A prairie dog whistles to warn others of a hawk attack, so the hawk swoops straight down to eat the whistler. A mommy bear protects her cubs from predators risking her own life. This is an example of a concept that seems to be working against natural selection, called altruism.
Altruistic acts are considered acts of self-sacrifice, and therefore, they are generally regarded as the opposite of self-interested acts. In other words, its opposite of being selfish.
I first came across this word, ‘altruism’ while reading a book called, “The Virtue Of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand. Although I didn’t agree to most of her philosophies when I read the book ten years back, today, few do make sense. Whatever the moralists can disagree about, they will agree on few arguments I am putting forward.
Why is it that a son, who shifts to a different country to pursue his dreams, becomes the one who ‘abandoned’ his parents? Why is an ideal mother is always pictured as the one who has stays home and sacrifices her career to nurture her family? Why is a father considered great when he spends only on his family and not himself.
People’s moral judgments are often driven by emotion and like the emotions, well that changes a lot.. with convenience !! Aristotle, did not consider ethics and values to be an exact science. He based the ethics on observations and consequences of the choices we make.
Ethics is a code of values that guide a man’s choices. There are always alternatives to choose from. When the motivation to make a choice is based on self interest, it is usually termed as ‘selfishness’.
The girl, renounces her parent’s house and title because she has accepted that as a moral duty. She believes that that is what she is supposed to do. The boy, chose his goals to exist as a productive being. The mother, stepped out of the house, with a heart full of love for her child. The father wished to have a life, according to his taste. All those choices did not make them selfish, because the choice was made under the guidance of reason that don’t clash with the greater good.
People try and live two lives. One is a mock version where they try to please others, want a huge gang of followers and friends. Later in life, comes a time where they learn to value themselves and their relationships. They finally identify that in order to give more to the world they need to have more inside of them–knowledge, experience, insight, love, wealth etc. And the more they look after themselves, the more they can contribute to the world.
To untangle this moral dilemma I believe that self-love is simply forgiving yourself for the past, being present and grateful for who you are today, and being optimistic for your future. The past choices should be considered a lesson and less of a regret.
“Being Cool is being your own self,not doing something that someone else is telling you to do.”
I read this quote in a magazine long back. Yes, the time when social media and meme culture did not exist and hence the magazines. I belong to the time where we loved Bryan Adam’s summers, Shakira’s hips never lied and Enrique was our ‘hero’. We listened to sad and broken women singing barely comprehensible words about flashlights and feeling their way around in the dark. Then there were these quintessential bad boys with jeans so low, their behinds would advertise their underwear brand. And of course, the accompanying finger show was cemented as a part of our cultural lexicon. All that because everyone wanted to be cool.
The most popular teens weren’t usually the ones with well adjusted personalities, kind natures, and sensible life goals. They were the ones partying too much and making others feel bad about themselves. Adolescence can mean facing the emotional challenges of adults for the first time. Due to higher testosterone, they use their prefrontal cortex to rein in their emotions. Then there is a pea sized insula, tucked away in the cerebral cortex, which is partly responsible for all the seemingly disparate things because it facilitates our concept of self-awareness, the awareness of our bodies and emotions and the desire. It lights up when they are compelled to accept any changes around them. It gives them a high when, they are famous (even infamous) or are loved by their peers and when juniors look up to them. At that age, they love to imagine that they are in control. But more often than not…the changing chemical composition of their brains control them.
There was an incident that took place when I was in high school. My parents and I were invited by a family, whose son was a senior in my school. I met his parents and his grandmother. My first instinct was to touch the grandmother’s feet, because that’s what my parents have taught me all my life. The next day, I was the laughing stock of the school because touching the feet of elders wasn’t cool unless you were trying to impress the boy!!! This shook the very core of my belief. Very soon, I was termed a ‘nerd’ and ‘behenji’ in the school. I felt miserable for a while. When I look back to the time, I realise, there were just a few children, who liked being rude and others some how appreciated it and tried to emulate the same kind of behaviour.
The world is full of disappointments, and sometimes people let you down. You can’t just run away. But still, many of us are permanently scarred by the experiences of our adolescence. There are little girls whom I know were bullied for their speech and avoided school for a long time. Just think of all the people you see on social media desperately trying to come across as the most popular. I have come across some college children, who gang up against smaller groups of students who speak a different language or belong to a different state and, find it very cool because it somehow makes them feel superior.
Vulnerability isn’t the opposite of strength. It’s a necessary part. We have to force ourselves to open up, to expose ourselves and stand up for the right. Some people are bullied for being dark skinned or being overweight, judged for not having a sense of humour etc. What is cool and what is uncool, is a perception of our mind. Too often, people stand by and do nothing for the people who suffer and I think, it’s time we change that. I have often heard people say “This is how it is” or “Who cares?”. It has become easy for everyone to accept and succumb to despair and readily accept what is wrong. Since when is it OK to be rude or OK to laugh at someone for their problems? It only becomes “not ok” when it happens to themselves.. Why? Just because, “Kyunki main meri favourite hoon?”.
For many, there comes a tumultuous time when their appearance,emotions, failure become such a bane of their existence. Let such talks stop.. Let’s be kind.. Let’s love more, appreciate more and accept more. Because there are no insults that are bizzarrely hilarious.
After Mukul left, the room was painfully silent except for the sound of my beating heart. He left me with words that kept wandering in my head. In the weekend, with not much to do at home, I kept thinking about the last few weeks of knowing him, spending time with him and figuring out this guy, who was so adamant to reboot my heart. We never spent any time alone. Every evening our little gang would go to the park and sit on the those wet muddy benches and just talk. Looking at the bamboo trees shining in the evening glow, we all had chai, served by a withered and ragged woman, in her rusty kettle with a half broken spout. She could scare all the notorious children in the park. Those little spaces in time created by teatime rituals were filled with conversation about our lives, dreams and ambitions.
Anger is the mother of all sins. It not only eats away the real you, but effects the people around us too. I was angry. I was angry all the time. I was angry at God, angry at him for breaking my heart and most of all, I was angry at myself. Now, I was not a “typical girl” if there even is such a thing. I loved myself. Sure, there were things I wanted to improve, but I didn’t have a problem with what my body looked like or my personality. I was focused. But then I found myself lost in a long trench. I would ask myself, “For a guy?”. It did take time, but then I was prepared to cautiously pull myself up.
Sunday afternoon, I had a very good time with my family. I kept playing scenes in my head about the next day. I envisioned myself making an impassioned speech to Mukul about how my emotions were messy and I had tucked it in the bottom like my least favourite shirt. I had no idea, the rack, was soon going to stumble. I also thought of the speech I would give Varun when I see him in Pune. I wanted to tell him, that he was not going to get away with stumbling over my pride and crushing my spirits. For a long time, after the fight, he asked for my forgiveness.
There is no calendar to define an old end or to mark a new beginning. There are big or small events that give us hope. What’s more important is that, we should stop looking for our beginnings and happy endings. We usually let go. But amid all the crap, there are certain things that are worth holding on to. I remembered one beautiful evening, as we walked through the park with our Chai, a light drizzle began to fall. I pulled out an umbrella from my bag and Mukul pulled up his hood and hunched his shoulders. The cream coloured hood was stained with Chai and his brylcreemed hair was a mess. But he still looked flawless with all the gentleness in his eyes. We all walked to kaku’s cafe to finish our daily dose of chit chats. “ Do you ever wonder why things have to turn out the way they do?” He suddenly asked gave a big smile and answered his own question before I could say anything. “Because its all destined. It was destiny, that I found you.” Was I so naive to understand his feelings that day !! I cannot adequately describe the intensity of what I was feeling at that moment.
Next morning, I was all prepared to talk to him. I needed a reason. I needed a sign that things will be okay! I just needed something to happen. As I reached work, it was all a big mess. There was no time to sit and talk. The event was in 15 days and everyone were working day and night. So was Mukul. I saw the excitement in his face. This project could make or break his career. I only had 8 more days to get all my work done before leaving for Pune. Mukul was mostly out meeting the sponsors and I was stuck at my desk, busy writing speeches for everyone. But a few times we crossed path and when he saw me, I blushed like an idiot. I don’t know if actually things were this crazy, or I just made it to seem that way. I was scared. May be this was the sign. Two days left for me to go to Mumbai and Pune, and yet there was no talk. After careful consideration and many sleepless nights, here’s what I decided to do.., I called Varun. He picked up the call and said “Hi”, with a dandy voice. Few months back, all my calls went unanswered because apparently he was always in the library.
I said, very firmly, “I am coming to Mumbai in three days for a meeting”. There was a complete silence for a while. “Can we meet?” , I could sense an inquisitiveness in his voice. “Sure” I said. “I have to leave for Pune, as soon as I land in Mumbai. The first meeting is scheduled in Pune.” I informed him my plans and I made sure he knew, there was not much time in my hand. He interrupted me saying, “I will be there in the Mumbai airport. We can travel to Pune together. We can talk in the bus. I can get all the college forms you wanted.” I agreed to the plan and I kept the phone down.
The last morning before leaving, I saw Mukul through the glass door of the conference room. He looked better than I remembered and I remembered him a lot in the last few days. He was sitting alone so I went in. I gathered all the courage my heart could possibly hold and said, “I am leaving tomorrow evening”. He looked up straight into my eyes and there was no talking. He got up and walked towards me. I wanted to tell him my thoughts, but the sound of his voice suddenly silenced the emotions inside me. “You are not going anywhere. This is where you belong..!.” He held my hands close to his chest. “I know you are scared. Listen to your heart. This is a small battle, before you go in, better decide how much you’re willing to lose. Go there, take your time and I promise you will always find me next to you.” Well, he lied.. Eventually, he did leave me alone, even after I won the battle. I lost him to an illness and the void still exists.
I have always been ambitious. I tried my hand at everything. But writing, held a special place in my heart. My father encouraged me at every point possible. In the summer of 2006, I got an unpaid internship in a fashion magazine as an assistant of a senior journalist. Although fashion was the last thing I was ever interested in, it seemed like an amazing opportunity. My first day, I was much before time. As I walked through those long corridors of this office, I couldn’t stop looking at those huge modern art paintings hung along the walls with a very fancy ‘M’ scrawled at the left bottom corner. It was like the colours rebelled and changed hues every day, every moment, but they sparkled with an emotion I could barely understand.
Amidst this artistic and full of fashion drama, I remember feeling confident but clueless at the same time in first few weeks. As the days passed by, I learnt a great deal and made amazing friends. I didn’t think of him in last few weeks. My work was a best escape from all of my emotions and by now, I knew how to limit his presence. I knew he was doing ok in Pune. At least I was..
One of the days, I came in for work early. “Oh! Is this is the one?” I heard a laughter followed by these words, that annoyed me a little. I turned around to look. There he was, a tall dark haired guy sitting on the reception desk and surrounded with my friends wearing baggy low waist jeans and dirty looking sneakers. I realised they were discussing about the intern who didn’t know about Rituparna Sengupta, a famous Bengali Actress of that time. Yes, it was me.
As he walked towards me, my gaze was pinned to his widening eyes, curious as to how many tints of brown he could identify. “Hi. Welcome to this place. I am Mukul.” I smiled and introduced myself. “Aren’t you too young to work. Don’t you have a life, or friends!” He asked. “I like my life, I love to learn new things. What is so wrong about it”. For a long time he said nothing. He kept as still as a stone. When at last he began to speak, it sounded almost as though he were singing, “Ok. Lets go for chai”.
My friends and I went to this small newly renovated cafe across the road. The walls looked old inspite of the fresh coat of lilac paint. Every table, spoke of love, with all the scratches it had borne over the years. ‘Manju loves Rohit’, ‘Rana is the King’ were few I remember. The place had a very good vibe, just for the people happy in love. For me, it screamed of utter non sense.
The owner was sitting at one of the tables, with his tea and a newspaper. He could yell at his employees all the while reading the newspaper and also, complain about the flooding of Kolkata roads. I noticed his face, dirt seemed so worked into him, that the lines of his face were like some Chinese letters. A man of such bizarre appearance. A small head with a Nike cap, a skimpy little checked shirt with corduroy pants. This man was six feet tall, incredibly thin and had a jeering look on his face.
Suddenly Mukul grabbed my hand saying“ What are you waiting for?” and took me to one of the tables, the gang always sat on. They ordered their chai and ordered for me too. I don’t like chai . I never had. But when he handed me my cup and looked into my eyes while I tried it, it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. My hand still tingled where he grabbed it. We were a group of five on that table. Though I couldn’t follow most of the conversation, I now knew, Mukul was the interior decorator of the office and worked as a freelance photographer. I then realised it was him, the ‘M’ in all the paintings. But I was too proud to admit then, that I liked the paintings. He kept bragging about an exhibition that went really well in Hyderabad.
He had a smile of amused friendliness and pleasure which could arouse feelings of warmth, and something more, in many women. After the chai session got over, we were about to leave and suddenly the owner, whom everyone addressed as kaku, came and sat next to us. I was the unfamiliar face, so he kept his chit chat to a minimum, like there was so much I wasn’t supposed to know.
After that, was a series of long chai breaks, lunch in every Chinese restaurant on the street and lot of crappy chit chat. We five had become a happy gang. There was no sadness in my heart no memories to haunt me anymore. The evenings were particularly great. After work, we all would go for long walks till it was absolutely dark and time for us to return home. By now, we all knew each other’s past.
We usually refer to our exes as monsters, but Mukul had a very different point of view. “If a man, cant acknowledge your presence, better to let him go. But don’t call your relationship a mistake. You were part of it. You felt good then. You felt loved at least once.” His words made me think and calm my mind. He walked around with his thoughtful brown eyes and wisdom that could make everyone feel bad about themselves. I started feeling sorry when i was around him, even though I didn’t do anything wrong.
Two months had passed working here, I was involved in writing few good articles. I had started earning stipend too. The next big project was to cover an AIDS awareness programme. Mukul was assigned to cover the event and also some ground research for article to be published in the magazine. This was the first time I actually saw him working so closely. He was passionate about so many things. He would always say, “Passion can be about anything, music, God, art. But I feel sorry for people who didn’t feel strongly about anything.” It did make sense to me.
Who knows when a story begins or ends. You can look back into a moment and just realise that it wasn’t the beginning, but a result of what you did much before that. Because now, there was this moment when fate intersected with my daily happy life, setting in motion a sequence of events whose outcome I could never have foreseen. During a meeting, regarding the event, my boss handed me an envelope and left. I opened it with so much excitement. There I was holding an air ticket to go to Mumbai and Pune, for an event. This was the only way, my boss could find to reward me for my hard work. I had to leave in 10 days.
Mukul could read my face from across the room. He knew something wasn’t right. “I don’t want to go”, I said as he sat next to me. “Why?” He asked.
“I would want to meet him, and I don’t want to”. My throat began to tighten again. There was a calmness in his face. “You go, meet him. Clarify and leave the broken pieces there and come back for me.”
“For me?” I thought to myself as we silently walked out of the room. Mukul’s heart was where all his power resided. He was full of love and kindness. He would tease me till I wanted to leave and then suddenly, he would hold my hands and made me feel like the most beautiful woman there is. There was no chai that evening. He left early and I didn’t hear from him that weekend. His words didn’t make sense for a long time. As I recalled the moments, we spent in last two months in my mind, it all made sense.
Every now and then, comes a storm. The trees get uprooted, the windows are shattered, roofs are blown off, the birds lose their home and we are left in darkness. Bad things happen !! We have to move past it. We need to leave it behind, sooner the better. Or else, it is going to eat away at you and stop you from moving forward.
A failed business, unsatisfied parents and a broken relationship are basic triggers that have made a few people lift a blade and mark their body with a scar. In my profession, I get a chance to interact with lot of young minds. I usually love these moments because I learn about the human psyche. However, hearing about the suicide attempts by an intelligent, promising young girl, set a gray tone I couldn’t shake. She expressed a continued “sense of loneliness,” and some days suicidal.
Suicide in teens is usually correlated with factors such as depression; anxiety; school pressures and exposure to violence, trauma, mass media and cyberbullying. Even television has been suggested as an influencing factor. After the release Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a show about a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves behind the 13 reasons she did it, Hannah Baker was a name I heard a lot in the usual chit chat in between my class sessions. Since I wasn’t aware of the show, one day I intervened in a very serious conversation happening within some students about it. When I heard about the theme of the show, I was taken aback. Not because I found the theme atrocious, but because my teenage students were actually justifying the reasons of the suicide. One said to me, “Ma’am, she didn’t have a choice. You have to see it to understand”.
I didn’t utter a word. I read the plot of the show online. I did feel sorry about Hannah Baker, but I certainly did not find my Hero in her. Not somebody I would look upto. May be I would copy her hairstyle. Life gives you 1300 reasons to give up. We struggle and moan. We end up hurting ourselves with the fear within us.
I was slut shamed in college, was made fun of because of my frizzy hair, was body shamed by relatives in a family gathering and failed in my catering business. It ripped me apart for a long time. After a while, I remember not worrying.
Hope is recurrent thing for me. No matter what happens it will creep in back into my life and give me a reason. It feels good to get rid of things. I feel powerful to strip down all that crap to first survive, and then, thrive. I love to try harder when the barriers are a little higher and the odds are low.
After all the destruction that has happened and the winds have hushed, the rain has stopped, the sun will still come to give you hope. You will have your silent moments to pick up the broken pieces after which, you will emerge stronger than ever.
I took the window seat. As he sat on the seat right next to mine, I went back two years smiling and realising that it was the same perfume he used back then which I honestly didn’t like much. And of course I never told him.
As the bus started to move, I was sleepy and tired. But I had so many questions that I wanted to ask him. I imagined myself looking into his eyes and looking for an ounce of truth, just to assure my already mended heart. The rain was just splattering on the window pane and I kept looking out at the dim lights coming from the tall and huge buildings on the street of Mumbai.
As we travelled away from the airport, the crowd started growing, the roads were busier and yes, the traffic! I , for a while, got lost in the conceptions of my future college in the same city that I was visually perceiving through the misty foggy windows, sitting next to ….. I don’t know what I should call him.
“Are u hungry?” , he asked and I thought I should deal with THIS first, so i could turn to the next chapter of life without any unanswered questions. I just nodded and started looking back into those thick dark panes. I could see a faint reflection of him still looking at me.
As we moved towards the city which would very soon be my favourite, I started talking to him. I noticed his face was tanned and he had dark circles. He had lost lots of weight. “I have collected some college forms for you.” He vividly explained about the academic courses offered in different colleges in Pune. So by now, I knew, he wanted me around.
The four hour journey from the Mumbai airport to Pune was great. We reminisced about the three months we had together in Kolkata. The early morning walks, the meetings with our large and very loud group of friends, who were by the way, completely unaware of our little relationship !! But still the obvious issues were not addressed.
After we reached, it was time to say goodbye, as I was staying in my uncle’s house and he had to leave to his abode ! “We will meet tomorrow.” were his words just before we parted ways yet again. At night I kept staring into the window where the street light was flickering and I slept through the night.