Label Cloud

#1000 a new destiny A Training We Will Go About Me Africa Alaska AmitD Baby John Foundation bandicoot Bare Minimum beach Beginner-Chef Bengaluru bike bitter gourd bitter melon bitter squash blizzardofoz blog blossom BunnyB Cats Central America Chathurthi Chennai Civilization composting connections Content Writer content writing cookery cover shot culture curry leaf Daya Death dj dogs dreamy-dreams Dubai eco-friendly ecology Eichhornia crassipes email forward English? environs Eudaimonia Europe Chicago existence extinction Facebook Fiction flora flower food foto-RK freswater fruit fruit tree Funny Business? future-simple Ganesha garden garden gardening gardening gargantuan Google+ grammatically correct guilt health holidays/festivals hopelessly romantic human condition Hyderabad identity idol India Indonesian insect int-Ro-spec-shun interesting? Internet Service Italian ival Jagannath Temple Gate JamminGlobal Jay Kannaiyan John Paul Aguiar Kanyakumari karavella karela Kenya Kerala Kodaikanal Kovalam laddu Lake Nakuru lakes large Lesser bandicoot rat Life life story lily longevity macabre Mahabalipuram Mahe Masai Mara Mentor message Mexico milestone mission mogs Momordica charantia Mountain Lodge movie mushroom music mutation Nairobi nature news-related O1M online online presence Ooty our world Oxyopes bimanous party pest photography Phuentsholing pink Place of worship Poetry point-and-shoot pomegranate profile profile pic Purpose railway station Rain Lily recipe recycling relationships religion/faith RK rodent sapling search engine optimization SEO short story sign social media South America spider Sri Vilas sump Sun-Mar teaching Thalassery The Dark Side The End The Muskoka Foundation Thirupathi Thiruvananthapuram Tirupati Balaji touristy travel Tribute Trivandrum Airport Incident twisted past Twitter vegetable Vinayaka Visarjan Visual Tonality Photography waste water hyacinth water purification water treatment web content World Writing yellow Zodiac

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Sum of a Life Unlived

Taken from this hideous world.
Saved from the horrors unfolding,
Unrelenting, not yet unfurled,
But, potential unrealized.
Gone begging to those wagging tongues,
Quick to mourn, quicker to falsehoods.

A life hardly experienced.
Sampled, as if simply trialled,
A shred of inconvenience,
Averted, by dying too young,
Saved, for the revelers who weep,
Fondly, teary-eyed, in no mood.

Passing of time, ceremony.
Showing love that was hidden still,
Shamed, waiting in ignominy,
Saved by untimely passing,
Released, from the world of the dead.
Returned, soon to be forgotten.

Copious tears, and howling,
The show, for the moment, sadness.
Glancing at time wasted, scowling.
At the fate that awaits us all,
Imaginations gone awry,
Save for their most formal goodbyes.

The luck of the chosen fewer,
Escaping such indecency.
Going from once alive, now were,
Leaving behind dramatics,
And the petty shows of concern,
Eternally. Repeatedly...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fighting Status Quo in “Culture”: A struggle of necessity

Every now and then, I find myself at the same crossroads. There I am, staring at my life from the point of view of an observer watching people make a major decision at a fork in the road ahead. The people are all me, and the only difference between them is that of their age. With each new arrival of mine at this same spot, I seem to be wearing a different set of hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties, but still, for whatever reason, the confusion of having to make the choice is still the same. Even as an observer, I feel extreme frustration at the fact that I am unable to make the right choice, not able to either understand or accept my purpose to be able to do so, the quintessential example of which was usually the manner in which other, key people in my life served to maintain, even revere the status quo. My choice was always limited by what tended to be right for the majority, and usually never myself. Now, I don’t mean to sound like an angel fallen to Earth, trying to do good wherever I go, or have been until now in my life. However, compared to the tendencies I entertain in my head, my realization rate is usually closer to near zero. In the interests of larger entities like “family” and “friends”, even “colleagues” on occasion, I tried to make a choice that suited all, with my whole gullible soul, but even this was never good enough. No, there was always something to nitpick at, or some obvious aspect of the whole patterned ritual that I had grossly missed, allowing others a chance at levity at my expense, and me much more shame to deal with. Now that I look back at this, I can’t believe I ever tried to ignore the obvious life truth of it not being worthwhile to attempt to keep everyone happy. But these were people like, well, my family, my own kith and kin, even those to whom I had pledged allegiance for having shown me kindnesses for no good reason, and so convinced was I that my best interests were always at the heart of everything that they ever pointed out, after some stubborn denial, I always caved in and went along with the advice I was given. After many attempts at this, and somehow growing up in the process, it began to dawn on me that all was certainly not as it seemed. It was time to do a rethink on this whole being a part of a culture that sought the best for all its adherents thing, and that was when the goggles started to come off.

One of my first and most lasting annoyances has been the imperative duty of respecting my elders. I was never a fan of the notion that my elders, usually a reference made to people a skip-generation above me but eventually including all who were of an age greater than my own, were to always be respected, no matter what. No, I don’t want you to think that there is a molestation story at the end of this example, because as much as I complain about my life and the goings-on that transpired therein, I have personally known many others who have suffered far worse fates at the hands of people related to them, directly, remotely or otherwise. The example I would like to open with is far simpler and nowhere as being forced to do things like answer the questions that my elders asked me, without ever entertaining the thought that they were stupid, intrusive, or even repetitive. Part of the issue was having members of my family be a part of my holiday experiences as a child, which is another way of saying that extended family and the related-by-blood individuals who comprised this group were only available in-person during vacations. This is an important distinction to make because many people view India as a collection of “joint families”, where the reality is not entirely the same. Most of my early childhood was spent with my father and mother in a two-bedroom apartment in Dubai, with no siblings as I am an only child. It was only when I went back to India, whether to my home state of Kerala, or the cities of residence of my parents’ parents, brothers and/or sisters to visit that I interacted with most of my other relatives. This included all of my cousins as well, many of whom were much older than I was. And, it was during these trips that I would interact with my aunts, uncles, their children (my cousins), and all manner of extendedly-related members of those families as well, such as my aunt’s, husband’s, second brother’s, in-laws’, aged parents who we simply had to see in case, and I kid you not, “they passed away before we saw them one last time.” I will get into other examples and aspects of the logic shoved at me to explain obligations of the culture that we were a part of in a while. For right now, it was a basic dislike for having to deal with the incessant and always mundane curiosities of my elders, and I found it really hard to accept the “have-to” nature of this proposition. Some of the easiest examples that come to mind are being in a gathering of people, often a mix of relatives and those not related at all, simply “friends” of the rest of us, usually during one of my holidays, and doing the rounds starting with the first person to come up to me and go, “Oh my, I haven’t seen you in ages.”, before rattling off the barrage of questions that began with, “What school are you studying in, What standard are you in”, (“standard” meaning grade level), “Are you on holiday, When do your holidays get over, When did they begin, What are you studying”, etc. Surely none of these are stupid questions, certainly not being asked if I am on holiday when I was on vacation, but what followed was a case of repetitive inquiry, where as my mother, for she was the one more determined to show how culturally pliable I was, would take me from elder to elder, only to be asked the same questions, usually in the same exact order, until I was all interrogated out. Of course, the younger I was, and the more I rebelled against having to perform my imitation of a stuck record, the more cute it was and therefore, it was temporarily permissible to get away with not wanting to answer another question, or skulking off. But, the tedium grew with age, and of course now, looking back, I wish I had learned the list of expletives that I have command over, certainly to be used with surgical precision in a once-and-for-all manner to avoid repeated bouts of obliged curiosity. 
On one such brief holiday, or “leave” as it happened to be, because I was now twenty-five years old and a “working professional” who was no longer entitled to school-length holidays, I finally hit a wall in my forced show of respect, by having to answer my elders no matter what. It was person number one, who in typical Indian fashion, went about with the list of questions. However, the major variants in the list of FAQs, for age tends to expand the curiosity that elders are allowed to show in the lives of their, well, juniors I suppose you could call it, were things related to my professional qualifications, such as my job, what it entailed, and my personal favorite, how much money I was earning. That was when a little voice in my head, which had always been fighting the good fight, went, “Hey, wait a minute.” It was strange, not to mention extremely inappropriate even if people in India give me the but-everyone-does-this poor logic, mostly because it was at a funeral of a distant relative’s distant relative, and I will spare you the lengthy connection because I understand how it pains one to join the dots, dots which are individuals who exist/existed at any given point in time, and quite honestly, in spite of the sombre occasion, it was disheartening, no, disgusting to find people who still cared more to exercise their conversational idiocy than to simply hold their tongue and let the sanctity of gathering at another’s passing on from life be free from any indecency. Thankfully, I didn’t get overly upset, or even upset at all for that matter. No, I simply looked person number one in the eyes and very politely asked, “I’m sorry, but why would you ask something like this?”

As if to give me practice with exercising my newfound courage, or perhaps to display the depths of his conversational prowess, he deflected with, “Oh nothing really. But, is it in the ten to twenty thousand range or...”

Before he could finish, I cut him off with a whispered but curt, “I’m really sorry, but I am not comfortable discussing this with you.” Wish I’d done this first, but no sooner had I uttered it he stopped, looked up at me, then quickly glanced around to see if anyone else had caught this affront to his “elder” status being threatened, and went off in a silent huff. Some victories may certainly be more well cherished than others, but standing there, I wanted to jump up and shout “In your face!” Thankfully I did not because that would have gone down poorly with the rest of the mourners assembled there. However, the fact that a simple push-back, or putting my foot down, was all it took to stop the perpetual perpetration of unwarranted curiosities from being thrust upon the youth, generation after generation, was an amazing discovery to me. Don’t get me wrong, I was also thinking about the fact that for generations, in the name of maintaining culture, people like my grandparents, parents, and maybe even a few generations prior to my great-grandparents, no one had managed to pull this off, which is scary. No, I didn’t mean to disrespect my elders, but I had managed to make it known that I was unwilling to participate in a certain brand of cultural idiocy. This would be the start of many a similar battle for me, and I was quite sure I was going to like what followed as I unraveled the myths that were always presented as truth.

The next battle or perhaps a more accurate description would be to call it an annoyance, is a form of cultural institutionalism, a sort of core of the Malayalee cultural experience, forcefully kept alive in honor of itself, usually by parents or the first few waves of immigrants from the state of Kerala, in spite of the fact that in actuality, this was very much a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do farce. To be honest, I’ve seen this with many of the Indian sub-cultures, and by extension, this sort of thing is true of most cultures around the world, especially those that experienced a diaspora, voluntary or otherwise, and to a certain extent, I am even willing to go as far as to call it a natural reaction to having to leave “home” behind with no great certainty of when and how a return will manifest itself. However, in many regards, resorting to knee-jerk instincts like animals do, but denying our origins and claiming some sort of moral, or ethical superiority is precisely the phenomenon which leads people to create rigid frameworks of institutions that are absurd caricatures of anything remotely resembling he human spirit. This institutionalism that I speak of comes in many forms, some more insidious than others, and includes not just aspects of apparel, or food, or the language spoken. The real forces of a wholesome mental and physical oppression are the attitudinal vices that are built into the system, where separation of word and action becomes the privilege of a chosen few, either by achieving a certain age, or being part of an unassailable wealth category, either through means mercantile or religious, just in case some of us choose to see a difference between the two.

One of the most obvious forms of the institution of culture being shoved down people’s throats is acceptance of gender roles. Most Indian sub-cultures end up having very well defined notions of what men and women are allowed to do, in terms of work, or even how they make use of their spare time, how they must comport themselves in public, and in the specific case of women, what behaviours are expected of them once they leave their own homes and start to live with their in-laws. Indian ladies have told me stories about how when they first got married, and then had to leave their homes and live with their in-laws, the kind of rude awakening they were in for, not anything malicious per se, but things like being reminded by their mothers-in-law about how as wives of their ‘darling sons’, they were to ensure that every need of his was to be taken care of, which included not allowing him the inconvenience of having to approach the general vicinity of the kitchen to ask for a glass of water. No, he should be able to do so from wherever in the house he may be, and because a lot of this kind of communication was of the at-the-top-of-the-lungs variety, not hearing a plea to assist in wetting the whistle would be considered a ghastly offence; it would be a matter relegated to the immediate background, but surely to be dragged out and re-exhibited at the next transgression of a similar nature, until the end of the poor unfortunate idiot’s life. I’ve seen and had recounted to me closer-to-home versions of this, as played out by my mother and aunts, being on the receiving end of their respective in-laws and such excellent “feedback”. This trend is changing, however, for the betterment of all I hope, but still, these changes are more cosmetic than real, and how long before such perpetual psychological scarring can cease to be of amusement, let alone of any kind of value is a question I leave to the philosophers. As far as I am concerned, it’s a dangerous two-way street with willing participants on both sides; I would actually prefer to call one group the subjugators and the other the subjugates. For me, this is one of the elements of culture that we are too often forced to put up with because of the age-old, it-has-always-been-this-way logic that denotes acceptance without understanding, no matter how inane that which is being forced upon the suspicious but pious victim may really be.

In an attempt to offset the victimized female played by hapless, and sometimes willing-martyr Malayalee women, I offer up the opposite example of the Malayalee male. He, above all else, is as infallible as his actions are unquestionable. Again, I would like to point out that this can, either in whole or in part, be the case for Indian males of all Indian sub-cultures. But I would like to stick to what I have witnessed firsthand, for the sake of posterity, if nothing else. The Malayalee boy, for having come this far in my life I myself am forced to admit “his” lack of growing up, is the pride of the household. There may be a few, several, or as in my case, simply one in most families, which is again the generally Indian cultural preference for siring male, as opposed to female offspring. The reason for this is, or has always been explained to me as being related to the practice of “dowry”, where as part of the ‘arranged marriage’ phenomenon, the bride’s family usually ends up footing most of the expenses as well as making a payment as demanded by the groom’s family, almost as a show of gratitude for the privilege of the allegiance. In a most ironic twist then, the average Malayalee male is often revered and put on a pedestal by his mother, and very rarely his father. In fact, as some examples I have seen myself go, the father usually ends up being extra-strict on his son, whether or not there is a daughter for whom he holds a soft spot in the organ that pumps his blood, almost as if his realization of what constituted his youth haunts him enough to want to dispel it from his own male progeny, lest society think negatively of him for it. However, this treatment is more true for a son during his formative years, for upon growing up and resembling the father in his later years, he becomes accepted with open arms for having fought the good fight and suffered the upbringing which is always for his own good. I attempt to over-simplify on purpose because tales that focus on the individual nitty-gritties always fail to justify the similar behaviour in the collective organism that is in this case, a subset of “society”, separated by gender. So,. The infallible son, apple of his mother’s eye, goes through life much like any other male child, with the essential difference being that by virtue of his status, he tends to get away with a lot more than his sister would, for being able to do things like hang out with friends after school, as opposed to his sister(s) who would have to come immediately home, unless there was a legitimate, verifiable, and chaperoned reason for them to have to associate with their own friends after school hours. Perhaps then, it would come as no surprise that in the event of anything extra-curricular, particularly during their teenage years, should they decide to act on intimate instincts, this action not resulting in marriage thereafter, it is the girl, now a young lady, who will be publicly shunned for being less virtuous, while her male accomplice would be unaffected in the eyes of the public. I have had the unfortunate occasion to see this happen innumerable times, not during my or anyone else’s teenage years, for in hindsight it would have been most preferable to get such ignominy out of the way and attempt to start life over with so much more of it left to live, but among married couples who have gone so far as to raise a family, all while the man of the house was frequenting other affairs, and possibly other houses, sowing his wild oats, as it were, for no good reason other than being somehow given the privilege of doing so by the culture of a society so intent on preserving it at all costs. This is a wholly strange phenomenon to me, not because I don’t understand that being male, as Robin Williams so succinctly put it, “The problem is, God gave man a brain and a penis and only enough blood to run one at a time”, but because if a woman was ever to have an affair, no, to entertain the thought of doing so, the culture-frenzied keepers of social mores, would burn her at the stake, or worse, make it news worthy of national headlines, just so everyone else in the world would know what kind of person she is. This is a double standard I have had the opportunity to ask some of my married friends about, and a wider group of people than just other Malayalees. But to my utter exasperation, most of them have told me that this is the way the world is, and that I would not understand because I am not married. If this is truly the case, or at least what it may said to be with the state of marriage in our present era, then I have no interest in achieving this level of understanding. Of course, you can see how problematic it is when children growing up see tired, forced, and often dead marriages being dragged out for their sake apparently, while the men of the house entertain themselves at the expense of their wives, and then decide to play along because of the fear of disappointing their parents, who will nag them to death should they ever become disappointed due to the actions of their descendants, only to keep the whole sickly cycle carrying on and on.

In line with the male double standard in the Malayalee sub-culture, and the fact that I thought the act of offering/receiving dowry was all but dead with us, because many Malayalees have traveled the world and lived abroad to understand, and hopefully, attempt some self-analysis of their own culture. However, I was shocked to find out that this was not the case. To make matters infinitely worse, in my estimation, I heard news of Malayalee boys who had spent most of their lives in a foreign country, or countries as the case was, were still demanding dowries when they came back to find their brides-to-be in their home state of Kerala, “God’s Own Country”. This helps me set up the last point that I wish to talk about regarding culture and the need for its evolution. There is a strange and often unspoken taboo among the parents of Malayalees who have spent a significant portion of their life abroad. Maybe “taboo” is too strong a word, so let us just call it a really, really, really, very, very, strong preference that their sons, and obviously daughters for they have no real say in this matter as I have established already, should marry one of their own kind. Many of you reading this will immediately recognize this as somehow warranted, you know, as a means of preserving a culture that would otherwise die out, and I would be wholly inclined to agree. However, allow me to point out a couple of things. No wait, first an example of this in my own life. Ever since I graduated college and started working, my mother and all manner of relatives, some closer, and others “removed” in degree of direct “relative” status several times over, began to express interest in my getting married. However, I always found some humorous but legitimate reasoning to delay my, and I don’t enjoy using this phrase a lot because it honestly sounds like what a cattle-herder does to his beloved livestock, “tying the knot”, usually for reasons such as not having saved enough, or needing to establish some stability in my career and professional life before being able to take up the commitment of spending the rest of my life with another person, not to mention having the means to raise a family. However, as time went on, the concern grew, and so did the numbers of people who seemed to care about my single status. Additionally, and thanks to the cultural understanding of these, our modern times, there began to grow a fear that I might be entertaining homosexual tendencies, or worse, planning on finding a partner who was not Malayalee. Surely, and quite obviously from those people who were most vociferously concerned, a flurry of advice began to inundate my life, all well-meaning, I assure you. Yet, somehow, the relevance of it all was wasted on me. The questions I had in my life were different, and among these queries of curiosity, were the points I briefly alluded to a few sentences ago; the couple of things that I wanted to point out.

First, for those who value a culture that is essentially tied in to their lifestyles as most sensibly lived in their homeland, seeking better opportunities outside of said homeland was like hammering a nail in the coffin that would ultimately be the doom of their beloved culture. Why? Because instead of staying back and working through the issues that they sought to escape from, unemployment, lack of employment opportunity, some form of persecution, or simply boredom and wanting to pursue their unshakeable wanderlust, and in the process helping their homeland and its beloved culture evolve to be more resilient in a changing age, they left it high and dry, practicing imagined piety in holding on the values and morals that were not very well adhered to to begin with, but which they believed defined them and their “kind”.

The next instance of enacting the slow death of a culture wishing to be saved is to enforce it without providing a good example for it. I never had my Malayalee culture shoved down my throat, not except for my grandmother reminding me how sad it was that I never learned to read or write the Malayalam language, almost every time I met her, so in some strange sense, later on in my life I was drawn to explore it a little bit more, I dare say “naturally”. But wearing the clothes and eating the food are just the tip of the cultural iceberg. What lies beneath is a whole range of attitudes and opinions, those that deal with things of the nature of which I have sought to bring up, and go a lot deeper too. Yet, the clothes, food, holidays, and other “enforceables” become the easiest things to point out as needing to be strictly adhered to, and therefore most easily monitored. The trouble is, this allows for all the practices that slip under the radar, finding legitimization not necessarily as part of the cultural pretext, but as part of status quo, tied heavily into an unholy guilt trip, and therefore, above and beyond the realm of possible question.

And so it goes, from generation to generation, each wondering, perhaps, but never questioning beyond the right to enact the practices of its elders, the sum total of which has led us to a stage in the non-existent evolution of the culture, which is how it will die, eventually. Maybe I don’t need to fight anything, with reference to the title of this post. Maybe I should just silently observe as bad becomes worse, and ignominious undoings become the new raison d’etre, the celebrated, more modern face of a once revered culture, now floating in limbo with no roots to secure it, and no sense of direction into which it may be headed. Maybe Robert Frost was right about the world not ending with a bang, but with a whimper. Or maybe, just maybe, more and more people will wake up and realize that walking the walk, but doing so differently, and with a view to understand without blindly accepting, this will be the way they lead themselves out of the mountain, and away from the clutches of an aggrieved piper, as manifested by their own confusions and mistrust. There is always hope, is there not? But what are you hoping for? A shot at the way things are? Or a chance to make something different, and lead the way to what will be?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A Tool Called Guilt

I have rather vivid memories of experiencing deep guilt in my life. Surely, I do not intend to make this statement as a declaration of a special ability that I may have, you know, not quite a super power but still a cool stunt to show off to friends. Really, I only seek to briefly discover what sort of role guilt has played in my life, the things it made me do, the people who saw it fit to wield it over me, and how I had to realize what it was doing to me and others to exist like this, and eventually, to work on refraining from doing so. I may not admit to there being a necessity for brandishing guilt like a weapon, to achieve some result or the other, but then again, I will also not deny that for whatever reason, it is an emotion that we seem to be burdened with experiencing and forcing others to feel too. So, how much guilt do you feel, or do you make others feel, and why? What is the purpose of endless guilt? And, how do we attempt to live imperfect lives free of guilt, when without our conscious knowledge or action, we could have committed an atrocity for which we will feel guilty sure enough?

Guilt aids Realization

As a child, guilt formed a large part of my average day, now that I try and recall. I am going to attempt to garner a little sympathy here by saying that as an only child, I often felt like the load of bearing the guilt that I had heaped upon myself, or had been showered upon me by my parents, relatives or well-wishers, was always that much harder to bear because there wasn’t anyone else to share it with. If a finger was pointed my way, whatever had just happened, or whatever the person pointing was talking about had everything to do with me, and not in any positive sense, usually. Come to think of it, not even a handful of conversations that involved pointed fingers in my general direction had very little to do with anything uplifting, as it were, so it was fairly easy to learn to cower, whether physically or in the mind, every time the finger bared its rigid questioning.

Surely I was not committing any legally punishable offences, just the usual stuff, like not going to the bathroom one last time before going to bed, not brushing my teeth because I forgot, or wasting a little food because I had either overestimated my appetite, or had discovered that what I saw was not exactly what I was putting in my mouth. This last one is a type of guilt I quickly learned to impose upon myself, I suppose mostly because I was reflecting the sentiments that flew out in assault of the transgressor each and every time the sum result of a meal was a not-empty plate, but also because this was a time in my life when the Channel 33 ten o’clock news show seemed to exhibit a lot of file footage of people starving in places like what was then Ethiopia. Interestingly enough, I would learn later on in my life that as much food aid was doled out to countries who needed it, an equal or greater quantity was destroyed to stabilize prices and to not impede “market” functionality, and that for some who lived in Ethiopia during this time, they too were shocked to find out about the extent of this famine, because it was isolated, and they only heard about it when they switched on their TVs and watched the news, as opposed to themselves being in the midst of a food shortage crisis. 

I say that guilt aids realization because it has helped me reflect on all of my actions, forcing me to take a serious call on how I feel about things, one way or another, and to remain decidedly flexible on issues or debates based on not having to compromise what I believe in, no matter how great the external pressure. It can be difficult to see this sort of outcome based on what had to be endured in the process, but being forced to question absolutely everything, as painful as it was to try to figure things out when you are an infant and ill equipped to do so, well, it has paid off in the long-term, I must admit. Personally, I know that none of the answers I have sought in my life has come very easily to me, so perseverance was always being tested. But, along with perseverance, and especially as a teenager, it led to bigger questions that asked about the purpose of existence, and while I know many people who have died in the process of attempting to escape the clutches of this question, I was not one of them. At the end of the day, each and every day, I was forced to take stock of what happened during that day, what stood out as out of the ordinary, or never-before experienced, and how I would have to deal with it so that I would be able to add it to a list of experiences and get on with my life. Now that I am older, I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect because I find that many of my contemporaries are unable to take stock of their own existence, attempting to eradicate the manifestations of supposed misfortune instead of making their target becoming resistant to having to react one way or another to things that are potentially headed their way, without playing the waiting game beforehand, or the peddling of tales of their miseries afterwards. I know it was tough to deal with guilt, and it still is, but I would not have had it any other way.

Varieties of Guilt

If there was a flavor of guilt that I had not yet come across, there were people ready and waiting, very much unlike the person behind the counter at Baskin Robbins wants you to try every single flavor on display, to dish out what I needed to get my head around, so that I would be a better person. Funny thing was, whether I got it or not, the dosage never stopped imposing itself on me, and it got to a stage where I simply had to decide to fast for a while, and not be a willing target for misguided, but supposed intentions expressed in my best interests. To start out the flavor sampling, the most obvious type of guilt was that associated with food, and having me believe that my waste was directly and somehow almost immediately, responsible for someone going hungry, or worse, dropping dead. I wish this had caused me to eat without wasting, as opposed to having every meal be a nerve-wracking experience because I was pretty sure I was not going to finish something because I did not like the way it tasted, or looked, or smelled. Of course, I was no stranger to poverty and people afflicted by it, because growing up in another country, more affluent than my own nation of citizenship, and returning home for holidays, it was more than apparent that I was far more fortunate than others around me were. Strangely enough, the original sense of guilt that I had, especially about being more well-off than others in my neighborhood or immediate vicinity, well, that was quickly quelled by the same well-wishing entourage of loved ones with the logic that “they” were poor and not to be offered any sympathy because if you showed them kindness, they would take you for a ride. Perhaps of equal portions ironic denial was the fact that at least one side of family that I came from was very officially part of the lower castes in the Indian Caste System, but that was obviously before mobility of labor enabled international job opportunities to raise themselves above the associated level of financial near-nothingness. It was a strange sort of instruction, to be told to feel selectively sorry for people, and to also be introduced to the fact that those who excelled in exhibiting a certain kind of appearance were themselves deceptively concealing about their truth. 

Another kind of guilt, one that is still attempted at being driven into my apparently impervious skull, is that of age, and according the proper respect. In our household, somehow precariously poised on Western Philosophies with the trappings of Eastern (read “Malayalee) Culture, showing the required level of respect in thought, speech, action, and all things behavioral was a gigantic deal. I don’t seem to be able to shake images of being forced to serve guests who visited us at home tea and snacks, at the age of four onwards, struggling to balance the weight of the laden tray and my own tiny self in relation to it, remembering to serve “Uncle” before “Aunty”, who would then be followed by their “Children”, unless of course the kids were of much younger age, in which case they were to be served first, but only if there was no one older in the group, like a “Grandparent”, where the prudent thing to do was to serve them first, but again, “Grandfather” followed by “Grandmother”, and never to forget that this was to be observed in order of “Uncles’ Parents” before “Aunty’s Parents”, should this be the case, unless… Pretty hard for a child to keep a track of, you will admit, especially when all he wants to do is anything but this, or at least, play with the visiting “Children” his age. What certainly added to the tension was knowing that while I was making my way across the carpeted floor, attempting my own world record attempt at weight lifting and serving guests at the same time, crisscrossing between them to maintain serving order in terms of age, determined much like movie credits that begin with the line “In Order of Appearance”, my mother’s hawkish gaze was just waiting for me to screw up, so that upon my return to the kitchen, she would discipline me and let me know that I had done wrong and let everyone down. This last part was a double whammy that I had much difficulty getting over, each and every time, because it burdened me with the overwhelming guilt of letting the team down. I honestly do not believe that I had to deal with such a thing at that age, and among other things, it was one of the things that I am strangely grateful for because it transformed my generally curious “Why” into a resentment, one that allowed me to persist in identifying all of the gaps of my culture, which as anyone will agree, there are many of, no matter which culture, even the most benign in appearance.

 See, I am all for respect for age, because if nothing else, surviving longer than other people is a matter of appraising acknowledgement. That is why we celebrate birthdays, is it not? However, in my life, I have come across more than enough people of age who were stupid, or to put it more politely, seemed to exhibit a level of intelligence that was significantly lower than the average, prevailing level of intelligence. I have met them in my personal life, and my professional life. At the same time, however, I have met plenty of people younger than me who exhibit a wonderfully advanced level of thinking, and before you start thinking this is a bias towards technological knowledge, it is not. I have had the good fortune of coming across people far younger than myself who have shown great vision in having ideas to aid the human condition, putting themselves on this path of persevering against all odds, because this is what they believe their purpose to be. Interactions with people like this have opened my eyes to the possibility that age has nothing to do with things like wisdom, as we seem to understand and glorify it. It is entirely possible to look to generations yet to take the reins of our civilization-in-decline for the necessary answers. The problem seems to be that those who are older, and therefore “know”, seem hell-bent on reinforcing the fact that those who have not been around as long as them have no idea of what life is like, and are therefore not qualified to participate in any attempts at its betterment. So much for listening actively to each other…

Perhaps one of the biggest and most nebulous types of guilt, or at least the source of a lot of misery, was the guilt of having the family, in whatever permutation and combination of the “Mother’s” and “Father’s” sides of this entity, and certainly the associated sides that were once, twice, three times removed, or more, God forbid, experience any amount of “loss of face”, no matter how miniscule. Now, I use the word “nebulous” for a variety of reasons. First, the sheer number of individuals who make up this nameless, faceless blob whose every honor must be kept intact, is enormous and impossible to define. Think about all the personalities, character traits, tendencies, proclivities, general thought processes and chemical imbalances, etc. that have to be taken into account. There is no way such an indefinable mass could be dealt with in any rational manner, especially when it comes to something like causing offence due to potential misperception, in the average, most common case scenario. Second, though most of the people in the “family” were of the same ethnicity and religious background, the sheer variety of levels of existence, ranging from “absolutely Malayalee” to “New-age Global Desi” is impossible to categorize in any legitimate manner. There were those with super religious beliefs, who visited the nearby temple every day, but at the same time, embraced a modern fusion of lifestyle in such things as diet and apparel choices. At the same time, there were those who, while not proclaimed atheists, were very fond of attempting to learn and pass on the “traditional ways”, because they valued the simplicity and harmony with the environment that these practices encouraged. Pretty hard to figure out how not to offend all, some, or anyone really, and we have not even gotten to the next variety of reason yet. Third, even if you accepted this as a reality of your life, and the fact that it would deal with everything, absolutely everything in your life, it was always rudely shocking to discover that your “everything” did not account for a particular way in which someone in the family is now offended, and this could crop up as often as it liked. I don’t want to make it sound like a minefield of an existence, but I will say that for someone like me, who hardly took a risk, certainly not when I was younger, always trying to not offend at the very least, it still got a bit much from time to time. Another way in which I have managed to gauge this is by attempting to introduce friends of mine from different cultures and places around the world, to my way of life, either by having them visit, or by inviting them over for some gathering that has members of the family, and I have always gotten responses that indicated to me the fact that they felt a little stifled by all the apparent rules, especially the unwritten ones.

Come by for Lunch… 

To give you an example, say you come over for lunch. It should be a simple show up a little earlier, make polite conversation, have lunch, compliment the food, the chef, the hosts for the experience and opportunity, make a return invitation, say thank you, and leave, right? Not exactly. When you do show up, it’s nice to have a gift, but you have to make sure it’s a general gift, and as such, it must be accessible to all, which is to say, you can’t show up with a box of chocolates, because there may be those who are diabetic, and you don’t want to show up with sugar-free stuff, because the kids won’t like it, and they are not going to see a gift of candy and not want some piece of the action, so you will have to show up with chocolate just for them too. Or maybe you want to try fruits. Do you pick up a fruit basket kind of assortment? What if not everyone gets enough of everything? Will they like the fruits in the assortment? What if they do not like any of it? Should you show up with lots of only one kind of fruit? What if you guess wrong and show up with something that they do not like, or worse, grows in their backyard? Wine? What?!?!? Toys? No. Magazines? Nope. Gift certificates at their favorite bookstore so they can get what they want? Not going to happen, mostly because this would apply to only a very few people, and even then, the “right amount” is always a huge cause for concern on the part of the giver. 

When you decide on what to bring, and show up with perfect timing, be prepared to indulge in some snack before lunch. You may not refuse the snack if one is offered to you. If a snack, or at least a beverage is not offered to you, please do not make the mistake of asking for something, or worse, asking what time lunch will be served. This is a good opportunity to find out what else is in store for you, like say, finding out who will not be joining you for lunch even though they are present, because they like to stick to their way of doing things and have lunch in their rooms, or somewhere other than where everyone else eats their meals. Also, and you are welcome to politely refuse in most cases, a predetermined amount of entertainment will be thrust upon you, from the latest album of family events, to the headlines and a news roundup of at least the last few months, domestic and international, or just plain “Let’s see what’s on TV”. Speaking of TV, be very careful and attentive about whether or not the TV was on when you arrived, or if they switched it on after you arrived. In the case of the latter, you may, should you feel the urgent and unavoidable need, request a change of channel to something more suited to you. Be warned, however, that this could easily be perceived as your being inconsiderate of the viewing preferences of everyone else, it does not matter if you just met them. Now, if the TV was on when you came in, then by all means, do not, I repeat, do not even think of making a suggestion for a channel to watch! This is very much the case if there is an older relative and member of the household who is glued to the set, whereby any request for channel change will be an immediate sign of disrespect, first, of the preference of the older person in question, second, by virtue of the older person’s age, third, by taking “make yourself at home” literally, etc. And we have not even gotten down to eating lunch! 

When you do sit down to eat, the whole eating with cutlery versus eating with your hands debate has different leanings in different households. From personal experience, asking for a spoon to eat my rice at lunch still gets me comments like “Just stepped off the ship”, a reference to the British and using their ways to consume my meal. You’d be surprised to learn that I was related to these people, so imagine the scorn, never in-person of course, but certainly after the fact, that an unsuspecting guest who had nothing to do with the family, would be subjected to. Now that you are eating lunch, what if you do not like something that you have been served. Wait, what if you have a “dietary preference”, or worse, a “condition” that prohibits you from eating something…something that is on the table, but which you are going to have to refuse. What then? I hope you are carrying a gun, because at this point, you are going to want to unsheathe it, hold it up to your head, point it between your eyes as if you were trying to look down the barrel with both eyes, and pull the trigger. Yes, numerous apologies will be heaped upon you, most profusely, of that you can be sure, for not having looked into your dietary restrictions earlier. And if I’m there, well, I can tell you that it would be my fault for not letting them know, even if I didn’t know myself. But, just wait until you leave, because that is when the post mortem analysis and character evaluation happens. Let us assume, for the sake of this example not getting any worse, that everything until this point was satisfactory, and that you have completed your lunch. You ate to your heart’s content, and everything was just perfect. 

Now that you have eaten, however, how long do you need to stay back so that it will not seem insulting to think you only showed up for the food? Fifteen minutes? An hour? What if they see you yawning a little during your after-lunch conversation and ask you to have a siesta in the guest bedroom? Do you accept? Do you insist on leaving? Will it be rude to not accept? Or are you afraid that it may be an invitation to something else, like say, progressive levels of becoming, in some way, “part of the family”? You know, first lunch, then a snooze, then maybe hanging out socially in a public location, and then the introduction as “A friend of mine” or a “A friend of ours”, Donnie Brasco style, to show the ultimate level of acceptance publicly, with “family” protection to boot! What if you had something to do after lunch, and that need was rather urgent? What then? Would you excuse yourself a few minutes after finishing your meal? Would you have told them in advance, like as soon as you showed up? You think that would help? Even though you may be the guest, if you are a person who is younger than the host is, then you have no idea what you are talking about. That is their way of saying that you have no say in the outcome of this invitation for lunch, not even perhaps, in the overall duration of this meal, which could easily span eight hours, if you are not careful. That is like going to work, except the entire day was just one giant lunch break. So, are you trapped? Are you at the mercy of your host? Honestly? From personal experience again, and only for those not faint of heart, or frail of mind, you can guarantee yourself a good time no matter who or what, if you pay no heed to what impression you care to create that is outside of how you perceive yourself, and are comfortable with this perception, of course. Being yourself and not giving a damn about the consequences, perhaps even having to get up and say that you are unable to participate if things get any more stifling than they currently are, while it won’t earn you any points with the hosts, will certainly leave without having to be in the midst of such polluting energy, and have to process it for however long thereafter.

If lunch is this difficult, by invitation, mind you, then imagine what day-to-day living can be like. If you were able to discern who or what you would be offending, at any stage in the meal, or the lead up to it, or after you were done, then please let me know. To me, it was always a case of not doing anything, save for breathing, but this also not too loudly, or in any way that would invite a derisive comment in acknowledgement of it, until I was asked to do something. It was the only way to be, but obviously, this led to the notion that I was either being difficult, or was totally uninterested in what it meant to be part of the family.  

Living with Guilt

Extrication was the only option. Now, I’m not going to claim any success by exercising this option, mostly because I am still, very much, in the grasp of trying to figure out my own path forward, without having to bear the burden of any other group of people, let alone one other person trying to sell me a version for a more stable existence, wrenched from the very same imperfect set of lives in decay I’ve witnessed for all of my life so far. Sure, there have been some positive examples, but most of the versions I admire have been found only in works of fiction. I chose to not live with the burden of guilt, guilt that I felt was unnecessarily being carried around, like a bag of pennies, weighing us down a little more each day, as we find more pennies to add to the bag. Much like pennies, while the overall dimensions of the bag are easily visible to all, all those to whom we readily flash our problems at, lamenting that nothing ever changes while in the process of doing so, but in the end, they are useless unless converted to more manageable forms of the same currency, so as to be used positively, to purchase forgiveness or a return to reason, as opposed to the individual isolation of being always wronged, but never willing to approach the light ourselves.

All my life I have seen the effects of guilt, and the damage it causes people. I too have allowed myself to be party to this, for no other reason than not knowing any better before I knew better, and even then, for acting out of spite and blaming it on force of habit even though I knew better later on in my life. It is funny the things we excuse as tendency, knowing full well that being on the receiving end is not pleasant, and more importantly, that nothing positive results from it. Things I’ve seen and been a part of are, and before you start thinking of huge, criminal offences that are prosecutable by law, things of the nature of, letting my bad mood cause me to overreact to a situation, and not being willing to apologize thereafter because of the sting to the ego. Or, attempting tough love, but being unnecessarily cold and cruel in its implementation, so much so that when someone points it out to you, you let your frustration that you got it wrong in the first place, coupled with the fact that the overall aim of the exercise failed badly enough to warrant an external comment at all, and then you can’t apologize or even attempt reconciliation. Too much guilt is not dealt with directly, with most of the causes for everyday guilt being swept under the rug, or excused away as how things have always been done, or any other excuse about status quo being unchangeable, either at a given moment, or generally so. 

For me, the antidote seems to be honesty. There are many things I have done in my life, or even thought perhaps, that I should not have, not in any detrimental way to a person, situation or thing, but in general, the kinds of crazy thoughts that flit in and out of consciousness as our brains process stimuli and experiences that come flying at it from every direction. It is not easy being honest, even as imagined in any altruistic sense, mostly because it comes closer to guaranteeing detriment at the hands of those who choose to not be so. To be sure, absolute honesty is a fallacy, and to be living in this manner is tantamount to quelling one’s survival instinct through intense practice of meditation, and the acceptance that we are in no way or form, owners of anything, including our bodies, and our spirits, which must one day return to the ultimate, cosmic soul. For the average human being, such enlightenment is too far outside of the realm of the achievable, but even in the case of this classification of individuals, those who live by the ideal of honesty usually end up having tough lives, that seem to require more detailed explanation about why they cannot just do what everyone else is doing, and enjoy themselves a bit more. It is a sacrifice that well and truly may not be worth it. But, it is a response to something, certainly something larger than the self, or the community, or even the planet itself. It is recognition of the fact that understanding and acceptance of our actions, whatever the intended outcome, is key to living a conscious life, which in and of itself offers you nothing to look forward to, until you are able to find it for yourself. Anything other than this is just cause for following imperfect paths, trod on for generations, and resulting in the same repeated pain and misery. This is what I have come to understand, and now that I am accepting it more in my life, I see the need to live differently than I have thus far. No, I am not going to strip down to a loincloth and go off screaming into the jungle, swinging from vine to vine. I am not even going to change my name or appearance to indicate this shift. It is just going to be a case of exploring life with a newly endowed vision. At least that is what I am going to call it.

At the end of it all, the guilt I was forced to experience taught me, and seriously urged me to find a better way to exist. I have attempted to garner support for this, particularly when it comes to indicating to the people I see torturing themselves, that there is another way to be. But, I have found few takers since that time, and I am myself further refining my knowledge of and thereafter implementing the same in practice in my life, one step at a time. And yes, it is very slow going, and can be extremely frustrating at times. But this too is part of the learning, I believe. And so, while guilt is certainly a tool that is wielded with varying degrees of expertise by those who care to do so, I have come to a different realization because of it, and am much gladder for it. Is there an end to guilt? Only if we want there to be, seems to be what I have come up with, thus far…