THE WRITING ON THE WALL

This one is for parents.

Especially and with good reason, You are the first bastion, the initial wall on the road to collapse, the octroi post where you can tax your kids for the burden they bring to the home.

That is the first reckoning. That vacation back into the bosom of your family. It is faced with trepidation and stress ad longing and love and warmth and subterfuge and deception. Topmost among the list is the need to conceal from Mum and Dad and prying siblings the new tablet diet you are on. Most of us use peppermint breath freshener tins to keep them in. Some of us scrape the surface to obliterate the markings and make them look innocent. Then they can be mixed with actual Altoids or Fishermen Friends and only which are which. We do not want to be placed in a position where we have to explain what the hell they are or why we are having them. The biggest fear as we board the aircraft is running out of them. This can happen because we stay away from supply chains longer than we thought, rush our dosage because of certain stress factors like tension at home, parents fighting with each other, the claustrophobia of being with family, the sudden return to childhood discipline, the shrieking voices within becoming even more shrill.

The first few days are okay. Love is in the air, comfort food on the table, your childhood favorites, welcome change from Ramen noodles and cold pizza. Your own bed, your old clothes, a shelf of books you could not take to varsity. You then find your patience at an end. Your privacy which is so important on campus is up for grabs. In a line that never ends comes an army of your friends (and theirs as in parents) snooping neighbors  who cannot mind their own business, aunts and uncles marinating advice that has not been solicited and obnoxious little cousins with closed minds clinging to mobile phones like lifelines.

It is a Kafkaesque comedy, cruel and invasive. One day, it happens. You lose it. A meltdown of epic proportions sparked by something so insignificant it is almost ridiculous. Your rant shocks everyone, they reel back and try to understand where all this is coming from. Their tolerance is even more infuriating, for God’s sake stop being so accommodating.

A little voice inside tells you to back off or else you may give yourself away. So you slide back into normality. Which relieves your immediate family and they chalk off your irrational behavior to an aberration that happens. Parents are by nature cowards when it comes to their children. They find it very hard to take them on. And I say to you call them on it. If you notice on furlough that they are acting odd, son or daughter, go for it. Check the pills. Check the love for ‘peppermints’. If they have lost weight dramatically or become plump do not justify it, go in there and find out why. If they are too cold or too hot or sit in the desert sun, binge on food, are sullen and snappy and rude and unlike their loving selves, do not accept it. Investigate. Let them lose it, let them shriek and shout and throw those ugly tantrums, it does not matter, you are doing them a favor.

It sounds simple. But it isn’t. We are so good at intimidating you. Ten days left for departure, you are already soggy with emotion, we have you in a corner and we will pummel you into surrender without even breaking a sweat.

Why is it so difficult for parents to read the writing, to see the signs, to ask each other, why is this train going off the tracks.

Instead, they will rationalize  and empathize and pretend nothing untoward is occurring.

It is. See how it is. For God’s sake. For your child’s sake.

Vidhi, Has dedicates this song to Mohit as a Raksha Bandhan Gift

Mohits

TIME FOR PARENTS TO SMELL THE COFFEE.

And so it comes to pass that you have graduated to the levels of dependence. These harmless looking little pills are not your friends but you don’t know that. For the moment they are best buddies. They are the light in the dark tunnel of despair providing that surge of energy so needed to tackle the workload. And you feel no guilt because you have no idea of their diabolical impact on your mind. In the beginning as the tentacles start circling your brain it is little shifts in conduct and sensation.

It varies from person to person. Some have sudden rage episodes or crying jags. Some sink into depression while others wrestle with demons and gremlins that now invade their minds and disturb the mental equilibrium. We takers of the tablets seldom share the fear of registering these changes in our mindset but it is a safe bet that if we did we would discover common ground. Feeling claustrophobic, a maddening desire to tear open the curtains to let in the cleansing light. Paradoxically, a need to seek the shelter of the deep and impenetrable darkness. Acute feelings of cold and heat, a digestive system engaging in its own series of convulsions and tiny worms of doubt  slithering in the byways of the mind. If we did talk and were honest and open and stopped wearing facades kept in jars on our faces for what we want the world to see. Everything, but the pain of our puzzlement. These were professional doctors and mentors and they knew what was good for us…or do we dare ask did they, do they.
More importantly did they care for what it does to us.
My first inkling. An unusual desire for chill. I would need to ice the room with the air conditioning  and it was never enough. Then without much change in diet I began to get puffy, a sort of soft pudginess accentuated by clothes not fitting.
Part of me wanted someone to solve this mystery. What was going on. Most of me wanted to play let’s pretend and deny anything untoward was happening. Parents are the first to know things are away. They sense it. But we intimidate them, put them in a corner. Become snappy and withdrawn, fool them into believing it is the pressures of a different routine, a fresh culture that is different ,even a richer feed at the trough, they want to be understanding and accommodating and you want scream at  them  for being so blind so they cannot see the agony writhing like snakes inside their offspring. Then again, why should they when we make so much effort not to let them know.

So we carry on, the symptoms if you can call them that, rising and abating like the tide, good days and bad days, the dependence increasing incrementally until even we begin to deny that there is any abnormal reaction. After all ,this is now the norm. Welcome to Zombieland, take me to your leader.

Often, young students don’t want to go to their home country because they don’t want the family to see the shift in conduct and appearance. Home is now not a comfort zone this is.

So, if you have a young adult and he or she is ducking the issue and ducking the face to face talk and ducking coming home and sounding different, don’t duck it. Wake up and smell the coffee.

IT’S THE CHEESE IN THE MOUSETRAP WHICH GETS YOU

I always said if you think money makes you rich think of all the things in your life that money cannot buy. Great parents who are annoyingly patient and understanding when their offspring is being unreasonable, a sister I wouldn’t trade for a king’s ransom, my health which I treasure, the music in my life, the freedom of my mind to think, thoughts that no currency can purchase, the esteem of friends because I must have done, something good in my years on earth, nothing comes from nothing, the fortune to have good teachers who signposted the way forward, the words of authors no longer alive, leaving legacies to provoke and stimulate the mind, animals who are unconditional in their love, five hundred things you take for granted like it was your imperial right instead of the benediction it really is.

All for free. And I am at the door of the psychologist’s office, marshalling my mental troops. Why am I here? I recall asking myself, berating myself, you don’t need a shrink, why are you doing this, you are not sick, you be cool, you can take the pressure.

Always have.

Yes, easy to say, night after night the endless process of learning, day after day the assignments and the tutorials, dark sunken eyes propped open by toothpicks, hunger gnawing at your vitals even as you have no appetite. Words cascading in a torrent without respite.

I need to share, to lighten the burden, to feel kinship, no one knows what this hell is like and I will not lose, I am not a loser, all I need is a little help from my friend.

She is a friend in five minutes. In ten a confidante and by the time the minute hand circles past the half hour we are co-conspirators in the raid of the pharma factory.

They do it so well. With such practiced ease that you are beguiled into believing you have discovered salvation. See, it cannot be all bad, after all, everyone is on something and these are the experts.  They make the studied recommendation.

She ropes me in, her concern so genuine that my misgivings melt like wax in a flame, she is now telling me that what I need is something to calm my nerves, relax and feel in control.

Spot on. Control is what I want and if I can get it by giving it away so be it.

She is telling me we will start slowly, with a very low dose and I will feel better for it. Somewhere in there that low dose angle absolves her of being reckless, calms the patient into a state of self-delusion and the thought of anxiety being banished is exciting. There is a niggling doubt that you are stepping into a quagmire but you cannot back off, you need a friend, remember. Everybody needs a bloody friend, it’s the defence against loneliness.

There is now a gentle shift into the possessive ‘we’. We will work this together. We will get you put things right.

My goodness, there is something wrong, it has to be put right. It is now collective. We are in it together.

She is writing out a prescription. I am golden. Sorted.

Then why do I feel like I have just been soiled given away something I cannot pin down. Could  it be peace of mind, the price for chemical calm.

 

CAUGHT IN THE VICE TRAP OF TWO CULTURES

And so when you are waiting and stressing and wondering where this gold brick road will take you ultimately, you begin think a little of how crooked the turns in this road are, how steep its hills,  and how difficult it is to stay on the straight and  narrow.

Not so long ago you were in an Indian environment choking on Indian values jostling  to break the shackles and get the hell out of Dodge garh so to speak. And everything pointed to America or Australia or Canada you just had to get out of this rut with its sticky tar of larger family  politics, nosy neighbours with no better agenda than to pass judgement soaked in malice, parental friends armed with their tacky trinkets supposedly the symbols of success and therefore indicative of wealth.
Then one day you were on a plane being flung at 750kph in to another planet unable to grasp how dramatic and breathtaking the leap was.
To be both American and Indian fighting wars on both fronts having to explain everything, give reason, why are you the way you are, a barrage of questions against which you were poorly armed.
You had to wear a protective armour, sort of hide under a patchwork quilt of  perfection so fragile it was that an eggshell was forged metal in comparison.
Playing let’s pretend became second nature, an Indian in America like an enigma wrapped in a riddle. And the past never let go, did it, it rode your back, the incessant explaining, the intrusions painted in love and concern, cerebral but toxic care packages that made you accountable.

I would lie in bed at night and calculate idly how much energy it took  to be squandered to look perfect on the outside and if you feel something different than sadness, any other emotion then you are inherently flawed so that fear of being stained by your peers more than marked prevents you from reaching out.  You seek the shelter of introverted silence, it’s easier.

After all, if there something needs address it means there is a flaw and it is in you. And we cannot have that, can we?

I saw this frantic stuffing away of real feelings all around me confusing and so very dismaying. A little bit lonely, a little bit sad, but no sounding board to share these thoughts as two cultures snapped like lobsters at the corners of your mind.
If you try to help somebody who has depression or who needs a little soupcon of understanding, a shoulder, a little tender, loving care then there is something wrong with that person. It has to be. How dare you be anything less than perfect. And I then dare to ask if the basic tenet of every value is to be good to the next person, then why do we err and hurt others because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Echo answers why.
I used to see it, that scheudenfreud enjoying the pain of others relishing it like mustard and mayo.
So the charade goes on, passed from generation to another, like a river in  spate, unabated. The hypocrisy, the pantomime of life played out in paler colours, the muted cry for help stifled lest it be seen as evidence of a fracture of the senses, not wanting to help open the buttons of your mind because their fingers are far too  clumsy.
On campus you see them, sunny smiles and sunnier dispositions, their wounds skin deep but wrapped in a gauze of self-doubt and low self esteem because they ‘re young and they are lonely and that is a tightening combination.
Tomorrow is another day. Maybe the psychologist will listen. Aren’t they paid to listen?