“The most intimate stranger I have known is my mind”
Last night, an old acquaintance asked me,” How have you been? Long time….”
5 months. In 5 months, I seem to have walked through 5 years.
“I have been okay”, I said.
“And there must be a whole world in that okay”, he said.
Did I say acquaintance? He had to know me too well to make these remarks!
Not much has happened in my external world. A few career plans that couldn’t be worked out in the end. My part-time job. All the chores I had kept pending for the last 5 years. I even moved away from all forms of socializing- real or virtual.
But my internal world bore no semblance to this external picture. It has never been easy to carry the burden of the personality that defines me. It has its extraordinary appeal, but that extraordinariness comes at a cost. I think of water bodies. Even they have their independent personality, so different from each other. On the surface, they are all water. But the pond can never be the river…the river can never be the sea. The irony being that the sea can embody the river, but the river cannot embody the sea. The river flows effortlessly, perhaps mocking the sea at its inability to do so. The sea gleams with its extraordinariness for it guards a beautiful world that thrives deep within. It also struggles eternally with its depth for depth has the potential for turbulence.
On bright and sunny days, the surface of the sea is calm. It appears to look outward in calm reflection, a gentle breeze caressing its surface, the sunshine penetrating right into its soul, illuminating portions of the beautiful world that thrive within. On dark and cloudy days, the sea is just as dark and opaque. It looks inward, and all that comes to visibility is its infinite depth. It attempts to look deeper and deeper and comes in contact with a dark world, alien and unfamiliar. This world has none of the attributes of the beautiful world illuminated by the sunshine. The confrontation with this dark world triggers the turbulence and the sea is taken over by a storm. It lashes out until the turbulence settles to give way to a vacant nothingness. And into this vacant nothingness penetrates a fresh bout of sunshine. This is the story of the sea…of its journey.
Living in Kerala, it is easy to understand why this little state has the highest suicide rate in the country. Like a cult, the society rigidly holds on to its inhumane principles of perfectionism and idealism. The lines between black and white, between right and wrong, are impossibly sharp. Within this framework of rigidity, it grooms its people and conditions them to believe in its perfectionism and idealism. The conditioning happens so early that it is impossible to ever release these minds from their conditioning and motivate them to think independently. The pressure to abide by social norms and convention is so high that there is a palpable unconscious fear in people here…perhaps of being thrown out of the ‘herd’. People are intolerant to differences, independent thinking, freedom and individuality.
For me, the difference is palpable. Every single day, I thank God that my parents left Kerala when they were young and found jobs outside the state and so, we kids grew up in a free world. We spoke and lived our minds. And that did not mean disregard for others’ perspectives or needs. But because the benchmarks were rather loose, it was easier to be human, with all the imperfections that came with it. It was perfectly okay to have an open mind, make mistakes, learn and grow. But that is not the case with Kerala. The patrolling of character and moral policing is so rigid that it is practically impossible for any human being to conform to these benchmarks. The consequence is that if you are sensitive and have an inner voice, you will prefer looking inward to looking outward. For when you look outward, the vision will conflict with your internal world. That is the beginning of the road to creativity…and also, the road to mental illness. And this is perhaps the reason why Kerala has only two extremes of people. One has to either be highly insensitive or highly creative to survive the assaults on the mind. Depending on whether it is a sunny day or cloudy day in your life, you will switch between creativity and mental illness.
I remember this question Kay Red field Jamison had put through ‘Life derives its meaning and excitement from that zone that represents the interface between normalcy, creativity and mental illness. What decides if you will take the path to creativity or to mental illness?’ I guess creativity comes in little spurts- where an environmental stimulus has suddenly illuminated a relevant aspect of what you have tucked away in your unconscious. Creativity cannot be forced upon. It thrives on the spontaneous creation of a mood intense enough to unlock a relevant aspect of your unconscious.
But if you consistently look inward, without balancing it with looking outward, all you will see is darkness and depth, that do not make sense. In that darkness, you will move from one dark place to the next, attempting to unlock something meaningful and beautiful, but you will fail miserably, only triggering turbulence. Coz your mind feels trapped. In a society like Kerala, one is forced to persistently look inward. One becomes uncomfortably aware of one’s emotional depth. And that is not healthy.
While dress codes and freedom of speech with regard to women in this society are extensively discussed, it amuses me that even simple things are not acceptable here. Playfulness and excitement, for instance. It amuses me to see them label you as a characterless woman if you are zealous and high-spirited. It is acceptable if you are a boy, but not if you are a girl. You cannot drive in high spirits, you cannot dress aesthetically ( I am not even talking of dressing liberally), you cannot be mischievous, lighthearted and happy. You cannot look at beautiful sights on the street and allow yourselves to be visibly enthralled. You cannot let your emotions show on your face.
It amuses me that when you make eye contact with a man while you are talking to him, you will make him uncomfortable. He will look away and make you feel uncomfortable. This will happen all the time- when you are buying things from a shop, when you are paying your bus-fare, when you are discussing work with a labourer, when you are settling your bills at an office.
Every single day of my life here, I ask my genes how much more potential they have for endurance. They are now on reserve. And now I understand why the average human being just leaves this state and builds his future elsewhere. That is the road I need to take as well. For it is impossible to put up with this image of perfectionism, at which the state ultimately fails miserably!