Category Archives: Uncategorized

The spell of Amarendra Bahubali

I am tongue-tied. Smitten. Totally bowled over. This sentence has made its way after an endless number of backspaces, as I did not know how to begin. I feel like a novice lover who writes and rewrites the same love-letter, without knowing how to begin or end it.

The much-awaited Bahubali: The Conclusion did not disappoint. It delivered, and how! I loved the lead characters, be it my crush (blush!) Amarendra Bahubali, the princess Devasena, or the Queen Mother. For those complaining about the violence – what did you expect? The younger Bahubali, Mahendra, was going to liberate his mother from the clutches of the evil villain Bhalla who has her in chains in his palace courtyard. He cannot do it by taking a bouquet of flowers to Bhalla, can he? Of course there will be bloodshed – it is a war. Yes, there are some tacky fights in the end that I did not care for. There are small glitches that I did not care for. But overall? I would see the movie again. Gladly.

The scenes were captivating, painted as they were like a fine work of art, on the canvas of the big screen. There is the scene where Amarendra saves the Queen Mother from an elephant in musth without harming either the mother or the elephant; at the end of it, he confidently strides up the elephant’s trunk to seat himself on its back.

There is the scene where Amarendra brings Devasena home with him on a ship whose sails turn to wings, turning the ship into a plane. And the scene where Amarendra and Devasena fight in tandem against the Pindaris with bows, showering arrows expertly and quickly on the invaders. He even coaches her on fighting skills – one of the most beautiful, and most romantic scenes of the movie. A scene that would appeal to anyone who doesn’t care for doe-eyed damsels in distress. After Kaurvaki of Ashoka, this is a lead female character that I can admire and appreciate – what a long gap between the two!

I love how women are portrayed. My heart sang seeing Devasena boldly tackling a bunch of bandits, fighting them as a more-than-equal. And Amarendra losing his heart to her, after seeing her fighting skills. Devasena is fiery and she is fiesty. She is beautiful and minces no words. She is confident in her stride and in her convictions. Amarendra is a secure man who, unlike weak men who fall in love at first sight, and can be manipulated by doe-eyed damsels who plead helplessness to get their way – finds Devasena’s feisty nature and fighting skills fascinating. He admires and loves her as an equal, and with that, he has me at hello. Yeah, its a Jerry McGuire reference, but I am too smitten to care! 😉

The Queen Mother sends a proposal to Devasena’s kingdom, which is humiliating in itself. She sends a large amount of gold and silver as presents, and says this is in exchange for Devasena’s hand. Devasena is to immediately marry her son, by symbolically having a wedding ceremony with his sword. Devasena spurns this offer, saying if the son so desires to marry her, she will send her own sword, and he can have a ceremony with it! Bravo Devasena!

When Amarendra gets a missive from the Queen Mother to bring Devasena to Mahishmati as a prisoner, he turns to his beloved, and asks her to cooperate and humor the queen by going with him as a prisoner. Devasena boldly says she will come lovingly and willingly, but never in the humiliating garb of a prisoner. Amarendra swears to protect her honor and dignity and asks her to place her trust in him, and he keeps his promise. All along, Amarendra believes that the Queen Mother had intended for him to marry Devasena.

The Queen Mother had, unbeknownst to Amarendra, promised Devasena’s hand to her other son Bhalla. When Amarendra brings Devasena to court, he finds out about his mother’s promise. The Queen Mother decrees that Devasena should fulfill her promise, whereupon the latter – unlike the simpering damsels of yore  – boldly asks on what basis the Queen Mother had made such a promise to Bhalla. I have the right to choose my mate, she says.  And I am not bound to keep someone’s promise made without my consent!

Bravo! And here is the clincher for me: when the Queen Mother, aghast at Devasena’s boldness, orders her soldiers to drag her to the front of the court to stand by Bhalla, Amarendra steps forward and says “Anyone who dares to lay a hand on Devasena, know that laying a hand on her is akin to laying a hand on the sword of Bahubali!”

He then confronts the Queen Mother saying and he will always be on the side of the right – no matter who is on that side. He vowed to protect Devasena, and he will stand by that promise come what may. Game, set and match!

A man who stands by his woman, and protects her with his life; a man who is not threatened by a capable warrior queen; a man who has the BIG heart and a chivalrous side to him that makes him stand by and protect his beloved’s honor.

Who would’ve thought? Most men when it comes to real-life warrior queens brand her in unsavory ways, and have nary a thought to protect her. The woman ends up fighting her battles, slaying her dragons and caring for those around her, often without a loving word or a caring touch. Some days she feels like the Queen Mother, brandishing a sword while holding  a baby in the other hand. She gets taken for granted, and most men don’t even think to offer her help or protection (men are lazy that way!). But Amarendra my man says “here, capable woman! I am by your side 100%. And my sword will protect you!”.

Amarendra, you stole my heart right at that instance. Every capable, hardworking, fighting woman appreciates a man who stands by her, and is there to lean on in her vulnerable moments. A man with the sensitivity to know that even a brave woman like Devasena has moments when she needs support. A man who will not disappoint her. A man who will not let her down, come what may. (Excuse me while I swoon here)

I will never tire of watching this movie.

In St.Valentine’s Shadow – the other side of romance

There is no pleasure that can equal getting drenched in a full-on rain shower! Not the crackling-thunder-searing-lightning-fireworks kind of shower that I see in my current place of residence, but the rain showers in India that just had good old water pouring from the sky with an occasional thunder in the distance. The extra fun was annoying some elders who had their steady refrain of “At this rate, you will catch a cold tomorrow and maybe fever too! You will see! Don’t come to me then to complain!”

After a while such refrains became token refrains, said for the sake of saying. Of course, on school days umbrellas were necessary but if rain comes on a holiday – ohhhhh, what a pleasure that was! Just go out into the front yard or back yard, throw caution to the winds – literally! – and simply let the big drops of rainy goodness fill your being, drench you to the skin. It is a quintessential joy where the present and future dissolve into nothingness and all that is left is that moment, that feeling of being one with the universe and all its elements.

மழை கவிதை கொண்டு வருது யாரும் கதைவடைக்க வேண்டாம்
ஒரு கருப்பு கொடியை யை காட்டி யாரும் குடைபிடிக்கவேண்டாம்
இது தேவதையின் பரிசு யாரும் திரும்பிக்கொள்ள வேண்டாம்
நெடுஞ்சாலையிலே நனைய ஒருவர் சம்மதமும் வேண்டாம்

அந்த மேகம் சுறந்த பாலில் ஏன் நனைய மறுக்கிறாய்
நீ வாழ வந்த வாழ்வில் ஒரு பகுதி இழக்கிறாய்
நீ கண்கள் முடி கரையும்போது மண்ணில் சொர்க்கம் எய்துவாய்
கண்கள் முடி கரையும்போது மண்ணில் சொர்க்கம் எய்துவாய்….* **

My feelings exactly – how did Vairamuthu know?

Rain and romance have many parallels……They hold within them the seeds of creation, preservation, and destruction. It is possible to totally be immersed in, and to totally lose oneself in both.

***

Back in my middle school years, I remember studying monsoons in Geography class. It was nowhere close to the thrill of getting drenched in an actual monsoon of course! But aside from Science, Geography was the class that kept me in thrall those days. While talking about monsoons, the discussion turned to why there was abundant rainfall in one place, while another that was a neighboring area got so little rain.

The answer was that perhaps there was a mountain or mountain range between the two adjoining areas. So here is how the theory went – the oceans churned up rain clouds, which then ride on some steady winds called monsoon winds. When approaching a mountain or mountain range, the wind is blocked by the mountain range that forms a natural barrier, forcing the clouds to shower their goodness on one side of the range only. As a result, the other side – the rain shadow area, has scarcely any rain – perhaps a few sprinkles, if that. So the vegetation in these adjoining areas can in fact be quite different, and the crops grown – also quite different.

An intermittent lightning, a noiseless thunder

A gentle rain that falls and drenches only two…. 

 An unseasonal shower, this love

In my last post here, I wrote about the gentle stealing from a person – that is love. There is also a stealing away, the quietly slipping away,  that happens without one noticing, but happens nonetheless among many couples who started out much in love. That is distancing.

It happens when a partner quietly but unobtrusively slips away from the relationship, with ostensibly good reason. This slipping away happens more and more frequently as time goes by, and with the passing years, the two partners/spouses don’t feel connected anymore. They are a married couple for practical purposes and in the eyes of society – but the original love that bound them together is but a faint shadow of itself……For, to love someone is to feel connected to someone, to know someone. When a person drifts away, it is no longer possible to know them as they slowly but surely become a stranger to their partner. The partner left behind is clinging to a shadow, a memory of the person, in  the hope that the real person will one day return to them.

Relationships evolve with time – the couple has children, and there are responsibilities of a householder, as well as responsibilities at work. Time together can wax and wane, depending on the responsibilities. Some couples are separated by physical distance as one spouse works in a different town/country. But despite the challenges that life throws, many couples stay connected to each other – and it is not difficult.  Tender gestures, small  kindnesses, consideration for the spouse – and helping them when not asked (and not expected)…..A regular cup of coffee together in the day when anything related to the home or family are not discussed. In the case of couples separated by physical distance, a phone call each day to share about each other’s day; and if one spouse commutes more than the other, an occasional role reversal to give the commuting spouse a break. Doing without asking, and giving from the heart without a quid pro quo….

Couples who stay connected evolve together – when the nest is empty, they plan joint activities and  travel together. One can see the synergy and the deep, abiding friendship between them, the shared interests nurtured for a while, the way they predict each other’s responses, the easy conversation and banter and the knowledge that they have each other’s back. Such couples are totally relaxed in each other’s presence and the warmth of their mutual affection is a delight to see.

One can just as  easily spot the couples who are not connected. They are the ones who have trouble starting a conversation when the children leave the nest……for, other than as a fellow parents, they don’t know who their spouse is. They have lived  like roommates and led parallel lives. Where there was once a tender romance that caressed them like a gentle rain, some barrier has blocked that monsoon wind, casting them in a shadow. An old memory of their shared romance may bring a smile once in a while – but for all purposes, the feelings have died without the nurturing that they deserve.

***

Distancing happens when consciously or unconsciously, the couple stops spending  quality time together. Or this time together is perpetually deferred in favor of other interests and activities….A spouse may request a connection, but if perpetually rejected in favor of other interests, the connecting spouse stops asking. Sometimes the connecting spouse may demand together time out of sheer frustration, in which case the distancing spouse may react by distancing further.

Some spouses distance by becoming workaholics. They put work and all that relates to work – working after hours, using any and all free time to network and get ahead in work, partying with workmates – above everything else. The other spouse manages the home, their work and childcare responsibilities. The workaholic spouse may or may not help – perhaps they may contribute more financially and justify that they are working for the good of the family and the spouse is supposed to understand this. I remember watching Mitr – My Friend. Despite the predictable ending, the film had many poignant moments where one person’s desire to connect is continually thwarted.

Some spouses distance as a way to run away from issues that they don’t want to face. For example, let’s say X and Y are married. X has an immediate family member living with them who sees Y as a threat. So the relative continually creates drama forcing X to choose between the spouse and themselves (of course, the spouse may be threatened by the relative too). So X may create a deliberate distance to get away from the family drama. They may find a hobby or interest – or several of them – outside the home and continually immerse themselves in it, leaving Y to fend for him/herself. They may suddenly embrace religion in a big way, for example, volunteering at their place of worship, networking with fellow volunteers, creating a private circle of friends that does not include Y. They may not even be religious – it is just that their social needs are met in this way…And when they get home, the insecure relative rushes in to fill the need for love and affection, leaving Y feeling invisible.

Or alternatively, X may find one or more joint activities for themselves and the relative, leaving Y all alone – because ostensibly Y is the more mature one, and can “understand”….. while the relative (who came first in life, Y is reminded over and over again) is not able to for any number of reasons – they have had a  recent personal loss, for example; or they may have no one else. In the interest of harmony, some adjustments need to be made, Y is told. And it is a perpetual adjustment – not a one-off or two-off thing that one can chalk up to a family having members of differing needs, and the need to make everyone happy. The problem is that Y is not recognized as a person with human feelings and needs…..When Y has finally been pushed aside too often and protests, X may argue for a while, repeating that Y needs to be more understanding, or be understanding for some more time – which is of course a moving target. When Y one day throws up their hands and says that they have been understanding enough and they are tired of it, X may then paint Y as a bad person simply for requesting time with their spouse.

At the root of this is X’s inability to accord quality time to the spouse for fear of hurting their relative, and an inability to draw healthy boundaries that enable all relationships to thrive. An inability to face the issue makes X turn to gaslighting instead, putting the blame on Y.

It is impossible to have an honest conversation with those who gaslight, and issues will forever remain unresolved in such cases. Third party interventions will not help either – and eventually it becomes a case of who will bell the cat.

At this time, Y either leaves, or to save themselves from further pain, detaches emotionally from X. They now find their own interests to pursue, because all their efforts to connect with X have come to naught. But at the back of their mind is the frustrated attempt to connect and the scars from that experience. And the nagging, dull sorrow of being in a shell of a marriage.

Some distancing spouses – usually men (forgive the stereotype) – may argue that their spouse refuses to have a physical relationship with them, and thus thwarts their attempt to connect. But the root issue is that the spouse has been so alienated by the distancing that they find a physical (only) relationship preposterous.

***

There are those who disrespect their marriage by having an affair, or abusing a substance like alcohol. While this wreaks havoc on the union, the not-so-dramatic neglect, can slowly erode away at the foundation…..Just as a house neglected, slowly falls apart. The couple may still reside together under one roof – but what a waste of all the years they could have spent as a thriving, joyful couple!

In some ways, neglect seems like a lesser form of cheating.  It is marrying someone and never being available for them – effectively abandoning the spouse in an emotional sense. The options for the spouse are to leave, be treated like they don’t count except as roommates and fellow parents, or to find their own interests and pretend that  the distancing doesn’t hurt.

Monsoons rarely change course, nor does time stand still. One day there may not be enough time in the world to make up for the perpetually deferred connection. The spouse subjected to continuous distancing may have changed in very fundamental ways and it may become impossible to bridge that gap.


* Song from the Tamil film, En Swaasa Kaatre

** Meaning: “the rain brings poetry, don’t shut the door against it. Don’t hold an umbrella to it like a black flag and protest its arrival. This is a gift from the Gods, don’t turn away from it; you don’t need anyone’s permission to get drenched anywhere – in the middle of the road, even. Why deny yourself of this bounty from the clouds – you will be losing a big part of life’s joy by doing so. When you close your eyes and melt in the rain, you will achieve heaven on earth”

A gentle art, a quiet thievery

A recent song that captivated me is this one on first love:

The fresh romance of the lead pair did capture the heart of this diehard romantic, but what captivated me most were the lyrics.

An intermittent lightning, a noiseless thunder

A gentle rain that falls and drenches only two…. 

 An unseasonal shower, this love

The rest of the song is all about the stealing and gentle deception that is romance…..stealing glances, a smile of delight quickly covered up, the getting ready to meet someone but trying hard not to appear overly eager, the awkwardness, the gentle teasing and testing of the other to see if there is a response, the secret smile when the response is as expected, a fluttering of the heart that becomes a hammering and under all this the effort to pretend normalcy…..this game of tender subterfuge goes on until every conscious thought is lost, and time stands still. A beautiful, joyful theft happening in plain sight with the people powerless to stop it, and making no effort either. Love is a tidal wave and losing oneself in it is an absolute and senseless joy that defies description!

***

Every species has this little dance of courtship, this ongoing banter, a unique give and take before the pair decides to take things further. The minute a woman gets an admiring glance, her gait becomes more confident; the minute a man is admired, he squares his shoulders and walks taller. The peacock preens itself to attract its mate; the cuckoo sings the sweetest notes in the hope of finding an answering cry; the weaver bird uses all its innate engineering skills to build a nest, in the hope of finding and impressing a mate, and as for the puffer fish, its engineering feat is here!

Many species have males doing all the wooing – and there are some dangerous species where the female woos and then destroys the male once the next generation is assured! To the male of the species, a female praying mantis is a Fatal Attraction!

Among humans, and I’m sure other species too, some are more adept at the game than others and play for keeps. If their prospective partner is equally adept, it can be a joyful courtship, with each matching wits against the other, while playing to eventually be on the same team. Such well-matched pairs are a joy to behold, and one wishes with all their heart that they will end up together. Of course there are others who are also adept at the game, and who play for the sake of playing…..The players of the field and the playboys/playgirls. Detecting who is who takes skill, and in some cases a lesson from the school of hard knocks….in which case, here’s hoping someone didn’t get too scarred. Some are downright dishonest cheats who taint everything by association – a Tamil movie called Amaidhippadai changed the entire meaning of a hitherto innocuously named sweet called halwa!

But let’s leave the players alone, and focus on the lovers. I’ve asked a few women what their love was like – even those from an older generation. How did the pair meet? How did they fall in love? Even those who had arranged marriages: how did they decide that he was the one? When did they fall in love? Invariably, even the sternest of them would instantly blush and try to wave me away: Go on, you surely have better things to do! Go!

Some would blush, laugh, look downward, grin and start telling the story sheepishly, becoming bolder as they go.  One told me how she had gone with a female friend to a restaurant, and couldn’t find a chair. Spotting a couple of chairs at another table, she asked a man at the table if the chairs were meant for someone. Without batting an eyelid, he replied: “Yes, the chairs are reserved. I was holding them for you!”. A stunned silence, some shared laughter – and a relationship for life that followed.

An American friend once told me about how captivated they were on watching an Indian film: “Your films have so much romance! It is so beautiful!

Having grown up watching Indian films, I didn’t think they were all that unusual  – except perhaps that nearly 90% of Indian films were musicals. Aren’t American movies romantic too? “The older ones are, but in Indian films it is the entire art of wooing and courtship – that is what is so romantic! You don’t find that art anymore in an American film – the couple are attracted to each other, and very quickly the relationship gets physical!

I hadn’t thought of that. Indeed, romancing someone is more about the fine art of courtship.

***

Not just romantic love, any kind of love – between those not related by birth or adoption that is – involves a gentle stealing. Even among babies and toddlers, the crowd-pullers and heart-stealers are always the charmers who use their wits to get out of some mischief – we cannot help laughing and loving them even as we see through their little tricks. Lord Krishna, who captivated many, started out in childhood as a butter thief. The gopis knew he stole the butter they had taken pains to churn, and even as they complained to his mother about it, he had well and truly stolen their hearts. Game, set, and match!

***

To the heart-stealers, to those who had their hearts joyfully stolen, and to the would-be heart-stealers, Happy Valentine’s Day! May you find joy, and may your love bring you contentment and peace.

The Wilderness Calls

A good friend undertakes what he calls his annual pilgrimage – a trip to The Grand Canyon – with hardly anything with him. He usually takes a backpack, some instant foods, a water filter, perhaps a change of clothing, and sets out on his week-long sojourn into the canyon.  For a week or so, there will be total silence from him – no phone calls, no texts, no human contact including with his own family. He hikes all day, and at dusk, pitches his tent wherever he happens to be at the moment.

My friend, an atheist, says this is his spiritual time of the year…….a time to wrap himself in the stillness and cease all thought. A time to just live each moment exploring the woods, and listening to nature sounds. The food he carries and the primitive cooking equipment are all he needs during this time of quiet reflection.

He has been doing this for many years now. He knows how to expertly tie his food bag in a tree above and away from  his tent, to be safe from bears and other wildlife coming in search of food. Apparently once he even cooked Pongal for some hikers from different nationalities, and they all relished it.

“I don’t need much, and I wake up to the best views!”, he says.

***

I am filled with admiration for people like this. They are able to survive on very little, and as a reward they get a star-studded sky for a roof, the rustling breezes to cool and comfort them, and the quiet refuge of deep woods. It reminds me of an old Tamil song which, loosely translated goes like this:

“The world exists for me, the flowing rivers flow for me; flowers bloom for my visual delight, and Mother Earth generously gives me her lap to sleep on

The moon rises above glowing like gold, I have a star-studded canopy at night for a roof; and my kingdom on Earth has beautiful birds who fill my silences with songs”

Really, one needs very little to feel like they own everything. Just go to the woods and see! As long as plant life heavily outnumbers animal life, we are safe. The tall trees will tower over us, silent as sages, sheltering bird life and animal life, and and quietly giving us clean air to breathe.

Every time I see an old tree, I silently pray that it will survive the human greed to “own” everything by destroying it. There are those who take pride in owning many holiday homes. Their thought seems to go like this: Do I like a place? Yes. Is it quiet and beautiful? Yes. Very well, let me clear a tract of land cutting down all the trees that grow there, and build myself a mansion to come to…….What, for a few days each year? Was the destruction worth it, simply so that you needn’t rent a hotel room for those few days? What about the hassle and expense of maintaining this “investment” property, hiring a guard to safeguard it, making sure it has electricity and running water all year round? It is far easier to save the money, and use it to travel to many places – we are but temporary residents of the Earth, and there is so much to see!

Take what you need from the Earth, and leave the Earth pristine for posterity. A person needs but one house to live in. Where will we grow crops, if forests and farmlands get re-purposed into housing plots?

Reminds me of an old Native American proverb: When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money!

***

A few months ago, during a hike with a group, we came across a stream, surrounded by small wooded hills; given the uneven terrain, the stream had some small rapids. In the middle of the stream was a rock – and near this rock, almost blending into the background was a person deep in meditation. There was a dog wandering nearby, perhaps the meditator’s companion. The sun was streaming through the trees, and there were a few dragonflies. A water snake glided into the stream – blink and you will miss it. We stood there watching for a few minutes, awed by our surroundings. Just nature at work, and total silence.

The woods teaches one to still their thoughts, and simply observe. Sit quietly and you may observe the Eagle’s nest high above ground, with a few young ones in it. Still your thoughts, and what felt like silence will suddenly teem with the chirping of crickets, and the occasional cry of a kite.

What a contrast from the world we have created around us – with highways, traffic, malls with clearance sales, houses filled with gadgets and many unnecessary things…… The Matrix, as a friend and fellow blogger called it. We are all plugged into it, creating more and more cogs in the wheel with their hands and feet embedded deeply in the Matrix.

Perhaps there is a different way to live, a better and more natural way…..Yet many of us are afraid to leave the world we know behind, to see if there is something we are missing. We maybe missing the forest for the trees….literally! Even the holiday-home builders who want to get away from The Matrix, are so ensconced in it that they try to recreate that very Matrix in their get-away place!

***

I’ve read here that every woman needs a cornfield – basically a place where she can hide from everyone in her life, so that she gets time and space to breathe. I started out hiking because of this – and found several such “hiding places” where I could temporarily suspend thought and lose myself in the woods. Aside from work stress and deadlines, women, in our roles as kin-keepers and nurturers, can get worn out in care-giving roles and all that such a role entails: biting our tongue – several times!, dealing with the same repetitive behaviors that seem incorrigible and yet need to be tackled with the patience and determination of King Vikram who dealt with Vetal, facing multiple conflicting demands and trying to balance it all…. Speaking of incorrigibility reminds me of the story of Sita, the heroine of The Ramayana.

At the end of The Ramayana, Sita is asked to prove her piety to the world in a trial-by-fire, even though she had done the same years ago. Having endured years of separation from her dear husband, and having raised her twin boys as a single parent in Rishi Valmiki’s hermitage that was her refuge in exile, she is asked to prove her piety again to the world. She is told that this is the price she has to pay in order to resume life with her husband.

Tired of repeatedly having to prove her integrity, Sita prays to Mother Earth to release her from this unending cycle of one’s truth being repeatedly tested and questioned (many stepmothers can relate to this feeling, even though the circumstances are entirely different!). Mother Earth obliges……the ground opens up, Sita steps in and the Earth closes over her. Thus Sita, the daughter of Mother Earth, has returned to her abode….. When Indian women in a fit of frustration say they want the Earth to open up and swallow them whole, this is what they are referring to.

I have an alternate ending for The Ramayana, as I cannot bear to see my favorite heroine vanish in this manner. As a writer who is admittedly nowhere near the stature of a Valmiki, a Kambar, or a Kalidasa, let me take some poetic license and rewrite the last sequence.

Sita is justifiably aghast at having to prove herself over and over to a cruel world that has put her through several trials….. To a world that is far beneath her calibre, that has demanded so much of her, yet gave so little emotionally. She has been kind,  faithful, and patient; yet she, a Goddess is being subjected to repeated trial by fire. The Forest where she was banished to, was witness to all her travails.

When Sita is put to the final test and calls out to Mother Earth in agony, the Forest obliges. The ground shakes violently, and Forest sends seeds scattering all over from its trees…… upon touching the ground, the seeds are blessed by Mother Earth to become Sita’s protectors. They sprout rapidly into trees, becoming Sita’s own forest, enclosing her protectively, away from the eyes of the world that did not deserve a Goddess like Sita. In this protective circle of trees, safe and secure in an unconditionally loving forest, Sita the Goddess lives on. Even now, when a woman at her wit’s end seeks refuge in the woods, Sita hears her prayer and gives her solace. The End.

***

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep!“*

Silence gives healing, and the trees give shelter in more ways than one. Many a weary traveler – in a manner of speaking – finds rest and refuge in these very woods. Beyond a certain point, do you ever wonder if we are simply traveling these miles for no reason? Perhaps the woods are our destination! In Hinduism, the last 25 years of life, assuming a 100-year span – are meant to be spent in the woods, in meditation and piety. Sannyasa Ashrama, where one lives like an ascetic, taking just enough from the Earth to survive, gradually detaching oneself from earthly desires and trappings, and preparing oneself for the final journey, towards the ultimate silence and deepest meditative state……


*From the poem “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by Robert Frost

Beyond Wrongdoing and Rightdoing

We meet many people  as we go through life – some we instantly click with and remain friends until one of us passes on; some we do not click with at all and hope to never meet again; some who are acquaintances but not real friends, some who are casual friends without any deeper connection.

Saddest are those relationships where there was once a true bond that for some reason has been severed. It could be any number of reasons: one person committed actions or said words in the heat of the moment; one person wished for a certain action to happen from the other but it never did and the person felt let down; or they both said and did things that were not well thought out.

Or it could be that third parties intervened to sever that bond – either by spreading canards about one person to the other to sever the relationship, or it could be a person’s possessive spouse or other relative who came in between two friends or siblings and made it a choice between themselves and the friend/sibling. We often see brother-sister relationships compromised when the brother gets married to an insecure woman. The insecure spouse tries her best to isolate the brother from his sister, and loving bonds of a lifetime are compromised. The brother may continue to love the sister and vice versa but they will never be allowed to bond in the future, because it has become an either/or situation or is presented as one.

Conversely, sometimes birth families get insecure with the entry of the spouse and never allow a spousal relationship to work – they intrude so much into the person’s marital life that such a life becomes impossible to sustain, and is eventually lost (painful is the situation where the couple has a child, who is an innocent caught in such cross-currents). The spouses may feel love for each other but aren’t allowed to bond because one spouse is too attached to their birth family and doesn’t have the strength to stand up to them.

Relationship severance caused by the third party involves two things: an insecure third party who works to break up the relationship, and a person who is not strong enough to balance relationships and draw boundaries on acceptable behavior.

Sometimes things don’t go as far as marriage – a couple in love breaks up before taking that step. The love can be strong and steadfast but there can never be a shared future because of differences that can never be bridged….

No matter what the root cause of an estrangement is, the estrangement happened. And barring a few cases where the erstwhile loved ones are able to reconcile  (or they are able to stand their ground and not allow a third party to come between them), the estrangement can never be undone in this lifetime.

***

What of the love that once was, though? That true bond that caused one to feel instant delight in seeing the other, and eagerly look forward to the next meeting? That bond that has so much shared history, and a connection beyond words? A connection forged out of intuiting the other’s needs and giving freely from the heart, that is now  lost? A bond that felt like a vital part of oneself….

Unless one is a person of extremes who can go from absolute love to absolute hate and steadfastly remain there, the relationship is buried deep in one’s heart in the form of a love and a yearning, as if for a phantom limb. Even if it is a person of extremes, they are probably hiding the pain of their loss in anger, believing that the anger will be their protective shield against being that vulnerable ever again.

Nothing and no one can replace the missing person in life. They played an important role in shaping us to be who we are, and one fine day that role is abruptly finished. Gone. Severed……We are now supposed to pick up and move on as if nothing has happened, as if the person never existed……Many of us go through life mourning some lost relationship(s).

There are days when memories return of the lost loved one and bring a smile to our faces – a bittersweet memory that is painful, yet preserved and cherished – like a crumbly rose within the pages of a book that still retains some of its beauty and fragrance, a rose that one is loath to part with. What does it matter what the relationship used to be? Friend, sibling, a lost love….In this journey we are all kindred spirits!

Many relationships are lost due to ego battles.

Years ago, I remember taking a small child to a museum. Child must have been around three then. The Natural History museum was a multi-storeyed one with many exhibits; one of the floors had a replica of a tropical rainforest with fake trees and animals. This is generally an area that greatly entertains younger children as they get to stop by and examine every animal and tree.

Deciding to take said child to this forest replica, I took child by the hand and boarded the elevator. Then I did a cardinal mistake – I punched the button to go to the appropriate floor, forgetting that this is a role the child in question normally took whenever we boarded elevators. This, coupled with the time being dangerously close to  nap time brought on a meltdown that didn’t abate even after we rode the elevator up and down many times, simply to let said child punch the button to the appropriate floor. The refrain was, “But I didn’t get to punch the elevator button that time!”

Three year olds can be physically carried elsewhere and distracted. Once they get preoccupied with something else, given some food, and some rest, they get back to being themselves again.

A child is able to fight it out in all earnestness, forget about it or apologize the next day, and return to playing with their friend or relative again. They can forget, forgive, seek forgiveness and make amends without any problem. They can also chuck past angry moments behind – there is too much to explore in life to waste it on anger and resentment.

As we grow older, the ego grows…..and in direct proportion grows one’s vulnerability. Some are more easily hurt than others, and tend to brood on grievances. They aren’t able to let go of past hurts, and use anger as their shield to protect themselves from future hurts. Unlike the child who can let go and give room for love, as we grow older we close our hearts and shut out our natural generosity to forgive and seek forgiveness. We become guarded and come to expect the worst, waiting for the other shoe to fall, and shielding ourselves from that fall by repeatedly recalling that one mistake….that one press of the elevator button that was missed!

In this I am not including those that deliberately manipulate and hurt a person – those who wear different masks for different occasions, and whose (simulated) feelings are motivated by expediency. We are better off guarding ourselves from the pathological users, chameleons, and opportunists. They are the politicians of our daily lives who appear every so often when they need something…..In Tamil there is a saying that loosely translates to “when they need something, they fall at your feet; when the need is done with, they go for your throat”. Best to keep such people at a distance.

I’m talking about the average bumbling person X who makes mistakes and hurts unintentionally. The injured person Y may assume that the hurt was intentional and then retaliate, wounding X. Now X becomes angry and says or does more stupid things. Soon things get out of hand and relations break.

In an alternate scenario, X may make an inadvertent mistake, wounding Y. Y brings this up to X and the latter, instead of apologizing and making amends, sees it as a slight to their ego: “You pointed out my mistake!”. X then uses anger to cover up their mistake, because they cannot come down from their lofty peak to apologize – the act of apologizing is seen as something putting them in a one-down position. They don’t even want to make amends, because this would mean admitting the mistake even to themselves, which is also wounding to the ego. It takes a secure person to apologize and those with fragile egos are insecure, and apologizing feels like compromising their standing. So they use smokescreens and gaslighting.

Techniques such as reversing cause and effect are used. Y may have done something in retaliation for what X did. But X says Y did the (retaliatory) action and that is why X acted in the (original) wounding manner – this is nothing but gaslighting.

Another technique used is victim-shaming:  “You deserve what I said or did because…..”. When the injured party protests, X replies in a more grievous way, compounding their mistake. Things go downhill from there. When push comes to shove, some ego-driven Xs are insincere apologizers who apologize in a way that is not an apology at all. It could be a breezy “sorry!”, or the classic phrase “I am sorry but….” with a clause that completely nullifies the apology and attacks the person they are apologizing to.  President Clinton’s televised apology to the nation at Lewinskygate comes to mind.  Ego is the death of many relationships.

It is also tough to apologize to someone who holds onto grudges and can never let go. One can never be sorry enough, apologetic enough, make up enough. They have elephantine memories of every slight, perceived or real. The relationship can never be mended because of a desire to punish the apologizer that is lurking in their minds.

Sometimes the  only way to get out of a tough situation is through it. When X wounds Y and either realizes it or is made to realize it, the sooner amends are made, the better. The apology needs to be said sincerely and directly, and amends need to be made. If the wounded party is not in a spirit of reconciliation, it doesn’t matter. We can only make the effort……the results are not up to us. The apology frees us from negative feelings, and if the aggrieved party realizes it one day and makes up to us, our door is open. If the aggrieved party is vengeful, then we try to distance ourselves while still keeping the door open (tough to do!).

What if we are the aggrieved party? What if our heart and soul have been so wounded that we fear we will be wounded in the same manner once again, and won’t have the strength to withstand it….? This is a tough one. The thought process goes like this: it took a while to get up and get going, and took all our strength to bring us to our new normal…..What if we are pushed down again?  It is our choice whether to trust again, to forgive, and to let go……or not. To evaluate whether the cost of losing the relationship forever is worth it or not.

Perhaps if we are the aggrieved party, we could move forward by accepting the apology, and guardedly allowing the person back into our lives, assuming the apology is heartfelt. Or if that is too much, we can accept the apology but honestly state that things can never  be the same again. Because some wounds are too deep and in time may heal with some self-care – or never fully heal. A cloth once torn can be stitched but will never be whole again…..

Wish we all had the mind of a child in this regard – to forgive and move on because life is too short to hold onto resentments. But as adults, the stakes are higher, and wounds are deeper….And our mind loses the elasticity to forgive, forget and move on.

Those who come with the courage to seek forgiveness when such forgiveness is necessary, and to have the generous heart to give forgiveness when such is sincerely sought, are able to move on and re-establish relationships. For this, both parties should be game. If egos are strong, or if anger continues to be used as a shield, there can be no reconciliation.

***

But the love remains – as a truth in one’s heart……. and the hurt of the severed relationship remains buried deep within the soul. As years pass, one may forget who was right and who was wrong, and realize perhaps that they were both wrong. But by this time, too much water has flowed under the bridge and the chasm is too wide.

In the end, when we cease to exist or are close to that point, rights and wrongs become meaningless. All that matters is love…and love is the only constant. Shorn of the trappings of this world, we will perhaps meet somewhere as pure spirits, kindred spirits….and it will be a moment filled with pure love and light.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense”

– Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Unsung Heroes of our Lives

When someone asks a person who their role model is, many talk about public figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., or Dr.Kalam. Some will mention their parents, grandparents, or a certain teacher who brought out the best in them. Yet others will talk about a celebrity, a sports person or filmstar that they have admired over the years.

I’ve often heard that it takes a village to raise a child (I’m not counting some legal adults in this category who continue to be immature long after childhood is over – to bring those unwilling souls kicking and screaming into adulthood, I don’t know – maybe an army is required?). But the elders in this figurative village are rarely feted for the crucial role in one’s development into a functioning and productive adult. The role maybe small in the span of years and experiences, but the timely influence and effect is long-lasting.

I want to mention here someone who is often in my thoughts, though I haven’t communicated with her in years (and the fault is entirely mine!). This is a petite lady who is perhaps 5 feet tall, no college education – yet a wisdom, strength and inner grace that would put many in my generation to shame.

***

Kamakshi Maami (Maami in Tamil means ‘aunt’) came into my life when I must have been a year old. She was my aunt’s tenant in an old traditional home in Coimbatore – I don’t exactly know how she is related to us. She lived in that little two or three room rental home with her husband and three children, two of whom were special-needs children.

I apparently used to play with her middle child, a daughter, as a baby. She tended to her home, husband and children with a smile, and had a smile and a kind word for everyone. No sugar-coating truths from her, though: she will call a spade a spade and you will not see any fear or hesitation in her while doing so!

Those were times before television – not much electronic entertainment outside the radio. Times when homes were small and bonds were strong. So despite the changes in lives such as moves, job changes of my father, and my aunt selling her home and moving to Chennai, Maami remained in our lives. Maami and her husband (whom we called Maama, for uncle in Tamil) bought a home in Coimbatore and moved there. They did not have a telephone, but somehow our families kept in touch. Ironic, considering how many means of communications we have in this day and age, and yet how even immediate family members become distant and uncommunicative, lost in their own worlds! We have the means to connect now, and yet this is an age of lost connections! But I digress.

When I got a seat in an engineering college in Coimbatore, the first person my father reached out to was Kamakshi Maami. We visited them after visiting the college, and she became my guardian at my father’s request. By this time, Maami had lost both of her special needs children, and her older son had moved to work in a different city.

She cheerfully took on my guardianship, giving me a place to stay in the first week of college, and letting me transition to hostel life at my own pace. I helped her out in the kitchen, and at night, Maami and I shared a room while Maama slept in another room. We slept on mats on the floor, and in the morning the mats would be rolled up and the room re-purposed into a sitting room. There were foldable chairs, and a bench. Traditional Indian families made efficient use of even small homes and didn’t clutter up space with bulky beds – often people had mats or mattresses, that would be laid out on the floor at bedtimes, and rolled up afterwards. No wasting space!  Maami, despite becoming a home-owner, still maintained a simple lifestyle and had leased out a portion of her home to another family. Maama had retired by then. She still lived in three rooms.

Maami was an excellent cook, and a tireless person in general. She would walk to the market around 2 kms each way, and bargain with the vegetable vendors. This was a new ritual for me, who had grown accustomed to going everywhere in a car that my father’s company provided for our use. Never before had I walked any distance over a half kilometer.

Maami  would rise early, bathe and cook wonderful meals, all the while praying to her gods. She would feed her husband first along with me and a distant cousin who stayed with her (who was in the same college but in the men’s hostel). I once asked how my cousin was related to her; she mentioned that he was the son of her second or third cousin from her native village. I asked how she kept track of all her relatives, and her simple answer was: “In my generation, we don’t measure distances in relationships”.  What a profound statement that is, thinking about it now. These days when families became nuclear, there is so much talk about me and mine, and near relations becoming distant or incommunicado, the statement of a wise woman from my yesteryear gives me goosebumps!

I remember accompanying Maami to a temple in RS Puram, the deity being the Goddess Kamakshi. I asked her once what she prayed for so fervently and she said she never asks the Goddess for anything, as the Goddess knows when and how to provide. The answer remains with me to this day.

Maami had some magical potions for everyday illnesses. When I found myself with any kind of respiratory ailment, I would walk to her house and tell her my ailment. She would let me sleep at her house, and make me a Kashayam in the morning, to be drunk first thing on an empty stomach. She put some herbs and spices to it: tulasi, pepper, coriander seeds, jaggery – I forget what else, and in what proportion. But whatever the ailment was, it would be greatly reduced in a couple of hours, and totally gone in a couple of days!

I lived in the college hostel for the most part, but at the first sign of homesickness, I would be at her doorstep, and she would take me in. She was my surrogate mother in those years, even though I did not realize it then. The thought of her tender loving care in the years that I sorely needed it, and did not know I needed it, fills me with gratitude.

Today in my middle age, having faced ups and downs in life I look back and wonder at her serenity. How did she maintain her balance, after raising two special needs children who were so cruelly taken away from her? How did she find such a deep well of love and how did she keep it nourished, making statements about not measuring distances in relationships? How did she live with such equanimity and maintain the same lifestyle, while living in a small rental home and after becoming a homeowner? I wonder at her energy in maintaining her connections and helping everyone, no matter what her challenges were in life. Her generosity of spirit, and her taking people like me and my cousin under her wing, and correcting the youngsters when we needed that correction, with a sternness and concern that can only come from a genuine heart.

Some days I feel shame that I let the course of life take over my time and energy so much that I did not make the effort to connect with her. I met her once or twice in all these years, and not more than a few minutes on each occasion. Besides exchanging greetings, I did not have words to express my gratitude. I have procrastinated about calling her because I have no words to explain why I did not call her all these years. I think of her often, even though I never had words to say what was on my mind.

But today I found the words, however ineffective and insufficient. “Thank you, dear Maami for being in my life. Your presence greatly enriched it, and I have a lot to thank you for. Your habits shaped my life, and some of my passions. To this day I don’t hesitate to walk long distances, or live simply because I have observed you during those formative years. Hiking is one of my passions now, because those walking days gave me courage to try longer distances. Thanks to you, I don’t hesitate to reach out to children who may need my help – you did it through sheltering me, and I am doing this by mentoring children who need a mentor. And please forgive me, Maami, for being so inept at keeping in touch. You are and will always be in my heart no matter where I am”.

The Peddlers of Platitudes…..and the Sellers of Sterotypes – Part 2

My previous article on this topic is here

How many of you have heard the phrase:

“The love of a good (wo)man will…”

I don’t quite know how that phrase ends but we know this theme, which goes like this: no matter how difficult a person or situation maybe, no matter how thankless relating to them maybe, if we just provided enough love, the person will come around and become what one hopes they would become. If time after time there are no results it must mean that one is not loving enough, patient enough, giving enough, or kind enough…..with just that little more love, anything can be fixed.

This is the central premise for many romance novels, and unfortunately an abiding theme in many abusive relationships. Seriously, what if the person we are trying so hard to love is a narcissist? No matter how much one does, how much one tries to please, how much one tries to keep happy, the person is unimpressed. Worse, they make you feel responsible for their moods and proclivities, that change from time to time. Nothing is ever their fault; life is all about their wants, needs and happiness. It is the job of the person living with the narcissist to provide all they need…..without any hope of reciprocity.

And what about those who dangle love as a carrot, while trying to use it as an instrument of control…? Do as I say, and I will shower love. Else, I will emotionally abuse you by cold behavior, silent treatment, screaming fits, passive aggressive behavior, disrespectful treatment….

I’d say the romance novel premise is an epic fail. Sure, if one is a saint and is unruffled by such trivia as human behavior, and doesn’t depend upon emotional support from anyone, this kind of infinite love is possible. For people who have to deal with control freaks and narcissists and interact closely with them it is a daily struggle to find peace, let alone strength to carry on. Without outside support or community support, the person will crumble internally and become a shadow of him/her self.

A dear elder in the family once told the story of a teacher, who had a group of students living with him. This was in ancient India, where the students lived in the home of the teacher, and helped with daily chores while learning their lessons during different times of the day. Strict obedience to the teacher (guru) was the norm in a gurukulam, as such schools were called. This particular teacher was excellent, and had a reputation as a perfectionist. He would start his lessons early in the morning and take a break in the afternoon. He had a fondness for card games, which he indulged in each afternoon with other adults in the community. During this time, he would ask one of his students to make sandalwood paste for the next day’s prayers.

Fresh sandalwood paste is made by rubbing a small wet log of sandalwood against a flat stone, periodically removing the paste that has gathered and re-wetting the log. The student doing the grinding would bring the paste to the teacher in a plate to test for the desired consistency.The teacher liked the paste to be of the consistency of butter, and the student had to keep grinding until it reached that consistency.

One day, the teacher was engrossed in a card game and the student kept bringing the sandalwood paste in a plate for his approval. The teacher kept sending him back, saying it had not reached the consistency of butter. At one point, the student observed that the teacher wasn’t even looking at the paste…..fully engrossed in the card game, he simply extended his hand, took the paste in his fingers, and tested the consistency.

After repeated attempts at appeasing this teacher, the frustrated student brought actual butter in the plate. The teacher as usual extended his fingers, rubbed the butter and said it still wasn’t buttery enough. At which point, the student quit, packed his bags, and left for his village!

Sometimes love can be the sandalwood paste that never reaches butter’s consistency!

*******

“Domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse happens only to women”

This is commonly accepted as truth. The term domestic abuse conjures up images of a battered and bloodied woman, who suffers beatings (or worse) at the hands of a physically abusive male partner. One thinks about Ray Rice, Chris Brown, and O.J.Simpson…..and in the Indian context, about brides physically tortured and in the worst case burned for dowry.

But what about the abuse that shows no outward scars? Where the person is slowly but subtly losing his sense of self, at the hands of a mentally and emotionally abusive female partner? Those who think women cannot be abusive as intimate partners either haven’t lived long enough or lead an idyllic existence where such things do not happen to those close to them.

In his sensitive Tamil film, Solla Marantha Kathai, director Cheran talks of financial and emotional abuse of a man who, by force of circumstances, has to make a living working in a restaurant run by his father-in-law. He suffers many hardships, constant verbal abuse, and at one point has to separate from his pregnant wife, who now lives with her parents. The parents continue to berate him in her presence and she being a young village girl, doesn’t know what to think. She starts to believe her parents, that her husband isn’t good enough. The spouses continue to miss each other and are finally reunited when the man finds gainful employment elsewhere and returns to take his wife: the wife takes their child and runs away from her parents home. The man holds his child and his wife after months of separation….his tears say it all.

Abuse in situations of financial hardship is difficult to live with. But the cycle of abuse can be broken if the man has high self esteem otherwise, sees the abuse for what it is, is able to get to a better financial position, and is able to stand his ground eventually.

But there is another type of insidious abuse, of men who are otherwise smart, successful and project a capable image to the outside world. These men in many cases hold high positions, and have well-paying jobs. They may even be nice enough to support the wife’s parents. Yet they lead a double existence, of high respect in the workplace, and abuse in the home that happens without anyone’s knowledge.

Before discussing this, let’s think for a second about schoolyard bullying. You picture a small child being surrounded by bigger and older boys. These older children threaten the younger/smaller person with beatings and often carry out their threats….and we, who are accustomed to think of abuse in physical terms think of only this when we think of bullying.

Girls bully differently: by spreading canards about, isolating and excluding the unwanted girl. They organize into cliques, with a ring leader and a bunch of followers of varying rank in the clique. The other girls’ status is constantly shifting, defined by their closeness to this leader. A person is “in” or “out” based on certain unspecified criteria; perhaps dressing a certain way, or acting a certain way. Those that defy this state of affairs are shunned and made to feel like an outsider. Overt remarks and covert gestures in the presence of this person serve to further isolate and exclude the person. Gossip is another powerful tool: a few carefully placed lies – and voila, there goes the person’s reputation!

Those who have experienced this at some point in their lives know how painful this is…..The more confident girls steer away from such girls, calling their bluff and preferring their own company; some may seek the company of other misfits and square pegs. Some who are tomboys, have friendships with the opposite sex, becoming “one of the boys”. The less confident girls, or those who are awed by the bullies, keep on trying to fit in….and losing the battle. Some children in this process of trying to fit in, are driven to end their lives.

Note that for abuse to thrive, there has to be secrecy; if the abuse is exposed, it will end right there. So the female bullies know how to put on an act around authority figures. They can act extremely nice, so much that no one suspects them of bullying. The bullied person is threatened enough not to expose the abuse, and in severe cases, is made to think it is all their fault. Children with low self esteem and a need for external validation, are often brainwashed into thinking they deserve the bullying.

Intimate male partners are abused along similar lines. There are no cliques in this case – the clique may come later. But it always, always involves an insecure woman, and a man who tries to keep her happy, often at the cost of his quality of life and health. And just like the schoolyard bullying, it involves isolation and secrecy.

The woman starts out falling in love with a generally nice man – in some cases a talented, empathetic and kind soul. Perhaps a naive, people pleasing soul. She acts extra caring and charming at first, being all that the man wants her to be and sweeping the man off his feet. So much that he feels that she is the Goddess incarnate, and he will find no one better. Once the relationship is firmly established, the games begin. First, she finds faults with his friends: they are all good-for-nothing wastrels, and time is spent more productively doing other things. Sometimes, she pouts that she never gets enough time with the man and he prefers the friends’ company to hers.

As time progresses, she will want to spend more and more time with the man, and prevent him from meeting his family and friends. Ostensibly, this is because she wants to spend every moment with her beloved, and loves him so dearly that she doesn’t want to share him. This of course, is very flattering to a man newly in love.

At this stage, he still is a very social being with social needs and isn’t fully in her grip – yet. So he has a natural desire to meet his family and friends in social settings. She initially accompanies him to gatherings with friends and family. But at the end of every gathering, the man realizes something is wrong – his partner isn’t happy. His beloved may indicate that she didn’t enjoy it, or that the people were not good enough for whatever reason. As time progresses, she may behave in a very cold, detached and erratic way in such settings. In time, it is clear to him that she is uncomfortable in the company of his friends and family. Gradually the time spent in such company is reduced, and the man is increasingly isolated from those close to him. Sometimes he avoids the gatherings, as he either doesn’t want to expose her erratic behavior, or doesn’t want to feel caught in the middle.

For a while he may try to meet those close to him on his own. But his partner may try to prevent him from doing so by scheduling other activities, or calling him so often on his cellphone that he is embarrassed. She may fake some emergency, and make him return to her early. Or she may try to make him feel guilty for spending time away from her, or have an existence outside of her. Any questioning of such pathological behavior is met with extremely emotional and obstinate stances, and the man realizes that there is no point in arguing with such a person. He is attempting to reason with her, and her objective is to control, not reason. She may try to make him feel guilty for breaking her heart, threaten to commit suicide, or claim he doesn’t love her enough. Or make his life so miserable through the silent treatment, erratic crying, threats of returning to her parents’ home, threats to harm herself as he doesn’t “understand her love”….she acts so despondent that it leaves the man dazed and confused.

At this point, the man may rationalize that the partner is just having a bad day, or that her irrational behavior is stemming from deep love.  She after all, has been so charming and nice to him all along. He may try to put the behavior past him, and move on. But by now, well-meaning friends and family try to caution him, saying he is not who he used to be. That the woman is not good for him, that she will make him unhappy.

A wise man may see the red flags by now, but an empathetic, naive or completely smitten man may not. He may ignore the warnings of friends and family, or get extremely angry when they bring up the subject of his partner. His partner blows hot and cold, and he is confused. She claims that her bad moods are because of his behavior. He starts to believe her, doubling up his efforts to please her.

In time, he may realize the abuse, but is not able to get away from it for any number of reasons: the couple may have children together; she may be very attractive and he is loath to end the relationship, or there are financial dealings which could get complicated. He tries to look on the bright side, denying even to himself the abuse that is happening. Everyone has good and bad days, he reasons.

And there are good days too. Abuse, after all, happens in cycles…… The man during such times thinks his lady is an absolute angel and loves him to the ends of the earth. All she wants is my company, where is the harm in that? The woman feeds this fantasy by saying their relationship is so special and no one understands it, that they need to protect this relationship at all costs from people who may try to break them up. She may claim that she is the only one who truly loves him and understands him, and his friends and family are liars and fakes who only pretend to care.

In time the man loses himself, his birth family, his friends’ circle and is a prisoner to her wants and needs. But ironically, she continues to maintain relationships with those close to her. Her family becomes his family, her world becomes his. Any children that are born to them, are also made to align with the mother. The father will be berated in front of them, his authority constantly undermined. Children are astute beings – they realize quickly who is boss!

The abuse does not stop there. It usually escalates. The woman continues to berate the man and acts as though he is nothing without her. She calls him naive and unfocused, and claims she is the one trying to better their life and if he only listened to her and did what she said, their life would be much better. He may take the bait and increasingly do things and commit acts that he wouldn’t normally do, to keep her happy. In some cases, her family is in cahoots with this – after all, now that he has been cut off from his own family……

Financial abuse is next, where his money and expenses are kept in close watch. Early on in the game, she only managed his accounts and watched how money was spent. She may now make him buy assets in her name, or sign over his properties and assets in her name as part of her grand plan to “take care of him, allow him to focus on work and save him from the stress of dealing with all other matters”. Now in addition to being isolated from family and friends, he has no money of his own, despite being the one making the money! Her control over him is complete.

This is typically a very insecure woman who seeks security through control. The more she controls, the better she feels. And the more he allows her to control, the deeper the man sinks into this abyss….. If you see a once joyful, lively and loving man who is now completely bereft of life or joy, and who is not the social creature he once used to be for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent, there maybe a questionable partner in his life.

Why doesn’t the man break the cycle? When the Janay Rice incident happened, twitter was afire with two hashtags #whyshestayed and #whysheleft where many women described why they stayed with their abusers for so long, and why they finally had the courage to leave.

Many of the same reasons apply to men. In addition to this, there is social pressure for men to be strong and self-sufficient. First, larger society doesn’t believe men can be abused by women; it is hard to open up before an incredulous audience. Men may be afraid to be seen as weak, as a victim, as needing help and support. The culture places high regard on strong, silent men after all.

But some of these men may be silently suffering. They may rationalize that in time, with enough love and patience…..well, you know the rest. This is the “love of a good woman” scenario I mentioned earlier, with the gender reversed.

To be continued…