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.
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.