Skinned Knees, Broken Hearts

Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again!  Skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts!!!

It is still raining in Mumbai;  and on my daily morning walk, I managed to slip/slide/glide over a largish speed breaker and found myself descending to the road surface, with great speed! There was nothing I could do in the seconds that intervened, between my insight that I was falling, and my landing unceremoniously on the wet street, face down!! During the fall, I had bent forward, landing hard on my left knee, which slid down the bump. The first thought was that this will result in a bruised knee and shin: which will pain for days. Curiously the second thought was : this pain and hurt will be much better to bear than a broken heart!!

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Being 62 years of age, one has had ones’ fair share of falls,  and broken hearts!!! Lives there a man who has had a charmed existence, happiness and success always, and nary a broken heart? I doubt it very much! Expectations and desires (despite the Learned Buddha’s exhortation to avoid them) are a part of our make-up and human story/history. And so breathes there a soul who has not experienced the pain of a broken heart?

This sharp pain of a broken heart begins early in our lives. As kids, it is the refusal by our parents to buy the new toy we have taken fancy to. Why, it may even be our Mother’s refusal to take us with her, when she is all decked up and leaving for a formal dinner. My heart also broke when my elder sister refused to take me in her playgroup as I was too small, and worse, I was a boy! The first unrequited crush on the English teacher. The fair girl in class whom I dared not speak to! My new cycle involved in an accident; with me tearfully looking at the mangled frame. My father’s job transfers which made me say Good-bye to friends made with great difficulty. Losing my first Chinese ink pen. A friend refusing to trade the WWF picture card, that he already had a duplicate of !!!! How many times has the heart broken? How many times one suffered the ignominy of “defeat”, of missing something that your heart desired and wanted so badly?? It was a sweet time of grieving- your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Many times you counselled yourself: “It is ok Vikas, life will be different when you grow up! You don’t have to depend on others. You can take decisions yourself. You can get (or take) what you want”!!!

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Then you grew up. And then the heartbreaks continued. Unstoppable, the heartbreaks were now more severe. Took longer to get over. The young roly-poly Bengali History teacher whom everyone in class had a massive crush on. Not getting admission in the academic course you had set your heart on. And to make it worse, your friend securing admission and he and his family consoling you, “Surprising how Raghavan got in? You were always better in class and we always expected you will walk in with flying colors. So sad you did not get through” Adding insult to injury; breaking, nay crushing your heart even more. Not getting a job offer from your dream company on campus. Being turned down for promotion. First time you get an average performance rating when you believe you have excelled in all projects that year. Your BFF letting you down. Girl issues. Boys’ issues. Heartbreaks galore. Making the logical you, ask a fundamental question: What is stronger than the human heart, that shatters over and over again, and still lives?

Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, illustrious litterateurs,  had a most tumultuous marriage. Their very public confrontations were full of accusations, cheating, nervous breakdowns all fuelled by generous dollops of alcohol. Zelda observes ” No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold”. When F Scott died, they were estranged. Another brilliant author, Oscar Wilde was in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1891, this was looked at in askance and Douglas’s father disapproved of his son’s liaison. Oscar was accused of acts of gross indecency and convicted for homosexuality. Wilde concludes in one sentence, “The heart was made to be broken”.

In Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk has a great insight to share:“The one you love and the one who loves you are never the same person”. But how many of us understand this fundamental truth? Rather we are enamoured, star-struck, infatuated; sometimes with the very concept of love. Edgar Allan Poe captures this well, “We loved with a love that was more than love”. In India we are all brought up on the Bollywood version of all sacrificing love, which stands tall when all around is crumbling, and is still able to belt out a heartfelt Laila Majnu or Heer Ranjha song. What we ignore is that the line after तेरा मेरा प्यार अमर is the earthy  फिर क्यों मुझको लगता है डर? The English poetess Emily Dickinson who never married or had children summed it up, “If I can stop one heart from bleeding, I shall not have lived in vain.” 

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In The Wizard of Oz, young Dorothy gives great advice to Tin Woodman, “I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.” Is it hard to let go? Would you rather hold on to something that was not real anyway? No matter how bad your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief – it moves on, and expects you to move and play your part down the road. In the hoary Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet B Stowe puts it so well,” Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.” Look back on your own life, all the heartbreaks you experienced over the years, only made you wiser, taught you life, showed you how to live. Remember Nicholas Spark, “The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…”

So let us sing alongwith Jaidan Taylor:

Cause, baby, I could build a castle/Out of all the bricks they threw at me/And every day is like a battle/But every night with us is like a dream

Baby, we’re the new romantics/Come on, come along with me/Heart break is the national anthem/We sing it proudly

Concluding with Violeta Parra: “Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars.” : vikas

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The itch to blame

The itch to blame and tame is with all of us….yours truly,  leading the pack! You decide whether you are guilty, by your own reckoning :  & then decide whether it is worth reading this blog OR you would prefer to skip it!!! I will not blame you….as this introspection has taught me a lot….

The blame game starts because one feels helpless, frustrated and ineffective. Rather than take responsibility for your situation and own the consequences, you find it easier to blame the circumstances, the situation, others involved, even luck or destiny, family or karma….but always something external, which has caused this outcome. You, of course, are blame-free and above it all. Which explains why Douglas Coupland observed “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of the chaos”.  Very often, we need to take a hard look at our preparation, our efforts. But we are comfortable finding a peg to hang our failure on. As our own local saying has it “नाच ना आवे आंगन टेढ़ा”.

Yogi Berra the iconic baseball player captured this attitude well when he said “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I just change the bat. After all….how can I be mad at myself?” And this happens to the best of us. We all would do much better if we learnt to not spend time finding others to blame. We put in too much energy in finding excuses for not becoming what we are capable of being. Our approach should rather be to grow out of our past and get on with our lives, by putting our energy  and our own self on the line.

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My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it so well “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”. What a thought!!! For the Creator, there is NO POVERTY. You are limited by your own imagination and your effort.  So should we not keep the itch to blame in reins?

One more aspect of the blame game is true since times immemorial. Aeschylus the first great Athenian dramatist observed in 5th Century BC “Everyone is quick to blame the alien”.  We all draw such a close circle around oneself, our own way of thinking, our favorite theories and even our pet peeves that anything which is different is “alien”. And we are quick to blame, reject, question, doubt, ridicule and run down whatever does not conform to my worldview. We refuse to respect diversity and we are not intellectually honest to accept that “I do not know it all” : the other person’s POV may be different; but it could also be right. In fact social reality is multi dimensional and just because I see things in a particular way, does not mean that is the “right” way. Others can, and do, view things very, very differently.

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This perspective is especially critical to remember when there is a power differential between the two parties. Otherwise the blame game can easily deteriorate into the “tame” game. Recollect our childhood Aesop fable about the Big Bad Wolf who blamed the Cute Little Lamb for polluting his drinking water in the flowing brook. When the Lamb tried to protest that he was downstream,  and Wolf was at a higher level and so how could the Lamb pollute the water? the Wolf’s famous reply was ” Well if not you, then it was your ancestors who muddied the drinking water” And so the Lamb is still to blame  and will be eaten by the Wolf to teach a lesson. Any excuse will serve a tyrant, as Hitler proved to millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Blame game often ends with a overpowering desire to tame the opposing point of view. Why Hitler? let us remember our own bosses. And we will easily see that the itch to blame and tame is omnipresent. Even in family, my daughter thinks the same about me.

Yet truly, if you see life in it’s full-blown glory, you will see also it’s rich diversity. In India there are sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots. So while we have the richest private residence in the world Antilia which is valued at USD 1,000,000,000, we also have 62% of Mumbai’s population living in slums as per HT report (9/8/2018). There are stark differences in lifestyles of the people of Mumbai but somehow we have mastered the art of peaceful coexistence. We do not question the propriety of either a USD 1 Billion home or the fact that compared to the 1991 Census there is a staggering increase of 50% in the population of slum dwellers. The beauty of our pluralistic society is seen in the fact that the street children are happy, while our rich, nouveau rich and middle class children are unhappy, stressed and hassled. In the rainy season I truly admire the resilience of the street urchins who are gleefully enjoying the rain. While the kids who are bundled in cars or school buses fret and scowl!!! Fortunately, we have not yet gone down the Kenyan and Nigerian path, and there is still no strident blaming one another or forcible taming of the other side.

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The cartoon above says it all: we must learn to cope and ignore. Rumi puts it so well : The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. Wish I had got this advice much earlier in life. Blaming and efforts of taming would have been much less. Recently I came across something interesting about sunflowers. We all know that sunflowers follow the direction of the sun and turn to face the Sun. But what happens when it is raining? and there is no Sun? Apparently sunflowers turn to one another and bask in the reflected energy and positivity of one another. How beautiful would it be if we humans learn this skill from sunflowers; and rather than rue the absence of the Sun, take joy and energy from the glory which is all around you; get energized from one another. Overcome the itch to blame, shame and tame. Rather revel in the people and energy around you. Remember Creation knows no Poverty. You need to ask for the riches. Ask and it shall be given!!!!

I close with memories of a beautiful abhang of Tukaram: लई नाही लई नाही मागणे देवा Here Tukaram beseeches Lord Pandurang to give him just enough cloth to cover his body; just enough food to fill his and his guests’ stomach; but continuous blessings of the Lord…he wants nothing more. All blame vanishes, as sunflower-like I turn to all, in a most positive way. The only taming I do is of my own self.

Live life; Love life: vikas

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