How 2 States glorified an abusive, toxic mother by relying on stereotypes

I first watched 2-states a few years after it was released; primarily because I wasn’t a fan of Alia Bhatt and secondly because I was going through a phase of rejection towards Bollywood. It was good time-pass, a colloquial reference used by North Indians for anything moderately entertaining. It is, undoubtedly, an entertaining film, with a dash of token women empowerment added in the form of an anti-dowry scene. However, this particular article isn’t necessarily a feminist reading of the film. 

I recently watched the film again, as I have started re-watching Hindi films for research, but more so because I’m back to being a Bollywood buff. The one character that stood out was Kavita Malhotra, Krish’s (Arjun Kapoor) mother. While she fits what one would call a ‘typical punjabi mother’ template, complete with loud bragging and incessant whining, she is also what the Indian society refuses to accept – a toxic and abusive mother. Her toxicity is constantly justified by her sufferings as a victim of domestic abuse, and her almost successful attempt at sabotaging her son’s life is finally excused by her ‘progressive’ decision to not take dowry at her son’s wedding. She uses her misery as a tool to control her son and get what she wants. As Lionel Shriver said in a debate, she “deploys weakness as a weapon”, and is driven to “maintain that weakness” because it is, in a perverse way, empowering her.

The trope of the great Indian mother aids the character as she bulldozes her way through her son’s life, her traumatic marriage acting as a shield at every corner. In one of the first scenes with her, she throws a tantrum when her son rightfully tells her to not talk about ‘sending some cartons of sunsilk’ in front of Ananya and her family. She goes on a guilt trip with dialogues like, “agar apne doston se mujhe milakar, tera impression bigadta hai, toh main aayi hi kyun hoon?”. The funky punjabi background music gaslights the audience into reading the scene as a funny one, at the same time providing identification and validation to young viewers by normalizing emotional manipulation by parents. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Hindi cinema has always promoted an equivalence between the mother and god. In the eyes of Bollywood, a mother can do no wrong. Even when she commits a crime, there is a noble and justifiable reason behind it. While the direct impact of films on society is debatable, it wouldn’t be remiss to say that they do share a symbiotic relationship, feeding off of each other for guidance. Thus, for a lot of young adolescents including myself, watching perfect mother figures on screen while living with imperfect parents in real life caused a lot of cognitive dissonance. There was no easy resolution to this conflict, especially in the absence of the alien phenomenon in middle-class homes called ‘communication’. 

In 2 States, Kavita’s character is not perfect, but the mother-praising repertoire built by cinema over decades provides enough cushion to her character to get away scot-free. We are well conditioned now. The first few thoughts that enter our minds are, “that’s just how mothers are…difficult but lovable”. This instant dismissal of her transgressions enables her to be entitled beyond measure, assuming decisions on her son’s behalf because she “sacrificed so much for him”. In the scene following the convocation, she commands Krish to choose Delhi as his preferred job location and says, “Koi zaroorat nahi hai kahin aur jaane ki”. According to her, that should settle it.

All her bigotry towards ‘Madrasis’, internalized misogyny and misplaced sense of pride in being Punjabi because of the difference in skin color pales in comparison to her role as a mother that trumps everything that is wrong according to modern standards. Even though Krish’s submissive attitude towards his mother is not the focus of this article, it does act as an enabler. He hates his father for being physically and emotionally abusive towards him and his mother as he should, but never holds his mother accountable for her abusive and damaging behavior towards everyone around her who isn’t her sister and son. 

It is impertinent to note that I don’t critique the depiction of flawed characters in films. In fact, flawed characters make films better. However, the problem is in the glorification of flawed characters by virtue of their status in society, and them never being held accountable for their flawed decision making. I had a similar problem with the film Shakuntala Devi, where her catastrophic failures as a mother were drowned by her status as a genius mathematician and the ‘a mother is a mother after all’ tag. It is high time we started giving the topic of abuse by parents the treatment that it deserves. If not a realistic lens, then at least a nuanced one.

Even during the climax of the film, it’s Krish’s father who apologizes for his mistakes (not that an apology can wipe off years of physical and emotional abuse), going from being astray to attempting to redeem himself, completing his character arc. In doing so, he is singled out as the only problematic character in the film who needed to recognize his wrongdoings. If only he hadn’t been abusive, his wife wouldn’t have been abusive either. I don’t know if this is how Chetan Bhagat wrote the characters because I haven’t read the book, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Relying on stereotypes is useful in storytelling, it allows people to connect with characters easily. Having said that, stereotypes shouldn’t be an excuse to justify abuse.

All said and done, I don’t think the great Indian mother is going away anytime soon. The best we can hope for is some nuanced storytelling, where a mother is given space to be more human than a goddess. 

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.

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.

_______________________________________________________

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.

Chasing life – Short story I Part 1

As a psychology student, some themes have always fascinated me. Suicide happens to be one of them. What fascinates me more than the deed itself is that how difficult it is to understand how someone is feeling internally by his/her outward behavior. Sometimes it’s almost as if our inner and outer self are two different personalities.

This is going to be a 3 part story at best, depending on how the second part shapes up. Please leave feedback, it’s highly valued.
Part 1

The campus was very impressive. In a society full of stigmas and notions about mental disorders, this institution was a sign of rebellion and belief. Most people would say that it was unwise for someone to invest so much money in a place that would cure diseases that half the country didn’t even believe existed. There were so many more pressing problems – cancer, for one. Malaria, AIDS, TB and endless other deadly diseases. Then there was the lack of emergency units, even in the metropolitan cities. But despite this, someone had decided that Major depressive disorder was just as alarming a problem as suicide itself.

It had a different wing for every major disorder (or umbrella of disorders) – Depression, Panic and anxiety, Personality disorders, Mood disorders and Psychotic and dissociative disorders. Then there was a suicide and addiction wing. Probably more crowded that every other wing put together. The addiction wing was also the only one that was partly funded by the government, so it wasn’t as expensive as everything else.

I was one of the interns who was offered the opportunity to come here every day for a week and interact with patients from a wing of my choice. We were a group of 8 interns. Our hospital felt that our work and insight was a little better than the others. So here we were.

Although I had planned on selecting the Psychotic dissociative disorders wing, mainly because I had a lot of interest in Dissociative Identity Disorder, I decided on going for the suicide wing at the last moment. I don’t know why I did that, I had been planning on interacting with a DID patient ever since I had been told I’d be coming here. Maybe it was because I saw an extremely cheerful patient as soon as I entered and wondered whether she was being discharged, only to later see her being escorted into the suicide wing by two nurses. I had always imagined suicidal people to be depressed, dismal and miserable. Like they couldn’t wait for a chance to step over the line and end it. It seems like no one, not even the students of psychology, are free from the clutches of stereotyping.

As I walked into the wing, I saw all sorts of people going about their daily routine. Some were there truly to get rid of their suicidal tendencies and get better. Usually suicidal tendencies stem from somewhere, mostly from depression but there can be other causes too. Not everyone who commits suicide (or attempts it) is depressed. Some with bipolar disorder may attempt suicide during one of their manic stages believing it to be an act of extreme grandeur. Thanks to ancient literature, suicide has a certain amount of heroic romanticism attached to it. Some others may just be in a terrible mess and can’t find the resources to cope with it. Some may just have attempted it in the heat of the moment. However, once the root cause presents itself, most of these patients are reassigned to the respective wings or prescribed outpatient counselling.

Some patients were also admitted by their families, who had been witness to so many false alarms that they simply could not leave it to fate anymore. Some of those families were there, and their worried faces had only one thing to say – “We don’t know what to do anymore”.

Those patients didn’t want to be here. They just wanted out, and wanted to exit this life. They would probably be the most ardent advocates of euthanasia that you would ever come across. But having been admitted without any choice, they did everything they could to either 1) commit suicide within these walls or 2) find a way to escape. The second part included behaving either too well or too bad. The doctors however, were far too experienced to let their act fool them.

As I walked further on, I saw that girl once again. She was sitting in her room reading her book. On the outset, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. She seemed so normal, for the lack of a better word. Her room, luckily, was right in front of the central garden, so she was free to go out for a walk anytime she wanted. Her room looked pretty organized as well, at least, her side of the room did. I really wanted to talk to her, to know how she had landed up here. But first I needed to go meet the wing head, Dr. Mohan Raathi.

He was a renowned psychologist in the city. I had heard from a lot of people that he his method of therapy wasn’t just limited to deep breathing and yoga, but an actual in depth analysis of each patient’s problems and history. I walked into his office to find him scribbling something in a notebook. I knocked lightly at his office door. He looked up and nodded.

“Ah yes, you’re an intern from the hospital aren’t you? Yes, the dean told me some of you would be coming”

I smiled and nodded, “Yes, I’m Neeti. I would like to interact with some of your patients here. Get some practical experience..a reality check..”

He smiled back, “If only our education system could look beyond the books, right?”

“Right”

“You just need to fill out this form, my assistant will manage the rest. Then you can go ahead and meet the patients”

“Alright, sure”

After finishing up the form, I thanked him and exited his office. At once, I walked back to that girl’s room and knocked. She looked up at me and to my surprise, smiled.

“Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Neeti. I’m a psychology intern. I’m here to interact with you, understand your story”

She kept smiling at me and said, “Okay. But there is nothing to understand, really. I don’t belong here. I’m not suicidal at all”

That’s what I had thought too, the first time I saw her. She had looked reasonably happy and positive – definitely not the type of person who was suicidal. But then, how did she end up here?

She seemed to read my mind, and said, “I have been put here by my family. As filmy as it may sound, but the truth is that my dad died and left me all his property. My mother left us when I was a kid. I don’t know where she is now. My relatives were expecting something too, but he didn’t leave a dime to their name. The only way they can get all the property to themselves is by proving my insanity. Well, that didn’t happen as all the psychiatrists gave a positive report on all accounts. So their last option was to prove me suicidal. I’m just waiting for the compulsory 30 days to end before this drama stops and I can go back home”

She ended her story there and there was silence. It did sound extremely filmy, and normally I would have disregarded it as just another attempt to fool the authorities to let her out, but I simply couldn’t ignore my gut that said that this one was actually true. Some part of me kept telling me she didn’t belong here. Maybe it was the same instinct that had always made me stand out.

I finally decided to end the silence, “So..you’re saying you’ve never attempted suicide in your life?”

No, I haven’t”

“But you need to present some proof to the authorities before they can admit you. They can’t just admit you on someone’s word”

“Well.., this one day I was at home and everyone was out. I was having a terrible headache. It was almost blinding. I went to my bua’s room and rummaged around for some OTC pills. I found a container that said ‘For headache’ and took 2 pills. But those were not headache pills. She used to keep her anti-psychotic medication in that container. Apparently it was very strong. Although it wasn’t lethal enough to harm me in any way, it gave them an excuse to admit me here”

I stared at her, looking for any tells. But there weren’t any. She stared resolutely back at me, almost like daring me to find any sign that she was lying. I didn’t know what to think. I had walked in here expecting to hear an extra-ordinary tale of some serious disorder like Bipolar or borderline, and had come across a possibly healthy person who her family had conspired against.

“When were you admitted in this wing?”, I asked

“It’s been 10 days. I haven’t seen a more depressing place in my life. I wish I could help these people in some way”

At this point I suddenly realized that I had not even asked her name. I was so engrossed in figuring out the puzzle that I didn’t even realize that she wasn’t an experiment. I mentally frowned at myself and immediately said, “Sorry, I didn’t even ask what your name was..”

She gave a bittersweet smile and said, “It’s okay. I’m Smita”

“It’s nice to meet you, Smita. I can’t say if I believe you completely, but I don’t think you’re lying either”

She nodded, “It’s nice to hear that. I haven’t heard that a lot”

“Well, I should get going. But I’ll come meet you again tomorrow, if that’s okay with you”

“Sure. I’m sick of people looking at me like I’m some sort of a weakling. It would be nice to have a normal conversation for once”

I smiled at her, “I know what that feels like. I’ve had people look at me like a retard half my life”

She laughed lightly as I got up. I said bye to her and exited her room. I don’t understand. Her story sounds far fetched but it didn’t seem like she was lying at all. There was so much plight in her voice. With these thoughts swirling in my head, I walked back towards Dr. Mohan’s office. I had to see her file. I knocked for the second time at his door. He looked up and beckoned me in.

“Doctor, I’ve just visited a patient named Smita. Would it be possible for you to show me her file?”

He sighed, “I’ll have to ask her family. If they’re okay with it, I’ll give it to you. But..” he paused, “Dr. Neeti, what has she been telling you?”

The role of a mother in her son’s life

We’re all aware of how deeply our parents affect us. All of us are shaped by our childhood, and carry some part of it with us until we die. It is my personal belief that most of our behavioural patterns, traits and flaws can be traced to something or the other in our childhoods. An authoritative environment will yield traits like low self-esteem and shyness for years to come, while an overly casual environment will yield over-confidence, narcissism and recklessness.

This is the reason why parenting is a tougher task than waging war on an entire country with the help of nukes. Every little thing matters, and adds up to what will eventually turn out to be the child’s personality. Trying to be too perfect as parents will make the child wary of ever making a mistake, while being completely irresponsible will mess up the child’s life in numerous ways. Both the father and the mother have to be equal participants in the process of parenting. This article, however, focuses on the unique relationship between that of a mother and her son. It has always been pointed that a man looks at other women the way he looks at his mother. Consequently, he expects the women in his life to live up to the same standard. This is very much true, even when he may not be aware of it consciously. A mother’s influence over her son is so subconsciously ingrained, that it affects the smallest of decisions without either of them even knowing. For example, a son may not like bright colors because he never saw his mother wearing them during his childhood, He may be inclined to follow a particular religious ritual (without knowing why) because he saw his mother doing the same, He may not understand why smoking is proclaimed to be a ‘bad habit’ by everyone else, because his mother smoked too.

A mother also has a deep impact on whether her son grows up to be inherently strong or weak. If a son is brought up by a weak mother, he will tend to be weak, even if he becomes successful career wise. He will always view his mother and consequently himself as a victim. His consistent lack of being decisive, confrontational and courageous will make him identify even more with his mother, and instead of fostering a healthy relationship, it will breed a co-dependent, toxic relationship. On the other hand, if a son if brought up by a strong mother, who knows how and when to set limits to her affection and spoon-feeding, he will grow up to be an independent individual himself.

In the Indian society, men are known to be more inclined to follow their father’s footsteps, mirror his opinions, beliefs and thoughts about world, religion, politics and life. A son born into a businessman’s house will continue the business, a son born to an engineer father will become an engineer, a son born to a father who supports BJP will support the same party. So on and so forth. This may be true, but these are choices that a son is conditioned to make by the family and society in general. A father always wants his son to be 10 times the man he was when his son grows up. It’s natural progression and evolution. However, these are not subconscious decisions. Like mentioned above, a mother’s influence affects the smallest of things in a son’s life.

Specifically in India, where mothers treat their sons like kings and hold them dearer than their own lives, and fathers are not as deeply involved in the day-to-day upbringing, sons tend to mirror their mother’s likes, dislikes and choices much more. This is the reason why an adult son may get caught up between his wife and mother. I have observed that Indian mothers find it hard to let go and accept the fact that their now adult sons are capable of leading separate lives. They cling onto them, because their sons were their only mission and accomplishment. To let go would be to let go of all meaning behind their lives. The consequent effect of this coddling is that the adult son finds it hard to view any relationship in his life objectively. Every relationship in his life gets coloured by his mother’s opinion in some way or the other, just like his relationship with his wife. He might be deeply in love with her and respect her choices, but if his mother’s opinion of her isn’t as good, then he will doubt his own feelings. He needs validation from his mother for everything.

And as heinous as it may sound, most of India’s mistreatment of women (rape, molestation, violence, domestic abuse, eave teasing etc) can be attributed to the women themselves. A mother can be a role model for her son on how he will grow up to treat other women. If she herself lets herself be treated badly in her marriage, then the son may think it’s ‘norm’ for women to be treated second class, and that they encourage it. If the mother doesn’t use negative reinforcement when the son commits a mistake or crosses a boundary, then she ‘enables’ him to think that it’s okay to behave in that way. All these factors and behavioural missteps combine to encourage a man to commit violence against women, and even more alarming, to think that it’s alright.

In conclusion, our mothers are a vital part in our lives. It doesn’t matter whether you share a healthy relationship with her or an unhealthy one, whether you are in touch with her or not, she will continue to affect and impact you in a multitude of ways for a very long time.

Eating disorders as a response to Rape/Abuse

We all have our set of defense mechanisms that we use to cope with our problems. Some of these defense mechanisms are built consciously, piece by piece. Others are put up by the sub conscience. In the face of a traumatic event, for instance a metro/train accident, a person consciously might make extreme behavioral changes to avoid the triggers that set off memories of the accident. He/she might avoid taking the train altogether and opt for a longer, more tedious route instead, might avoid people who were directly or indirectly associated with the incident, might not even travel for a very long time. These are also known as ‘coping strategies’.

Sub conscience defense mechanisms come into play without the individual realizing it. In the above mentioned scenario, one of the first mechanisms to get activated would be denial. Denial enables to the person to reject the entire incident. One is able to convince himself that it couldn’t have happened to him. The aftermath and the avalanche of emotional upheaval  becomes much easier to deal with. Denial is a fairly common defense mechanism that helps people to deal with small issues like failing in class to big ones like alcoholism/drug abuse. Escapism may/can be considered a consequence of denial. Other mechanisms that might get activated at a later stage are repression, dissociation, compartmentalization etc.

But recently, I came across someone who developed an eating disorder as a response to the abuse she had experienced as a child. She developed anorexia in response to the hatred that she felt towards her own body as a consequence of rape/abuse. It left me wondering how the emotions one goes through during abuse, manifest themselves in so many different ways at a later stage. She seemed to be focusing all her energies on getting rid of anorexia, because it was interfering with her day to day life, but I realized that the root was the abuse. If she could resolve the repressed feelings related to her abuse, she could resolve her anorexia.

While this is a really disturbing example of how rape and physical abuse can wreck an individual’s life, it’s also fascinating to know the different ways in which our mind protects us from psychological damage. Because she could not channelize her anger towards her abuser, she redirected it towards herself, blaming herself for letting something heinous happen to her. In case of rape and abuse, it’s not just the body of the victim that is abused, far greater damage is inflicted upon the mind. An individual’s self-esteem,  dignity and most importantly the sense of ownership is ripped apart brutally. Every inch of your personal space, that no one but you has a claim upon, is accessed and abused. An incident like this, is bound to leave the victim feeling less than human. In the example mentioned, the victim must have felt like she was stuck in a foreign body. After having that personal claim snatched away from her, she could not love it the way she loved it before.

I always thought of anorexia as a developmental response to body image and social pressure. After having watched endless movies portraying dancers and gymnasts adopting anorexia as a ‘lifestyle’, I had pretty much come to the conclusion that only a niche category of people could develop anorexia. It’s true that people who are required to be thin are probably more prone to it, but it’s not exclusive to them. Believe it or not, overweight people can be anorexic or bulimic too. The struggle is very real.

For more information: http://www.aftersilence.org/eating-disorders.php

Raise a voice against police misconduct in India!

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India is a country where every person or group in authority assumes autocratic power. Whether it is your local welfare association, development authority, MLA, MP or Police. They unabashedly abuse the power given to them by the public to serve them. They thrive on feeling powerful and in control – An unfortunate misuse of taxpayer’s money.

When was the last time you felt satisfied by the steps taken by the police to address your grievance? Were they sensitive? Did they listen to you properly? Did you ever get a proper account of the follow up conducted? Was your grievance ever really solved or did you just move on due to lapse of time?

Or, when was the last time you were harassed by the police in the following ways: (i) Verbal intimidation (ii) Verbal abuse (iii) Unlawful detention (iv) Mental torture (v) false accusation (vi) Been asked for a bribe and (vii) Physical torture? Or known someone who has been harassed by the police?

When was the last time you truly felt safe calling the police?

Unfortunately, Police misconduct and human rights violations are commonplace in India. What should be an exception is treated as a norm. People are illegally detained and tortured in police stations for days at a time. Abusive intimidation tactics that know no boundaries are incessantly used to break a person. False charges and accusations are lodged in order to get their way. Stalling or slowing the process down of FIR retrieval, deliberate attempts to not follow up a case, delay carrying out an investigation to let mitigating factors come into play are some of the other ways in which police abuses it’s power.

The citizens are extremely fearful of the police. The moment you see a police car next to your house, you start panicking. The kind of fear that the police induces in people is astonishing and shocking. It’s hard to believe that this establishment has been put in place for our own protection and well-being. No one wants to go against the police. No one wants to fight them in case they trap them in a false charge or build a criminal case against them. No one wants to even get involved in a police case. This is the way the police manipulates the citizens to follow their command. They have led people to believe that their authority is absolute and binding, and that they can make life difficult for anyone who opposes them.

Why is this happening? Why, in a country that preaches “of the people, by the people, for the people”, is letting such shameless harassment of it’s people go unnoticed? Unfortunately, the answer is that there is no mechanism in place to hold the police accountable for their actions. When something bad happens to us, we’re supposed to go to the police. But where do we go when the police does something wrong to us? Any answers?

A Police Complaints Authority has been put in place for namesake. You can go to the court but the Indian judicial system is slower than a snail on wheels. You can file a complaint in NHRC, but they too, take their time. Bottomline is there is no independent authority that can be summoned immediately when you are being harassed or abused by the police. There is no helpline that will respond to your grievance and set up a case against the officer in question.

We need an authority that induces the kind of fear in the police that they induce in the public. They need to know that someone is on their watch, that they cannot misuse the power given to them. We also need CCTV cameras to be installed in every room of every police station, so that they cannot detain or torture illegally. Every concerned citizen should be allowed to access the footage.

I have made a petition to get supporters for this cause. The reason that I have made this petition is because I have personally gone through a harrowing experience with the police recently, where I was manhandled, abused and denied of basic rights. I was shocked at the sheer injustice of it all and realized that something needs to be done about this. I plan to file a PIL in the supreme court if I manage to get enough volunteers and signatures. So if you agree with me, please sign this petition and forward it to as many people as you can.

Raise a voice against Police misconduct and harassment! – Please sign this petition!

Hog’s head: Siphoning off thoughts to make my head a bit emptier – I

I observe a lot, which ensures that my brain is always overpopulated with thoughts. Most of these thoughts are disconnected and transient – they evaporate or flicker away pretty soon. But nevertheless, they exist, even if it is for a fraction of a second. So I decided to make an attempt at constructing a train of cohesive thoughts – organization out of chaos, basically. Over the past few days, owning to the experiences in my life, I have made a few observations about people who can be functional only when they believe that the world is lined up against them, or when they play the victims.

Lets address the first aspect first – people who believe that everyone is against them in a discriminatory and prejudicial way. To them, every situation is unfair, every individual biased. Believing that people hate them or are against them helps them make the difficult situations a little bit easier. For example, a person experiencing this syndrome (Also known as ‘persecutory delusion’) will categorically believe that the only reason he/she was asked to stay back late for work is because the boss harbors a personal grudge against him/her, or if someone else was chosen over them for a job then it was probably because the management is jealous or afraid of their capability or intelligence. Like I said, these delusional beliefs assuage the feelings of hurt or humiliation that arise out of these situations.

The second aspect – the “victim syndrome” is a complex bit of thought process which leads the person to always consider him/herself as the victim in every situation. They like to believe that they were wronged unjustly in situations that they had no control over. Classic example of people suffering from victim syndrome are domestic abuse survivors. While I have a lot of respect for them to have come out of abusive arrangements, I have to say that they are the prime example of a group of people breeding and perpetuating the victim syndrome. Because they were subjected to abuse for such a long time, and because they for a long time they could not do anything about it – they attribute all the problems in their life to this one particular experience. Lack of independence, excessive crying, not shouldering responsibility of their kids or loved ones, emotionally isolating their kids, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing their kids etc are all symptoms of this syndrome. As someone from the Indian subcontinent, I have come across such women far too many times in life.

People who play the victim love getting sympathy from people. They love it when people mollycoddle them and join them in justifying their actions (as a direct result of the injustice suffered by them) They find it hard to digest that there may have been another solution to the same problem that could have yielded better results. They usually consider themselves to be “helpless” and “without any choice” . Another important characteristic of a chronic victim is the tendency to play the ‘blame game’. Whenever something goes wrong, the victim needs someone to be their scapegoat. When they don’t find someone to blame, they turn into victimizers and victimize other people by unloading or venting on them, They channel all their frustration and anger on someone else whose connection to the problem at hand was probably remote. This is because the idea that they could have done something wrong is just too much for them to assess. Blaming or unloading helps them feel better and less guilty about their mistake.

Another trait that I have observed, while it is not widely published, is that people suffering from victim syndrome usually have anger issues and have trouble letting go of things. Their anger is like a silent volcano that erupts when the inner self can no longer contain it. When something wrong happens with the victim, instead of processing it objectively in their minds and rationally attributing guilt, they keep the incident raw and unprocessed in their mind, automatically blaming someone else or their past experiences. They convince themselves to not think about it. But when such problems keeps occurring over and over again, their resentment gets too much too handle and they burst out in violent ways.

They also have trouble forgiving others and letting grudges go. If you come across someone suffering from victim syndrome and ask him/her to recite some of their worst experiences, they will probably be able to give you a long lecture with rich detail.

Finally, if you know someone who struggles with persecutory delusions or victim syndrome – I know that living with them can be extremely difficult and frustrating, but know that they’re your loved ones and need help. Self victimization is learned process and can be unlearned through a systematic process. But it needs patience and time.

But if you still can’t deal with it, just leave them to their ranting and whining and go watch something awesome like The Amazing Spiderman, or any of the Marvel movies really.