Emotional Safety: An Existential Necessity

November 25, 2020 at 9:15 AMNov (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Emotional safety is something which not many of us have come to recognize as a real thing, forget identifying it as a necessary thing. To feel emotionally safe is an existential necessity, and sometimes more important than feeling or being secured financially, physically and socially.

When violated or/ and when stripped off of dignity and agency, one might begin to feel emotionally unsafe. It is a horrible and horrific state to be in.

A sense of emotional unsafety makes human connection and association difficult, by instilling trust issues. That ends up making the person isolated. In isolation, the person gets sucked and swallowed in a whirlpool, which spins the person endlessly but never drowns them entirely.

Human connections and safe spaces in human connections are extremely necessary. Nurturing spaces and relationships where emotional safety is experienced, should be prioritized. Not just for oneself but also for others.

Equally important is to free oneself from the clutches of spaces and relationships where one does not feel emotionally safe. To withdraw quickly, immediately, and abruptly might not be easy, and might also fuel the feeling of unsafety, given the power a toxic atmosphere has over the human body, mind, and spirit, and the lack of a safety net to hold when jumping off the claustrophobic building. To be mindful of this and work tactically and strategically is important.

More important, however, is to liberate oneself from such traps and swim into the vast space where emotional safety breathes freely.

(Special thanks to my therapist. These thoughts took shape during the process of a therapy session.)

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Revisiting and Re-reading Chak De India

October 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMOct (Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A couple of months ago I decided to revisit the film Chak De India written by Jaideep Sahni and directed by Shimit Amin. I hadn’t revisited the film after having watched it in the theaters during the first week of its release.

Back in 2007 when the film had hit the silver screen, I remember having been mightily impressed by the film. The love for the film came naturally because of my love for Shahrukh Khan and also because the film’s story-line had an underdog team finally achieve success, a man who was wronged finally earn back his dignity by disproving the allegations made on him earlier, the underestimated gender disproving the stereotyped notions/ biases against them- which are all a subversion, and also a kind of poetic justice. Of course, the thrills and joys of team building, the idea of team and its extension- the idea of a nation, and the victory of that collective along with the pride that accompanies the victory, also played a role in making the film appeal to me back then. Like almost all sports films and films with an undercurrent of patriotism, Chak De India also caused an adrenaline rush which added to the thrill and also making the film click.

Thirteen years after its release, when I revisited Chak De India, I was again mighty impressed. But this time I was drawn to a very different aspect of the film; something I had not noticed earlier, something that had not occurred to me earlier. Though I do not want to certify myself by saying my observation is marked by novelty, I must confess that in all these years I haven’t heard anyone speak of it. Hence, I am attempting to document my thoughts here now in this post.

Chak De India, I realized during my revisiting, is a very mature film which heart in heart is about building individuals, and not about building a team or a collective. The film, I have come to believe now, is about building individuals and the importance of building individuals in order to build a collective.

A collective or rather any collective, the film says, is a failure or is bound to fail if the individuals who are a part of it are failing in their individual spaces. Only an individual who has built the inner muscles can shoulder and also make healthy contributions to the formation of a collective and sustaining it. Interestingly, the film also points out that this building of individuals can happen only in a collective.

In Chak De India, a team, a collective is formed and victory achieved not by making the members of the team want to disprove the bias against their gender or is their energy being extracted for the idea of a collective pride (nationalism or patriotism). Though these forces are pushing them to an extent, it is finally the building of each individual which makes possible the formation of a team, a collective which triumphs!  If the team in Chak De India were to be formed in the name of patriotism or formed to dismantle the bias of the Academy, the team might have come together or rather could have been brought together but that wouldnt have been enough to form a healthy collective. It is the maturation of each individual, in their individual orbits and in the collective, which enabled the collective to succeed. 

The skepticism of modern individuals is that of the community /collective identity eclipsing, or rather erasing, their individual identity and turning them into foot-soldiers of the community/ collective and chaining them to unfreedom. This skepticism usually results in a highly individualized self who subscribes to a privatized fate. An individual who subscribes to a privatized self and fate usually misses the sense of security and safety that a community/ collective promises, assures, and also provides. Also, the sense of unsafety and insecurity gets amplified because the individualistic individuals tend to forget the requirement and significance of being there for each other and being responsible for each other, a phenomenon that not just makes every individual operate on a survival mode, turns individuals against each other but also turns every individual very lonely and helpless too. But at the same time, the community/ collective in its demand for loyalty expects surrender and submission from individuals and also an erosion of individuality from its members, which results in a crisis of identity. That exactly is what a modern individual’s fear is!

The polyphony turns into a cacophony when it moves in either the direction of individualistic individuals with privatized fate or in the direction of a community construction which erodes the individuality of its members. A right-based individualistic society and a duty-based communitarian society both cause an unhealthy atmosphere where either a bunch of narcissistic individuals mushroom or a collective narcissism emerges. In either case, the individuals defeat the collective and/ or the collective defeats the individual.

Between these two possibilities exists a possibility of mutual-responsibility where every individual considers oneself responsible for each other, and also responsible for the collective and the collective takes up the responsibility for each individual. To use the phrase which was once a cliche but now has become outdated and also forgotten: each for all and all for each. This is what the film Chak De India is about, it appeared to me during this revisit.

Chak De India, with its extremely profound vision and maturity, escapes from the possibility of turning itself into a success story of an(y) individual’s privatized fate or slipping into a nationalistic or jingoistic trap while upholding the idea of collective.

The vision, the worldview of Chak De India says: It is only in the individual victory that a collective victory is made possible and it is in the collective victory that each individual’s liberation can be achieved.  The growth of the team, the collective in Chak De India relies on the growth of its individuals, and the growth of individuals relies on their ability to retain their identity yet identify with the collective and participate in the collective by taking up responsibility for each other. When such individuals get formed, the polyphony becomes not cacophony but a harmony, and a collective gets formed which doesn’t feel the need to demand loyalty from its members but has the commitment of its members.

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Battle Within and Outside

September 19, 2020 at 9:15 AMSep (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Some years ago, while working on a project far from home, I fell ill. When fever wouldn’t come down even after two days of home medicine, and because of severe indigestion followed by immense weakness, I had to be hospitalized. At the hospital, I was diagnosed with cerebral malaria.

Though the project was opening me to not just a new world altogether but also a new worldview, I still was a loner in the city; a city that was more of a small-town aspiring to be a city, or rather a small-town on which now there was an imposition of city-ness if I can call it so. Falling ill in this stranger city, with no social circle or a support system, pushed me into a very strange zone of loneliness. Being all by myself when unwell, led to a feeling of general anger color my overall behavior those days. The person who I was working for, a very friendly person, did attend to me when I was in the hospital and also once got discharged. But that wouldn’t erase the sense of loneliness within me that kept fueling restlessness in me.

Once discharged, I was asked to take rest for over a week, and that left me with more alone time and lonely time, adding to my frustration. During that rest period, I kind of built a narrative about how I contracted the disease. A week before I fell sick, I had visited an Adivasi village as a part of my field trip. After spending some days there, I had returned to the city from where I operated. Within a few days, I fell ill. But in my analysis, it was not my stay in the village which disturbed the equilibrium of my health, but the unhealthy nature of the city I had returned to. To the best of my knowledge, I wasn’t wrong with my analysis. I was quite kicked my analysis and also, by then, my frustration had reached an unbearable state. Both my excitement and my frustration needed a release!

Around the same time, I remembered this one person of whom I only knew back then, but wasn’t friends with. She lived in the same town, about which I had learnt from. I had earlier texted her a couple of times after arriving in their town. So I decided to contact her to speak with her and find an outlet for my frustration and excitement in the speech.

“In a city/ town which does not have proper garbage, sewage and drainage facilities, in such place malaria is not (just) a disease, but state violence.”- I wrote to her. In response, this person asked me why I said that and on learning what had happened and my lonely recovery phase and my simmering anger asked which part of the city I live in. I named the area I lived in. She expressed her sadness of not being able to help much since it was far from where she lived and also said, if not, she would at least help me with some healthy food daily. Still brimming with anger, since my anger and my loneliness was not validated, I said my food was being taken care of and that wasn’t a problem. I wanted her to acknowledge that their city’s administration was responsible for what had happened to me. So I repeated my statement. I was also proud of myself for linking malaria to state violence and wanted an appreciation for that analysis! On hearing it the second time she said, “You can fix that later. For now, you focus on your recovery.” (no exact words but something on the same lines)

What her words meant with that was quite profound which I did not grasp entirely back then. But over the years I have remembered this conversation quite often and have told myself how important it is for one to finish the battle with oneself before venturing into a battle outside of self, or with the world beyond, but connected to, the self!

It is only when one finds a foothold in their personal world that one is able to operate effectively in a space outside of the self. A broken self requires some amount of healing- the building of inner muscle- to be able to fist-fight things outside. It is true even if the fracture of the self was caused by external forces. Fixing of the matters outside alone will not cement the cracks within. But a healed or healing soul can certainly effectively contribute to the repairing of the faulty order of things outside that causes injuries and damage to several selves. The battle outside is not half begun if the battle within is not at least half won! But in the end, it is only in the constant and simultaneous healing of the within and outside which can liberate both, self and the world!

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Protected: Around ‘Self-Care’

August 29, 2020 at 9:15 PMAug (Activism, Friends, Letter, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

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Simple Solutions

July 27, 2020 at 9:15 AMJul (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Couple of years ago a friend told me about a Skills Workbook for those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that she was suggested to refer by her then therapist. “I am benefiting from it, Sam” she said, silently suggesting I too read and use the Workbook for my own betterment. I wished her good and brushed aside the matter for I had become too cynical and skeptical about mental health practices in general and especially books on mental health that promise help!

Few months ago, however, when I also began looking within (along with looking around) and re-evaluating my thoughts around mental health issues & mental health practices, I remembered of the Skills Workbook and thought of putting myself through it. I contacted my friend and asked her for the exact title of the book and the name of the authors. Giving me all the required details, my friend said, “On bad days I find those skills extremely helpful and am grateful to that book. But on brighter days I find that book quite stupid.” I was a bit desperate those days to find a way out and did not care what my friend thought on what days. (I did not mind what she said either.) I wasn’t ready to reverse my decision since I had already convinced myself to go through the book and the techniques it offers. Soon after the conversation with my friend, I decided to place an order for the Skills Workbook. The book was available for buying on an online book buying platform. But it was expensive. Quite expensive for a freelancer like me. But I was tired of my burdened self and was desperately looking for a way out too! I placed the order for the book.

In a few days time the book was delivered at my home address. I was excited.I opened the book hungrily and began to read without any delay. But as I flipped through the pages I found myself becoming angry. The skills and techniques offered and suggested in the book were extremely simple and appeared simplistic to help me and solve the issues which has been bothering me for ages now. “Is the solutions are so simple, why did I have to suffer so much for so long?”- I asked myself. I have been so entangled in my struggle for years that I had come to believe that the way out is difficult and a complicated one too. A solution as simple as the ones offered in the book, felt like being told that the problem also is a simple one! My struggle and the scars gifted by the struggle felt insulted and trivialized by the offering of such simple solutions! Also, what added to my anger was the fact that a book offering such simple solutions was so expensive! But since I had paid such a huge amount to purchase a personal copy of the book, I decided to continue reading.

To my surprise, as I kept following the simple techniques suggested by the book, I realized those simple skills were slowly helping me manage myself, my emotions, and my life, slightly better. I took some time to recognize this, realize this and then acknowledge it. My ego was coming in the way. But when I finally acknowledged it, I realized that usually the answer for even the most complicated things are not just simple but lay in the basics. The solution, I began to realize, is in going back to the basics of life. And the basics are always simple! (Though the way to getting back to the basics of life and the simple solutions is a tough journey to make.)

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Squaring the Circle

June 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMJun (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

While playing with his five-year old nephew visiting India, Dr. Aravinda Bhat (35) is asked by the young boy, “What happened to your eyes?” and Aravinda explains to him: “It is called Retinitis Pigmentosa in medical terms,” and then after elaborately explaining how the eyes function he tells his nephew, “in case of ‘my eyes pigments are formed on the retina which slowly spread. Because of this the vision gets blurred.”

The question is posed as a matter of fact and the answer is delivered as a matter of fact, like any normal conversation.

Remembering pages from the autobiographical book of Stephen Kuusisto, an American author of Finish origin, Aravinda says, “His parents could not accept his blindness and expected him to behave like a normal person,” and goes on to say, “To my luck, my parents never forced me to be or act normal.” He immediately says, “I discard the word ‘normal’ from my lexicon,” and explains his position: “What is considered as ‘normal’ is not a given but is decided by society and imposed on individuals who are expected to either coincide or align with it to be considered ‘normal’.”

Aravinda mentions how his parents brought him up like any child. “My vision was slightly better back in my childhood and I went to a ‘normal’ school, played cricket and also used to ride a bicycle,” he says and adds, “Some of our neighbours had asked my mother back then why would she let me ride a cycle and all she said was: He can so he does. That was phenomenal of her.” Recollecting these he says till he turned eight he hadn’t realized he was different or in the words of the world, ‘disabled’. “I was just myself,” he says.

Going back to the autobiographical writings of Steven Kuusisto whose blindness was not accepted by his parents and who was bullied by his classmates in school, Aravinda says, “I must say I was never bullied and no teacher discriminated against me in school.” But then, as he says, it is not the case with everyone. If the author Steven Kuusisto, whose memoirs Aravinda studied for his Doctoral research, had traumatic experiences in school, a classmate of Aravinda in class one, whose name he cannot remember now had an equally horrible experience. “We had a classmate who was visibly different because of some intellectual disability. All our classmates would bully him. I remember one of our classmates coming and asking me to join them in beating this boy up. Good sense prevailed and I did not join. After a few days his mother came and took him from school. He never returned. My vision, though blurred, was slightly better back then so I could see his mother taking him from his chair. It still plays in my mind like a scene from a film. We all collectively excluded one boy!” says Aravinda before telling the tale of another boy from Kasargod, his ancestral place. “There is a boy who is blind. His parents feared their son being bullied by other students if sent to school. So they never sent him to school,” narrates Aravinda and exclaims, “With no education there is no possibility of him becoming independent, which is such a sad thing!”

Weaving the stories of his own life and the lives with which his lives have intersected Aravinda says, “As far as I am concerned, I must say that I have been privileged,” and adds, “There are many forces acting here,” before explaining his privileges. “My parents are educated. Four generations before me has been educated. I come from an upper middle class, upper caste family. All of this has certainly made a difference,” he explains before adding, “The school where I studied in treated me well because I came from the family of a Doctor. But all of this helped me get foundational education which is such an important thing.”

Stressing on the importance of education Aravinda says, “Within the given system the beginning of positive action can be education. Without education the possibilities of living a full life will be denied to us,” and asserts, “Education is the first need, first step.”

Among educators, Aravinda says, there are two arguments with regard to the education of disabled people. One believes there must be special schools for the disabled, and the other believes the disabled must be made a part of the usual schooling system. Both, he believes, have their own advantages and disadvantages. “Had I gone to a blind school my world would have been limited to blind people. I wouldn’t have learnt the social skills to be around the sighted people,” he says but doesn’t forget to add, “But many blind students suffer a lot in the so called ‘normal’ school because of bullying by fellow students and because of insensitive teachers.” The solution for this, he says, is in education itself. “Teachers during their B.Ed. training must be sensitised to work around disabled students. Textbooks should expose students to stories and poems which speak about disability in a positive light, in a dignified way and not in a comic way or with pity. In this way, children at a young age must be sensitised to disabled people by exposing them to fellow humans who are disabled and be taught to accept differences with respect,” he spells out in detail. He gets back to Steven Kuusisto again and tells how he, after being sent to a ‘normal’ school, faced great difficulty in learning because the school was not equipped with the resources required to teach disabled students. Due to this, he writes in his autobiographical book, he felt that his education was not rounded, not complete. “Everyone’s needs are different and those should be attended to without discrimination or exclusion,” emphasizes Aravinda.

Despite the Right to Education Act we get to hear of schools across the country denying admission to students with bodily differences on flimsy grounds points Aravinda and says in several places the parents of the ‘normal’ students oppose the intake of disabled students. “It is as if disability is contagious,” he remarks.

“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of barriers for us,” states Aravinda. One, he says is structural barriers and the other, he says, is attitudinal barriers.

“Back in the days between 2002 and 2005, I got admitted in a college that is five kilometres away from home. I used to take a bus go to the neighbouring town, get down, cross the road, walk to the college, all by myself. Back then my vision was slightly better than what it is today and the number of vehicles on road was also less. Plus the architecture of the college I went was something I could navigate, though the needs of the disabled were not taken into consideration in constructing the space,” explains Aravinda and adds, “But if someone using a wheelchair had to attend the same college the given space couldn’t have accommodated them.”

Half of the problems of the disabled people will be solved, opines Aravinda, if the environment is made accessible to “us.”

“We are denied opportunities by saying it will be difficult for us to cut through the spaces. Our bodies are blamed and our lives are made to feel limited. Our lives have been termed abnormal because society hasn’t given proper thought to include us,” Arvinda says and announces, “If spaces are built in ways which will take our needs into consideration, our lives won’t become abnormal.”

While Aravinda was doing his M.Phil in EFLU, Hyderabad he had an experience at the Bank which he recollects to point at some of the other kind of structural barriers. Those were the days when he had begun to get stipend which he says was the first time he was having his own money. Once when he went to the bank to withdraw money the bank staff, knowing the visual impairment of Aravinda, mixed the notes of hundred, five hundred, fifty and gave it to him. “We can touch the notes, feel the size of the notes, feel some markers on the note and recognize the value of the note,” explains Aravinda. Before continuing to narrate the bank episode he goes on to say, “Post demonetization, the new notes are all of similar size and the markers are not marked properly which has made it difficult for us. It is quite insensitive and disadvantaging. If notes are made more accessible then we will live a full life financially.” Getting back to the bank episode he says, “Since the notes were mixed, it got a bit confusing that day.” As he was struggling to count the amount he heard all the bank staff laughing aloud. On realizing the notes were mixed just to have fun at his cost, Aravinda got furious and gave a piece of his mind to the staff there. He did not end it there but went on to the Dean of Student Welfare and complained about the bank staff. His complaints were taken seriously and the bank staffs were transferred to another branch.

After having recollected the bank episode entirely Aravinda says, “This is one kind of attitudinal barrier.” To explain it further he quotes a recent example when he had gone to shop clothes with his sister visiting India. As soon as he entered the shop with his sister one of their staff offered him a chair and asked him to sit down till his sister would go see the clothes and purchase them. “It irritated me. I refused to take the chair and told them that I too wanted to see the clothes and be a part of the shopping with my sister,” says Aravinda. “When I went back home I was still angry and recollected the entire thing to my mother,” he says. His mother, he tells, pointed to him that probably some disabled persons feel the need to be treated with some extra care. His mother, he says, told him that people think being sympathetic and showing concern is the way and that has been embedded in their subconscious. “Yes, we want to be treated well and with respect. But people seem to think that to be nice or good to the disabled means to be patronizing,” says Aravinda.

Speaking about the attitudinal barriers Aravinda recollected the story of a friend he made during his time in Hyderabad. This friend, he recollects, was given a job in a bank where the manager told him that he wouldn’t be required to do any work and will be given salary for his attendance. “That is so humiliating,” says Aravinda and the anger in his voice cannot be missed. “He was kept in the office like a wallflower. Why don’t people realize that we can also work if given proper facility?” he asks and declares, “Our needs are different but we are equally human.”

“There are such attitudinal barriers which make it difficult for the world to accept us as different but still as human as everyone else,” says Aravinda and points that one of the most crucial and table turning politics of disability studies is in its claim that, “we inhabit a different world.” With this claim, he says, “We have chucked out the word abnormality.” The politics, he says, is in “accepting disability and incorporating it into our lives.” He remembers his grandmother praying to the Almighty for science and technology to improve soon and enable her grandson to gain sight. “I used to tell her why she was praying for my sight while I am fine the way I am. She couldn’t believe I was okay with my blindness.” While saying this Aravinda remembers a stranger once writing on Facebook something like, ‘Let us donate our eyes to the blind and thus end blindness in some years.’ “Such are the ideas of our ‘normal’ society,” remarks Aravinda and exclaims, “Ridiculous,” before asking why instead people can’t accept difference and work towards building an environment that is accessible to all. Coming back to the conversation he had with his grandmother he says, “But eventually she saw my point of view,” and recollects an exchange that defines his position. “My grandmother once asked me if I believe in God to draw strength and I told her I wasn’t weak in any way to be drawing strength from elsewhere.”

“My attitude towards life and my acceptance of my blindness is a gift I have because of my parents and because of my engagement with disability studies,” says Aravinda.

On asked what he meant while saying, “We inhabit a different world,” Aravinda goes to explain in great detail. “We are not ‘abnormal’ sighted people. There is a world of the blind. We have our own aesthetics,” he says and remembers an incident where a friend and he were eating at a fast food joint in Hyderabad. The cook was making some food item and the way he was stirring the food in the frying pan and beating it with spoon sounded like rhythmic drumbeat, he says. When he mentioned about the rhythmic nature of cooking the friend asked him what he was talking about. “She hadn’t heard it because her world is predominantly visual,” says Aravinda and tells how when he goes for evening walks with his parents he enjoys the grass on which he walks, feels its texture under his feet. He says his experience of the world is different and that is his world. He agrees that he might be missing the visual beauty of flowers but the fragrance of the same flowers, he claims, is more accessed by him than from other sighted people. This makes his world different and that he says is a different world altogether. “Sighted people,” he says, “can access this world with practice but usually they are overwhelmed by the visual world.”

Tom Sullivan who authored ‘If you could see what I hear’, is remembered by Aravinda to further elaborate the world of the blind. He remembers Tom Sullivan writing about his sexual adventures and saying how sex in its essence is actually tactile. “Now thanks to the world of advertisements everything including humans have been made into sex objects and visual objects. As a result, sex has become less sensuous and been reduced to visuals,” says Aravinda. Speaking about how the act of intercourse has evolved he points at how when the human world was young, the male would approach the female from behind while having sex. But they turned around so that the eyes can meet. That is when the act of sex advanced from a mere physical act to an emotional act, he says and asks, “Does that mean we blind people who cannot make eye contact cannot participate in sex completely?” and also answers, “It isn’t so because there are other ways of expressing love. There are languages of touch, taste etc.” and seals it with, “So the aesthetics of love and love making is also different in the world of the blind.”

Aravinda who also practices photography occasionally said he takes a linguistic description of things around and then makes a composition of his own and clicks photographs. He mentions some blind people who take auditory cues like the sound of cycle being peddle and clicking photographs. “The composition of my photographs may be different but still it is a visual art,” he says and adds, “Though I may not be able to enjoy what I click still my art will be embodied in the composition of it.”

Aravinda’s doctoral thesis was broadly an inquiry in the aesthetics of the visually impaired. During the defence of his PhD thesis a faculty asked him why he had objections to political ideologies such as Marxism and Feminism. Aravinda defending his position had answered, “Because none take interest in the issues of the disabled.” Remembering this he says, “I had spelt out my issues with these ideologies very briefly but the faculty was sharp enough to pick it up,” and laughs. But then he goes on to narrate two incidents. “This happened in some college in Delhi if I remember correctly. I had read about it in the newspaper,” begins Aravinda with the first incident. “A visually challenged boy complained about the dogs on campus which were troubling for all kinds of disabled students. Even we faced similar problem in EFLU too. So the college where this boy was studying heard him and decide to make the campus dog free. But immediately PETA objected to the decision of the management. When asked about the safety of people with disabilities PETA said the disabled should be helped by other fellow students,” says Aravinda and asks the pertinent question, “Are we expected to live in the mercy of others always by taking their help for everything? I understand that no animals must be tortured or killed. But if you don’t see the requirement of other humans and take your politics to an extreme of this kind, you end up creating an atmosphere where there is more exclusion and not inclusion.”

“Once a political party called for a protest on our campus,” Aravinda began with the second incident. “It was decided to shut the mess for some reason and food was to be served outside the mess. When a friend of mine said that would cause problem for the disabled, an active member of the party which called for a protest said it was a collateral damage and nothing could be done about it,” recollected Dr. Aravinda and said, “That is when I lost faith in all of these political parties on campuses.” He says he can’t remember one election on campus where any of the parties actively spoke about the issues of the disabled on campus during the electoral debate!

After stressing throughout the conversation on the need to accept disability instead of othering the disabled, Aravinda finally touched upon a very crucial matter. He remembered attending a music concert which was attended by a huge number of people with disabilities. “The singer there made this speech which I found problematic. He said all of us are disabled in one or the other way,” recollected Aravinda and exclaimed, “Untrue,” and went on to say, “Everyone has problems. But calling problems of life as disability and equating any problem to disability is to dilute the matter. We need to recognize and accept disability not trivialize by calling everything disability.”

Postscript: This conversation was held at a restaurant. At the end of the conversation when we got off our place and started walking towards the exit door, Aravinda said, “someone noticed me.” On asked how did he know, he said, “Someone just said, “****” while I was walking past them.” Of course I hadn’t heard it. “This is what I don’t like,” said Aravinda after spelling out, “pity is violence” and recalled a conversation he once had with his mother. On being told by his mother that most of the people responded to disability unconsciously in a way the society has conditioned them and he shouldn’t be angered much by it, Aravinda had replied thus: “It’s not just that I don’t want to be treated this way. But my anger is also because such attitudinal barriers cost many people materially, i.e. by denying them educational and employment opportunities.” Hence, says Aravinda, the attitude of the society must be changed.

(Interview conducted in Jan 2019)

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On Trustfully Submitting

May 8, 2020 at 9:15 AMMay (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

“I din’t understand the intensity of these matters earlier,” he said as we walked towards the parking area. “In fact, I dint even consider these problems as real ones”.

I had recieved a call from him that morning asking to meet “immediately”. There was urgency and anxiety in his voice. I asked him to brief me about the matter of concern and promised to meet him soon. I wanted him to brief me not just because it would unburden his heart slightly, but also because I wanted to be able to think through the matter, in the time between the phone call and us meeting.

A family member of his was going through severe distress, and the psychological stress had begun to impact every other aspect of their life. He felt a clinical intervention was necessary and had called me.

Though not a mental health professional, I have been quite vocal about my own mental health issues, as a personal battle against the stigamtization of mental health matters. For over a decade and a half now, ever since I began to speak of my issues openly in public and social media platforms, I have had people speaking to me about their issues and at times seeking my suggestion. Knowing my limitation in the scheme of things, I have patiently listened to them and guided them to meantal health professionals and tried my level best to be a support to them till they sail through the rough tides.

This time too, like earlier, I listened patiently and then suggested him that his family member be taken to a particular Doctor, who I know, for therapy. He agreed and we went to the hospital to take an appointment. The particulr Doctor wasnt available that day and the Social Worker who was in conversation with us suggested another Doctor. We politely refused because we felt a lady Doctor would be better since the person in distress was a teenage girl, who we assumed would be more comfortable speaking with a lady Doctor. We got an appointmet for the next day and we were walking towards the parking space when he said till couple of years ago he never considered mental health issues as real issues at all.

“Once a classmate of mine spoke to me about she undergoing depression,” he began to recollect an incident from two years ago. The classmate, he said, spoke at length about the way depression fractured her day to day being and living and functioning. Listening to it all he, who was a staunch believer and practicing Muslim, had told his classmate, “It is all because our generation has deviated from the spiritual path,” and went on to say that the psychological issues were unreal and the distress was brought upon oneself by a non-spiritual path of life. Not stopping with that he continued to say, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty”. The classmate lost her cool and gave him a piece of his mind which he now recollected before me laughingly, the laugh being at himself. “Now my perspective has changed and I understand things better,” he told me. I smiled and hugged him before we dispersed.

His words, originally told to his classmate and recollected before me after two years, saying, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty” kept playing in my mind with a small edit. I just couldnt ignore the words, “The solution is in submission.” In a strange way this edited sentence threw light on something important.

It was in the year 2004 that I first walked to a Psychiatrist seeking help. I was a naive teenager back then. From then on till about 2016, when I finally decided never to take any medical/ clinical help, I was consulting psychiatrist regularly and for a long period was also on medication. In 2016 when I finally decided to never take any medical/ clinical help, it was largely because I felt they were all ineffective. I could see in retrospect that over a decade of these interventions had changed nothing significantly for me. Calling medication as “life jackets” which only keep us afloat but do not take to the shore, I decided to “work on myself”. I rejected the “life jacket” hoping to learn how to swim and carry myself to the shore.

Since then I have been discussing this matter with many friends and those concerned with the issue of mental health, and surprisingly have found many people echoing the same: therapy being ineffective. That would drive the discussion into a different direction of how the world order is at fault and the pharmaceutical mafia which believes a patient healed is a customer lost, etc etc. All valid observations and commentaries which strengthened our beliefs and antagonized the system at large, the health care system and its methods too. But in between these I kept seeing some people benift from therapy. Most of them were those who had consulted me and had been guided to a therapist by me. This added to my frustration because I was not finding any healing/ solution while those who I was guiding, were finding a way out and thanking me for helping them. Along with adding to my frustration these made me ask why is it that some were able to benifit from therapy while some of us were not. The question only angered me and frustrated me further. But I could find no answer. In a strange way the words, “The solution is in submission” (minus the last part, “to the Almighty”) made me find an answer or rather see what is at the heart of the problem, or rather what appeared now to me as the heart of the problem.

Be it myself or these other friends and fellow beings who, like me, found therapy ineffective, have all been extremely skeptic in our approach to life. It wouldnt be a coincidence that most of us bred on critical thinking in our humanities education, have had our brains tuned to critique, doubt and counter everything that is presented before us in an almost dismissive manner. If on one side this has enabled us to see things beyond the surface, on the other hand it has divorced us from the ability to arrive at harmony and has created severe trust issues with the world in general. Trained to think critically and dismiss things off, we never were able to invest trust and faith not just in the therapist but also in the process of therapy. To submit, we believed unconsciously, is to become submissive and lose agency. Trained to listen not to understand or comprehend but to find loopholes and tear apart the point made through that loophole, we observed everything uttered by the therapist in suspicion, preparing ourselves with counter-arguments to strike off all that is said. We never let our guards down and allowed ourselves to come in touch with the process of therapy entirely in a healthy manner. To be able to faithfully/ trustfully submit to a process is something that skipped our minds that has been conditioned to take extreme views under the pressure to think critically, which would equate submission to an unequal power structure, hence consider it as something unacceptable. This inability to submit to the process, I would say faithfully/ trustfully submit to the process, is probably what made the  possible effectiveness and success of therapy impossible to a large extent.

While saying this I wouldnt deny the existence of pharmaceutical mafia, poor structure of systems to attend to mental health in this country and extremely narrow approach on the part of practitioners of mental health profession. But it is also true, I have come to believe, that the inability to invest trust has also played a role in the difficulty to outgrow the crisis. To faithfully/ trustfully submit need not mean to blindly submit or submit uncritically. While it is necessary to identify the need of rationality to fight supersition, a point to which blind faith can take us humans, it is also necessary to identify, it appears to me, the limitations or the hurdles that rationality and extreme critical thinking can bring upon our lives.

As much as it is important to be critical, to see through things in a highly hierarchical and profit driven market capitalist world, it is also important to be able to submit, so that we can be touched by a process that could bring us healing or at least enable us to manage things well. The way out, I feel, is in the strange space where there is an interlocking of opposites, where trust and skepticism coexist in a healthy manner and healthy proportion.

When I saw a mind possesed by faith, make way out of it to an extent and embrace a scientific method and process, I felt that may be even the mind obsessed with rationality and skepticism also has to make way out of it and and be able to trust and allow to be touched.

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The Poor Are Also Humans

April 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

April has certainly has been a cruel month this time.

Among the innumerable heartbreaking stories from across the world, the story of Mukesh Mandal in particular refuses to evaporate from my mind, even after weeks.

Mukesh, a migrant labourer stationed in Haryana, ended his life early this month, after having no money to feed his family of six. Before hanging himself, Mukesh, sold his celphone for Rs. 2,500/- and with that money bought some ration for his family, a fan for the house and also repayed the remaining debt he had.

Whether there was any pressure on Mukesh to repay the borrowed money or not remains unknown. Even after his death, the family did not speak of any such pressure on Mukesh. But even when faced with an extreme situation of not being able to feed his family and being pushed to take his life, Mukesh did not disappear into absence without repaying the debt money.

While the poverty, hunger, suffering, helplessness and humiliation of Mukesh are all true, let them not eclipse his dignity, his self-respect, for our looking eyes and percieving minds.

The words of one Brahmaji, a labourer in Hyderabad, reported later in the month, continues to echo in my mind, like the story of Mukesh, for the words of Brahmaji, like the final act of Mukesh, speaks of dignity and self-respect, along with a dire situation his life has been facing. He was reported to have said, “We are not beggars. We came to Hyderabad to work and earn money with self-respect. We feel ashamed in taking donations. I personally feel like committing suicide when donors came to distribute cooked rice and clicked a picture with my family.”

Harsh Mander once narrated his experience of having lived and closely interacted with a migrant labourer family, as a part of a project on understanding labour, poverty and hunger. The family which moved from one city to another, across states of India, for work was asked by Harsh Mander of the place they like the most to visit for work. The family said their second favourite place in India was Punjab because there the people treated them with affection. Their most favourite place was Kashmir for they were treated with not just affection but also respect, they said.

Unfortunately our society has never considered Respect and Affection as ‘basic necessities’ of humans. A connection is never seen between them and survival/ living.

In times when a Supreme Court judge asks why the poor would need to be paid wages when they are being fed for free, in a society where a helping hand is accompanied by a camera lens, it is not just hunger and poverty which needs to be confronted. We also need to confront the poverty of heart among the non-poor, which is us, that fails to recognize that those who put under the category of ‘poor’ are also humans and the poverty fo heart in us which also fails to recognize the existing dignity and self-respect among the poor.

Mukesh, who not just repayed the debt but also bought ration for his family and also a fan just before ending his life, was labelled “mentally unstable” by the police. If the system and mainly the State had a percent of the dignity and self-respect that Mukesh had, and for its people a percent of the love Mukesh’s heart carried for his family, then probably the month of April wouldnt have been this cruel.

The shadows of this April will be cast on several months to come. For sure.

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On Sonia Gandhi and Arnab Goswami

April 25, 2020 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

If at all Sonia Gandhi was the kind to attack those who speak against her or speak rubbish about her, she must have attacked innumerable tom dick and harry in this country from the big actors to the small actors of history. This country has been terribly unfair and unkind to her all through.

In a country which considers people born in this very country as ‘outsiders’ for their identity, what chance did Sonia Gandhi ever have to get any respect or acceptance by the countrymen?

Arnab is just an amplified verbose version of the “common sense” of many in this country. Yeah, his capacity to spread the stupidity cannot be underestimated. We know what was the general opinion average Indians had about Sonia, even before Arnab became a sensation and occupied screen-space.

No matter how much she was hated for no fault of hers or for no reason at all, Sonia Gandhi always conducted herself in a dignified manner.

Let us not dismiss or ignore the flaws and mistakes of and by the Congress, but let us also not forget the contribution Sonia Gandhi made from behind the screens, in the interest of this country and its people. They might not be revolutionary contributions. Yet were significant and despite all their limitations, were still in the interest of the people.

Sonia Gandhi was not motivated to do the work she did by a desire for power. Else why would she refuse to become the PM? Or continue to work even after letting go the chance to become the PM? Twice that too. There is something else that drives her. Call it patriotism or compassion or just a sense of duty, if you wish. The fact that not even once did she move away from taking up responsibility and performing her duty as best understood by her, despite the amount of hatred she received, actually says a lot. To not recognize that is still okay. But to demonize her left right center for no reason; that is unjustifiable.


Arnab, I am sorry if someone attacked you. I dont think you deserved it or you invited it. Partially because I dont trust you (because you are not trustworthy and not because I have trust issues) but more importantly because attack of any kind on anyone, I believe, is wrong. Having said that and condemning the “attack” on you, I just request you to pause and think for a while if any of the two is possible for you; to pause or to think. I urge you to pause and think how it feels to be ‘attacked’. If you can pause and think for a while, and through that understanding if you can understand how others who you have attacked and those who feel attacked feel when they feel so, may be you will be able to liberate yourself from yourself. I am sure it is difficult to carry the you that you have become and that would require you to “attack” and destroy any human side to you that breathes within you. Please stop that attack on yourself. Liberate yourself from yourself. Trust me you will feel light and better. And so will the nation.

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When Mother’s Milk Becomes Poison and Kills

April 10, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Few days ago I translated a note written by my friend Kuntady Nitesh about his friend (a Hindu) being asked to vacate the house by the landlord for not participating in the 9 PM 9 Minutes performance, and posted on my Facebook timeline. The purpose was to make the non-Kannada speaking/ reading but English reading fellow humans know of such an inhumane incident. Not surprisingly, when it found circulation on FB, it invited comments from people who are not on my friend’s list too. Most of these comments expressed anger and disgust and for long there came no comment which either dismissed the whole thing or questioned it. Late that night a comment by a girl (a Hindu) was a bit unclear. She typed something on the lines of “Mother asked to shift to rented. What can I say?” and I couldn’t understand what was she trying to say. I asked her what she meant and she in her reply she, even if not in the same words, said, “I refused to participate in this lamp lighting and my mother asked me to look for a rented place. My own mother. What can I tell this man whose landlord has asked him to vacate?” My mind went numb as I read that. My eyes refused to move away from that comment. I took time to type a reply as I was struggling for words. When I finally gathered some words and formed a reply trying to tell her I understood her pain, even if not in the intensity she would be feeling it, and typed it, I couldn’t post the comment. The girl had deleted her comment by then.

Later when I spoke of this to a senior friend she told me that her daughter’s friend faced the same consequence at her place for not participating in the light and sound shows of Sunday!

A 12th century Kannada saint-poet in one of his verses asks, “When mother’s milk becomes poison and kills Who do you complain to…?” Mothers abandoning their children is just a micro image of the motherland abandoning an entire community.

Illustration by the inimitable Mir Suhail

Couple of days ago another senior friend (a Muslim) put up a small note on FB saying her daughter now is convinced that they will all end up in the concentration camp. The note was removed by my friend in a few hours, which I can understand. Few months ago couple of my friends (both practicing and non practicing Muslims) telling me about their family members and relatives having nightmares about concentration camps, which made me feel ashamed as a fellow-human. Fear seeping into the subconscious and erupting as nightmares is one thing but fear gripping your conscious mind is one thing and convincing you that you will be hunted, that too by the state, is another thing. The note by senior friend troubled me quite a lot because theirs is a well educated family and also has members who serve in the judiciary system. If someone from that family has to lose faith in every system and be convinced that they will end up in concentration camp, I don’t know what is left to crumble anymore in this secular democracy.

A tweet by a friend (a skeptic Muslim) couple of days ago, spoke of how she has been fearing death and losing family and friends to Corona and even in the midst of these fears, when she wakes up at night what fills her is with dread are thoughts of how Muslims will be hounded after this is over.

It is heartbreaking to realize that someone is able to imagine the world surviving this pandemic for which there is no vaccine that has been invented yet, but still is not able to imagine a sane society, a secure society, a secular society in the land which takes great pride in saying it is the land which said and apparently believed “vasudaiva kutumbakham,” to mean “the entire world is a family.”

Couple of hours before I began to write this note, a release by the Tahsheeldar of the Krishnarajapete Taluk, Karnataka began circulating over social media. The release speaks of an incident that took place at Tendekere of KR Pete taluk on the 8th of April at 22:45 hrs. Three men were stopped at the check-post and when stopped they have fled after announcing that they “are Muslims and Corona infected,” and threatening to “spread the virus and kill,” in case any attempt is made to catch hold of them. Investigation revealed the three as Mahesh, Abhishekh and Srinivas on whom FIR has been lodged! In the release. the Tahshildar says, “The three lied just to escape the consequences and there was no malicious intention behind it,” after which he says, “In the taluk of KR Pete no Muslim youngsters have arrived to spread the virus,” and adds, “Muslim community is not spreading this disease, it is untrue, hence all are requested to not to get anxious over it.” The release, in its concluding lines appeals the citizens of all religion to live in harmony “like always” and cooperate in fighting Corona.

I am willing to believe that the three men “lied” only to “escape the consequences,” for breaking the rules of lockdown. All of us do lie when we fear consequences. We do not do it consciously but as a reflex. I understand. But I cant square the circle as to why would they say they are Muslims and Corona infected,” and not just “Corona infected,” for escaping consequences. If at all we are to believe that the three did whatever they did just as a reflex action to escape consequences, then it is to be believed that the bias against Muslims, hatred against the entire community has become so internalized that it is now a part of the muscle memory!

If this is the kind of country/ world that we have to live in, what is the point of fighting this pandemic? If we are not able to re-imagine a humanitarian society, re-evaluate ourselves, when being reduced to just biological beings during pandemic with death staring at us, why are we, as a nation, as a society, even fighting for survival?

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