Tag Archives: Cynicism

A Pizza Slice Of Kindness

I was watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I know it’s the kind of story that a lot of us sophisticated types turn up our noses at and say “First World problems”. It’s also a story that made me hungry. How wonderful that the first raw mangoes of summer are here and I had one to accompany my sambar rice!

What struck me is the absolute absence of kindness, the hardness of our reactions. How can any one of us possibly measure what pain means to another? Who can truly determine which problems are bigger than others?

A successful white woman in an unhappy marriage versus an orphaned brown child in a war-ravaged country. Yes, I know it seems like there’s an obvious answer to whose problems are worse. Is there? Testicular cancer versus breast cancer. Arthritis versus colic pain. Diabetes versus malnourishment. An abusive partner versus a beloved partner who dies young. Our own problems are always the biggest to us.

I am learning a lesson of empathy.

If I were the chief minister of a state, I might have to make a decision between using my limited funds to either build better transportation in the cities or send relief to drought-striken villages. I can imagine I would have to weigh one problem against another and decide which one merited more time and money. But empathy is not a finite resource. It grows the more you practise it.

I know the real reason we don’t want to be kind. It’s not because we have so little of it to give. It’s because being kind means giving up the chance to blame the other person and play victim.

I thought about my ex. There is so much pain in this memory. But then, there is also sweetness when I let myself acknowledge that. Our relationship began with kindness. At some point of time, we forgot that and we became people who competed with each other. Kindness was lost in our mutual me-firsts and love went down the drain. We haven’t changed. All the things about him that touched me are still true. It is also true that he was cruel and cold and it was unfair. These two ways of making me feel, can exist together in the same person and the same world. Acknowledging this, is my act of being empathetic to myself. How often do we do this for ourselves? I know we don’t. We scream our hurt and we disguise our love. Or the other way round. But we rarely acknowledge and honour either one. Well, I’m doing that now.

I won’t take the self-help angle of give empathy in order to receive empathy. Karma is not a business transaction. This is about how lightly you tread, how smoothly you move through life. I know a lot of people will not be kind back. Many laugh. And a lot of people in the kind of hardbitten, cynical city life I live, may even try to hurt me.

But I think I’ve stumbled onto something here. I’ve survived deaths of family, friends and colleagues. I’ve survived abuse and rape. I’ve survived politicking and three recessions. These are not experiences I treasure so why would I want to put them up on a pedestal and determine my life by them? There is a lightness in not knowing, not remembering, not worrying. And I would rather look forward to a life that’s a feast, a carnival, a haven, not one that’s a battlefield. Empathy makes all of the first possible, cynicism makes the last.

171Exactly a month ago I wrote about the desperation of feeling nothing. I was sinking into the quicksand of what my life was then. A month before that I sliced my deepest emotions with a scalpel of resignation. This past month, I’ve cried a lot, broken out in acne, fallen sick five of these weeks and had a baffling period. I have lost two close friendships. A goodbye I’ve been ignoring and dreading is here. I have also met someone I like. I’ve been taking a lot of walks. I’ve been to the sea more often than I have in two years. And look at how much I’ve written in this time. Something is shifting, something is giving. Something definitely is happening.

And from what I thought was ennui, something new is coming. Maybe tomorrow I will have pizza.

Falling Off The Swing

I see boredom in my eyes. Weariness. Wariness. Cynicism. An unwillingness to believe that there can be more or better or nicer or greater. This is a different sort of fear.

Does a playground stop being fun
when you fall off the swing enough times
and realise
that it won’t kill you?

Still waiting.


Two missed calls,
The first unwelcome, the second uncalled for,
An email, anticipated but that I hoped wouldn’t come,
A statement out of context, ill-timed.

Surprises, like land-mines, litter my day.

Movie: Turning Thirty

I saw the movie yesterday, five days after it was released and at the unlikely time of 3:30 p.m. It felt sort of appropriate considering that the movie seemed to showcase the absolute freedom of the urban Indian woman.

The movie was strictly okay. The songs made me cringe, especially the one just following the opening scene with its done-over-to-the-point-of-nausea ‘couple in a convertible’ picturisation. It also felt a little too Sex and the City in a desi setting. And yet, I didn’t walk out of the theatre. I guess, it’s not the kind of movie I’d take someone on a date to, not one that I’d want to watch with my parents and not one I’d arrange a weekend plan around. But it is the kind of movie that I wouldn’t mind catching on an unexpected free weekday afternoon, by myself just like I did.

I don’t think the problem was the story itself, even if I did overhear a guy tell another, “It should have had a board saying Only For High Profile Women”. That just strikes me as typical Indian male horse-blinkeredness. We do drink and cuss. We are ambitious, ruthless, confused and non-comittal. And yes, casual sex, sex-without-feelings, revenge sex, premarital sex, illicit sex, gay sex…all of these things and more are a realistic part of our lives. Maybe this describes only one kind of Indian woman but that kind definitely exists, and not just in the high society pages.

But I thought the dialogues and the acting left much to be desired. It wasn’t like anybody was wooden. But the theme was fairly complex and new in the purview of Indian cinema. None of the actors really seemed convincing. They just looked…awkward. Except for Tilottama Shome (remember Alice from Monsoon Wedding?) who I thought carried every moment of even her very limited footage with ease.

Something struck me only towards the end and I don’t know if the makers even intended this. Naina, the protagonist faces the standard issues that one would expect from this movie – break-up, heartbreak, parental pressure to get married, societal perceptions towards ageing. But the one subtle issue that underlies the story and the only one that really satisfactorily reaches resolution, both in the situation and in her mind, is her career.

It got me thinking. The world has always struggled with integrating women and ambition. The generation before ours had jobs and within overwhelming barriers like lower pay, stereotyped roles and automatic prioritizing of family over career. My generation has careers but still within standard norms of what will impress the marriage market, what will be conducive to the partner’s own career and eventually, motherhood. Even today, it’s hard for us to admit that we worry about our jobs, employability and career path as much as, if not more than the way our relationships are going.

The boy often points out how hard and cynical I am about many things about my past. It stands out that he seems a tad more understanding about my bitterness over failed relationships than he does about my dashed hopes at the workplace. But maybe that’s not the typical male dismissal of my ambition, as I’d like to think. It is possible, just a wee bit at least, that I’m more bothered by the lows of my career than my love life.

This is not to say that I’ve loved any less or that my relationships mattered less to me than my career. But when I look back, I’ve more or less made my peace with the relationship failures, even the ones that were disasters. I’ve been able to do so by finally accepting that people, emotions and relationships are uncontrollable and that there’s no logic or rules or framework to follow. They happen and if they happen well, I count myself as lucky.

Career on the other hand, seems a lot more logical and structured, which means my expectations are nearly higher. Pettiness, politicking, theft, sabotage are each more difficult to forgive (and impossible to forget) when it comes to my workplace. And whether this is actually true or not, my expectations are still that I’d be able to right such wrongs or seek justice in some manner, when it pertains to work-related issues.

The same obviously doesn’t hold for relationships. Leading someone on, cheating, stealing another woman’s boyfriend and lying are not crimes punishable by law. And hence, my only hope for resolution is to accept and move on.

I’m heartened to note that popular culture (even it if is a somewhat offbeat movie like this one) portraying such issues. Pop culture does reflect how we are, how we think and how we behave, after all.

My favorite words in the movie were in the very last scene.

“Turning thirty is something I learnt to accept and appreciate only after I turned thirty-one.”

That means a helluva lot more than I can say. I’m tiptoeing towards the end of my 31 and I’m still learning to articulate what the big three-O has brought into my life.

Thoughtless Youth. Cynical Age.
Unsure Youth. Insecure Age.

Yet the ‘twain shall meet.

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