Single And Unapologetic.

To start off, let me share with my readers what prompted this post.  There is a post on facebook by an Indian novelist Usha Narayanan giving a link to a newspaper article with the same title.  In fact she is quoted in the article.

I have asked three single lady friends their opinion on the subject.  I really don’t know if they are happy about their single status as it is not something that we have discussed.  I however know of  a few cases of young ladies in careers desperately trying to get married and a couple where they did in haste and repented too.

On the other hand, this is a topic often discussed among men about advantages of being single men.  In my case, this has increased somewhat since I became a widower five years ago.

In India, whether you are a man or a woman does not matter.  From one’s mid-twenties, family and friends start asking one about one’s plans for matrimony.  It is very rare to find Indians unmarried beyond the age of thirty.

It is in this background that articles like the one quoted describe the new phenomenon but to the best of my knowledge, no one bothers to write about single men.  The fact of the matter is that women are under the magnifying glass for just about everything that they do and not so much the men.

I want to address the issue from a man’s point of view and since I do have a number of women readers, their views will be very welcome indeed.  Just a small rider before I proceed.  I am deliberately generalising with broad sweeps whereas reality is usually full of nuances and finer differences.  Please accommodate those for the sake of some intellectual kite flying.

There are bachelors, happily married men, unhappily married men, divorcees and widowers like me among males.  Many young bachelors with normal hormonal problems desperately try to get married and suffer till they do.  Since most of them in India do not know how to go about finding themselves a mate and are unhappy with what their parents find, it is very frustrating indeed for them till something clicks somewhere and they get married.

Next comes the happily married men and there is nothing to discuss about them.  Lucky sods.

The unhappily married men are the ones that need society’s maximum sympathy. Unlike the unhappily married woman who gets a lot of sympathy from everywhere, her male counterpart does not.  If he can afford it, he does find alternatives but that is such a minuscule minority that it is not worth writing about.  The long suffering husband stuck in an unhappy marriage due to financial or familial reasons is worthy of sympathy.  In a patriarchal society like ours he mostly gets ridicule unlike his female counterpart who gets sympathy.

The divorced men are admired by the unhappily married men and encouraged to stay that way.  The happily married men however take it upon themselves to advise them to get married again at the earliest and will even offer to find divorced women.  That the divorced man and divorced woman both want to experience matrimony again is simply too obvious when one peruses the weekend classified ads in our newspapers for second marriages.  There are so many ‘innocent’ divorcees that one wonders what the word means. And one also wonders why they would want to get married again if they are divorced!

Now comes the widower.  Here, I speak from personal experience as I have been one the last five years.  While my late father was alive, he felt it necessary immediately after I became one to take it upon himself to find me another wife.  He tried to get the help of my son who flatly refused saying that I am quite capable of finding one if I wanted.  The point is that even at that age, I was 66 when I became one, parental pressure was possible.  A couple of friends tried to impress on me that I should get married again but did not pursue the matter too much seeing how uninterested I was in the matter.  Two unhappily married friends were the only genuinely happy fellows to see me become a widower and they made it clear that they were happy not at my loss but at the prospect that such an eventuality is a possibility in their lives too.

And, if my dear reader you want to know what I feel, let me tell you, that  solitude is what I feel.  I  realise that I am now too set in my ways to find another mate who will find it difficult to adjust to my ways and I to hers.  So, I have got used to my single status and doubt very much that I will ever change.  I enjoy my solitude.

single

Mulla Nasrudin’s friend had to attend a funeral for the first time in his life. Not knowing the protocol, he approached Mulla for advice.
“Where should I be in the funeral procession, Mulla?” he said. “At the back, in front, or on one of the sides?”
“It matters little where you are, my friend,” Mulla said, “as long as you are not in the casket.”

 

 

Silence.

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get five different flavours of the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Grannymar. Grannymar is lucky! Of all of us, she would know most about this topic.

“True silence really means going deep within yourself to that place where nothing is happening, where you transcend time and space. You go into a brand new dimension of nothingness. That is where all the power is. That is your real home. That is where you really belong, in deep Silence, where there is no good or bad, no one trying to achieve anything. Just being, pure being. Silence is the ultimate Reality.”
~ Robert Adams.

Way back in 1978, I was on the fast track career-wise and burning the candle at both ends with a great deal of social obligations. My dear friend Sultan advised me to take to Transcendental Meditation (TM) made popular by the Beatles. Sultan had heard a lecture on the benefits of this technique and thought that I may yet be saved if I took to it. I did. After only about a week of regular practice ie. twice a day for twenty minutes each session, there was so much change in me that Urmeela wanted to learn and she did. Both of us regularly meditated and that was the turning point in my life, both in my career and personal life. Nothing else changed. The pressures of the career and social obligations remained, but I changed .

It simply meant that I was contacting that Silence that the opening quote talks about and the contacting was impacting my mind and body in a very positive way.

That exposure led me to study Indian spirituality for the first time and that has remained my first priority reading till today. It also led me to seek others on the same path and my spiritual progress has been enriched by those connections.

Six years later, in 1984 my mentor and boss at work, challenged me to successfully complete a ten day meditation camp to learn and practice Vipassana meditation. The requirements were to agree to ten days of total silence, no intoxicants and abstinence. Not one to let a challenge pass by, I attended a camp – and got hooked. So did Urmeela, once again seeing the beneficial effect it had on me. Both of us switched over to Vipassana. I started attending a minimum of one full 10 day camp and one or two short camps every year till, other compulsions made it impossible for me to go away for such long breaks from normal life. My practice however continues and I can no longer be without that daily dose of meditation. The exposure to such intense silence and meditation changed me completely.

The single most important aspect of meditation is the getting in touch with the Silence. All other benefits sucha s, increasing mindfulness, understanding and internalising impermanence, are byproducts, as beneficial as they may be. In that Silence lies my present and future.

Naturally, I prefer that Silence even during non meditation times and have been able to become a good listener because of that preference. This has had the unintended result of my becoming a mentor for many people who seek me out. I inevitably guide them to start any form of meditation that they will be comfortable with. I do not teach them, but guide them to teachers who can. I have seen some remarkable changes taking place in them with that, the most important being less agitated and stressed.

Silence and solitude go hand in hand. It is ecstasy when I can get it. I can be very creative and mindful in whatever I do, thanks to the regular getting in touch with my Silence in solitude.

Solitude.

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. ~Henry David Thoreau, “Solitude,” Walden, 1854

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now.

These two quotations sum up the thrust of my post.

My definition of loneliness is being uncomfortable when alone and, of solitude as being content and happy with oneself when alone.

I am never lonely. For some strange reason, reading books, listening to music, surfing the web etc when alone, are not considered to be truly living in solitude, by some of my friends who think that true solitude is to be completely isolated with nothing but nature to keep one company, like Thoreau experienced in Walden. I tell them that he had books to keep him company and I have the modern conveniences to do so. I add that with modern methods of communication, one can choose to be in company or not and that is precisely what solitude enables one to do.

The question then arises as to what one does if one prefers a life of solitude but is married. I was married for forty years, and still maintained that I could enjoy my solitude, or periods of it, despite my marriage, as did my late wife. This quotation says it so completely that no further elaboration is necessary. “In a soulmate we find not company but a completed solitude.” ~Robert Brault

Practically speaking, I enjoy my solitude most when I am meditating in the early mornings, solving crossword puzzles and reading books. I enjoy the banter and the company of my blog world as well as my real world, but there is only so much that I can take of that. After some time, I tire of such activity and prefer to return to my solitude. So much so, that a number of my friends now strongly believe that I am heading towards being a recluse. That does not bother me as much as it seems to bother them! To them I say that they are not worried that I will become a recluse as much as they worry that with my absence, they are afraid of being lonely! Neat, is it not?

How about you dear reader? Do you prefer solitude or are you afraid of loneliness?

Boredom.

Recently, I had an occasion to comment on a blog on the subject of boredom and I mentioned that the word itself did not exist in any Indian language and that the concept is alien and one that has been imported along with western life styles and values. This was a passing remark but subsequently, I did some research and also got my sister Padmini to, so that my observation could either be validated or negated. She is the more capable of the two to undertake such research and I am not surprised with her findings. I reproduce her mail to me as a guest post.

BOREDOM

“I am bored!” is a statement that is the nightmare of any mom with kids running around at home, especially during holidays. Why kids? The word boredom is trotted out with regularity by everybody with time on their hands or heads.

Strangely enough the word bore/boring has found its way into Indian languages. When I searched for equivalent words in Tamil and Hindi I got only words close to it, not an exact translation as it were. The word has been Indianised and is used in the languages as ‘bore’.

Why is this word not available in Indian languages? As an aside we do not have a word for ‘widower’ as well. More about this in another blog! The concept of boredom is itself an anachronism. Boredom arises from loneliness. India has a population of 1.1 billion. It is an open society, where people interact freely with family, neighbours and even strangers whom they meet casually in a public place. In this milieu, if you are lonely and getting bored, that is a matter of concern.

From a woman’s point of view in India a woman never had time—I am talking about the middle and working class women. After a day’s activity at home they would meet in the temple and apart from sending applications to the Almighty to send solutions for their problems they would exchange news, views and gossip, why even eligible alliances for prospective marriages! It was a strong support system and is still valid in neighbourhood temples in cities, towns and villages even today.

The men too had a busy schedule and interacting with neighbours and the village people was an on going project all the time. The men would meet in the evening under a tree in the village centre, where a platform was built and accommodated the elders. The daily news was read out and discussed, village problems were thrashed out and solutions found. Religious discourses, music and dance, dramas and the telling of the old stories was entertainment. Everybody went home early to bed and early to rise as there was only light from tapers and oil lamps. The day was busy with farming, religious rituals, commerce and earning a living.

With the advent of electricity the radio brought in the outside world. Movies mostly ‘Touring Talkies’ that brought films to tents in larger villages and towns was a big attraction. The TV has brought multiple families with myriad problems to watch and experience like mirrors in soaps in all languages that keeps people glued at prime time. The survival of the fittest keeps every kid glued to their books and projects and chasing grades.

The only term that came into being was ‘Time Pass’ and there were many activities for this. Is boredom then an alien modern concept that has now been patched onto the Indian psyche? Maybe as teenage angst, a view of a woman’s daily life as drudgery, a time to sit and reflect and be comfortable with yourself and your thoughts has been superimposed with the notion that all this causes boredom.

Frankly I have never felt bored—even when I had to sit in the car waiting for somebody, I would find the world outside through glass windows interesting and amusing as well. However this is an Indian pastime as cars are parked on roads full of people, trade and activity. Maybe I would be bored if I was sitting in a humongous car park looking at other models of automobiles. But even then there you have music to keep you company! In my visits abroad too I have found life fascinating in the trains, in the shops, streets and museums.

Boredom is for those who invite it to the exclusion of all other alternatives. What is your take?