Flying High, Fearlessly

uyare

Women are often punished for being their true selves. That happens in a patriarchal household , in a patriarchal work environment or a patriarchal social setting.  If a woman is ambitious, capable and talented, the opposition is often brutal in its intensity.

The  Malayalam film, Uyare (At the heights), where the luminescent Parvathy plays the role of Pallavi Raveendran is a wonderfully inspiring movie. Pallavi is a beautiful, talented, committed and brilliant woman who dreams of being a pilot. But she is involved in a very abusive relationship with Govind (played so well by Asif Ali) who is insecure, envious and possessive. He is also vastly inferior when compared with her. Naturally, his suspicious and over controlling nature, his  filthy accusations and demeaning behaviour become too much for Pallavi to bear. And then Govind takes his vicious revenge by throwing acid on her face.

The story depicts how Pallavi faces her agony and the manner in which she fights to overcome her trauma. Helped by her loving father, devoted friends and a supportive young mentor, she regains her confidence and gets to prove to herself that she is indeed exceptional and worthy.

The scene which struck me the most and which echoed something deep within me was when Govind encounters her again in the flight and ends up blaming her for all his misfortunes!

‘You are well settled. You even got a decent compensation. If you think you can enjoy your life while I rot in prison…!’ It is then that she throws a hot cup of coffee on his face, snarling that it will not burn as much the acid which he had thrown on hers.

It is amazing how evil justifies itself and blames everything but itself! I have witnessed it time and again in both personal and professional environments. Perhaps it is lack of a light within. Such people are totally devoid of understanding. They know only one thing: they are always , always, always right. The other person provoked them, you see?

The way evil thinks and acts is actually very predictable.

Pallavi is beautiful and ambitious.

( The abuser’s psyche : Of course, it was her fault. Since she knows I love her, isn’t it her moral responsibility to be less pretty, less visible, less vocal, less successful and exist just for me?)

Pallavi is talented and successful. 

( The abuser’s psyche : It  was all her doing! Why couldn’t she just understand that I am her Lord and Master since she is in a relationship with me? How dare she dress up and go out for dinner with her friends? She must be cheating me with everyone around! And she dared to ask me to get lost when I confronted her?)

Pallavi did not shut herself up or commit suicide after the acid attack.

( The abuser’s psyche : How dare she live? I wanted to destroy her confidence, her verve, her life spirit, her beauty. And yet she dares to show her face to the world? Then, how can I say that I am a man?)

Pallavi got a cool job.

( The abuser’s psyche :Why is she allowed to live with her head high? So long as she is respected, I must be a failure in the eyes of others. How can I stand her happiness?)

Pallavi is respected and admired.

( The abuser’s psyche: And I am suffering  without  a decent job and have to face the criminal case too! Why can’t she just withdraw the case against me? Poor me! She is at the root of all my suffering. She deserved whatever I did to her. Didn’t I love her deeply? Didn’t she lie to me and betray me? How come that she is not facing any setbacks and that life is hitting me instead? That is just not fair. She should suffer. Only then the belief systems I hold will prove true.)

**

If you are in an abusive relationship ( evil has no gender by the way) it is best that you get out as fast as you can. Whether it is a professional or personal relationship, never let the perpetrator get the better of you.

Learn to call a coward, a coward. A damnable person, a damnable person. Keep zero contact with people who drain you. Draw your boundaries strong. And know that walking away from abusers is something to be taught very early in life to our children.

More power to the Pallavis of the world. May we teach our sons and daughters to respect and not control. And that love which is devoid of respect is vile.

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The Gift of Fear

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Have you been in an abusive relationship? I hope and pray that you never get into one.

I was reading  about Gavin de Becker’s ‘The Gift of Fear:survival signals that protect us from violence.’ It is about trusting the intuition, rather than any technology, to protect you from violence.

Violence can be of several types- physical, mental, psychological, emotional….the victim is abused because the perpetrator believes very strongly that ‘ you have been asking for it due to your behaviour/ choices/ resistance etc..’

All blame is shifted onto the victim. The perpetrator believes that , after all, he or she is the master of your life , is it not?

Abusers adduce to themselves the power of God-

-they will decide how you think,

-what you think about,

-what you dress in,

-what job you do,

-to whom you speak,

-in which manner you speak,

-whether you have the choice of saying NO,

-whether your life belongs to them (due to what they consider as their ownership papers- marriage or engagement  or commitment)

-whether you have any right to have sanity and breathe fresh air…

Actually, to that man or woman- you have nothing of the above choices. They will control. End of discussion. Why? Because…well because you are the cause of all their suffering. Oh yeah! Had you been an ideal man/ woman/ lover/ wife/ fiancée/ mother/ Godzilla… It would not happened, you see? So you deserve to be punished by all means available- legally, financially, psychologically, physically, emotionally…

Do children matter in this rampage? Not at all. They are collateral damage- they deserve it too because they are siding with the victim, aren’t they? What is the use of  by products,  that are of no use to the  original argument, eh?

Have they not heard of the words ‘moving on?’ When both human beings detest each other, what is the point of hanging on together?

No.

And that is why you have  dead beat dads, abusers, psychopaths, sociopaths, criminals, honour killers ,  and their ilk. The degree of crime is different but the underlying philosophy is the same. “You deserve to be punished for daring to do something that is not accepted in their code of living.”

I will not deign it to call as a code of honour- that will be belittling the word itself.

Quote from the book: ‘ For men like this, rejection is a threat to the identity, the persona, to the entire self, and in this sense their crimes could be called murder in defence of the self.’

De Becker forewarns- ‘ Like every creature, you can know when you are in the presence of danger. You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.’

***

Women across ages, have felt the trap closing around them so often, and still chosen to ignore it . They have for ages, suffered  terribly due to that stupidity. Suffocated and degraded into apologising for what they were.Told continuously that they were not good enough/ woman enough/ this enough/ that enough/  and drained of everything beautiful and dignified in this world. See, it was all the victim’s fault.

Later, victims have fled when intuition asked them to. The safety cannot be expressed in words.Even from within the safe arms of all those who loved them, within their strong forts, armed by their own true strength, they have been battling evil.

An evil which believes that no one has a right to run away, to escape to hope for a new life. ‘Ha! You thought you can get away easily , did you? Without all those humiliations that I was storing up for you day by day? I shall drag you through years of degradation, and subject you to the totality of all that was rotting within me. I will make you wish that you had remained under my control- because the act of escaping has made you deserve a punishment more harsh than  your rebellious subservience.’ See, it is all  the victim’s fault.

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I am working on the translation( from Malayalam to English) of a taut psychological Novella that will  go to print in a matter of months.

The protagonist is a victim who turns herself into a perpetrator. It is a deeply disturbing transformation- wherein I have found my fingers trembling as I translated her thoughts, her vengeance, her fury. Try as I might to distance myself from the emotions every time I edit it, I find myself staring at that disturbing chasm of churning human emotions.

Suddenly, I do not know whom to pity- the heroine or the others. In one way, she has turned the tables by destroying everything. Medea she is, and justifiably so, in her perspective.

“Violence is a process, a chain in which the violent outcome is only one link,” explains de Becker. There are four sub components-

1. Justification- the person makes a judgement that they have been intentionally wronged

2. Alternatives- violence seems the only way forward to seek redress or justice

3. Consequences- they decide they can live with the outcome

4. Ability- they have confidence in their ability to use their brains or body or cunning or money to achieve their aims.

****

I think of William Faulkner’s disturbing classic short story,  ‘That evening sun go down.’ If ever there was a story to highlight  the theory of Gavin de Becker, it had been that. The doomed Nancy, I shall never forget. Ironically, the victim who had ignored her intuition  to her peril, in another great classic, Oliver Twist, had been named Nancy too.

All of which gives me a sense of destiny. At this point of my life, I was supposed to do this translation, read this book, and even type this note. To literally speak out against abuse of every kind.

For freedom, for independence, for dignity.

 

 

 

 

The Cauldron Boils Over

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For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?

Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves,

and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters. (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, On Good and Evil)

I have been forced to brood on the nature of evil and cruelty after a series of news paper reports came out recently.

Airhostess abuses maid servant.

Qualified doctor, public representative’s wife, brutally murders maid servant.

 Clubbed with other stories of heinous evil, these provoked shuddering reflections on the nature of evil that I had encountered in my own journey so far.

I thank God for the kind hand that has kept me safe and sane and able to jot these down.

When I heard about an ancestor who specialised in banging his daughter’s head on the sharp edge of a grain box, because she had not prepared his dinner in time; I thought it was a made up story.

” How can someone tolerate that evil?” I remember asking, until the narrator, turned her eyes and looked at the woman sitting by her side.

In a shock of realisation, I understood and asked the lady, ” You? You were the daughter? My God!”

Later, in class, when the  teacher waxed eloquent on a great poet ,my best friend and my namesake whispered to me about his cruelties to his family.

” He forsake his wife and children and would wander about seeking inspiration. Great poet he might have been, but good husband and father, he never was. Once when he returned from his six month sojourn, he saw his seven year old son sitting in his favourite easy chair. He pulled him out and thrashed him so badly that he started bleeding. I read a memoir by the son- on the great poet of whom he was terrified all his life…”

Evil, I understood then, can also have the face of genius.

The stories of Nazi Holocaust, or the evils of the Pol Pot regime, the slavery stories, the brutal war games or the murderous riots when human beings turn beasts- all are very real.

The veneer of sophistication that covers the human face often covers a venal expression. The greatest of tests come when power is given to human beings to lord it over others.A handsome Smeagol can turn  into a despicable Gollum, if the Deadly Ring of Power, happens to become His Precious.

In a famous scientific study called the Milgram Experiment conducted by Prof Stanley Milgram of Yale University, the tendency of  “normal people ” to obey authority figures and abuse hapless innocents was showcased. Once a person perceived that he/she was just an ” instrument”, obeying a higher authority, he/she tended to shift blame from their own selves.

This study can be read along with the Dementors and Death Eaters of many mythical series, the ganglords of evil who obey a “Higher Power” to whom they owe allegiance.

But as we see in daily life, it does not take a Voldemort or Sauron to inspire evil.

The person who suffers deeply often perpetrates deep suffering on others. It is almost a cycle of evil. The person is herself abused, feels no control over his /her life, feels an exaggerated sense of inferiority and of being slighted by significant others, and so waits for an opportunity to wreak all that aggression on a hapless victim. Explanations of brutal rapes, beatings, child abuse, marital abuse, subordinate abuse have often included this logic.

As the witches of Macbeth chanted,

 Double, double toil and trouble; 

Fire burn, and caldron bubble. 

On reflection, I have found that in my most helpless conditions, I have been most angry with my beloved ones. “Displacement “, psychology calls it wisely. One tends to make scapegoats of others since one cannot handle the real issue on its face.So the abused subordinate will abuse his wife, she will abuse the maid servant, the maid servant will abuse the cat and so on and so forth..It reminds one of the nursery rhyme “The Farmer in the dell”.

I am pretty sure that the best of goodness and worst of evil is very much within every human soul. It just depends on the environmental triggers as to which comes out. It also depends a lot on what is considered “acceptable” and “unacceptable behaviour.”

Besides, if a poor maid servant from Manipur or West Bengal gets abused within the four confines of her Delhi home, which neighbour would care  to take a peep?

So the perceived danger associated with continuing a loathsome behaviour also plays a role in perpetuating evil.

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Lessons in psychology have taught me much about parental drivers, conditioning, reinforcement, prejudices, negative self-talk, internalisations, insecurities and all such jargon.Lessons in life have taught me some pungent truths.

Cruelty happens subtly, invidiously. Children can be the most vulnerable victims. If you tell a child that she/he is not good enough/beautiful enough/smart enough, it can be a mad ram inside the head for ages to come. Until, one day, with good souls around, one truly looks at the mirror and realises that the perpetrator had been a liar. One is good enough, beautiful enough, smart enough. Enough unto the day, the beauty thereof.

It is extremely important to protect children from negative insinuations and degrading talk. Perhaps they do not hear it from the close family, but we should protect them enough  so that others’ evil attempts to poke a hole into that fragile self confidence, is never successful.

Almost as a serendipitous event, I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye recently. This book, about the systematic destruction of a child’s psyche, told in the context of racial/feminine/power equations/sixties America, brought tears to my eyes. There was so much one could empathise with- some experiences are universal.

Morrison writes about how she was shocked into writing that novel, when a school mate wanted ” blue eyes ” , in the hope that it would get her acceptance, by making her beautiful. The prose is fire, scalding one’s fingers as one reads, and I again realised how good literature redeems; by making one go deep into one’s own experiences and cleanse the dirty remnants of one’s own prejudices.

Beauty is not equivalent to virtue, the author writes. She adds that it has taken 25 years for her novel to get truly accepted. It had been trivialised when it was originally published.

Cruelty and evil can have very handsome faces. Even pretty ones for that matter.  Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds , as Shakespeare so wisely wrote.So we need not fall in for the designer brand versions of Ugliness being equated to Badness. If something inside you still resists, read Conan Doyle’s ” The Yellow Face.” All that is not pleasing to the eye, need not be that of evil.  And in a like manner, there is nothing more pervasive than the myth, that all that is beautiful is good.

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As human beings, I guess being aware of our own propensities to abusive behaviour, is the first step towards the magic of protection.  We tend to be evil when we thoughtlessly speak, brag, disregard, turn a blind eye to suffering, and smooth a clean white sheet over the bloodied mess of our inner lives. And spray a perfume over the noxious fumes rising from within. “All the perfumes of Arabia…”

I have reached a stage in my life where I have started being very aware of abusive behaviour, the start of the first rung of evil in a relationship- between friends, siblings, parents, work place relations.

Instinct and experience warns a person of what to watch out for within herself/others.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Tell me why evil is always on call?

The Law of Return  much quoted in many books of spirituality, speaks of ” What you sow, that you reap.”

May we sow good thoughts, good imagination, kind behaviour, empowering words and noble deeds in our daily lives.

Our world, both inner and outer, can do with  lot more of decent, good human beings who are respectful, tolerant and kind. We can do with far more introspection on whether our life patterns hold a lesson for us and less on envying the great lives that others apparently seem to have.

And yes, I think I have had enough of newspapers for a while.

*****