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?”

Binge Living

I wrote this so long ago, feels like yesterday though. One story that I’m actually proud of.

Aparajita Burjwal

Hair roughly tied back in a loose bun and mascara running down her cheeks, Swati looked around the room. The state of her house reflected her inner state – broken. Her life was empty. She had nothing.

Her mind suddenly started reeling back in her past. The only good years of her childhood were the years she spent with her parents. When she was 5, they died in a car accident. They were both driving under influence (DUI), something that Swati was completely unaware of. Alcoholism lived in her house – day in and day out. Her thoughts shifted to the time spent in an orphanage. Those were probably the worst years of her life. She preferred not to recall them, so her mind sped through those memories and paused at one day. The day she ran away from the orphanage.

While she was in the orphanage, Swati had discovered a…

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Binge Living

Hair roughly tied back in a loose bun and mascara running down her cheeks, Swati looked around the room. The state of her house reflected her inner state – broken. Her life was empty. She had nothing.

Her mind suddenly started reeling back in her past. The only good years of her childhood were the years she spent with her parents. When she was 5, they died in a car accident. They were both driving under influence (DUI), something that Swati was completely unaware of. Alcoholism lived in her house – day in and day out. Her thoughts shifted to the time spent in an orphanage. Those were probably the worst years of her life. She preferred not to recall them, so her mind sped through those memories and paused at one day. The day she ran away from the orphanage.

While she was in the orphanage, Swati had discovered a deep love for music – that was perhaps the only good thing to have happened to her in that place. Her love and passion for music drove her to construct a plan to run away. She knew she had to learn music.

A small bittersweet smile touched upon her lips as she recalled the wild times she spent outside the orphanage – Struggle for work, money and survival, small and petty jobs, endless drinking and endless music. She finally managed to collect enough money to enroll in a music academy.

Music academy. Her mind stopped there. From there on, it was as if she had had a re-birth. That she wasn’t Swati Gupta. She looked around her house once again, and this time she noticed the broken photo frames.

Armaan came into her life when she stepped into that academy. They hit it off almost instantly and before she knew it, they were in love. Swati could speed past 20 years of her life, but each moment that she spent with Armaan was engraved in her mind like a tattoo. She knew that he was the one. Still did.

After graduating from the academy, Armaan, Swati and a two of their common friends decided to form an Indian pop band. That was the highest of all the highs – their band. Her world was full of music, lyrics, tunes, notes, instruments, voices..everything music. Their band was an instant success. They were on the top for 5 straight years. But as they say, nothing lasts forever. And then Swati Gupta became Swati Gupta once again.

Armaan had a drinking problem. His drinking increased when early success struck them. With each passing concert, his addiction became worse. When the media sniffed this, the tabloid papers went into a frenzy. It created a rift between their band members. And just as they had shot up to fame in 5 seconds, they were pulled down in 2.5.

Swati stood up for Armaan wherever necessary. They moved in together. Lack of music was like lack of air. Armaan indulged himself into alcohol, and it increased her resentment. Not long after their fall from grace, she discovered that she was addicted to music and the audience. Her craving to play the guitar just once again increased day by day. To get rid of the anxiety, she played in small bars and restaurants. One day, when things got too out of hand, she confronted Armaan. Their fight culminated in them breaking up.

Her mind zapped back to the present. Words from that conversation still echoed in her brain.

“I can’t do this anymore Armaan”

“Then don’t”

“You really mean that?”

6 months. It had been 6 months. She moved out and found another flat. With Armaan gone, she was completely hollow from inside. She tried to get her mind away from him by working endlessly, but it didn’t work. Each day was like a restricted breath. When it got too much to handle, she turned to the only way she could find – drugs.

They opened a new world for her – momentary happiness. It was like flying in heaven for those few moments. She forgot all about her failure, and about Armaan for those few moments. It was like being back to her mother’s welcoming arms. Her dependency increased everyday, to the point that she was working only to be able to buy enough for one day. She had no permanent house, and moved from one flat to the other as frequently as changing clothes. Her previous cleanliness ‘freak’ attitude had been turned into complete disregard of her surroundings. She lost her appetite, wore the same clothes for numerous days, stopped caring for her health and her veins were beginning to weaken.

But she kept using. She didn’t know what had become of her life. ‘Living’ was now an alien word. Slowly and gradually, her world started revolving around drugs, and one day, she had no work. And now, she was here.

She blinked fresh tears and looked down at the syringe. The only object that offered her some solace. Without thinking, she shot it up her arm and closed her eyes.

She was in a vast white room. She was wearing nothing except of a small necklace, with a guitar in her hand. A smile adorned her face as she started playing. In the distance, she could hear a melodious voice singing. Turning around, she saw that it was Armaan, and he too, was smiling at her.

But his face faded into nothingness as the immediate euphoric rush ended. She felt herself slipping into a state of drowsiness. Armaan’s smiling face still lingered in her mind. Suddenly, she doubled over and vomited out blood. Her pupils began to dilate and her temperature suddenly dropped. She lifted her shivering hands and saw that they were blue. Weakness took over her and she began to lean sideways towards the ground. As her head touched the ground, her breathing became shallow.

Her mind once again sped past all memories, and the last thought before she closed her eyes was of Armaan waiting for her in the white room with his arms open.

 

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Armaan tried to control his shivering hands as he ran then through his hair. Being put into a rehab was nothing short of hell. 3 days in this place – and he already wanted to end his life. The withdrawal symptoms were getting too much to handle. It seemed as though he had run into a dead end, and there was no way out.

He got up from his bed and started pacing to ease the anxiety. After Swati left, he had nothing left in life worth living for. He lived off his previous earning and occasionally sang when he ran out of funds. His day began with a can of beer and ended with whisky. It was not until he rammed into an old lady while drunk driving that the police put him in a rehab.

His heart craved for her presence every day. He knew he had ruined their relationship, but Swati’s sudden break down hadn’t helped his already guilt ridden conscious. It wasn’t something he could help – he was addicted. He tried to find her countless number of times, but never managed to find her. She kept moving from one place to the other. At times, he didn’t realize when his tears started getting mixed with alcohol. He tried and tried until he stopped controlling alcohol and alcohol started controlling him.

“Armaan”

He heard an angelic voice coming from the window. He turned to see Swati standing there, smiling at him. He couldn’t believe what he saw, “Swati?”

She just widened her smile and nodded. He was still shocked, he asked again, “Swati?”

He slowly walked towards her. Tears brimmed in his eyes as he outstretched his hand to touch her cheek. She leaned into his touch and said, “I can’t live without you Armaan”

“Neither can I”, said Armaan in a voice full of raw emotion.

But then she slowly moving backward towards the window. Armaan began to shake his head, “Swati, don’t leave me again, please, please, Swati..” tears were now freely rolling down his cheeks. His outstretched arm still lingered in the air as he tried to stop her. With horror, he realized that Swati was too close to the window and might slip.

“No Swati, no, stop!”, he yelled, but to no avail. In the wink of an eye, Swati slipped, the smile on her face still intact.

“NO!”, the scream left Armaan’s throat before he knew it. The door to his room burst open and his roommate came rushing to him. Turning a frantic Armaan around by the shoulders, he said “Armaan! What happened? Are you okay?”

“Anuj, Anuj, Swati was here. She-She fell down. We need to go down. I have to save her. She was here. I-”

“Armaan…Armaan!”, shouted Anuj when he kept on rambling, “Listen. There’s no one here. You were hallucinating”, he started rubbing Armaan’s arms, and said softly, “It happens. Okay? Hallucination is common amongst alcohol withdrawals”

Armaan, too dazed and shocked to respond, just mumbled, “B-But I saw h-her..How..”, and trailed off. Anuj’s heart broke at the sight of his roommate. He was not just an addict, he was shattered. Hollow.

Seeing that Armaan was in no state to think properly, he softly said, “C’mon, we need to attend the evening meeting”. He didn’t know whether he heard it or not, he simply held his hand and pulled him towards the door.

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Feedback will be highly appreciated. I’d written this long time back, and recently came across it again when I was browsing through my documents. Used to be an avid writer before.