The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Life Ties

Atrophied by inability to receive love
Taru Bahl

ISHER was the only child of his parents. From day one he was tossed from one parent to the other, with each trying to assert his supremacy over him. If the mother kept a hawk’s eye on him, not allowing other family members to affectionately bond with him, lest he get closer to them, the father had his own agenda. He had to be as good an athlete, squash player, trekker and musician. What complicated the parenting process were in-built tensions between the parents. While the differences did not affect the relationship per se’ but there was an obsessive hold on the child, as if to prove a point to themselves. Both wanted to be the best in the growing child’s eyes. It seemed as if their sense of self-worth hinged on the grading the child would award them on their certificates of merit.

Isher sensed the underlying currents. Being an only child made things easier. He could manipulate both parents to get exactly what he wanted.

He did not have to share any of his goodies with the others, not even his cousins, especially since his mother silently encouraged him to fend only for himself. Messages like, "don’t trust anybody, not even your best friend, for you do not know who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing" or "I have told your cousin sisters not to tie rakhi to you because I want to save you from a lifelong liability" or "always see what is to your advantage and do what makes you happy" shaped his thought processes and personality in the formative years. Further, because of the strained marital relations there was hardly any social interaction in their household. Guests and relatives were unwelcome, functions and celebrations were a formality and their own holidays/outings were minimum. Instead what suited them was to give the growing boy a handsome pocket allowance and take pride in his being sociable.


This led to a situation where although Isher excelled in sports and extracurricular activities he was uncomfortable in forging intimate ties. His friendships were more of the buddy kind and less of the soul-mate variety. He was comfortable in a crowd playing the fool or doing what the others did but shied away from intimacy. It frightened him, besides that was one area he felt inadequate and unsure of how to react. This turned into a low emotional intelligence quotient. Ironically, he could do an excellent job of reproducing exact minutes of a volatile inconclusive board meeting and create the most attractively worded brochure for a client’s sales pitch he was at a complete loss when it came to writing a condolence note to a friend whose father had passed away or a congratulation letter to his sister who had delivered a baby.

Since there were always others to plug those gaps, do the things he couldn’t or was unable to do, he did not realise there was anything the matter with him. The sustenance which comes from an emotionally fulfilling relationship could never be experienced by him which is perhaps why he never understood its significance. His dependence on people was more for physical things which he misconstrued to be love. The feelings which are associated with genuine love – unconditional loving, acceptance, forgiveness, giving, surrendering of ego boundaries and faith did not get fully registered in his sub conscious mind. He grew up to take the very people he loved for granted. While his admirers saw him as a driven achiever and his critics as an overbearing, self-centred, ambition-driven maniac, those who loved him the most were left to nurse an unending stream of hurts which he kept piling onto them.

He never learnt to shoulder responsibility. Although he could take the burden of running a business empire, taking decisions favouring his company and negotiating the best deals for them when it came to making provisions for his family or playing the role of husband, father or son he did not have time to examine his behaviour, to see what the standard accepted norms were and to ever consider apologising or making up for any shortfall. As a result, parallel to his success at the workplace, his graph in terms of arrogance, inconsideration and being self-willed registered the same upward movement. His wife, a meek and submissive person took to what came easier to her – covering up for his irresponsibilities, stretching herself to playing not just the role of the wife, mother and daughter – in- law but also husband, father, son and brother in the family. She was a convenient punching bag/messenger for everyone who wanted access to Isher.

After 25 years, when the time came to send the elder child overseas to study, she announced her decision of leaving him. She had already talked to their son and she had felt the time had come for her to move on, where even she did not know. This was a bolt out of the blue. Isher had never imagined this scenario. He knew he had not been the perfect husband, he had been too busy to seriously focus on either bringing up his son or in helping his good-natured wife in easing her domestic burden. But then had he not done the next best thing – made available to her an entire support system of servants, drivers, peons and helpers ? Had he not provided her with enough money to do and invest in all that she felt was okay ? Had he ever stopped her from having a social life of her own? Had he like other husbands ever monitored who she talked to, where she went, what she did ? That was another matter that she had never given him a chance to question any of that, being completely house and duty bound as she was.

So, then why this talk of leaving him? It just did not make sense. When she tried telling him that there had been signals, she had tried telling him that she was unhappy, that there was a vacuum in her life, that things needed addressing for she couldn’t go on with the way things were, he had never wanted to see. He had always presumed that she would be there, that her occasional whining would end after it ran its course. The thought that he would have to make any changes in his lifestyle, in the way he had lived all these years was unacceptable. His ego did not allow him to plead with her to stay, nor did his inner voice embolden him to agree to an across-the-table discussion where they could work at resolving issues that caused dissonance between them. His only feeling at that time was that she was destroying him and that she could not do it. However, her parting shot to him was, "I was like a comfortable shoe which served you loyally for 25 years, never pinching or giving you a corn/sore. You never realised how important it was in keeping you in good shape as you darted from one place to another. Now that shoe is worn out and out of shape, it will pinch you, until you get a new one or give this a complete overhaul. Repairing a shoe which has not seen a cobbler for 25 years will need a master restorer’s hand. I wish you luck, for your own good, that you get yourself a shoe that fits, is comfortable and lasts."

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