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Empathy and Compassion Happiness Mind Relationships

Take Care

Take Care

November 23, 2020

Take care. 

These two words either warm our soul or provide empty wishes, depending on how the message is delivered. We know how to read the words in the silence of our loved ones. We learn—why, more than how—to dismiss the cacophony of hollow etiquette framed in words. Rhetorical words, particularly. We dismiss them with an equally shallow politeness. 

The onus of taking care, understandably, is on the recipient of the message.

(You) take care (of yourself). 

Nandini, a creative professional, takes good care of herself. She routinely works out in a trendy gym, where, at regular intervals, strategically placed high-decibel speakers blast out an assertive voice claiming that the gym “cares for you.” Loyal to the idiosyncrasies of the brand strategist that she is, she completes the tag line in her perky tone.  

“Cares for your money.” 

She, then, exchanges a harmless laughter with her selectively sincere trainer. Occasionally, sweaty gym enthusiasts stop puffing their chests out and break into a smile at her mimicry. Deep down, her humorous response is a reflection of her lack of faith in the empty claim. Never has the gym cared to call up David, her husband, who routinely disappears after paying an annual membership fee. 

Nandini, too, like most of us, is guilty of abusing those two magical words. Guilty of uttering without pondering first on the utterance. Guilty of not meaning the meaning. Guilty of moral hypocrisy, because tables do turn. 

When Nandini isn’t working or working out or spending a fortune taking care of her skin and her hair, she feeds on the newsfeed and consumes the delights of others’ lives. She hates herself, despite all the “self-care.”

Double, triple, quadruple hypocrite Nandini is. 

For taking care of ourselves without knowing how to take care of ourselves hurts the self. The skin glows, the hair shines while the inner world, shunned by the glow-shine veil, endlessly awaits its turn for a renovation. The internal system communicates an earnest plea to the veil to let it break free of the firewalls of social networking, to allow it to build relationships. 

The inner self knocks on the door. Thinks aloud. 

Nandini, are you home? The lights are on but you are off. Off the real world. I am concerned about you. You need to understand the impact of spending your limited attention loathing, loving, and fantasizing those virtual lives.  

First: Based on the “reality,” which arguably isn’t the truth, you constantly redefine how your life should be. 

Second: You don’t pay yourself the attention you seek from others. 

The net result you achieve is an imitation of a should-be life. The constant tussle between the imitation and the original, as I have seen, leaves you exhausted. Unknowingly ignored, the original life, if bravely attempted, is worth your time. You don’t receive a notification on your smartphone reminding you to like your imperfect life. The recipes of others’ lives keep getting you to compare yourself. Comparisons are brutally unkind and unfair, Nandini. Not so much when others decimate you to a few parameters but what you do to yourself when you indulge in comparisons. 

Yes, imitation. 

Imitation is arguably the best form of flattery but is clearly not so articulate in giving voice to people. A voice borrowed from successful people or loaned from popular movies doesn’t last beyond a temporary ego boost or an orgasmic adrenaline rush. I have noticed that if there is no precedent for your ideas, rather than cheering your uniqueness, you feel concerned that your thought process might make you look stupid. Your voice may as well be wrong, in which case, you must have the humility to stand corrected. But having that original voice is crucial for your self-development. You keep your ideas hidden deep inside a secret chamber, fearing disapproval or failure. This behavioral pattern has, not so surprisingly, put an end to your uniqueness.  

Before you realized, you became an elegant copy of copies, Nandini. Sexy, alluring, grand, mesmerizing … but a copy nonetheless. We both know how many ideas you have lifted from others. And, I know how remorseful you feel every time you plagiarize and call it “creativity.” 

The market for copies is fiercely competitive, ripe with safe opportunities; originality, on the other hand, is a relatively apprehensive and uncontested market. With every additional copy produced, the value of the original increases and that of the copy decreases. 

The cycle of a should-be life continues. Because living the original, imperfect life requires courage. 

The world needs more unique individuals, Nandini. You will do better to retain your uniqueness. The mutual interest of the human being that you are and the humankind in desperate need of changers isn’t enough to motivate you to retain yourself, I understand. My point is not that you aren’t getting better but that you are killing the unique elements in you fearing that they might make you look unsocial. Plus, you always have a tendency to validate your habits, your thoughts, your actions. 

Remember: “If,” “But,” and “Should” do less than what “Will,” “Do,” and “Can” can. 

Rejection is not your cup of tea, I know. You need a deeper understanding of rejections. Rejections and dealing with rejections are terrifying encounters. That won’t be so scary if you knew how to look at them as plain facts. And, move on. Your expensive business education, unfortunately, didn’t teach you much beyond copying and pasting. I would suggest you to invite more rejections to feel comfortable with rejections. Aim for the impossible, Nandini! You have nothing to lose but an opportunity to make peace with rejections, and hit a jackpot if otherwise. 

Nandini, the more pressing concern is that you don’t have the time to spend with yourself, to connect with the person whose body you live in, to appreciate yourself for the small wins. The imitated life you are trapped in, no matter what you do, turns out to be less than the should-be life. For you don’t know how to slow down a bit when everyone else is moving too fast—how to approve the disapprovals. 

For you have long forgotten the joy of spending time with the child and the old, you have long been ungrateful for the many gifts you are surrounded with, you have long been using someone else’s tape to measure your life. 

For you haven’t really smelt the coffee you drink every day, you haven’t seen the buildings you move past daily on your way to the office. You haven’t used your hands in a long time to create something. You must try making one of those clay idols again. Muddy fingers carving tiny hands out of a heap of silt. 

For you haven’t read works of literary fiction, you haven’t gifted your mind the imagination of experiences of others’ lives. You haven’t listened, you haven’t empathized.

Last week, your extended family members visited you. David’s maternal aunts and uncles, none of whom you are fond of. I know how much you dislike Sheela Aunty because of her habit of poking her nose into everyone’s life. After almost seven months, you met them. Sheela Aunty made a harmless comment: “You have become fat.”

You felt terrified, claustrophobic but managed to humor them. Unwillingly, you let them make you a part of a group photo. After they left, you went to your room. You shook in fear of imaginary dislikes on Facebook and Instagram. You sobbed. Shrilled, till the room deepened with your gloom. You punched yourself. Slapped yourself. Punched David. He kicked you back brutally on your stomach—repeatedly—as though his leg were a fork capable of killing you. This unimaginable domestic violence continued for two days. Non-stop. 

Why, Nandini? Why?

Nandini, my dear, have you ever considered appreciating your skills? Your cooking abilities, your work performance, your writing skills? The mutton biriyani that used to get people drooling? The touching ad that you designed based on the life of the transgender person, Svetlana, who had adopted a child? The anaphora poem that earned you the “Artsy Adsy Prize 2020?” Your ability to produce outstanding research papers? The pioneering research paper you wrote on the necessity to have gender-neutral washrooms at workplace? That, too, without plagiarizing! 

Do you think you need to look like a model or a film star to live your life? Are there identities of you that are more important than your glutei and abs? Sure, exercise, be fit by all means, but do so because you want to take care of yourself. Not to impress strangers on the Internet. Moreover, why do you need to start living your life after you achieve an hourglass figure? What’s wrong with who you are today? 

No one has the power to “other-ize” you for who you are, Nandini. Neither the educated nor the literate; neither the beautiful nor the wonderful; neither the rich nor the wealthy; neither the straight nor the arrow; neither the law nor the claw; neither the art nor the science; or the old adage and the new. No one. Often what makes us extraordinarily human is what is denigrated in popular rhetoric. Don’t rob yourself of the small joys of life for having a dialogue with the deaf.

When and if they turn their gaze away, don’t look for shadows; for if you try to find one, you will create many out of nothing. Rather, be impregnable and untouchable by their words and actions that cast a deep shadow inside your mind. 

That respectfully indifferent person is your hero: You. Nandini Arora. Make that hero a superhero.

Train your mind more than you train your body, Nandini. You have exercised—squatted, curled, pressed, crunched—but you haven’t really taken care of yourself. Not at all. All the years, you have looked at the mirror, arranged your hair but not the head. How many more Keratin treatments will make you happy? 

Nandini. You have looked at the mirror, seen what you don’t have but not what you have. You cannot get up by drowning yourself in self-criticism. You have looked at the mirror, taken care of the invisible wrinkles but not the unseen emotions beneath them. You haven’t had a warm conversation with the imperfect self that you are.

You haven’t seen yourselves through your kind eyes.

You haven’t learnt how to shield yourself from your own devices and desires. How to protect yourself from your own expectations. How to access the renewable sources of happiness within yourself, in your solitude, in your state of flow. While conceptualizing an ad, maybe. Or, while trying to be the artist whom you lost to technology?

For you, it is either a low self-esteem or a high chest-beating, unhealthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem allows one to be compassionate towards oneself, to understand how positive emotions might be thin in absence of the essential negative emotions, to clearly see things beyond one’s control, to be able to delay gratification, to gracefully accept rejections, and more. 

Above all, self-compassion, Nandini. You haven’t extended compassion to yourself. 

Fall, you will. But. Push yourself up and crawl. Let go of the incessant need to network, to run with a business card after someone running with a business card after someone else higher in the hierarchy. Invest in meaningful relationships, Nandini. 

Call up Sheela Aunty. Talk to her. She loves your Mutton Biriyani. She loves you. Don’t judge her. Hug David tightly and tell him how much you love him. Now, Nandini. Now. 

And a little self-compassion, please? Shall we, Nandini?

I look forward to hearing from you. The sooner, the better.

Take care.

Your,
Inner Self.


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Categories
Personal Essays Women

The New Woman of My Nation

The New Woman of My Nation

By PPD

November 6, 2020

Do breaking stereotypes, crushing comfort zones, pacing stagnation, lifting the burden, and doing the unexpected unlock the possibility of living a life of freedom? No, not for the women of my nation. “Women” of my nation have to live according to the perceived notion of womanhood first before living the life of a free “human.”

I was born and raised in an Army household. Naturally, discipline and norms were made to be an integral part of my life. A tight schedule without late nights or night outs, pocket money of which every penny was accounted for, good grades, and minimum friendships were few of the rules that I was made to follow. When my friends would go partying and on tours, I would sit back and revise my notes. I didn’t have any complaints barring a few teenage disappointments. I realized that strict parents raise rebels; I know this from my first-hand experiences. I do have my share of rebellious and mischievous tales, again with no complaints or regrets except for, let’s say, a few adulthood disappointments. 

But who would have imagined that amidst playfully disobeying and escaping these household rules, life would take a fast-paced turn and throw me off my game? I realized that my existence was, and would be, bound by the societal expectations of an ideal woman of my nation?

Well, living in a world where casual sexism goes unnoticed in almost every household, having been born in India was an incidental cherry on the top of a rather rotten pie!

While growing up, I witnessed the numerous ways in which women were treated “a tad” bit different from men. Women, both working professionals and housewives, were the only ones taking care of the entire household and their children. Girls had to greet people with unrealistic kindness and entertain them as a “girl” was supposed to. And there were constant lessons about adjustments and keeping one’s family happy. Back then, being a mere child, I never really “noticed” or “questioned” these gross undermining. Why? I didn’t know any other way and thought it was just what it was. 

This is exactly how most of the modern-day tragedies are born. 

We often forget the value of terms like “selfless,” “sacrifice,” or “nurturing” when it comes to describing a woman. They have become so “natural” and “obvious” that people rarely ever pay attention to the underlying hypocrisy! 

Men, on the other side, are consciously and almost repeatedly perceived as “strong,” “powerful,” or “successful.” 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with admiring selfless motherhood, but who made motherhood a gender-specific, universal concept? Who bestowed weaknesses in sacrifice? And who exactly thought that compassion could never take you on the road to success? Guess we’ll never know. 

From women accepting their casual dismissal as submissive “entities” to standing against the face of “misogyny” today, modern feminism in the 21st century of India did not come easy. Going as back as to the mythological figure Draupadi, considered one of the first feminists merely for possessing a sound consciousness about her virtue as a respectable “person,” womanhood has challenged this society for the longest of time. Be it the question of Draupadi’s self-respect, Rani Laxmi Bai’s unmatched bravery, Savitri Bai Phule’s empowerment, or the sheer rebellion of today’s women, Indian women have seen and done it all. We will keep progressing and are indebted to tons of women who tore the societal bonds and stereotypes to emerge fearless and as women of substance.

As a kid, traveling around the country and leaving behind my friends and my comfort zone became absolutely normal over time. Unfortunately, it did leave me behind with no “childhood friends” or a specific place to call home, but then again, it made me realize the importance of being self-aware, sufficient, and opinionated. 

This “adaptation to change” trait also made it possible for me to settle in the latest phase of my life—the college life in Delhi. Delhi is the infamous rape capital; the polluter of the nation; a city where stalkers, goons, and molesters are neighbors. Yet I decided to live here “independently.”

In this city full of mansplainers ready to knock you, a sense of competition and the constant need to prove myself as a woman became a part of my lifestyle. Before expressing what unique I could bring to the table, I had to justify how I was capable of doing the same tasks as my “male” counterparts. 

I recollect the apparently controversial Pinjra Tod movement on the campus that hit a spur among those trying to bring women down for illogical reasons.

Why do these girls need to go out at night? We need your parents’ permission to let you step out of the room. You definitely cannot wear “that” here. What character does this behavior give away?

This movement, wherein women had to demand the minutest decency to let them live their lives like adults and to make their own decisions, was an eye-opener for our ridiculously unfair society.

This reminds me of Gayatri Devi, the Maharani of Jaipur, a celebrated idol since the 1930s, who refused to be confined by the purdah system back when even stepping out for women required the “approval” of the heads of families. Although married into royalty, she didn’t compromise her boldness and free spirit to regard her family’s “respect,” and dared to have an opinion. After her victorious welcome to the Lok Sabha, she even curbed the purdah practice in Rajasthan to let women face the real world. 

These powerful women of today, protesting and standing for their most basic rights, showcase how India’s young, educated, and modern women are in for anything but confinement.

Fitting into the idea of an ideal woman—with a family-oriented mind, a tiny waist, fair complexion, and having a next-to-no opinion—always gave me a bit of a chuckle. It depicted nothing but the frustration of this society where people needed something or someone “weaker” to draw upon their insecurities. 

The normalization of a woman’s life revolving around her “character” and accustoming her to the unrealistic and demeaning norms have surely brought down millions of unique brains, but at the same time, the normalization instilled the will of breaking free in Indian women. The women of my nation have come a long way from being homemakers with no apparent ambitions to living independently, equally, and successfully. 

I recall the path-breaking poetess Amrita Pritam, who shattered every absurd standard set for a woman’s character with her work, one poem at a time. Amrita lived as a modern romantic and welcomed contemporary relationships. She was married to an editor at a young age of 16, only to get divorced within a few years, back in the 1960s. Her passion for writing took her and her two children to Delhi, and soon she fell in love with the work of the renowned lyricist Saahir Ludhianvi. She believed “Love is freedom, it must set you free,” and lived by it. Their affair caught the limelight but when she couldn’t find commitment, she left him to live independently with her children, defying the unjust notion of “need for a man” in a household.

Amrita moved on to become one of the most cherished names in the history of Indian authors and, till the day, inspires young individuals to set their lives free of the customs. She later moved in with the famous painter Imroz, and the two lived as life-long partners without the tag of marriage until her demise in 2005.  

Stories of women like Amrita have given today’s women that missing, absent “consent” to pursue an independent and choice-driven relationship. This sense of control has led women to realize their significance and has given them a voice to stand up against the wrong conducts in their personal lives. The liberty of having a “say” in their personal lives was long overdue anyway. 

I am thankful enough to be in an environment where normalizing the topics that are deemed to be a taboo is welcomed open-mindedly. Living in a surrounding full of enthusiastic and woke youth, people have publicly talked about the most natural and common things that go around in a woman’s life. I, too, have sat down with my male peers to talk, educate, and discuss periods, sex, body image, physical and mental abuse, and mental health.

It came as a surprise to most of my male peers that nearly every woman around them had faced the horrors of molestation, eve-teasing, and sexual abuse that they “only saw” in news headlines.

It is both saddening and infuriating to spot the ineffectiveness in educating children about these important subjects in the early stages of their lives.

Fortunately, in a world where even the most powerful have disregarded the importance of early education and self-awareness in children, I had the honor to work with young entrepreneurs imparting the same education along with creative knowledge to young minds. 

These young women entrepreneurs started this project of teaching performing arts, awareness, and communication to underprivileged children with the motive to help them build a positive conscience. The stubbornness with which these women traveled for hours, conducted workshops, worked without any secure (male) presence in sleek corners of the city, and managed their studies well, was a slap on the face of this society which tagged them as “too ambitious” and “western.”

The tags—“western,” “bold,” “demanding,” and “outspoken”—this society has given to the modern women have helped them to develop an attitude where the more the society tries to bring them down, the more they rebound and rebel. Be it thrashing the age-old standards by speaking what is on their minds in places full of judgments, unapologetically competing with the men, staying up at nights to work or celebrate, wearing anything and everything despite the “inviting” allegations, not settling in to the idea of being just mothers or homemakers, and living independently bereft of a male figure in their lives, or simply supporting the “idea” of being modern, however small the step and stepping-up be, in a nation known for its discrimination and patriarchal triumph, a woman to even live ambitiously and freely is rather commendable. 

These questions and opinions that I am privileged enough to draw today, even the mere thought of these problems didn’t cross my mind back in the time. Fortunately, along the thin line of evolving, I have seen the parallels between an independent and ethical woman get shattered. I have witnessed the notion of a woman needing protective gear (man) to save her from the “cruel” world get busted. I have seen the compliments for females shifting from mere physical appearances to their creative and professional accomplishments. And I have witnessed working women take charge of their own life first instead of the entire family.

And. 

I have witnessed the rise of the new woman in India, because I am the new woman of India!

 

Shrutty Sharma is a recent commerce graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She is a budding writer and a theatre enthusiast who strongly emphasizes on devoting herself to art and creativity and continues to pursue the same at every step of her professional and personal lifestyle. Although based in Gurugram, she has traveled across 15 Indian states and has grown up across the country. She likes to be opinionated when it comes to social causes and welcomes empowerment and adventures. 

 
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