Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Steep Road to Equality

From the mild "you are ungrateful" to the moderate "education has ruined you" to the extreme "you are breaking this family", I have faced it all. I'm sure there's more to come! 

Three years back, I was a 2nd year student of Psychology honours in Daulat Ram College, DU. In our department (Psychology department), 5 students got to do a research project in their final year and have their own dissertation. I had put forward 4 research areas of interest in my proposal, one of which was this:

Commonsense says that having an orientation inconsistent with societal values may be a risk factor for poor mental health. My first research proposal is a logical extension of this argument and is as follows: Are women who identify themselves as feminists more prone to psychological distress than women who identify with patriarchal values considering that the socio-cultural climate of India has historically been patriarchal?

Today as I was surfing the web, I chanced upon an article A Toxic Stew: Risks To Women Of Public Feminism. An anthropologist herself, the writer Barbara King analyses in this piece the recent phenomenon of deluge of misogynistic comments and psychological abuse hurled at feminists in the digital world and the harm such anti-feminist discourses do to women. When I read this article, I couldn't help but remember that what this article talks about is essentially what my first area of research interest was to explore in the Indian context! Not to say anything of my own experience of paying huge psychological costs for not being a demure creature and actually having a mind of my own (terrible things for a woman!). In India, considering that patriarchy is extremely deep rooted, and most of our population remains untouched by the liberating forces of education and modernization, I fear that the repercussions on women's psychological health would be still worse. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When Juliet Fell in Love, Again.

“That whose ears love has not yet caressed, do not hear when it comes calling; that whose eyes love has not yet blinded, do not see when it arrives on its winged carriage”. What follows is not meant for their eyes and ears. They may work out the maze of black and white strewn over here and navigate the labyrinth of my emotions articulated through language but such untoward beings will not be able to decipher the whisperings of my pulsating heart not clad in words. But pray, do such men exist whose souls have never been enveloped by love? Do such men exist who have never worshipped what love did to them? For, isn’t love the elixir of all life that is?

And who better to sing the praises of love, high-wrought love, than me? Who better than Juliet? Yes, in love I am- violently, as is my wont.

It all began ten years ago when every young lady with a heart that could beat fell in love with him. But Juliet’s love is no ordinary love. Their love- love that sprouted out of the attraction towards all the fame, power and material pleasures that were to be his or out of infatuation with his oration and wit are no comparison to this love of mine for him- pristine, unselfish love; love that was perhaps born in the almighty’s lap and gradually trickled onto here dollop by dollop with the night’s secrets. I know he is married and his family is the picture of a family that is as happy as any could be but that doesn’t bother me. Juliet’s love for her beloved will not grow more with reciprocation or diminish with rejection. I have never intended to possess him; I don’t need to. Didn’t some great poet once said, “it is limited love that asks for possession of the beloved; unlimited love asks only for itself”? That’s precisely the nature of this love of mine.

You may ask what all this will amount to- self destruction perhaps, as Juliet is known for. No, I declare. You may choose to call it destruction but to me it is spiritual exaltation. In all my senses have I draped myself in this wreath of thorns by choosing to declare my love for the most powerful person in the world who, I know, can never be possessed. I know I’m headed nowhere but being the mistress of the White House has never been an object of any interest to me, let alone desire.

I don’t need his attention; I don’t seek his acknowledgement. I only want to make him realize to what extent a woman can love a man. I want Mr. Barack Obama to know how much Juliet loves him. I want him to understand that Juliet loves him “more than a poet loves his sorrowful thoughts, more than a devotee worships his Lord, more than a mother loves her stillborn child...”

Will you be my messenger?

P.S. This entry was written in a creative writing contest for the topic 'When Juliet fell in love with Barack Obama." Yeah! :D
P.P.S. The quotes used are of Kahlil Gibran's, slightly modified.

Foray into Adulthood


  To be an adult means, to me, being competent- to deal with one’s own issues without needing anybody’s help and taking care of others competently. Adulthood entails a new set of rights and responsibilities that separate an adult from a child. Some of these rights and responsibilities are totally new, and some are extensions in the degree of what was allowed before. Of course the picture is different for different people. For e.g. being allowed to drive/ travel alone (right) and being expected to drive/travel alone taking care of one’s safety (responsibility) may not be enjoyed by a child, but quite likely to be by an adult. Yet at the same time, there might be kids who enjoy this right and responsibility and adults who don’t. The degree of competence then, and even the expectations of such competence in various areas by other adult members of the society, would be what would differentiate a child from an adult. I don’t think that adulthood is a number- something attained chronologically by a natural process called biological growth. Chronological age certainly matters but it’s not the whole thing. I rather see adulthood as this process of gaining social maturity and various everyday skills to get on with life with as less dependence as a society allows its individuals. I don’t see all aspects of adulthood as things that are bestowed automatically, inevitably, on everybody crossing a particular age (say, 18 or 21). Legally speaking, it may be that simple but in real life i.e. in a familial and cultural context, that’s not how it happens. Rather much of it has to be negotiated and sometimes fought for.

There hasn’t been a specific instance or experience or time I attach to the emergence of my adulthood. In fact, I don’t remember ever being a child. Being the eldest of three children in a family that had moved to a new place, my childhood ended perhaps with the birth of my brother when I was seven. Even before that, I don’t have any memories of playing with toys. Anyways, I had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities (sometimes unwillingly) from a very young age and this I owe to the fact that my father was the only male in our nuclear family and I had to grow up to be like what a boy would have grown up to do. I loved my brother too much to ever complain about the lack of attention to the fact that I was still vulnerable, emotionally and otherwise. 

I particularly remember my tuition days in class 5th when I had to cycle 3 kilometers crossing an over-bridge out of which 1 used to be in total darkness as the time for the one-hour power cut every evening coincided with end of tuition hours. I resented it a lot but seeing no other way, had to go with it for months till our tuition teacher was transferred to another city and I didn’t take up a new class. There are several such experiences that make me realize that I attained what is adulthood in my eyes, pretty grudgingly. My tears during my undergrad days when I made sure that my parents didn’t have to know about every difficulty of mine, or at least those that they6 couldn’t do anything about from such a distance, have made me an adult. My resilience has made me an adult. Interestingly, my father still doesn’t consider that I’m an adult. Of course he doesn’t say that I’m a child still. Adolescence is my bane. There is some implicit disrespect in that word, as if, you need not be taken seriously if you’re an adolescent which I’m up against. Respect for traditional values and conformity to elder family members seems to be an essential component of adulthood which I haven’t gotten close to attaining so far. I fear even when I’m 30, my father will have his reservations regarding whether I’m out of my adolescence yet!

  As I said earlier, I became an adult without having tasted the pampering of childhood. Perhaps that’s the reason regression is my first response in times of stress since the last three years that I have been with my boyfriend in the kind of relationship that allows me to pour out all my difficulties in front of him. Some introspection into how my romantic relationship has been decreasing my threshold of stress tolerance  and accepting the fact that I have to live alone for at least a couple of years more has made me climb up the ladder towards adulthood since the last few days. As it flows from here, for me adulthood means independence more than anything else, inevitably coupled with responsibility and increased loneliness that only increases. An adult can cry too, nothing wrong in that, but if you ask me, the adult me crying is a slip, a mistake. An adult me not wanting to get up from the bed is a feeling I have the luxury to experience only very few times, since I‘m human, but not always since I’m an adult. That’s how I see adulthood.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m expected to participate in family discussions about people I don’t even know because they are my extended family; I’m expected to see how my cousins are doing in life and offer them advice and help, on my own, no matter how far I stay away from them; I’m expected to be a representative of my family, which includes not caring about my personal opinions and emotions and supporting my father’s decisions while dealing with relatives and family friends. This is not necessarily what adulthood entails for everybody; it’s my family script for adulthood. I plan to rewrite it once I’m married and well settled professionally (being in a position of importance, according to my family), which is when I’ll have more of a say in how my family runs because I will have acquiesced to society’s demands of settling down and in my family power comes only with conformity to society’s ways. I can see I have been rambling about my family, but adulthood is a topic which always does that to me. I wish I knew adulthood means so much of loneliness; I would have appreciated my parents more for all the challenges they must have faced every day of their life while bringing us up. They haven’t been perfect, but it was never an easy job anyways.

Do I want to be more adult? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. I would like more discipline in my life and less influence of my mood on my actions; hence yes. At the same time, I would like to, once I’m married, be a child and experience all the little little joys I missed out, with my partner; hence no. That would mean, indirectly, more or less, more influence of my mood on my actions. Perhaps the desire to keep the child in me alive is as strong as being ‘more’ adult. I hope I’ll be able to strike a good balance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wings and Chains

What keeps me going they ask. I smile and shrug my shoulders, and try to make it appear like its no big deal. So what if it is extra and voluntary work? I mumble a few words about my passion for helping people who are at a difficult place emotionally. Only part of it is true though.

Deep inside I know that what keeps bringing me back here, every other weekend. It can't be just altruism when it involves so much of extra vicarious emotional trauma, investing extra time as well as effort in one's last and most important semester in a highly hectic course, nothing to say of additional expenses in travelling and sacrificing half of one's weekend.

More than altruism or passion to touch lives, to be honest, it is fear. Fear that someday, someone I love may be in a position like this and maybe I won't be there for them or won't be capable enough to help. Fear that in some parallel universe, this fate could have been mine or my loved ones' and there might not be enough helping hands and enough healing words to go by. Fear that right at this moment someone I love maybe suffering and may not even be able to receive help for it- because you see, emotional wounds do not carry the same importance that physical wounds do in our world.

Now that I have the clarity that only black and white perhaps can provide, I would say it is actually a mixture of gratitude and hope with that fear- hope that if I touch so many lives with my healing words, maybe my loved ones will be tended to better by the universe when they are struggling similarly; gratitude that though I and my loved ones have seen some highly trying times, all are pretty functional and have largely stayed at a safe distance from major emotional upheaval.

The more I analyse myself and the more insight I gain into my motivations, actions, thoughts and feelings, the more I realise that I'm operating out of a complex interplay of all that has happened in my formative years. My fervent wish to not let my future be in anyway influenced by my past and my inspired attempts to learn everything anew by gorging on books have not met their goal. I have grown wings, no doubt, but have the chains vanished? Have I been able to get completely away from my fears, my memories, my disappointments- my old world? Hell no. There's no escaping childhood and family, no matter how many faults I can find with the Psychoanalytic school of thought.

I have come to understand that my over zealous attempts to not be like somebody are also a way that that person still holds power and influence over me. My disenchantment with certain beliefs held religiously by certain people in my life has probably made me extremely biased against those beliefs- thus closing the space of experimenting with those beliefs and then making a verdict. Some of my disappointments have been so big that I have never allowed myself to have certain experiences. What sort of individuation has it been then?

 The more I understand such things, the more I realize how running away from one's chains is futile, for wings can co-exist along with chains and chains need not be so bad after all if one invests in self-awareness. This blog will be my foray into becoming all that I can be- into greater understanding of how my own mind works and being comfortable with what I learn, and thereby continuing to increase my understanding of human behavior. It will also be a way of sharing with the society the priceless lessons 5 years of studying Psychology in the best institutions of India have given me.

What's in it for you?
Plenty of nuggets of wisdom interspersed with anecdotes and psychological theories in equal measure, in areas including but not limited to relationships, parenting, mental health, happiness, individuation, adulthood and counting :) Oh, and book-reviews and social commentaries too! I'm thrilled to begin this journey!

P.S. The details about the setting and the work I do there have not been mentioned because I'm bound by an undertaking of strict confidentiality.