Some people know what you looked like in school, they know you’ll take your coffee black, no sugar thanks. Among them, some get a peek into what hurts you – the pebble in your shoe, the black hole in your emotional baggage. These can be molded into the perfect weapon, laced with made-to-fit malice. It might look like nothing to others, but a simple ‘it was so unfair’ in the middle of theatre practice can burst your chest open. Don’t worry, you won’t remember much, only the darkness, on another side of which you come sobbing, publicly, the exact result the attacker wanted. It’ll happen again. And again. More times than seems fair.
2 weeks ago, I was attacked by an uncle – the one you opened up to and you wish you hadn’t – about mummy’s caregiving, in the audience of my extended family. It was spiked with contempt and spite. It happened on the same day that I had managed to procure Mumma’s medicines after struggling with doctors, prescriptions, medical stores, urban-rural disparities, courier services on one hand and papa, mummy, R’s, my sanity delicately intertwined in the other, for 3 weeks. At the tail end of this marathon that- that came after 2 years of fatal labor – throwing myself between him and my mother, looking for a plug to pull to drain the hatred, to get beyond the ‘present soiled by the past’. So through I went – resetting priorities, retelling stories that hurt, green-housing their relationship through the night – till the air cleared. I had reached a point where the only thing to manage was health and coping mechanisms, not a life tangled in pasts and presents. It was here that he tripped me up with a single, meek sentence.
My impulse reaction to being hurt is to hurt. Like a Bollywood film’s bad-guy, I aim to give back more than I had to endure. I inherited this from mummy, who knows pain and the art of causing it. Empathy, when bent that way, cuts through flesh. Mummy was never the one to tap out of a fight. She tends to fight till the end, even if she takes her own army down. It comes from having romanticized too many Savarkars.
But that night, I didn’t throw a punch back at my uncle. I picked up my hurt and walked out the door as I heard him say “ahh..now she’ll cry. Typical” after me. I found myself a dark corner of the house to cry in – it helps finish an episode, I am told- and waited for the SOS pill to kick in. The family continued to make merry outside, I could hear them. Uncared-for, unreciprocated sadness has sharper edges than pride “I gave back what I got” or guilt “you acted just like him”. It’s harder to move across. So I just sat in mine.
Through the night, it changed form, colors, and textures, not all of which were good. At first, it looked like ‘no one stood up for you’ which was colored in the orphanhood of 20 years ago, standing outside school, forgotten, as others went home answering “what did you do today? did you eat your tiffin?” At the end of a picnic, the only one unclaimed, waiting to be sent, not taken, home.
I messaged S. I knew he would hold me.
When you cross this place of insecurity, you stand a chance of landing at Reason. My family’s laughter around the dining table or during what mummy calls the “family family khelenge” time is more than the reward I had expected for my 2 years of backbreaking effort. Then why was I hurting? it asked.
Sit with a question long enough and it answers itself. And most often, the answer is “communication”. I decided to talk to papa mummy. We’d have to learn to be better allies to each other, realistically- not overcoming confrontation issues for forgiving, unkind people- but voicing positive feedback as one does the negative, not forcing the other to meet triggering people from their families, by just holding their hand while they navigate sadness.
When I woke up the next day, my anger had subsided into faint background noise- not in an ‘I forgive all bad because I am toxically positive’ but in an ‘I can choose not to be around that sort of energy way.’ I didn’t have an embarrassment or regret hangover either. Just a hurt hurting lesser on the other side of rest.
I spoke to mummy papa, we each told the other how they can help us out. Mummy promised to not force me to meet relatives, papa promised to show appreciation, even if it did not come naturally to him. Whatever leftover anger I had, was gone.
When I saw the uncle again, he averted his eyes and couldn’t get himself to speak to me. I – who was carrying no embarrassment or regret, not even an ‘I meant what I said but I apologize for how I said it.’ I could look into those eyes or not look into them. I could make this realization- if what is required in a situation is standing, raising my voice, and being heard, I’d do that, if not, I won’t – my north star. It is a choice, not an involuntary response. If there is one thing I want for myself, it is the power, the raw privilege to choose, and the courage to make choices that come from an educated place not driven by fear or anger with wide margins for error. So I can still be me, a constellation, not a solid object.
Today, mummy and Dadi were angry with each other about Aachar. In power, play, and shared lives objects become symbols. A jar of Aachar stood for the right to speak, to occupy space and a voice. This bottle that held preserved fruits to be had all year long, my companions for after medicine binge, became a potential trigger.
But mummy decided to not pick a fight with Dadi, even when she felt wronged. For 2 days after that, mummy didn’t flinch/say something nasty at a million remarks from the in-laws about the potent, magical aachar. She stood against a team, a million triggers with the force of a Self she liked. She not only didn’t react, but she also didn’t take the option of letting me take the blame for it. She didn’t blame papa, which is her usual way of coping. Being right is not as important as being an unapologetic, complete, true Yourself she learned for the first time. When I told her how proud of her I was, she said “I learned this from you”
We are becoming the people we know – coffee preferences, new stationary addictions – and we will be the people who will hold ourselves, gently.