More than ever, the unfolding of events in the last year has left me stumped. Call it naivety or sheer stupidity, the fact is that I have been stunned on several occasions. What I thought lay interred in the subconscious manifested itself with unimaginable intensity.
Among my circle of friends it is not uncommon to hear of splits, divorces and remarriages. In one case, a widower acquaintance of mine, initially devastated after the untimely death of his wife, appeared to be getting restless about his single status. His search for a partner led him to the women in his friends’ circle, many of whom were married. But what started out as a lark turned out to be a successful venture! Not one but two married women in his group responded favourably to his overtures. Surprisingly, he had a choice and after having a brief affair with both of them he chose one. When he announced his intentions to friends and family he was met with shock and disgust. The bewildered husband of the woman he eventually married had no clue how and why his wife left him. And to think that just a few months before, I had been feeling sorry for my widower acquaintance. Now I was only consumed with disbelief over his audacity of having an affair and getting remarried within 15 months of having lost his wife of 15 years. I was taken aback at the speed with which circumstances changed for him and the woman he married. I questioned my naivety in what I thought was a content relationship for the woman. With two kids in tow and in-laws living in, was it that easy to toss out an alliance, I wondered. Obviously the frustration that lay buried for quite some time had been exposed for her, and was defused by her newfound love.
In a drawing room conversation with some other friends, I happened to express my disgust at the recent assault on filmmaker Bhansali. The conversation then steered towards the BJP government and its Hindutva mindset. Much to my horror, some of my friends lauded the government’s overt efforts to promote it, displaying a sense of nationalism intertwined with religion. Before I knew it, I was at the receiving end. I never realised I had friends who harboured non-secular sentiments. I was completely overthrown by what had just emerged from the shadows. A sharp sense of disconnect from the very friends who I had been proud of; was palpable.
Last year I was in London during the Brexit campaign. At that time I believed that this was the age for collaboration and inclusivity, and the idea of Britain moving out of the EU was a ludicrous one. Everyone in London seemed to think so too. You can imagine my shock when I woke up one morning to the news of Brexit. This is unthinkable, there must be some mistake was my first reaction. It only gradually emerged that a large proportion of the British public, whose voice had not been captured by popular media, had nurtured xenophobic sentiments all along. What lay nicely tucked away from public view was rising like the proverbial Phoenix to find its place under the sun.
When the world was recovering from the upset over Brexit, we were in for another one. There has been no leader in modern times who has faced such massive opposition from the world as has Donald Trump. But who are these people who voted for a man like him? Why haven’t they been seen or heard all this time? Why had the world believed and assumed that Hillary would win? In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, it was only natural to believe that inclusiveness, multiculturalism and cooperation was on the rise. But Trump’s victory proved that divisiveness and isolationist tendencies were taking centre stage. Like a bolt from the blue what was unthinkable had surfaced.
I now realise that nothing can be taken for granted. Assumptions need to be questioned from time to time. While I continue to alter my own notions of people and societies, I wonder what will help in minimizing the extreme polarities in views that we see today. Technology and innovation might have made the world a global village but are bonds within societies strengthening to keep pace?
Are couples having enough conversations about the fulfillment of their needs and values? Are the voices of the marginalized getting enough air time? Are we allowing people from the lower socio economic strata into our lives to blur the divide? Is our insecurity about ourselves inhibiting us from being tolerant about divergent views? Are we letting go of our fears to allow for possibilities to take its place?
The task of building harmonious families and societies is a slow process, but one that is begging for our collective attention. The unveiling of the psychological distress, is a pointer for me and indeed all of us , to step into action on a war footing. Perhaps facilitating authentic dialogue with oneself and with sections of society may be a foundational step in that direction.