Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We need to talk about our obsession with stable marriages

We Indians love weddings. We love marriage. We love big fat weddings and marriages that last the lifetime of the two people involved. If you can boast of both, sone pe suhaaga. Also, we hate complaints about dissatisfaction in marriage, and we absolutely abhor divorce (and divorcees- only the women though). We have no patience with the present generation that treats marriage as something they can get out of and has newfangled concepts like 'romance' and 'autonomy' being important in marriage. They are misguided, we say, and can only be saved by going through the arranged marriage route and learning the value of adjustment- if you don't like where you are, you work at feeling better and not at planning how to get out.

As a culture, we take a lot of pride in our stable marriages- people sticking it out (most often for the sake of their children) no matter how miserable they are with each other; the number of years for which relationships last meaning far more than the quality of relationships. We are highly disapproving of the apparent ease with which the present generation can and does get out of marriages, and lament it as bad influence of the West. What we don't seem to recognize is the fact that there can be bad marriages too! There's a limit to how much you can achieve through best intentions and trying to adjust- not everyone can be healed/changed and not every relationship can be salvaged.  In fact, toxic relationships can be extremely damaging for people's mental health- all the more true for children! So having options other than staying put in an abusive marriage is actually a lifesaver and needs to be given due credit. No denying that there are marriages that break up in a matter of days and weeks for the most frivolous of reasons and people are right when they say that such cases are more of a recent phenomenon. During my internship in a family court in Mumbai, I came across several cases in which I sadly noticed that people don't take marriage as seriously as it deserves to be taken, cases that made me lament the fact that marriages are not considered sacrosanct anymore. Yet I also came across cases- marriages fraught with impossible levels of all sorts of abuse- that made me glad that the sanctity of marriage is not absolute. They made me think 'Thank God for Divorce.'

It is said that the best legacy parents can leave their children is their happiness. Whether you fight or choose to keep it all brushed under the carpet, children are perceptive and the impact of marital discord on children's healthy development is huge! Often children pick up similar behavior patterns, have more adjustment problems and may show a variety of internalizing and externalizing problems that may last well into adulthood*. If not anything else, the child in question is going to have no role models for a healthy relationship and may grow up believing that what happens in his family is the way relationships play out everywhere. Contrary to what we may like to believe, it's better to get out of an abusive relationship- better for the children- that staying put and roughing it out.

So you see, you don't deserve a medal simply for staying in a relationship for life! We need to talk about the quality of that relationship first. Yes, all relationships have their ups and downs- every marriage entails hard work. But there's a difference between putting effort in one's relationship to keep it healthy, and tolerating abuse simply for survival of the relationship.

This morning I woke up to this harrowing yet inspirational story from Humans of Amsterdam, which made me want to write this post in the first place.  Its the story of an Indian woman working in Amsterdam who had had a history of emotional abuse in her marriage and was looking for divorce:
"When my father found out I wanted to divorce my husband he was really upset. He suggested I would travel to India so we could talk things through. I wasn’t planning on changing my mind but in order to get my divorce settled I would have to go to India. My manager at Nike gave me two weeks off and I flew back home. When I arrived, my family was mostly emotional and angry with me for making the decision to get a divorce. Later that week we traveled to the other side of the country to my husband’s house to discuss the situation. I remember sitting in a circle in his living room and everyone was looking at me. For hours my family and his family were trying to convince me to not go through with the divorce. This went on for hours and hours and at some point I was so exhausted I had to go to sleep. That night I slept in his house. Just being there reminded me of all those terrible months. I woke up the next day and I noticed that my bag with my passport, phone and credit cards was missing. I panicked and confronted my in-laws. They said that they had nothing to do with my missing bag and that someone must have broken in and stole it. Slowly I started to realize how serious the situation was. My two weeks off were almost finished and I had to get to my job in Amsterdam. To get a new passport in India it takes at least 3 months and a signature of your father or husband."

You can read the rest of the story here

I had goosebumps while I read this woman's story, and couldn't help but think about the plight of women who are not as educated or have the financial means to actually get away from a rotten marriage. Why lay so much emphasis on staying together when the life of the relationship has been sucked out already? Why are we so tolerant of abuse; why do we think that a relationship can get back to normal after there being episodes of abuse and no measures being taken by the couple to process it and by the perpetrator to get help for it? Why make it so difficult to get out of a dead relationship? Is 'not incurring society's wrath' such a worthy goal that we as parents are ready to sacrifice our children's happiness for it? Also, why are such archaic laws still in place that require the signature of husband/father on documents? Doesn't it help keep domestic violence alive? Are we so obsessed with marriage and maintaining patriarchy that we don't care about our women's safety, let alone their well-being? Of course, we are- we still don't recognize marital rape as rape! We truly have a long, long way to go before we can claim to treat our women fairly. Happy Dusehra folks! And more power to women like Haritha who are an inspiration to women everywhere, and the true manifestation of Maa Durga.

* Jenkins, J.M., & Smith, M.A. (1991). Marital disharmony and children’s behavior problems: Aspects of a poor marriage that affect children.

This article was originally published here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Love, and the other names it goes by

I saw a jarring quote on Facebook the other day- "Let's emotionally damage each other and call it love."
The person who had posted it had probably found it funny and so did the people who 'reacted' to it but I'm sure it had struck a chord with many beyond inciting just laughter. I think it's appeal was in straight out stating a bitter truth, and most who saw it agreed with it.

Do I agree with it? Hell yes! And ew, no. Depends how I looked at it when you asked.

So many people in intimate relationships have no idea what they are doing, to themselves and their partner, and don't really bother with learning what healthy relationships look like and how to have one. The attitude is- "What's there to learn? Doesn't it come naturally? Like parenting does once you become a father/mother?" Sure! I mean, most mental health professionals would be out of their jobs if these things came naturally to everyone, but sure! 

To be fair, we have very few models of healthy relationships in media and our schools and colleges teach us nothing about constructive relationship skills. To top that, family discussions rarely tackle such issues in our culture until one is getting married in the next 3 days and an insignificant minority actually seeks out books or therapy to 'learn' about themselves, the human nature and relationships. Still considering the widespread failure of marriages (failure is not marked just by divorce, mind you) and general unhappiness in relationships or dating that gets so much media attention, it's a mystery how people don't strive harder to learn about and be in healthy relationships. One would think that their own feelings or their partners' feelings would sometimes give them the signal that everything is not alright and that things need to be done differently, but would it work that way if people think that it's all a part of love? What if people have learnt to associate love with tumult and pain?

Even with all the platforms of learning just listed missing, if the two individuals involved have healthy templates of relationships, appreciate the need to put effort into their relationship, prioritize their relationship enough to be ready to invest in its growth even when nothing is wrong, and have honest discussions on how to go about it, a lot of heartache could be kept at bay. After all some people do end up learning to swim once they are in deep waters! Yet, this doesn't seem to work for the majority of us when it comes to relationships. Why? Because the template itself is faulty. 

You see, anything goes in the name of love- passive aggressive behavior, playing games and whatnot. Its like living on a trial and error mode of learning, and then wondering what went wrong and why relationships don't last, and then posting status updates or writing songs that blame 'love' for every unhappiness in life. So yes, I do agree that a lot of what goes around in the name of love is actually emotionally damaging oneself and one's partner. But does that imply that love is, by its very nature, a transaction of damaging each other?

If the foundation is not right, and the material used for construction is of low quality, no wonder the house is going to crumble one day! Does that mean it's the fault of the house? I get really pissed off at material on the web, that I come across more frequently than I would like to, that equate love with pain. If your relationship didn't work out, chances are you or your partner or both had something to do with it, or circumstances made it exceedingly difficult to survive. Don't go around the city badmouthing love! Pain is an inseparable element of life, and there can be no denying that there is pain in love, just like it is in everything else in life. Why then give a bad name to love exclusively? Of course, more is the love, the more the potential for pain, but does that mean love is not a worthy pursuit? 

One needs to get one's template right. What does a healthy relationship look like? What are the red flags in a relationship that point to its having gone from unhealthy to toxic? Only once one has the right template in place, one can work towards achieving it in one's life or make the decision to opt out of one's relationship. A case in point is the distinction between good pain from bad pain. Living with abuse of any sort can never be good, no matter how good the relationship otherwise is or has been. One should never have to learn to live with such pain, and absolutely never in the name of love. But if it's say the pain of not being able to see one's partner for days or weeks on end because of being in different cities, that sort of pain is way different even if it might be as intense and can be lived with without damaging oneself or one's partner. That sort of pain is pain you can learn to live with- pain that need not be a red flag for an unhealthy relationship. Chances are you could witness personal growth and growth of your relationship thanks to that sort of pain!

No matter how common-sensical all of this sounds, the truth is, most people have no idea what they have gotten into until they are in the thick of emotions flying around, and then they go and blame love for their misery. The huge fan of love that I am, I'm going to try and do my bit in demystifying loving, healthy relationships thorough my blog in the next few weeks. Based on my training in Psychology, my on-field experience with people in hospitals and family court dealing with relationship related distress, my understanding gleaned from English literature and my personal observations, in the next few blog posts, I'll write about healthy and unhealthy relationships, and try to keep it as non-academic and relatable as possible. Feel free to share your experiences, give feedback, ask questions or suggest topics you want me to tackle :)

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” ~ Anais Nin

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Self

The following is a work of fiction.

I look at the mirror and see a stranger staring back. I keep looking, trying to grab at the threads of perception that seemingly keep tying themselves into knots. Images flash and memories tug at my heart. I take out the rubber band and let my bun unfold into long tresses that reach my waist. I put the rubber band around my right hand wrist and touch my hair, coarse yet full, and bring some of it to the front and let it lie there. I take a red bindi sticking to the wooden frame of the mirror and apply it on my forehead, high above the point where my eyebrows meet, higher than where other women put their bindis or sindoor.

With something akin to joy, I exclaim- "oh this is me! I'm still alive."

Now with everything having changed, my physical appearance is my only anchor- it keeps me grounded, and centered, and sane. It tells me that I might still have fragments of my old self intact. 

I know that I'm not the same though- no illusions there. I am no longer the woman I used to be, and I stopped fighting against acknowledging it long back. Fighting against those waves of emotions that threatened to drown me in their blackness demanded energy that I no longer had. I gave up long back, and now I'm one with the blackness. 
I have given up trying to fight the urge to escape into sleep or tears everytime the nausea of a life that could now never be hits me- I am my sleep, and I am my tears. 
Happiness seems to be a ship that keeps going further and deeper into the ocean, sinking in size and slipping into the horizon while I remain standing on the coast watching it go. I have neither the will nor the energy to go after it. I lost a part of my self when I lost my love, and since there's no way that he can come back, I count my days here on earth till there is nothing left of myself and I can find him again in the nothingness he has dissolved into. 
Yet, having a glimpse of the self I recognise in myself makes me want to push the bindi a little higher up on my forehead, just where he liked it. 
I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles on my forehead, something he wouldn't recognise. I clean the corner of my eyes with the end of my saree and blink a few times, clearing my vision. I see myself. It feels like eons have passed since we were last together but at this moment, my hair and my bindi just as he liked it, I have a sense that he is around. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

My release- My stories

Ever since I closed the doors to my house, deciding to be more discerning of who all I let in into my life, I have stopped singing. I don't fly into rapture anymore; my voice no longer soars. I don't wake up in the middle of the night anymore with inspiration for a new song that I just have to take down. Be it sadness or joy, nothing compels me into singing anymore. I no longer sing just for the sake of it. 

I can't consciously accept that I sing only for an audience. What kind of an artist find his art to be an inadequate inspiration, ever dependent upon the response his art generates in people to create more art? I couldn't be that kind of artist.

I force myself to create art just for my eyes. I keep the door closed, and on top of it, draw the blinds- my fortress is more secure than ever. I tell myself- if I'm a true artist, keeping out an audience won't have an impact on my creation- I'll be able to sing as before, I'll want to sing as much as I did before and I'll continue to draw pleasure from it as before, because seriously, nothing substantial has changed, right?

You see, I have been living in a state of dissonance.

Little did yours truly realize before today that her only release was in the songs she sang- the words she crafted. Since she had stopped writing for others, she had been stopped from having witnesses to her existence, and by and by, from finding a release.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Giving wings to your kids' dreams!

This January I started living a dream. I started teaching in a college of Delhi University, as an adhoc Assistant Proffessor, a dream that had taken shape when I was still a student in the same university, and these days I can't help but fall back on reminiscing all that passed along the way and being grateful for eveything and everyone that made this possible.

I distinctly remember the day I had tagged along with my father to buy an appliction form for DU. While Papa was trying to figure out where we could buy the form, I was soaking up everything around, starry and dreamy eyed. I had done my research and knew that I would easily make it in DRC for Psychology Honours, so I wasn't anxious about my next trip to Delhi for admission and making ararngements for my first year of stay in the city, let alone about getting the form and filling it correctly. While my father remained absorbed in the immediate practicalities of the situation that day, I immersed myself in the undiluted joy I felt at the prospect of studying in DU and mentally made a promise to the universe- I'll make a mark here... leave my imprint.

I daresay I lived up to the promise. I bagged the Delhi University Topper tag (and a cool gold medal) for my batch in Psychology, and also won the Best All Round Student of the College for my batch in DRC. I went on to do my post-graduation in Clinical Psychology at TISS, Mumbai and fulfilled another dream. Even before I had passed out of college, I was already working in Mumbai and staying in a flat with total strangers for the first time. I left that job in a couple of months to start my career in teaching and came back to Delhi. I spent a fulfilling semester in Jamia Milia Islamia University where I taught both undergraduate and post-graduate degree program students before I was finally eligible for my big moment: teaching in DU. Now, I have aced the first interview I appeared in for DU and have started my journey as a faculty in Kamla Nehru College.

In all of this, my family, teachers and God have had huge roles to play, as I keep saying. What I have rarely sung praises for though is my parents' good financial sense without which all this could have remained just fragments of my dreams. It was never planned that I was to study in DU. I come from a small town in Odisha, from a family of teachers and doctors. Being the eldest in my generation, it was always expected that I would tread the conventional path and study medicine. And then, life happened. It's a long story that I have already told a number of times, most recently here. Anyways, it was 6 O' clock in the morning and my father awoke me from sleep that day to ask me if I could be ready for the 11 O' clock train to Delhi that day. My Mom had an inkling that I wanted to do Psychology Hons. from DU and she had been able to do what my crying and pleading a thousand times before to my father had failed to. I was going to Delhi! I was going to study in DU!

Things happened very fast after that. Very few of it was smooth, considering that everything had been decided in the eleventh hour, the final date of application submission in DU inching closer every day. However, never did I see finances being an issue. Sure, my parents weren't aware of my exact aspirations till I had appeared in my 12th board exams (well I did want to become a doctor till the beginning of class 11th, so they are not entirely to blame!), but they sure were prepared. Starting from a comfortable stay that was close to my college to being cool with my needs of a new wardrobe and my insane book-buying sprees (for a small town girl who was used to buying new books at Rs. 300 or so on an average, Delhi was paradise for its pirated stuff being peddled at 50 rupees and such). I don't come from a super rich family, so having never had to complain for finances is actually saying something (also, I happen to be very sensible with money...mmmm, most of the times). Same was the case when I had to move to Mumbai and everything got more expensive. It was a tense moment when in the first week of having joined my workplace after my 2 years of post-graduation at TISS, I had decided to get a room in a flat close to office and had been asked to deposit 25,000 rupees as advance before I could book a room. It was a total surprise for my parents because I still had a month to go in college (it was block-internship period, so no classes) and hence had my college hostel occupancy in place, but they also knew that the longer they made me wait, the worse my health condition would get for travelling 3 hours to and from hostel daily. They shelled out the money the very next day and again I had everything in place so that I could focus on the quality of my work.

I wonder what it would have been like if my parents had told me that they didn't have money to send me to Delhi and Mumbai for my education. It wouldn't have been easy to blame them, as I myself had hidden my aspirations from them deliberately till the last possible time, due to fear of their reaction- rejection of my dreams. I just got lucky. Have a look at this 3-minutes' video here. It strikes the bull's eye at what I'm trying to get at:

My parents also, in a way, got lucky, and they don't have to regret not having being able to support my dreams. Today, they are proud of my achievements! Yet, it might all have been quite different, which is scary. One can't stress too much the importance of parents being on the same page as their kids and understanding their aspirations. Both emotionally and financially, parents need to plan for their children's future from early on. It is extremely crucial in this age of increasing costs of education, for parents to #DoYourHomework, and thankfully a lot of help is on hand!

There are brilliant tools available these days that make the job easy for parents- there are custom made colouring books and story books for kids available for download free of cost (here) that help parents start a conversation regarding dreams and career goals. Of course, as evidenced from my story, dreams change and one needs to prepared for such surprises to the best of one's abilities. There's a neat module available online for exactly such scenarios- it helps parents find out education costs for various careers across various countries both in the current and in the future. There's also a nifty little app called the Homework App which not only gives information on the future value of the course a child wants to take up, but also the estimated amount of money one ineeds to invest to reach that goal. As finance gurus tell us, it's not enough to just save money; one needs to invest that money smartly to be secure of a future in which dreams don't die becuase of lack of finances. A mantra I recently got to know about that finance gurus offer comes to mind, which could save one tens of thousands with zilch costs. We all have to pay taxes, and the taxman takes a significant chunk of our money every year. One can't avoid him but there's a way one can actually cut back on what must be kept aside for the taxman by sharing less with him. One can invest in an ELSS and save upto Rs. 40K plus under Section 80C! It's simple really- Share Less & Save More- learn how here. This small video explains the merits of sharing less with the taxman:

A lot of on-ground awareness action has also happened in the last few months to help parents in this endeavor. At 17 outlets of Crossword Bookstores across 7 cities and in Kidzania, Mumbai for a period of 3 weeks, parents were made to engage in doing their homework, and setting up the foundation of a secure future for their children by the people at Axis Mutual Fund who are committed to creating awareness amongst parents on the need to plan for their children's future. There is clearly no excuse to be lazy and leave it up to chance with so much help available. As a parent, it is highly desirable that you #DoYourHomework and here is where you can start!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A terrorist is like you and me, only (infinitely) more coward

The recent attacks in Pathankot Air Base have been jarring to me. There are clips after clips of the bombings, the combing operations, the funerals and the family members that the martyred soldiers of the Indian Army left behind in my social media newsfeeds. Reports suggest that the attacks couldn't have been executed without the support of Pakistan military, yet they followed so close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Pakistan in which his comeraderie with his counterpart in Pakistan was much celebrated! So what is happening here? Is it that the Pakistani Army and the ISI want to show that the real power lies with them, and Modi's bonhomie with Sharif isn't going to change much?

Terrorism, at its heart though, is cowardice. It arises out of an inability to accept world views that are different from our own and ground realities that we don't like, and feeling incapacitated. It is as far as anything could be from being a show of strength. These attacks in which so many Jawans were martyred did not in the least manage to spread fear, for terrorism hardly manages to do that these days. What it rather evoked, as such incidents do these days, is disgust at their inhumanity and pity at their lamentable thinking.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year: New Resolutions. Overhyped much?

A new year is a time of shouting optimism, delusional self-confidence and selective amnesia. Just kidding. Actually no, I'm serious. It's that time of the year when we religiously forget our past success rate with resolutions and are driven to make new resolutions, yet again (some just old wine in new bottle!).

On a serious, and more positive note, a new year automatically fills us with enthusiasm for making changes in our life that we have long desired but have not been able to act on yet. It offers a fresh hope and a new platform to try again, to start from scratch, even if it is to repeat our mistakes! On the last couple of days of 2015, as I sat meditating on what my resolutions for 2016 should be, I started reflecting on how overrated new resolutions actually are. My mind conjured up image after image and gathered evidence after evidence from my own past for supporting this idea, and ultimately I was left with this: no new resolutions in the new year this time; 2016 is to become the year I tie up loose ends.

Starting new projects is bold and cool, granted; finishing them is the real deal. This year, I plan to polish the skills I already have and improve myself further in everything I'm already involved in. If new endeavors present themselves, I'll lap them up of course, but I won't forget the importance of continuing to shine where I have already sparkled in past. To 'continuity for change'!

Btw if you like to read, and are looking for an inspired beginning to your new year, here is a great list by the awesome people at High Existence.

Happy new year :)

Glimpses from my scrap-book

About a month back, I had my last class of the semester with a bunch of students from each class that I was teaching at Jamia Milia Islamia University. Since I was looking for prospects in other universities in the city, I had informed them that our class of the semester was also probably going to be our last class together- most probably, I wasn't coming back to teach them in 2016. The responses of my students were extremely touching! One class in particular, the 3rd semester, that I taught Abnormal Psychology, made my last couple of hours spent with them endearingly memorable. They got me this cake, as a Thank You token and many came to thank me personally with their own personal tokens of remembrance.

In our last but one class together, I had asked these students to give me feedback on what the Abnormal Psychology classes had done to them, meaning, if there was any change in their perspective towards mental illnesses and those diagnosed with them or any other such influence. I did expect positive feedback regrading this, and also positive feedback for my teaching as well thrown in, but never even in my dreams could I have anticipated the kind of adulation I saw in those little letters for myself and my teaching.
"We will miss you for being the Psychology teacher from the fantasy world."
I had tears in my eyes as I read letter after letter of undiluted love and admiration and truly realised the immense power the profession of teaching has for moulding hearts.
"I want to be like you- intellectual and kind. You made us become better human beings." 
I decided to preserve those letters and keep them close to me always. I know they are going to come handy as shields anytime I come close to somethin akin to burnout! Over the last few days, I took some of my favorite letters and pasted them in a scrapbook, which is now one of my most precious assets. 

Here are a few precious ones:

There is no end to my gratitude to the universe for allowing me to make such an impact on these kids, and for receiving so much more than I gave them.