By Suma Varughese
Managing the feelings and thoughts brought up by what others say or do can give us control over ourselves, says Suma Varughese
Dinner,” called out Mom and everyone arrived at the dining table on the double. Mom was making everyone’s favourite – masala dosa and idlis with chutney and sambar. Avijit had been deputed to assist her and they could hear the crisp sizzle of dough hitting the griddle. “Mmm,” said Alka, deeply breathing in the flavours. “Awesome, Mom.”
Only Nisha was still missing. She could be heard on the phone, her voice slightly agitated. The conversation terminated with an abrupt, “Ok, then” and Nisha materialised looking hot and bothered.
Mom noticed that although she was tucking into her dosa as heartily as everyone else, her brow was a little ruffled. She made up her mind to ask her what the problem was as soon as she could get a break from making dosas. By the time she settled down to eat her own dosa made by the obliging Avijit still slaving in the kitchen, the rest of the family had more or less finished and were casting around for a suitable conversation piece.
“So what’s up?” said Mom to Nisha without further ado. Oh, nothing, it’s just Pooja being really tiresome,” said Nisha pettishly, referring to one of her friends. “What happened?” said Dad.
“Oh, Dad, her boyfriend ditched her and she has been crying and crying. I’ve been trying my best to counsel her but she just doesn’t get it.”
“Counsel?” asked Dad with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, you know all the stuff you keep telling us. Not to be so negative, and to think positive. To put the past behind and to move on. I told her that perhaps she was responsible for the break and she should introspect on it. But she just got really pissed off and told me to shut up. I don’t think I am going to bother saying anything more to her. It’s really her funeral.”
“Whoa,” said Dad, “Easy there. You have committed one of the cardinal mistakes all people make. You have given unsolicited advice.”
“But Dad, she was so miserable. I had to say something.”
“But did what you say help?”
“Nooo,” admitted Nisha.
“The thing is, sweetie, when people are going through trauma, they really don’t want to be told what they should or should not do. And most certainly they don’t want to be told that it is their fault. They just want to be supported. Perhaps hugged. They need sympathy and love. They do not want gyan.”
“Oh,” said Nisha, crestfallen.
“Gosh, Dad, that is so true,” said Alka. “I have this friend who is perennially telling me what I should feel and what I should not feel. I remember that I was really scared before the final exams in the ninth standard and she kept telling me, ‘Only cowards get scared. Stop being scared.’ And I was like, ‘If I’m scared, I’m scared. Your telling me not to be scared is not going to change the situation. There is no shop I can go to buy courage, after all.”
“Well, put, Alka,” said Mom. “When we are not allowed to feel what we feel, it amounts to invalidating our feelings, Nisha. Your not allowing your friend to grieve and instead telling her to move on was tantamount to telling her that it was not okay for her to grieve. But the end of a relationship, particularly a romantic one, is a little bit like a death. The person must be allowed to grieve.”
Nisha shifted uncomfortably, “To be frank, Mom and Dad, it freaked me out to see her so unhappy. She’s such a strong person and suddenly she seemed like this broken doll, unable to pull herself together. I couldn’t take it.’ “So the problem is that you were unable to face your own discomfort at her grief. So instead of coping with your feelings you told her to stop crying,” observed Dad. Nisha looked as if lightning had hit her. “Yes, that is so true, Dad. I was uncomfortable with the way I was feeling around her. I just wanted her to become the old Pooja again.”
Mom added admiringly, “That is so perceptive of you, Ashwin. And come to think of it, this is something all of us do habitually. When a child keeps crying, the mother finally gives him a whack. She is not angry with the child – she just cannot cope with the irritation surging within her. Or someone insults her and instead of coping with the sense of outrage, she issues a burning retort. Isn’t that the way we all are?”
“Yes, Abha,” said Ajoba. “It is the human condition. That is why we all lead such untidy, tangled lives. We blame others for hurting or manipulating us, never recognizing that what they say or do has nothing to do with us. I have a nice little formula I use to give me clarity on exactly what is my business and what is not. What others think, feel, do and say is their business, and my reaction to what they think, feel, do and say is mine. These are two parallel fields and they do not intersect at all. If we can keep this in mind all the time, then we can live in the most clean and clear way where we do not get entangled with the issues of others.”
“Beautiful, Baba,” said Dad, “though I will add that this is not the easiest thing to do. I have been working on this for the last couple of decades and I can still get drawn into making other people’s business mine.”
“It’s a lifetime’s work,” agreed Ajoba. “But Nisha that does not mean you should not begin with it now.”
“I will, Ajoba,” said Nisha earnestly. “It is something new for me to discover that it is my feelings that trouble me, and not that of others. I am still dazed. I think it is going to shift the way I respond to situations.”
“At least the awareness will be there,” said Mom. ‘That is the beginning of the journey.” She smiled at her 19-year-old, “You are growing up, you know that?” Nisha smiled back. “I believe I am.”
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