Sunday, April 27, 2008

Terra Verra Firma

There is an art to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.— Douglas Adams, 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'

One of my old blogger buddies Kraz (Wreck Tangle) recently went sky diving - I saw a you-tube (Fabulous video) of the whole event right from the take off stage to the landing.

I know it’s my duty as his friend and occasionally blog-flirt (or at least one of them, hmpf!) to bat my eyelids and ooh and aaah about how brave he is (which I do think, incidentally) and how the whole adrenalin rush thing looks like fun (which it doesn’t).

But I also have to state here for the record that I think Kraz is completely insane. That’s also what I think of S’s sister who went bungee jumping a few years ago. And all the other people who go paragliding or parachuting or doing any other of those gosh-darned silly things God never meant us to do.

Why anyone would voluntarily jump, nay, pay money to voluntarily jump from places very, very far above the ground is something I have never quite understood.
What is wrong with the good old terra firma I want to ask them? It’s nice. It’s solid. It’s utterly comforting. There are no sudden winds that can take you off course. There are no birds of floating around who might fancy a tasty morsel of you for breakfast. There are no sharp edged rocks which might split your head open if you land upside down on them. Why would one want to leave that and go floating around in the air for no rhyme or reason?

Why not, people have argued with me. Adrenalin rush they say. Bah I say to them.

I once thought I would try and figure out what all this fuss about adrenalin was.
Being the cautious and sensible type of person - at least when it came hazardous-to health activities (I always wear my seatbelt when the husband is at the wheel and the MIL is backseat driving for instance); I thought I would start with the most basic of adventure sports.
Thus, one fine day a few summers ago, I and some jobless friends went to get our first taste of adrenalin – at a suicide-camp in amusement-parks clothing.

Egged on by these same moronic friends I climbed onto a ride called the “Super Heart Stopping Ride of Death” or something equally silly (name I mean not ride).
My love affair with terra firma began during the course of the ride. To be precise, it began round about the time I was suspended upside down contemplating the top of a 15 foot tree (from a height of about ten feet) for about three minutes, with nothing to break the sheer fall to the ground. And when I say nothing I mean precisely that. Nothing. Not even the odd rod or bar twenty foot below – just a flimsy rubber belt which those people optimistically hoped would hold us in place.

That’s when I discovered how much the desh-ki-dharti meant to me – and how I had been taking it rather for granted, and promised myself that I would in future I would not so .

As far as possible, I have stuck to my resolution. I don’t part very easily with terra firma. In fact any attempts to part me are met with it (even if it is to climb a stool) are met with vociferous protestations. (Fortunately I have now acquired a husband instead of a stool who can take care of whatever task needs to be done in the rarefied regions of the stratosphere)

The only time I willingly part from my much loved solid ground is if I have to take a plane to go somewhere. Somehow, my office seems to have a strange antipathy to people taking more than three days to reach their destination. But if truth be told, I disapprove of planes as well.

Give me the Good Earth I say. Flying it seems. Bah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dead Man Walking

A couple of days ago, S came to know that a colleague of his had committed suicide over the weekend. S told me the whole thing was completely surreal. A talented, thirty something man, with apparently nothing wrong in his life (on the face of it) chose to end his life.

It was S’s first encounter with violent self inflicted death. We spent some time just thinking how it would be – to get up one day and decide that life was so unbearable that you had to end it THAT particular day. Whether this man, had second thoughts while leaving his house, how he said goodbye to his family, whether he had taken his house keys along, whether he had taken his cell phone along or just left it behind because he would never need it again. The ordinary minutiae of leaving for work every morning – how strange it must have been.

My closest encounter with suicidal tendencies was a few years ago. A friend, who stayed in the US, broke up with his girlfriend of eight years. He was devastated and used to come online to seek solace through chatting – often with me. At that time, he was on pain medication for a fractured leg and after a point of time; he started regularly overdosing on it – to numb the pain he said– not so much the one in his leg, as the one in his heart.

I was petrified. Petrified that he would take that one pill too many consciously or inadvertently. And here I was in a different country, with no friends on the spot who could actually do something to help him. And all I could do was talk through the night knowing that it was not enough, but hoping desperately that it would hold him and stop him doing something stupid, if only till the next day.

I have battled with mind-numbing, paralyzing grief and despair in my life as well – where I didn’t know where to turn and who to turn to. Where death might have seemed like a welcome relief. But there was this one tiny self preservation voice, or voice of sanity or cowardice or something which held me back from seriously contemplating suicide.

So I know what it is to be in such a black place, that even the air you breathe is viscous with dread, but yet, not give up on life. But I still wonder what that point of no return is for the people who do.

Are the thresholds of pain different for different people? Or is it the levels of cowardice that are different (the jury is still out on whether suicide is the most courageous or the most cowardly act of all)

Is it the ultimate exhibitionist act of a self centred person? A part of me says that people who do take away their lives have to be necessarily, absolutely, selfish since they don’t think about the trauma they cause on those left behind. I had met a gentleman whose daughter had just committed suicide a few months before I met him ( for the most INANE reason imaginable) He was going through the motions of being alive – In reality, he looked completely wrung out, as if his whole life force had been drained out of him.

But then yet, another part says, that in mind which is so tortured with pain and hurt, can hardly understand and empathize with the pain their action will have on someone else-just like people suffering in the last stages of a debilitating disease like cancer, might behave atrociously –be wounding and nasty with family members –where it’s the pain speaking rather than the patient.

I wonder how long people stay in that zone between deciding to end it all and the actual deed. The shadow zone. The figurative dead man walking – self condemned but functioning. Trapped in a festering, tormented mind – but with the knowledge that he needs to appear normal, lest people find something amiss.

Do they count the last times – this is the last time I go to my bank, this is the last time I kiss my child goodbye, this is the last time I will feel the drop of rain on my face, watch a sunset or walk down a road traversed daily for the last thirty years …

I wonder how they decide that this is the way to end it all. The man, who died two days ago, threw himself on the tracks – a particularly macabre and gory way to end his life.
How they go about the mundane actuality of it – going to a chemist shop to buy the sleeping tablets or the innocuous razor. Deciding the merits of two equally distanced railway stations. Choosing which dupatta shall be the fatal noose.

And I think my heart bleeds for those left behind – always. A death, even in the ordinary scheme of things, invariably leaves a residue of regret and guilt – of things unsaid and fences left broken. How much more will it be in such a case – the burden of remorse and self reproach, the weights of all the could-have, would-have, should-haves, is something they might need to deal with through out their life, even if there was actually nothing else to be done, nothing else they could have done.

The greater tragedy is that there is no easy way to pick up these signals of a person who is contemplating death. No red flags which one can see and do something about. Body language and depressive talk is too simplistic, there are many, who quietly go about the business without making a fuss.

Even if correctly diagnosed, the way to help them, how to prevent it, how to do something thus becomes a matter of chance and individual skill. The skill to take them to the counsellor, the skill of the therapist in counselling, the skill of the person to come out of it and be motivated to live again.

I wish therapy wasn’t such a bad word in the Indian societal system – where a person who claims to be taking counselling sessions is automatically assumed to “mental” thus unfit – where depression is something to be derided, hidden away, avoided, not acknowledged rather than something which can be set right – if only with a little sensitivity and empathy. I wonder when society will have the maturity to realize that clinical depression is a malaise just like a viral infection and the person can’t just snap out of it and be happy, no more than a person can will a fever to go away but given the right treatment WILL go away.

P.S This is going to be a two part post because I would also like to write soon about the non-clinical urban depression – the malaise which seems to be hitting a lot of people I know. Young, urban professionals which I fear is grossly underreported and understood.

P.P.S. Very morbid post this. Hmm.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Two’s company

These days, occasionally S and I have to go to these ‘couply’ dinners – not too often (Thank God) since most of S’s friends are single and confused ( but in Pune) whereas mine are married and confused ( but not in Pune).

Why ’Thank God’ you ask? They remind me of the gatherings my folks used to have – fancy dinners and parties (with fragile dining sets and aperitifs and shining cutlery and other stressful paraphernalia) – too stiff and serious to be enjoyable.

I am slightly more casual. Okay that’s an understatement as friend fishcalledgoonda might point out- I once disgustedly told her to eat like a human being when she was trying to be ladylike.
When I invite friends over, there is a very high likelihood that I will make them run and get things from the fridge (if not the grocer).

Not of the sophisticated school of diners, in other words.

But coming back to what I was saying; - occasionally some odd acquaintance or colleague traipses into town and then we (S&I) have these outings.

After about a year of this, I have come to the conclusion that couples vary widely in their behaviour at gatherings such as this. I have made a study and figured out six typologies of dinner-couples.

The Lovey, Dovey and Whyee(!) Dinner Couple
There will be the coy nok-jhoks, the private jokes, the holding hands under the table, the holding hands over the table, the brushing of hair away from the way, the gentle kisses, and other private, intimate moments, which would have perhaps been rather sweet in a movie, but are exceedingly excruciating if you are the accidental voyeur sitting across the dining table.

The Participative School Of Marriage Dinner Couple
This is a variant Lovey-Dovey , minus the mushy bit. These couples in a magnanimous gesture invite one to be a part of the minutiae of their marriage. There will be chatty conversations about Kavita aunty from Kothrud and Satish Mama from Sadashivpet and how the former spoils her children and how its such a drag to go all the way to the latter’s house, and how the prices of onions are rising and how the husband forgot his dental appointment and much else in the same vein. And for the other pair of dinner guests – well, it’s just like watching a Reality show sans the television screen.

The Therapy Session Dinner Couple

A less happy variant of the participative school, ( maybe a older marriage) whereby the dinner becomes a forum to air grievances about how husband dumps his wet towels on the floor in the bedroom and wife HAS to clean up after him. Or alternatively how wife has no financial sense and will spend her money buying stuff from Good Home rather than invest in paying off the loan for the Good Home. The other dinner guests will be willy-nilly forced to support one parti and usually annoy the other spouse.

The Uska-Pati-Mere-Pati-Se-Safed-Kaise Couple
This is the dinner where one couple is trying to prove conclusively without reasonable doubt that they are
a) more in love ( “Oh you know he got me five diamond rings for my birthday – it was such a surprise *bats eyelashes- what did he get for your birthday?” )
b) more suited ( “We have EXACTLY the same taste in music and in books and in movies and in everything – we never disagree about these things")
c) marriage is made more in more refined and higher level of heaven than the other couple. (“She knows exactly what I am thinking, even before I have the time to think it. In fact half the times, she is the only one thinking for the both of us”)

The We-Are-Not-Married-Married Dinner Couple
Here, the couple apparently call a temporary truce and pretend to each other that they are not spouses, just casual acquaintances sitting at the same dinner table. The Husband will use this as an opportunity to ogle at people at other tables (and occasionally provide an extremely graphic commentary on the clothes or lack of them) while the wife will try and flirt with the guests at the dinner table (in this case, a usually bemused and embarrassed S. I don’t mind these so much, I am completely redundant- so can shamelessly sit back and enjoy myself)

The Mardana-Zanana Dinner Couple
Males and males and femmes are femmes and the twain shall never talk – you might be forgiven for thinking you have traipsed inadvertently into another century (well, okay, another decade). There is this invisible line which segregates the conversational ambit of the genders; the men SHALT talk about work and sports and the females SHALT talk about shopping and children. Now if you are one of those confused WORKING, fairly sports-mad, shopophobic, not-grown-up-enough-to-have-kids-female, then well, you will end up with a bit of an identity problem.

After penning these typologies down, I spent all of ten minutes trying to figure out which type do we belong to. Have regretfully come to the conclusion that my ma is probably right when she says “You two, bah, don’t behave like you are married only – squabbling all the time like children!”

Ah, well