The touch-me-not in my mind

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There are places we become attached to because they reflect something of us. We personalize them over the years and then there is something so palpably ‘us’ in those spaces.

I feel that about my house.

Something beyond the visibility of the photographs and posters that adorn its walls…

Something beyond the collectibles, presents and trinkets it guards for me…

In the perceptions and memories that this house guards, I can see my own reflection. There is something in the way my house communicates with nature that mirrors the essence within me. It is a structure whose essence is built from my emotions. Over the years, I also seem to have projected my thoughts onto it. There is something of me that it now reflects- something that will remain with the passage of time. Something that will be retained even in my absence.

It is a place that has evolved with me.

I have felt this connection not just with physical spaces, but also with virtual spaces such as the films and the books that I deeply love, and with this blog here.

That mental bridge I build with all these spaces is what I leave of myself on this planet- the invisible part of me that is immortal.

This is what makes this blog very special to me. It gives me the feel of a house in the woods where I can be alone with myself, and dig out a few truths about life and about myself. A house in the woods that nobody knows about, save for the trees and the birds. A place where I have the luxury of solitude, with only the chirping of birds and the humming of bees penetrating the silence that I feel within me.

 

Last evening, I watched the film ‘Karunyam’. These days, I go hunting for Lohithadas films. Lohithadas was a psychologist without degrees and affiliations; he only had his work to prove his ability as a psychologist. And so, I am now addicted to his films. In all of his films, there is a deep message to humanity. And that message can be arrived at only through perception. I treasure such perceptions. Perhaps because they are so palpably absent in the real world.

Monsoons are the best time for perceptions. The darkness all around and the sound of the rain alienate one from the chaos of the external world. It is in this solitude that one becomes sensitive to the light within- a little light that beckons to you. Like the flame of a little lamp on the courtyard of a temple, burning relentlessly, on a cold and dark night. One is automatically attracted to that light. Perhaps this is the reason why monsoons bring out the best in writers. Especially monsoons in the tropics.

 

The film revolves around a school headmaster, Gopi Master (Murali) and his conflicting relationship with his son, Satheeshan (Jayaram). Gopi Master is a man whose self-esteem is rooted in his social role as a school teacher and headmaster. It is a role that has fetched him a livelihood, social respect and recognition. He projects his identity onto his son and aspires to see his son following his footsteps. However, his son is unable to fulfill this expectation. Satheeshan tries his best to live up to his father’s expectations and makes a wholehearted effort to secure a job, but fails. Gopi Master fails to come to acceptance of this reality and continues to be in denial of the predicament of his son. His denial is expressed in the sarcastic remarks and verbal humiliation he metes out to Satheeshan on multiple occasions. However, at all the moments that Satheeshan is in trouble or in pain, Gopi Master drops his defenses and transforms into the father who has a deep love for his son.

Such moments expose the affection, tenderness and protectiveness of a father towards his son.

Thus, the film takes us through the deep vulnerability that lies at the core of a human being. Beneath the principled and firm exterior of Gopi Master, we see the bleeding, tender mind of a father. Beneath the happy-go-lucky and humorous exterior of Satheeshan, we see a fragile mind that is struggling with its feelings of worthlessness. Lohithadas strips the garbs of defense of each of his characters, exposing their deep vulnerability. But he does this with love and compassion. And thus brings out the immense value in that vulnerability- the enormous strength that has enabled its survival. This was his signature that made his films unique.

 

Watching his films always makes me cry. They are not tears of sadness. They are tears of realization- the sudden, acute awareness of deep vulnerability within all those layers of defense I have built over the years. The awareness of having survived, despite the vulnerability…

The awareness of what it took to survive.

His films have the feel of sitting by a warm hearth on a cold night. As the warmth penetrates awareness, feeling returns. It is a welcome respite from the numbness.

In the modern world, we are all losing our ability to cry. This reflects the degree of defense we have built within ourselves, refusing to let go. And so, I find it very important to set aside moments for idle perceptions. In these idle perceptions, we may perhaps discover ourselves-

Our forgotten selves…

The self we have lost to survival.

They may bare us of the masks that we learnt to wear in order to survive, without realizing that these masks now shield us from our own selves-

From that vulnerability that longs to be loved and wanted…

A longing that we learn to deny.

I suppose people had always loved my defenses. They loved the picture of strength and confidence I portrayed. They loved the smile that would never leave my face. But when they got close enough to see the vulnerability within, I was rejected. It seemed to mirror their own vulnerability- the very vulnerability they were running away from. It was when I was convinced that my vulnerability had no place in relationships that I decided to adorn a permanent mask in all my relationships with people. I never bared my vulnerability and it was therefore possible to keep my self-esteem intact. But this defense came at a price. The awareness that the emotions fed by my vulnerability had no place in real world interactions, motivated me to find spaces where I could stay connected with my vulnerable self. I did not want to lose it to survival.

For it was the only thing that made me human…

That made me feel alive.

And thus, I found my respite in all the spaces that I have talked about earlier in this post. In the house I live, in the films I watched, in the books I read, in my association with nature and animals, in the blog on which I write, I preserved my vulnerability.

Most people I knew had learnt to survive by denying their vulnerability. But in the process, they had lost a precious part of their own selves. It was impossible for me to feel anything in my interactions with such people. They were incapable of love, compassion, kindness, empathy or any of the feelings that were once integral to us, simply because they had lost the ability to love and accept their own selves. They had nothing to give their own selves. Where was the question then, of giving to another person? I felt an uncomfortable sadness in my interactions with such people for I could feel they had permanently lost themselves and destroyed all the paths that led them back to their own selves.

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However, there were a few people I met- particularly rural characters who stood out in this game of survival. They were the real gems. They saw through my masks and loved the vulnerability. Simply because it mirrored their own vulnerability- a vulnerability they had learnt to accept. And so, they loved me with a purity and fierceness that I regard as my greatest wealth on this planet.

They saw not my vulnerability, but what it had taken for that vulnerability to survive.

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Only with such people, would I reveal the needs of that vulnerable self. With the rest, I was guarded for I was always traumatized by the abrupt rejection they were capable of. That they didn’t want me as sincerely as I wanted them, was difficult for me to deal with. That they didn’t miss me as painfully as I missed them in their absence, had hit me hard. In that darkness, I had realized that parents were the only truth. And in that, ‘mother’ was the greatest truth- the only truth that nature herself acknowledges.

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Who needs me?’ is a question that has always played high in my mind. At some point, I had realized that only my parents had made me feel truly wanted. It was this realization that motivated me to create a ‘want’ for me. My vulnerability was a blessing in this endeavor for it helped me empathize with people. I started realizing that I was most needed where there was pain and suffering. And so, I would always find myself drawn to pain and suffering.

That engagement with pain and suffering was the greatest paradox in my life. I had embraced just what I had always feared. I realized that the only key to another person’s darkness was the darkness in your own life. And thus, I took the journey with people who were suffering-

Suffering mentally.

I worked with them, more out of curiosity, love and empathy, rather than out of any defined objective. The more I worked with myself and with people, the better I became at understanding the processing of pain by the human mind. In my association with animals, I witnessed the mute suffering in their lives and realized how fortunate we humans were.

Awareness and learning strengthened me and transformed me. They tempered my vulnerability. My thoughts translated my vulnerability into experience and wisdom. That was my strength.

In my quest for understanding the motivational drive of the human mind, I realize that I am driven by beauty. The beauty of perception. I have found much beauty in this world. In the rain forests and in the deserts. In the skyline of cities. In the rivers and in the mountains.

But I think there is perhaps nothing as beautiful as the vulnerability of the human mind.

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11 thoughts on “The touch-me-not in my mind

  1. Somehow I used to feel that way, and would not shed my skin/mask so soon unless i felt comfortable, but these days, i open up soon, knowing that i am well past my prime when others can damage me when my defences are down…

    1. Sunith, Some of us are fortunate in that sense. But there are many vulnerable souls who struggle with the need to prove their worth in an insensitive and hostile society, and end up as victims of their circumstances. In fact, the book I have written, is all about this dynamic interaction between the environment and personality. It takes a mental journey through the minds of the characters in different films and explores the final outcome of ‘pain’/psychological trauma in relation to the differing response of people to stress.

  2. Your posts take me on a different plane and feel myself plunged into scenes from past… ..a time before vanities of this world crawled in and impersonated the true self!!

    I have felt the connections….with house, tables, trees, dogs and humans as well – a part of me rather a part of my core persona being reflected or passed on and refracted back some good and some for me to rectify…..may be I connected and they all fell in line – don’t know whether it’s all just fancy!!! Just as you think of Lohithadas there was a time I used to crave for bharathiraaja films …I felt and got emotionally attached to them….a lot of things are lost now ….Thanks Vidya for making me think of it all!!

    1. Mridhula, It was a pleasure to read your comment because it appears that my post here recreated for you perceptions you were attached to. Thank you for letting me know! It is always heartening to know that my thoughts have resonated with somebody else’s thoughts…

  3. Just to add to Mridhula’s point, I do mentally visit my old home in bombay where i spent 20 years of my life, and the impressions are so strong, that i can hold the window bars, see the chairs and tables exactly as they were laid out, open the godrej cupboard. I then lock the house, walk across the common verandah, go down the steps and visit the shops of old and walk across the roads that connect to my school…Why does the mind go back down memory lane, i sometimes think,

    1. If you have memories to go back to, you have lived a good life, Sunith. I have a lot of memories too. And today, they come as a welcome respite in a world where such emotions can no longer be felt in our interactions in the real world. Then, I am so glad about the memories!

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