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Relationships and Aberrations therein- Part I

By Rajeshwar Singhal | PUBLISHED: 14, Dec 2010, 14:07 pm IST | UPDATED: 14, Dec 2010, 14:07 pm IST

Relationships and Aberrations therein- Part I

We all know that life is like a river that flows down the mountains, through the valleys, and plains into the sea. Its course is never same. It tumbles down rocks, becomes rapid, changes course during heavy rains, and flows calmly through plains. Life is also full of challenges and without different forms and courses, as in case of any river, it would perhaps be dull.

The course of life depends on relationships, whether in a family, or professional, or social setup. Aberrations in relationships are like pollutants in a river, especially when such aberrations are intentional or careless but with the knowledge of consequences.

As urban areas and industrial units pollute water courses and bodies, either knowingly or carelessly with knowledge of consequences, similar aberrations in relationships cause similar damage. Perhaps, here the relationship with self is given a place higher than relationship with family or society, and all norms and ethics are given a go by.

Achievements of relatives and friends, even in closest of relationships are often mocked at due to envy. We may give extra time and attention to social acquaintances, but scorn heap on spouse or parents when they seek our attention over urgent and important matters. And we take pleasure in treating our relatives in this manner even while in company of social friends.

These are accounts of some real experiences undergone and seen by me, and my own feelings about relationships. These may be similar to anyone’s experiences and feelings.

THE EPOCHAL EPICS

We revere Ramayana and Mahabharata as texts not only of religious and historical importance but also as texts of important moral learning. They are perhaps the oldest recorded history of dynamics of our society and can easily be taken as the fountain and source of our culture. But their characters are shown more as ordinary human beings with common behaviour, than as mythical beings capable only of extraordinary powers. They also felt the way we feel and behave now, especially in matters of human relationships, whether between generations, within families, or for sake of usurping power and control. But that is where the message lies, as learning for all of us.

Be it the conduct of main protagonists who obediently left for the forest exiles, giving up their claims to thrones, as desired by their elders, albeit wrongly, or the behaviour of elders who allowed their judgment to be overrun by a mix of ego and natural love for their own natural born. But in same texts we see other protagonists, who are now role models for the society, succumbing to insidious doubts, and being uncaring towards women. But again, we all know what happened to everyone who did not behave as per the standards of behaviour set in these very texts. These texts give detailed accounts of pain, repentance and atonement of such characters.

But does that all mean that these great epics have no moral value for people in any generation? It may not be easy to dismiss them on this ground and just treat them as entertainers on television and in neighbourhood shows, that often degenerate into  vaudeville. The beauty or greatness of these epics lies in the fact that they have presented all characters more as humans, and less as those with supernatural powers and ultimate virtues. They had emotions and fell victim to flawed behaviour, which challenged relationships, whether in the family, or the society that they lived in at that time. For spiritual and emotional support they also turned to the supreme beings, who remain supreme for us even today.

Perhaps, how they dealt with results of their own and others’ flawed behaviour has made us worship them as spiritual idols and ‘ideals’ down the ages. We look up to them as ‘maryada purushottam’ and the ultimate pontiff who gave us song celestial, The Gita. But when it comes to putting in practice the moral teachings of compassion, patience and equity, we allow our egos to overtake  our wisdom, like it happened in those times. So, ultimately, fact remains that our habitual turning to ritualistic prayers and pilgrimages remain hollow as we do not allow our words and actions to be based on balance of equity, patience, and compassion. We remain happily unmindful of whom we are treating that way, whether relatives, or spouses, or children, or friends or professional colleagues.

LISTEN, PLEASE LISTEN, PLEASE HEAR ME OUT !!!!!!!!!!!!!

There is the general tendency of not to listen to anything, howsoever relevant or otherwise, even from those in closest of relationship, whether between spouses, or between generations in a family or among siblings. This tendency applies equally to facts of life, life’s needs, and human relationships, which need not necessarily be expressed in words. Their happening or arising by themselves signify requirement for attention by those in closest of relationships. But these also get ignored, mostly deliberately.

Needless to say that such approach is repugnant. And it is most hurtful also. Hurt is caused by the basic fact that those ignoring the advice or request would be willing to listen to same and amenable to retribution for ignoring it, if it was from any person not related, as in a professional or even social situation. There is common grouse in families that children do not heed parental advice, which any parent in any society would naturally expect of their kids. But the reverse is equally true, There are any number of instances where parents do not listen to persistent and fervent pleas of their own children, and thus over a period of time, causing much damage not only to the relationships, but also irrepairable loss to careers. 

Such flaws in relationships hurt and cause serious damage also when the older generation does not learn from its own tough experience at a given stage of life and allows its own other minor priorities to overtake problems and responsibilities when faced by the younger generation. Here is a common tale, perhaps told and heard a thousand times in each generation, in each culture. In a middle class family, the bread winner was a mild mannered civil servant who minded his own business in office, attended his duties sincerely and stayed away from groupism. So, naturally, he never had any friends in office and when things became difficult for him, he just resigned from his permanent job and joined a university course for career advancement.

His wife worked on a small salary as a school teacher to raise kids who were not even ten years old. He did not have a living father and had to leave his elderly mother and two good for nothing younger brothers in care of another brother. His wife’s parents were elderly but helpful. The father worked on a government job in the university city and had spacious accommodation provided by his office. So the family of daughter planned to stay there till advanced course at the university was over. And then staying with elders would have helped in lesser expenditure in kitchen. Fair enough. But as they say, Lord almighty always has some mischief hidden somewhere. As the family shifted in with elders, wife’s father got transferred to another city and thus lost the government house.

Now, needless to say that it was a huge problem. Still, Indian families have a bonding and affiliation, which is generally put to proper use, and only occasionally misused. Neither the affected young family of the man who had jettisoned his job had to make a request, silent or overt, to his wife’s parents, nor the parents had to ask the family whether they needed any help. In this case, wife’s mother hired a house for her daughter’s family, paid all bills, and ran the kitchen for two years while elderly father went alone to another city, often cooking his own food.

After two years, the man, with an advanced degree, got a job in the same university, and was again on his own feet. Wife continued working on private jobs. Wife’s mother went back to father. Pretty normal thing, as per our traditions, one may say. Quite right. But after a generation, say twenty five years, the roles were reversed, but the situation was same. The man and his wife were now elders. Their daughter was happily married in a business family. Their son was also happily married and had two young kids. He was working on a government job.

The man, now elder father himself, was looking forward to his retirement after few years. His son and daughter in law toiled hard and with meagre savings, and liberal help through father’s savings, and good contacts, were able to buy a decent, large size plot and raise a house on it. The property registered in father’s name. Son gave up better postings and transfers as it would have involved leaving the property either vacant or giving it on rent neither of which was an acceptable option as son wanted his parents to walk into their own house immediately after retirement which was barely two years away.

Again, things never went as planned. Son got his first promotion and had to necessarily relocate to a city almost 500 kilometres away. As his father’s retirement was barely two months away, he went to the new place alone, leaving his wife and small kids by themselves, with the fond hope that they could be moved in with him after his parents’ shifting to their own house. He travelled every Monday morning to his place of posting and returned every Friday night.

Their newly built house was in a remote area at the edge of the town, with not many houses nearby, causing quite a problem for the wife to manage it and handle two small kids, especially when the landline phone went out of order and there was hardly anyone to call for help. There were no mobile phones or private landline phone service providers at that time and she slept with a loaded revolver under her pillow. His parents, who had earlier promised to honour his desires by shifting to their own house after retirement, had different thoughts now.

They stayed in a rented accommodation for more than a year on the plea that father’s pension papers were yet to be processed and mother also wanted to complete her tenure in a private job till retirement. Parents knew that the son was a weekend husband cum father to his own family and that his wife slept with a loaded revolver under her pillow. The situation spoke much more loudly than the unstated requests of the son and his family Yet, all that the parents offered by way of help, was, “Let us know if you need help”, forgetting completely their own similar earlier experience in life.

Son’s wife was propositioned inappropriately few times by people over phone and in public places, and twice followed upto home, for her being alone and supposedly ‘available’. Situation became so critical after a year that son jettisoned his prestigious job and took up another in a different setup, as it was the only way out to be with his young wife and kids. He and his family maintained the house that they had built for his parents, who moved in long after their retirement and much after son had lost his prestigious job and career.

Take another case here. A lady from a good family did not believe in listening to anyone in husband’s family after her marriage and spent her entire life rejecting every advice or suggestion, whether for her manners, or dress sense or personal grooming or general demeanour. To some extent such behaviour can be attributed to general anxiety and fear of the new family, after marriage. But for her, anything stated by way of even polite suggestion by her husband or his family was equally an anathema as something said in desperate anger. She was the only child of her parents and had spent all her life with parents far away from the main family, thus never having experienced dynamics of a joint family with its responsibilities and respect for each other’s sensitivities for common good of all.

She was, due to a combination of these factors and liberal upbringing, aggressive and goaded unknowingly by ever new issues in environment, eager to have an independent identity. Nothing new. We have heard and seen countless examples of such types in all walks of life, whether politics, media, business or any other profession. Her approach always remained that only she was making sacrifices and compromises for the family, though knowing fully well but never admitting to herself, that others in the family were also doing the same for her and family’s sake, without ever making such overt or silent claims.

While it cannot be over emphasised that the new family a bride gets married into has equal responsibility to make her feel comfortable and honour her aspirations and make adjustments themselves for this, fact remains that in majority of cases these adjustments are not made by either side. Each side claims honorific sacrifices made by it to suit the other’s whims and fancies and in the process, either forgetting or not acknowledging changes or accommodations made by the other side. Each side would perpetually harp on its pending issues unheard by the other side but gladly pushing other side’s equally long list of grievances down the drain.

Then, in this common tale of not listening to the other side, a stage arises when each side becomes indifferent and insensitive to the other. It happens in families and social groups alike.  It happened in case of this lady also. While her family gave up on their suggestions and requests after some years, friends also became dismissive of her fanciful behaviour. Everyone carried on life’s responsibilities mechanically, with occasional potshots at each other thrown in. But after a generation, when her own daughter got married, she constantly advised her on same issues that she spent her earlier years rejecting them for herself. Her husband and other family members were surprised whether her earlier rejections of their requests and suggestions were only to spite them.

IT IS ALWAYS GRACEFUL TO ADMIT ONE’S MISTAKE

And this should be done first of all by putting aside the big ‘E’, that is ego. But the biggest defaulters perhaps are those who are in a position of advantage, whether superiors in a professional situation, friends with better economic background and clout in a social group, and elders in a family or even relatives of same generation but with a rather sensitive relationship. Here the common factor is that the person in a position of advantage can conveniently exploit his position and reject all calls for him to concede his mistakes.

He always knows that what he has done is wrong and it has caused much trauma to others. But his ego and position suppress this feeling of realisation of wrongdoing. Even bigger hurt is caused when such person gives a smirk to the affected person, with a ‘so what?’ or ‘do whatever you wish to’ look. Then the affected person is forced to rethink the validity of family, professional, social ties, ethics and values and even rules of professional conduct.

But most of the time, we all have seen and experienced, that the one in error, knowing fully well his erroneous stand adopts the ‘second step’ approach. Its like a person standing on the second step of the stair case and then addressing a gathering, instead of going back to the ground or the first step. Why? Simply because his action on the first step had put him in error and now he wants to cover it up by responding from the second, and higher step. He would never go back to the earlier stage of ‘first step’, as that would necessarily amount to him admitting his fault. And rare are those who do it and blessed are those who get their hurt or damage inflicted by the other at his first and erroneous step, acknowledged and cured. It happens equally in families, social relations, and professional setups with same sickening frequency.

And the person on the second step always has permanently fixated smug expression which gives him pleasure at other’s discomfort, and his own achievement of having hidden his fault by smothering the truth. Mostly, the affected and hurt person either accepts it as fait accompli due to his own helplessness, or keeps trying later at all available opportunities to raise the issue of his hurt again, though unsuccessfully. This remains in the back of the mind for the rest of the lives, needless to say, damaging relationships, whatever be their nature. 

But then, an interesting adjunct of this approach is that the hurt person, nursing his lifelong grievance against the person with flawed behaviour, himself falls prey to such behaviour when he himself is in error and climbs to the ‘second step’ to hide his own bloomers. Then he keeps harping on his lifelong hurt, but never admits his own behaviour.

We all know that damage caused by an erroneous judgment can be more than half made up by its plain simple admission. The affected person is soothed and gets  assured against recurrence of the error. Then there is a constructive approach to contain the damage and recover. It can be and is used in some rare instances in all area, social, family or professional. Take a simple and commonplace instance of negligence in medical field, which is rising with alarming speed. We are aware that a specialist called over by the regular doctor, during his visit, meets the patient, asks him about the medical problem, checks the diagnose slip prepared by the doctor and consults him, before undertaking any therapy or surgery. But this is now routinely being ignored. The specialist surgeons or similar professionals are like a speeding local bus that wants to pick up maximum possible passengers for making money, unmindful of running over pedestrians and hitting other vehicles on the road.

There are common tales in all countries when the negligent surgeons remove a different and healthy organ instead of the marked diseased one, only because they fail to check properly with regular doctor, and the diagnose chart and the patient. And when the damage happens, then the erring doctor climbs on the second step, blaming the patient for not giving medical details. Same is the case of a lawyer who does not attend to his client’s case in time and the case gets dismissed for non-pursuance of same. He also blames the client instead of taking it primarily. In families and friendships also the one in error blames the other for latter’s reaction due to hurt or damage caused by the error. The error by itself gets sidelined and its progenitor, now safe on the second step, clings to his own hurt due to reaction of the one who had originally got hurt due to error. It happens the same in families and among friends.

The basic difference perhaps lies only in case of such ‘second step’ approach within a family. In social and professional situations, the one adopting it can be, and is quite often, dismissive with the view that he can get a new client or the client can get new professional help, or one can find new friends. But can one look for a new spouse, or parent, or child, if one is vain and has an ego bloated head to stand on the second step, cover his own errors which are the origin of dispute, and shout at his spouse, or children, or parents?

We all know the only plausible answer. But again, perhaps this difference in consequences makes it even more avoidable. The one affected adversely by the ‘second step’ approach in a family situation is left wondering whether he deserved such treatment which could perhaps be more suitable for other situations in social or professional settings. He is forced to question the validity of relationships, as sacrosanct as between spouses, or parents and children. He wonders if personal ego is above such close relationships.

BARBS IN JEST

In any relationship, be it family, professional, or social, words said in a jest, but with a hidden meaning, can be hurtful. One must be careful not only of the hurt they cause to the other but also that the listener being respectful of the relationship is unable to react. Further, such feeling of hurt is taken care of by nature even though the hurt person may not have wished any harm. My sister got married in 1976. We belong to a working class family and my parents did not have much in hand for a daughter’s wedding. So when she had finished her college and my parents got a suitable match for her, more so considering our financial and social standing, my parents got her married. She has been happy ever since.

Soon after her wedding, an uncle visited us from the USA, who has been staying there since 1965. He also has a daughter and two more sons. In a typical dismissive and pontificating style, associated with NRIs, he lampooned early marriage and early motherhood of Indian girls and laughed derisively, “You married her off so early. She would have got pregnant by now.” I recall my parents, being elders to him, swallowing this barb quietly, though later my mother clarified to him that my sister had already finished college and we had got a marriage offer for her from a respectable family who despite our limited means, wanted a simple and decent marriage without any usual trappings associated with traditional Indian weddings. I also recall him laughing away derisively, adding even more to my parents’ feeling of hurt, as they did not wish to react.

That was over thirty years ago. My uncle and his family are still there in USA. He has retired and is comfortably settled. My sister, now a grandmother, is happy in her family. But my uncle’s daughter and one son, both in 40’s are still unmarried. Some years ago, during a visit to India, he looked back at his life and still unwed son and daughter and said, “Ah well, my son and daughter are well settled and make real good dough. But even then, while there is plenty of pleasure of flesh and money there, loneliness is a big problem in any stage of life.”

I heard him, and wished he could recall his own words about my sister and her marriage. So, never ever say anything, even in a jest, that is against laws of nature, and cause hurt in relationships, knowing fully well that the listener respects the relationship more than the feeling of hurt caused by a barb. Nature watches all this and has its own ways to balance things. Its retribution can often be a big knockout but without any sound or echo.

‘YOUR WRONG IS WRONG, BUT MY WRONG IS NEVER WRONG’

Can there be any bigger irony in life than this approach? How would one feel if this is adopted by one’s spouse? What if the spouse says that his or her wrong cannot even be discussed as it is sacrosanct? Would one be able to retain faith in the most pious of relationships if one partner maintains this approach consistently in entire marital life? A lady had this approach in life, which caused immense damage in marital relationship. She was well read, had a successful career, and a commanding personality that people looked upto and talked about with awe. She maintained a good household, prayed regularly, read self help books, counselled children and families, and discussed social issues in groups. But she was never willing to listen to any criticism or suggestion about herself, from her own spouse.

Any such criticism or suggestion by husband was dismissed by her as not valid, even though at times she took such reproach from others without a demur. In heated discussions, she chided her husband for expecting her to be ‘perfect’, which no human ‘could ever be’. But over the years, with same recrimination continuing unabated, she also pointed out flaws in husband’s behaviour, which after initial reluctance, he accepted and apologised for same and assured her that he would not allow their recurrence. In further talks he also reminded her that she herself used to seek accommodation on the count that she could not be a ‘perfect’, and sought reciprocity on same count, which she declined to even respond to. Surprised and equally worried at the failing relationship, husband reminded her that she prayed regularly and read several self help books, but her approach towards him defied all semblance of evenness and patience sermonised by popular books and spirituality patronised by her. She remained stoic to this also.

It continued like this for several years. But their discussions did not seem to draw any conclusion as the matters were never discussed on a balance of equity. Negative and unpleasant aspects of man’s behaviour were accepted by him, apologised for and assured against their recurrence, with the only request that she also accepted flaws in her behaviour, which were no less unpleasant than his own indiscretions and he had described them every time with real instances shared together, and hypothetical ones for better clarity.

He also pointed out numerous instances of her own similar behaviour, seeking clarification why only his own behaviour was considered bad, if she herself had acted often in similar manner with him, or with others. He also pointed out to her real and shared experiences where she had accepted such bad behaviour by others and had even applauded in its appreciation, again seeking a reasoned answer why he was singled out for blame.

He often wondered how a pattern of behaviour accepted by his wife for herself and indulged in repeatedly by her, and applauded by her for others, could be bad for him alone and why a balanced approach was missing. While she was not willing to listen to any reasons or explanations or justifications for man’s flawed behaviour, she always justified her own instances in similar situations.

For many years she was not even willing to listen to even a mention of her indiscretions. Later she did give her husband a hearing in the matter but was neither willing to accept her errors or apologise for same or give any assurance against their recurrence. She always remained stoic, looking the other way. Her husband’s persistent efforts over many years presenting instances of their mutually shared experience in each allegedly wrong act, were dismissed altogether by her as she never wanted to admit her faults in similar situations what she berated her husband for.

After several years, her exasperated husband proposed that for revival of their marital relationship, they could follow a simple rule whereby any error by either partner that hurt the other person was to be accepted, apologised for and assured against its recurrence. The guiding principle was to be that the feeling of hurt of the other was to be given priority for attention, without giving any justifications for errors and recurrence of errors was to be assured against. She was again non committal about herself but accepted man’s apologies and assurances with a dismissive shake of head. She still chose to cling her own feeling of hurt by man’s flawed behaviour, which he had repeatedly acknowledged and apologised for and assured against its recurrence.

But she was still not willing to gave same consideration for her own equally flawed behaviour. Needless to say that the man was totally heartbroken.

He had suffered downs on professional front and did not have many friends. But this treatment by his own spouse was an even bigger setback in his life. Not knowing any other recourse, he proposed that for sake of family, they move on in life, adding that his apologies for wrongs attributed to him by his wife and his assurances against their recurrence would remain intact even though she herself remained unapologetic for her own similar wrongs and non committal against their repetition. She chose to maintain same stance of ‘win win situation’ for herself. Needless again to say their relationship had mutated into a formality, with intimacy having died out.

Can anyone accept this approach where, “Your wrong is wrong but my wrong in similar situation is not wrong” or for that matter, “your acts are wrong, and my similar acts can never be wrong”? Even if one accepts it as a part of life,  and to move on in life, the happiness or intimacy in a relationship is bound to nosedive and the relationship remains a mere formality.

Same self righteous approach is often adopted by those in power in any professional situation. Quite often, simple helpless people accused of wrongdoing by police are themselves dealt with by laws twisted and wrongly applied on them. Police itself adopts illegal methods and violates all laws and ignores judicial precedents.