of being lost in limbo – of not knowing which path they would take if they were to start walking again. They smiled, but it was as mechanical as their routines.

Their routine included a daily hobby class where they were allowed to pursue a hobby of their choice from the list of given activities. It included chess, carom, painting, reading and a few outdoor sports like basketball and badminton. Everything happened under supervision. Everyone was thoroughly checked for any object that they might use to harm themselves at both the entry and exit. Reading, ofcourse, was Smita’s hobby of choice. But she soon became bored because there were more books about the economic development of India and biographies of politicians than literature. Another one of her favourite hobbies, she said, was playing cards.

“Each year at Diwali, I loved playing cards with Papa”, she said with a smile, “We invited a few good friends over and played all night”

I smiled back and said, “My family does that too. Except I’ve never played any card game before”

“Are you serious?” she said with a chuckle, “You haven’t played either Rummy, 3-2-5 or bluff ever?”

“I think I played bluff once, a few years ago. But I was pretty bad at it”

“Oh in that case I would love to play with you, it would give my ego a boost!” she said and we both started laughing.

“So they don’t have cards here?” I asked when the laughter had died down.

“No. I wish they did though, I would literally play all day!”

“With whom? Are there other people here who like to play?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure there are”

At this point my phone buzzed and I excused myself to see what it was. It was Dr. Mohan’s message – ‘Please come to my office. Smita’s bua is here’

I wondered why she wanted to meet me. I had only requested to see her file, not meet her family personally.

“Hey Smita, I have to go to Dr. Mohan’s office. He says it’s important”, I said to Smita as I turned to face her.

“Okay, when am I seeing you next?”

“Tomorrow” I said with a smile.

As I walked towards Dr. Mohan’s office, I thought about why I had decided against telling Smita that I was going to meet her Bua. It was an instinctive decision and it had felt right. Maybe I just didn’t want to make it so obvious that I was on her side. Maybe because I had doubts about it myself.

I entered his office and found a lady dressed in a simple Salwaar Kameez sitting in a chair. She seemed to be in her mid-40’s and looked very collected. She smiled as she saw me and stuck out her hand, “Hello, you must be Ms. Neeti, the intern Dr. Mohan was telling me about”

I shook her hand and said, “Yes. Nice to meet you”

“I’m Archana, Smita’s bua”

I had not forgotten about the allegations that Smita had laid down against her family. I kept reminding myself to be objective and not let my friendship with her cloud my judgement, but try as I might, my preconceived notions kept poking me again and again as I sat down with her.

“So Dr. Mohan tells me you want to see her file?” she asked.

“Yes, she has told me a few things that I would like to corroborate”

“I have had a word about this with Dr. Mohan, and unfortunately, I can’t let you have a look at her file”, she said gently.

That came as a blow. I wasn’t expecting this. In fact, I had never doubted the outcome of my request and was looking forward to finally getting a look at that file. She seemed to surmise as much from my look of disbelief and said, “I’m sorry, but this is a very sensitive matter for us and we only let very few people in on it. But I can answer all your questions. That’s why I’m here”

Which would mean that everything will be told from your point of view, I thought as I looked at her. Why would she not let me at least have a look at it? Even as the question formed in my mind, I began to doubt her intentions. My subconscious started telling me, once again, that Smita was right. There was something fishy here. I looked into her face, which was lined with age and sculpted by experience. To someone who was not privy to Smita’s story, Archana’s explanation might have been good enough. But I could not ignore all these signs that only pointed towards one thing.

I finally opened my mouth and said, “I only wanted to see it for academic purposes”

“I understand, but even then, I cannot allow this. I’m sorry”

I was silent for another few moments and then said, “She told me that her father had left her a lot of property, and the only reason she is here is because you put her here” I decided it was best to be blunt right now.

She sighed and said, “You believe her?”

I considered the question for a moment, “So far, yes”

“It is true that her father left her a lot of property. But none of us are vying for it. We might be a joint family, but we have never eyed my brother’s property in that way. The only reason Smita is here is because of her own suicidal tendencies”, she replied slowly.

“You make it sound like she’s attempted suicide plenty of times, but there was only this time that she had ingested pills, mistaking them for headache ones-”

Archana cut me off at that point and said, “Which is not true. She knew what she was taking. They were benzodiazepines for her depression. She had it all planned”

I shook my head, “Even if what you’re saying is true, how is one attempt enough to put someone in a suicidal wing for a month? Wouldn’t outpatient counselling have been enough?”

“Would you rather we wait for her to have 10 attempts under her belt before admitting her?” she asked in a pained voice.

I didn’t know what to say. It was Archana’s word against Smita’s. The file must have had everything (or lack thereof) – history of Smita’s alleged depression, attempted suicide and every other evidence of mental illness, but Archana wouldn’t let me see it. I was beginning to feel extremely frustrated at this point. It was like being lost in the middle of a maze without the support of a compass.

Eventually, I simply nodded and said, “I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m sorry if you felt that way”

“That’s alright. I can understand why you must be curious” she replied.

At that point I took my leave and left. Instead of making anything clear, this conversation had only made things murkier for me. If anything, I had begun to trust my gut about Smita even more. Archana’s outright refusal to let me have a look at her file was odd for sure. It seemed as though Dr. Mohan believed her as well. He didn’t utter a single word during our conversation. On my way out, I waved at Smita in farewell. She smiled at me and waved back. I’m right, I thought to myself.

Next day (which was also my last day), I bought a new pack of playing cards for Smita on my way to the institute. I remembered how happy she had looked at the prospect of playing with a pathetic player like me, and I decided that if I couldn’t help her get out, I could make her happy for a while at least. I walked into her room and gave her the box. She squealed with happiness and said, “You read my mind, sister!”

“Well, now you can get your game on and show everyone what a player you are” I replied with a smile.

“Absolutely. I think we should start with bluff first. It’s for noobs like you”

I mock-frowned at her, “Sure. Let’s start”

“Hey we don’t play bluff with two people. We need at least four”

“Okay..so who do you suggest we call?”

“Well, I think Jyoti and Nandu might be interested. They seemed happier than everyone else, at least”

“Okay, you go fetch them. I’ll wait here”

“I can’t. Their rooms are on the first floor and I can’t go wandering off alone to any floor that I want. It’s against the rules.”

“I see. Okay, no problem. Tell me their room numbers, I’ll go and call them”

She smiled, “Great. Go to room 204 for Jyoti and 201 for Nandu”

“Right. Be back in a minute”, I said as I got up and walked out.

I took the stairs and reached Room 204. It was open. A nurse was ticking off points off a list and a girl who I presumed to be Jyoti was sitting on the bed.

I cleared my throat and said, “Jyoti?”

She looked up and replied, “Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Dr. Neeti. Do you know Smita?”

“Oh yes, I talk to her sometimes. She’s a nice girl”

“Yeah. I’m a visiting intern for this week. I’ve been interacting with Smita for 6 days and she tells me you might be interested in playing cards with her”

Suddenly, the nurse looked up and said in alarm, “What cards?”

“Well I bought her a new pack of cards today. She said she wanted to play bluff but it needs at least four people so I…”, suddenly my eyes slid out of focus as my brain put two and two together. The nurse was already rushing past me when reality struck me hard and I turned on my heels and followed her lead.

We thundered down the stairs, scaring a few nurses and patients lumbering around their floor. We skidded to a halt in front of Smita’s room. The sight of blood greeted me as everything around me faded into a blur. I was vaguely aware of two more nurses and Dr. Mohan rushing into the room to tie a cloth around her bleeding wrist. All I could see was her white face and immobile body. The card that she had used to slash her wrist was lying menacingly next to her.

Someone was yelling, “Code red!” repeatedly. I felt someone pulling me back as they dragged a stretcher inside the room. As they carried Smita out of the room, I heard her feebly mutter her last word, “Thank you”

And I was left standing with the burden of that word for an eternity.

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So here it is. I decided to conclude it in 2 parts instead of stretching it on further. I hope you liked it! Feedback will be appreciated.