From Speaking Silence to the Poetry of the Unuttered

March 22, 2021 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Literature, Slice Of Life)

I must begin by confessing I am not an official student of Pattabhirama Somayaji (Pattabhi from here on), meaning I haven’t been his classroom student. Yet, I do consider him my teacher and me his student. I doubt if anyone who comes in contact with Pattabhi can escape being his student, for everyone who crosses paths with him will have their horizon widened.

Pattabhi and silence

It was mid-April of 2006. A solidarity protest held in Udupi, in support of the hunger strike that Medha Pathkar had undertaken in Gujarat. By the time I, still a PG student then, reached the spot- outside of the the then Taluq Office, Udupi- after classes, the solidarity event had already begun. It was the first-ever protest I took part in, and I was not familiar with many of them who had gathered there, except a couple of them. As I joined the gathering, one of the senior activists who I knew, said, “I am glad you came,” and then pointing at a man in a long kurta, seated amidst the protestors, continued, “Pattabhi spoke just before you arrived. You missed it.”

Throughout the solidarity event that evening, I kept seeing how Pattabhi was being respectfully greeted by everyone who joined us eventually, and everyone who greeted him got a wordless charming warm smile in return. The silence, I could sense, wasn’t silent. I found that non-silent silence extremely intriguing. When the solidarity gathering came to an end that evening, someone who I held in respect back then said, “Come let me introduce you to Pattabhi”, and I excitedly followed the man. Pattabhi was standing in a corner and smoking a cigarette. When introduced, Pattabhi just raised his hand, with the burning cigarette between his fingers, exhaled the smoke, and just smiled without uttering a single word.

That is how I got introduced to Pattabhi and his defining non-silent silence and his charming warm smile.

Pattabhi and minimalism of spoken-words

It was a long long evening in Sagara at the residence of Vrinda and PV Subraya. The latter was Pattabhi’s college-mate in Mysore. By this time Pattabhi and I had become friends who exchanged texts occasionally. As soon as a senior friend and I reached PV Subraya and Vrinda’s place, Pattabhi keeping aside his glass of whisky, welcomed us with a warm embrace.

That evening, my senior friend, who was a former colleague of PV Subraya, narrated the story of an unrealized dream. When working in Sagara, our friend, wanted to build a small hut in the backyard of PVS and Vrinda’s house and live a humble life. Prior to the teaching job at Sagara, the friend had worked in Jharkhand with a documentary filmmaker and worked in the midst of the aboriginals there. Expectations and pressure from the family had compelled him to quit the life of an explorer and take up a job in Sagara. There he wished to live a minimalist life, in a hut. But within a year, he had to leave Sagara for a job he got in Manipal. Narrating all of this our friend very emotionally said, “I took up the job unwillingly. But I am happy that I have been able to take arts and ideas into this otherwise corporate setup. I have been trying to churn thoughts and dialogues on issues that matter in this otherwise indifferent setup. I am not satisfied, but I am happy that I am able to do these.”

Listening to all of these patiently with his legs crossed and his index finger on his mouth, Pattabhi, without any hesitation and yet without any condescension, said, “It is good that you are doing this job of sensitizing blindfolded people. But, what is the state of the hut?” He said nothing more. Even we had nothing to say after listening to his minimalistic response.

This conversation has always stood as an example of Pattabhi’s silence and also his quality of not mincing words and not wasting words.

Pattabhi’s speeches & lectures

When I joined The Hindu (Mangalore office) as a reporter, in 2008, one of the initial assignments I had was to cover a protest meet, where Pattabhi was also present. The protest wasn’t held by the organization which Pattabhi identified himself with. The organizers had prioritized speakers from their organization. A reporter who stood next to me, who did not know of my friendship with Pattabhi, getting impatient with the on-going speeches, said in frustration, “Why are they not handing over the mic to Prof Pattabhi?” I looked at the reporter with surprise. A reporter waiting for the speech of a particular person at a protest and getting angry over the delay of the speech, said so much about the street speeches of Pattabhi. Acting naïve, I asked the reporter, why was he waiting for the speech of Prof Pattabhi and I clearly remember him telling me, “At such protests, almost everyone speaks the same stuff and most of them are predictable. But he is someone who brings in a new perspective and brings in fresh thoughts and insights.”

During my tenure with The Hindu, Mangalore, for professional reasons I had to interact closely with the the then students of Pattabhi. This was in 2009, after the infamous attack on women at a pub in Mangalore. Following the attack which brought the national media’s attention to Mangalore, several protests were being held and Pattabhi was making several furious speeches. One of his statements to a TV channel irked the members of ABVP in the college he was teaching and those students went on strike demanding the expulsion of Pattabhi. When I went to report this occurrence, the students of ABVP mistook the name of the newspaper I was working for as a pro-Hindutva paper. They not just told me how they were backed by “higher-ups in the party” to protest against Pattabhi but also confessed to me that most of the times in class they instigate Pattabhi to speak of “controversial subjects” that are “political” in nature. Even the protesting students, backed by the VHP and BJP, considering me a friend (since I worked for HINDU paper) told me that though they would get irked by the statements Pattabhi would make in class and disagree with his politics, they still consider him to be, “a good teacher and an extremely knowledgeable person.” At the same time, I was also speaking with the students who stood in support of Pattabhi and against the ABVP students. These bunch of students who knew me for my political and ideological leanings would tell me at length about the lectures of Pattabhi and I can strongly remember some of them telling me how Pattabhi showed more interest in them getting an education than their family members. “It is not just his affection but also the kind of issues he addresses in class and the way he looks at and analyses literature which instils strength in us, grounds us,” one girl had told me.

On evenings when I would be relieved from the office of The Hindu a bit early, I would go meet Pattabhi at his residence. The nature of daily reporting did not allow me to engage with the kind of reading and writing which stimulated me. The easiest way of compensating for all of it was to spend some time with Pattabhi. It is during these informal sessions where Pattabhi and my bonding strengthened.

On such evenings, I got to hear Pattabhi at length. Those were neither street speeches, nor class lectures. Yet they were both and more. If Pattabhi’s street speeches were filled with insights and interpretations, like a literary class, his literary classes were marked by political consciousness, like street speeches. The same was a part of personal conversations in private spaces too. In strange ways the political, the personal, and professional came together in Pattabhi and not just became one but went beyond all the boundaries.

Pattabhi and anger

You are not a friend to Pattabhi, if you have not been subjected to his anger; anger which is not an outburst but anger which boils like water, with bubbling expressions in language, and then cooling down over time.

“Please bear my cross with you,” once came an SMS from him. Who fights so gracefully and artistically?- I had wondered!

Once Pattabhi and another senior friend of mine had a disagreement and the conflict went on for long. It was a difficult situation for people like me who were younger to both and held both in great respect and affection. Pattabhi those days would repeatedly make obvious his anger towards the other senior friend of mine. Probably it was his child-like notorious way of testing my loyalty. I don’t know. So he would refer to the other senior friend as “dushTa” (evil). Once when I mentioned this to another friend of my age group, he very playfully asked why Pattabhi was being so decent even in his rage. Until he mentioned it in a joking manner it hadn’t occurred to me that even in his anger Pattabhi was maintaining a dignity of language!

The same fight between titans continued for some more time and it angered me more because I had failed to bridge the gap between two senior friends of mine. Also, I felt some of Pattabhi’s anger, triggered by his fight with the other senior friend, was being displaced on me. I was hurt by it to an extent. When I confronted him with this complaint, Pattabhi in his signature style, said, “You are holding him on your head (an expression in Kannada equivalent to ‘putting someone on a pedestal). So when I spit at him (a Kannada expression for verbally expressing anger), a bit of it falls on you too. If you wish to escape it, you must not carry him on your head.” I was floored by the image he brought in! There were metaphors even in angry expressions! For a moment I forgot everything and marveled at the literariness of that expression.

As much as I have respected Pattabhi for always having a space to fight with him, and for him to fight with his dear ones, I have equally respected him for the way he fights with his friends without abusing the language. It only shows how language is such an important tool for Pattabhi and knowing its strength and its power, he doesn’t want to mishandle the tool, even in a fit of anger!

Pattabhi’s poetry

Having tried to map Pattahi through shades of his communication, I must confess, in the end now that I have always struggled to decipher his Avant-guard poems. Jokingly I have said some of my friends that when Pattabhi writes poems in English, I feel I do not know English and when he writes in Kananda, I feel I do not know Kannada. Maybe, along with English and Kannada, I also do not know poetry. Possible. But I have always believed that his poems, which I cannot say I have understood in its entirety, is another extreme of his loaded silences, and I cannot but have my jaws dropped at the poetry that is not just an excellent play of words but also says more through the unsaid than the said.

Pattabhi’s range between speaking silence and poetry of the unuttered is just amazing!

Conclusion

When requested to write for this volume, I initially wanted to write about the loneliness of Pattabhi, drawing the title from Arundhati Roy’s essay on Noam Chomsky. In the intended essay, I wanted to explore the political, literary, and emotional aloneness of Pattabhi. Probably it is the fate of the unconventional and those who are above and beyond the set frame-works to end up being left alone, like an island in an ocean. That was about his political and literary loneliness. But what has always haunted me is his emotional loneliness and have never dared to speak of. When I started to write the intended essay, I found myself trying to explore and understand- through writing- the emotional loneliness of Pattabhi, more than the other- political and literary- loneliness of his. Not just because I wasn’t sure if my understanding is right, but also because of some inexplicable reason, I abandoned that essay and began to write this. But the attempt to write the intended essay made me realize that Pattabhi for me has been more of an emotional connection than being just a comrade of concern or guiding light in literary sensibility. Now, that emotional connection can be best explained only through silence or probably by the unuttered in the spoken.

I have not just admired Pattabhi in all these years, I have also had severe fights with him, disagreed with him and his actions. I have felt he is wrong on some occasions and has seen how he has been wronged on some other occasions. All shades of emotions have colored my relationship with Pattabhi, but the constant undercurrent always has been that of love. Probably it is only love which makes space for togetherness with disagreements, and acceptance of humans with all their flaws and shortcomings.

***

Article written for oDalu: oDanaaDigala oDalaaLa, a festschrift for Prof. Pattabhirama Somayaji ideated and edited by Rajalakshmi Narasajjan with the assistance of Shareef Salethur.

Pattabhi is retiring on the 31st of this month.

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Relationship with Languages

February 28, 2021 at 9:15 PMFeb (Friends, Literature, Media, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Someone with whom I shared an intimate bonding, once told me, “I can have sex only in English.”

Their words made me reflect and I realized I feel hungry in Kannada, think in English, experience pain and love in Hindustani, and my struggle with mental-health is in all three languages.

Some people like me are torn between languages.

Kannada has given me the earth to be rooted in, English has granted me the sky to fly and Hindustani has tempered my heart to feel a connection with things. But the language of my inscape always is: silence.

I have a complicated relationship with languages.

(Note written on the occasion of International Mother Language Day observed on 21 Feb)

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Life Through Changing Times

January 31, 2021 at 9:15 PMJan (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

Royal Watches, a shop owned by Goddumari Venkateshwaralu, in Ananthapuramu, displays cell-phones and as you enter. As you walk past the narrow space where customers stand inspecting the phones they wish to buy, you see times change. There sits the owner of the shop on his table with a glass case around him, a magnifier glass on his eyes and the walls decorated with old wall clocks.

The shop Royal Watches opened its shutters for the first time in the year 1986 when G. Venkateshwaralu moved to Ananthapuramu from Guntakal after repairing watches there for 16 years. Teaching his younger brother the skills of watch repair he let his brother take care of the shop in Guntakal and moved to Ananthapuramu.

When G. Venkateshwaralu was 16, his father who owned two lorries, sent his son to learn watch repair when their lorries got into a mishap and pushed them to a loss. “I had an eye for technical things and my father identified it,” says G. Venkateshwaralu before explaining how learning watch repair was not an easy task back in those days. “I had to move from one person to another to learn. Nobody would be willing to teach all the tricks of the trade,” he explains. Later his father decided to buy him some tools and asked him to learn by himself based on what he had learnt from others. “Experience taught me more than the training I went through the several watch repairers,” tells G. Venkateshwaralu.

Back in those days when he had just started his life as a watch repairer he would go sit in the weekly markets in the nearby towns and would repair watches there. Slowly he went on to set up his own shop in Guntakal. Remembering his journey from then to now G. Venkateshwaralu says, “There used to be pin watches, winding watches earlier and slowly over the years electronic watches took over. Also, earlier watches were being worn for the purpose of maintaining time. Later it became a fancy. That is when the outer shape of the watches started to change. Slowly a time has come when people do not wear watch. Mobile phones do the work of showing the time.” He says that the watches would last long up to 30 years when he began his work, slowly the life-span of a watch got reduced to 12 years and now it has come up to 2 years. Back then, he says, watches came to him for servicing and repairing. Slowly the rate of servicing decreased and repair increased. In the last one decade the concept of repair has decreased almost completely. “Now the repairer does more of replacing than repairing,” he says. From specific problem being repaired to entire mechanism being replaced, the job of G. Venkateshwaralu has undergone a change with time.

When G. Venakateshwaralu set up his first shop in Guntakal he also started to sell watches in his shop. The ones who would buy watches from him would come to him for servicing and repair. When he moved to Ananthapuramu and set up Royal Watches he continued to sell watches there too. But with the mobile revolution the number of buyers for watches started decreasing. That is when the person in Hyderabad from whom he would purchase spare parts for watches shifted his business to mobile phones. That was a hint to G. Venkateshwaralu about changing times. So the front portion of his shop where he used to sell watches saw watches being replaced by mobile phones. His son took over this area of the shop and G. venkateshwaralu continued to repair watches, on his tiny table at the interior portion of the shop, where he used to sit earlier too.

“Online shopping has had an impact on the sales of mobile phones in shops like ours,” says G. Venkateshwaralu. His customers still are those who couldn’t take a leap into the new technologg completely and still use the watch or those who have a fancy for watches. Some of the new technologies, he says, are such that only company authorized repairers can do the repair work. Others cant. Major part of his work now is replacing some machines in the watch and replacing straps of the watches. He still has some of the old kind of watches in his drawer and the spare parts of the old watches.

When people with old kind of watches come to G. Venkateshwaralu now for repair, he doesn’t take it up because he understand the love they have for their watch which is why they still possess it. “If I am not able to repair because of the machine having become delicate or me becoming old, it won’t be nice,” he explains.

On asked if he find his knowledge and skill, in the shift of times, become irrelevant, G. Venkateshwaralu says, “The question itself is irrelevant. This knowledge and this skill earned me my bread and butter. I could take care of my family and educate my children. It has met the needs of the time for me.” He goes on to say how everything in the world has changed and shares his thought, “We do what we do in order to be able to make a living. It is to make a living that I had to learn watch repairing first, repairing new kinds of watches later on, replacing of machines after that, shift from watch sales to mobile phone sales. I have done it all to make a living and I have had a satisfactory life. If everything I know and did becomes irrelevant now be it. I haven’t failed. I have sailed through.”

(Interview conducted: 20 Nov 2018. Special thanks: Sandeep Nayani)

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The Habit of Eating Together…

December 30, 2020 at 9:15 AMDec (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Once in a while, quite often, I get an early morning call from a teacher-mentor of mine. Every time he calls me early in the morning, which is early for me and not for my teacher-mentor, I know what the purpose of the call is. As the later bloomer wipes his eyes and answers the call, the voice from the other side says, “Please join me for lunch today”. And more than often I join him at his regular lunch eating place.

Several years ago when I was still doing my post-graduation, this teacher-mentor took me for lunch every single day, when I was in the final semester. My parents and I had shifted our house and it wasn’t close enough for me to go home have lunch and return to college. So, I had to eat out. Recognizing this, my teacher-mentor told me, “You please come with me every day for lunch.” I could not say no to the offer. I could not say No because my teacher-mentor is a storehouse of knowledge and stories. Joining him for lunch every day meant extra time, and that too individual time with him and access to his knowledge and experiential stories. That was an additional advantage over free food.

In those days, I realized that even on the days I couldn’t join him, he wouldn’t eat alone. He would take someone else for lunch and pay for them too. Years after those days of final semester of post-graduation, after all my journeys for higher-education and work, when I returned to my hometown, whenever I go to meet him, he insists I have lunch with him that noon. At times, I would receive a morning call from him and that would seal my plan for noon. Sometimes, the call would arrive just before lunch hour. “Today there is nobody to accompany for lunch. If you are free, please join.

“One day over a good meal when I asked him, he told me why he cannot have lunch alone. “Ours was a huge family and we were poor. There used to be limited food. If we were to eat separately, the one eating first could’ve eaten more, leaving less food for the ones eating later. Or, fearing not much will be left for the ones eating later, the ones eating first might eat less. My mother wanted to avoid this. So he always insisted we all eat together and the food could be distributed equally to everyone and all could know the hunger levels of the other and share food considering everyone’s needs,” my teacher-mentor told me. Mentioning that it wasn’t backed by any higher philosophy such as ‘a family that eats together stays together’, but was just a strategy of a poor family. He recollected this to demonstrate how this practice got him habituated to eating together. He then said, “Now, I just can’t eat if I am alone.”

I was deeply moved by this anecdote and wondered how did he manage to have dinner all alone at home after his wife passed away. Did he eat alone or did he start skipping dinners, I wondered!

Around two months ago, my teacher-mentor contracted Covid and had to be hospitalized. Those days, as much as I was concerned about his health, his recovery, I also wondered, how, in isolation, he managed to eat all alone, by himself, with nobody giving him company. Every time I messaged him, asking him about his health, I wanted to ask him about this, but could never ask.

Once my teacher-mentor got discharged from the hospital recovering from Covid, his son came and took him to Bangalore. It was a relief. After spending slightly over a couple of weeks, my teacher-mentor decided to get back home. That worried me a bit.

The day he returned, my teacher-mentor gave me a ring. “I am back. Please join me for lunch.” I rushed immediately.”

I have gotten used to staying alone after my wife passed away,” he told me and added, “Even when they were taking good care of me and when good care is essential for complete recovery, staying with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren was became uneasy for me after a while”. So he had returned to stay by himself, and I could understand that.

But even now once in a while, I get an early morning call from my teacher-mentor: “Today there is nobody to accompany me for lunch. So, please join.” And I go to eat with him…

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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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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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