Sunday, November 29, 2009

RECURRING PATTERNS IN RELATIONSHIPS -- WHY ME?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Have you noticed how we keep falling into the same patterns repeatedly, especially in relationships?
It took some time but finally she realised there was more than coincidence to blame for the way she kept getting let down by people she trusted the most. She would promote their interests, help instill confidence. And then the same person would turn around and stab her in the back!
This happened not once, not twice, but several times till she started losing confidence and became distrustful of all around, even close friends. It started way back in nursery class, when she would leave her prized pencil box with best friend Reema whenever she visited the washroom. “And still mom, my erasers and pencils get stolen,” she would complain.
Till one day Reema was caught stealing someone else’s stationery! And, Sanjukta realised she had been entrusting her property to the class thief! In fact, it took years of similar experiences before she realised something was seriously wrong! She invariably ended up trusting the wrong person!
It is then that she started questioning why this was happening to her repeatedly. Why me? Why does this happen to me again and again? Sounds familiar? Think about this; all of us go through recurring patterns with something or the other, usually someone or the other. Stray incidents manifest themselves as patterns once we recognise their frequency.
A psychiatrist friend talks of a woman who after an abusive marriage, walked into another wedlock with a guy who not just had an extra-marital affair, but is also mentally abusive. This particular lady comes from a privileged background and is an intelligent and well-sorted person. The psychiatrist wonders how such a bright and evolved woman could have chosen wrong both times for herself!
Such a recurring pattern may be negative, but could also be positive, points out friend and astrologer Sunita Chabra. However, we are unlikely to note the positive incidents; they get taken for granted. We are convinced that we are essentially good people and so don’t question the good things that come our way. It's only when things start going wrong that we start watching out for and questioning patterns! It’s then that we start blaming the world around for the chaos we find ourselves in.
Dr Brian Weiss, renowned American psychiatrist and past life therapist, explains that we get into recurring patterns because there are lessons to be learnt from past lives that we haven’t imbibed and till such time that we do so, we will find ourselves falling into the same trap again and again. Sunita agrees. However she says though we could blame Destiny for some of these recurrences, some could be due to flaws in our own personality too.
Dr Deepak Raheja, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, couldn’t agree more. “A pattern of abuse is like a self-fulfilling prophesy,,” he says. “It’s a defence mechanism called projective identification where we pull and attract through behaviour or our body vibrations situations or people who inflict similar kind of pain or act in a manner that helps the environment go wrong. And then we say the world is too chaotic for us! The paranoid instinct takes over and the picture that emerges is a tarnished, paranoid image.”
In order to break such destructive patterns, the first step is awareness. First, an understanding and an acceptance that one is a victim of such a recurrent destructive pattern, then an awareness as Dr Raheja points out, that the problem is within, not outside us. “We have to understand that the chaos we visualise the world to be, is actually a reflection of the chaos within us. We are attracting those people and situations towards us.”
So, a certain amount of soul searching is important. Even if we cannot understand why we are on this self-destructive trajectory, just an awareness that we are on it, is enough to set us on the path of healing. In fact, Dr Raheja goes a step further and says that these negative occurrences or people are not really destructive, but friendly because they help make us aware of the problem within. “Emotions that inflict pain help us develop cognitive skills that take us to the next level.”
Once we become aware, we can evolve to a higher plane of consciousness where we take ownership for our own actions and it’s from here that the change begins. Dr Raheja quotes Buddhism, which teaches you to pray for those that harm you most because they do so in order to help you realise problems within.
And, it’s when you start thinking thus that your cosmic relationship with that particular person starts changing and there is a break in negative patterns. And so, you stay away from the people or situations, who though still around, are not getting dragged into nor dragging you into recurrent patterns.

IS YOUR MARRIAGE WORTH SAVING?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

One act of betrayal need not be the end of the road… if your marriage is worth it, fight to save it from a position of strength.
OUR inbox is flooded with mail after the column on conversations with a friend on the verge of a split (Anatomy of A Break-up, October 18). Mail from women in the same situation as Rashmi, my friend who was torn between forgiving a trespassing husband and walking out on him.
Women from different parts of the country, all with a similar story - of a husband dallying on the wrong side of the marital bed. A sorority brought together in my inbox by the common bond of betrayal, unimaginable pain and lots of questions. All extremely hurt, despondent, frustrated, depressed and very, very angry. All looking for someone to talk to, hear them out sympathetically. Plaintive calls for help.
All women have asked me one question. What should they do? They know their husbands are cheating on them, but are torn between the instinct to walk out on the jerks or hang onto the fringes of a tattered marriage for the sake of kids. Most of them haven't spoken of it to anyone; some have not even yet confronted husbands with the knowledge.
Surprisingly, each one of those who wrote to me has kids. Probably the decision to cut your losses and leave is easier where there are no kids.
I am neither a counsellor, nor a psychiatrist - two professions that would be best suited to help these women. But I would still like to address some issues raised by the letters, for all it is worth. As one of the women put it, "When I go to a counsellor, I feel like I've paid this person to listen to me and have a limited time with him/her. And I hate being told what I am doing wrong. I just wish to be told, 'Hey, it's ok to feel like you do!' And only a sympathetic friend can do that."
Having spent hours talking to two of my friends, one who chose to walk out with child from a cheating husband, and another who decided to forgive hers and stayed on, let me attempt to answer some questions thrown up by these letters. Let's call my friends Richa and Mahima respectively to protect their identities.
The most important question an aggrieved woman needs to answer seems to be, "Is your marriage worth saving?" Have you had any happy moments from this marriage that you cherish? If the answer is no, advises Richa, don't even waste time on the man, since the problem here seems to be much deeper than the affair. "And anyway, what are you fighting for? More misery? I could have forgiven my husband one affair if he had been repentant, which he wasn't really, but I left him for all the earlier misery too. My child and I are much happier and more secure after I took this step."
Mahima, the friend who chose to forgive, says, "I am together, sane and healed. I kind of went into a shell for a while. I pampered myself, soaked in my own positivity and saw things for what they are. I have truly forgiven my husband, forgotten the past and started afresh. The biggest positive is that I took my decision from a position of strength. I was ready to be without him. But then I was convinced that he was truly sorry and so forgave him because basically he is a good man."
In both cases, the women agree that once a considered step is taken, never look back or take yourself through the misery of the betrayal again and again. Forgiveness is, in a way, imperative in both cases for your own peace of mind. Even a separated Richa realised she had a lot of bitterness stored up inside her till she reached a point where she didn't care about her ex-husband enough anymore to harbour any kind of feelings for him - positive or negative. That's the point at which she let go the anger and found her peace.
Both Richa and Mahima stress the need of a good woman friend in such a situation. Says Mahima, "A close woman friend helps ground you by showing you the mirror. She can listen without being judgemental and you really need that kind of blind faith when you are feeling so totally betrayed! You need someone for all the times you either wish to cry in total self-pity as well as for when you wish to let fly vitriolic abuse against your husband."
Those who are financially independent are the ones who have a choice; while those dependent on their husbands for financial security are the helpless ones who don't know what to do. For they have little choice. The first thing for those women to do is find a means of livelihood with help of supportive friends and relatives. Once that is done, then they can take a decision from "a position of strength," as Mahima puts it.
To those who wrote to me, I would say, it's very important to make your own happiness because nobody is in charge of your happiness except you. And it's important to make peace with your past so it doesn't spoil the present.
The trick is in reaching out. The moment you do that, you would find a thousand hands to help you...

EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL -- THE SILENT TREATMENT

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Dr Benjamin Spock warns parents to put an infant to bed in an independent room from Day 1 and not to give in to cries in the middle of the night. He suggests that infants realize early that crying has parents rushing to their bedside and if successful once, will try the same trick every night!
If the art of emotional blackmail is something we are born with, why expect to grow out of it as we go on? Watch a child when it howls for something. In between heart wrenching sobs, he keeps stealing glances to ensure he hasn’t lost the interest of his target audience, mostly parents.
As besotted parents give in to the cute little tyrant’s emotional blackmail, this sets the pattern for the habit of a lifetime. All of us indulge in a bit of emotional blackmail; we give in to it or resist a bit of it every day in almost all relationships. And we even enjoy it in its most innocent form. A lover and a beloved, for instance make a fine art of emotional manipulation and cajole each other into doing what they want.
Emotional involvement with another creates undefined boundaries between people. Expectations have no set models and could vary crazily, thus setting the grounds for misunderstandings. Put together unjustified demands along with misplaced expectations and the situation could be rife for disaster.
Healthy relationships are able to define boundaries as they go along. Amoeba like they shift, adjust and realign themselves till a comfort level is reached for both parties. And all is well so long as both parties take considered decisions to accept, circumvent or reject attempts at emotional manipulation. So long as there is a healthy give and take both ways, there is no issue.
And hence there’s not much harm, and sometimes even pleasure, in giving in to a child’s innocent attempts at manipulation by using emotion as a threat. Or, even in indulging the beloved who refuses to talk, smile, or allow sex till some demand of hers is met. There is a light interplay of emotions in these circumstances that even helps cement the bond. There is a thrilling sense of power in watching your loved one give in to your emotional demands and a certain reassurance that can only help the relationship.
However, emotional blackmail isn’t always as simple or innocent as that between a child and a parent or an upset beloved with an indulgent lover. And often in the hands of the wrong person can become an instrument of emotional manipulation and control.
It’s when all demands emanate from one person and all adjustments are expected from the other that light, emotional interplay crosses the boundary over to heavy emotional blackmail.
It’s important to recognize the first indication that you are a victim of emotional blackmail before you get pulled along with the tide and find it difficult to extricate yourself, says Aruna, who has been a victim of such behaviour and was introduced to me by a psychiatrist friend who helped the couple out of a dead-end relationship.
The modus operandi of an emotional blackmailer is to play up emotions on an all-time high. Aruna explains how her husband would often threaten her directly or threaten to harm himself; at times he would act the martyr to attract sympathy or try to tantalise with attempted bribery. All the time he demanded an overdose of attention, expect his demands to be met at any and every time. Aruna reveals how she would spend all her time catering to his demands, whims and fancies. And he would never care about her needs or emotions ever.
Experts describe the emotional blackmailer as someone who usually gives in to fluctuating moods, is an intense personality who listens to dark music and is attracted by emotional lyrics and poetry. He normally blames the rest of the world for all his troubles, is a loner who claims nobody understands him and is someone who often threatens to walk out of relationships.
Aruna talks about another favourite technique of emotional manipulators. It is “the Silent Treatment,” she says with a sad smile. This is a great attention-seeking strategy. Such people withdraw, remain silent and don’t allow you an inch to approach them. “After an interval, he would turn up again and blame me for not being there when he truly needed me,” she says. It’s a no-win situation for the victim and helps manoeuvre you into the position the perpetrator wants.
How does one get out of such a situation? Aruna advises one must first and foremost understand they are being blackmailed and that this is totally abusive behaviour. The next step is to draw boundaries and refuse to be a victim anymore. It is important to understand and consider one’s own needs. And if need be, one should seek help. As Aruna did.

PAPA DON'T PREACH!

Vinita Dawra Nangia

During a casual chat a colleague mentioned he had been an average student whose disillusioned father had at best expected him to man a grocery store. Today, as he handles a coveted position with The Times of India, he reveals how in his mind he is still trying to prove his worth to his father all the time.
Another colleague, whose bureaucrat father wanted him to follow in his footsteps, confesses he spent the first few years of his professional life trying to prove to his father how a job in the private sector has its own charms, even if not the security of a government job.
A friend who works with a private sector bank actually took a break from his job to take up teaching assignments in a couple of reputed private institutes. Later he admitted this was nothing but a subconscious attempt to prove to his father that even though he couldn’t get into an IIT, he could still teach management students!
Those who have stopped trying to prove their worth to Daddy are people who feel they have gone beyond expectations and whose parents have acknowledged that in so many words. Apart from that, deep down each one of us is more often than not trying to prove ourselves to our parents.
If so many of us grow up struggling with our parents’ notions of us, perceived or real, it becomes incumbent on parents to be extremely careful how they project their expectations and desires onto children.
There was a time when it was the most natural thing for parents to expect children to fulfill their own unachieved desires or to even follow in their footsteps. I can understand why a businessman would expect his children to grow up and take over the business. But I cannot understand why a politician would want his child to be a politician, a doctor expect a child to grow up into his profession, or a bureaucrat insist his child appear for the Civil Services exams at least once!
I even know a child who attended his father’s college briefly just to please his dad, before going on to the institute he really wanted to study at! While at one level, this may seem sweet and rather the act of an ideal son, can you imagine the pressure on the poor child?
Why are we in the habit of foisting the burden of our unfulfilled desires onto the next generation? Why do we feel obliged to decide for our children what we want them to do or be in life? In doing so, we assume that our child is our mirror image and wants exactly what we want of life. Or, worse still, when choices and desires obviously clash, we choose to believe we know better than our children!
The many factors apart from genes that go into the making of a person, along with evolution ensure that the next gen is totally different from us with shifting goalposts and a better idea of what they want from life. It would be foolish to assume we can impose dreams and goals onto them. Our dreams and desires must either be fulfilled by us or end with us. As simple and brutal as that.
With her years of experience as celebrated Principal of Delhi Public School, Dr Shayama Chona, now President, Tamana and author of Effective Parenting, says, “Everything in life is a payback. You give back to your children whatever you hear, see or experience yourself. Parents should really leave them alone to achieve their potential. Do not impact kids with what you want them to be. Understand what they want to achieve and give them the confidence that their parents support them for their desires and goals, rather than for fulfilling their own needs. Indeed families that give more importance to their children’s thoughts and ambitions achieve greater success with their children.”
It is equally important to be sensitive when telling off children or criticizing them. One has to understand that the effect of something we may say casually may become a lifelong albatross round the child’s neck. In his desire to please and inborn instinct to meet his parents’ approval, the child may carry the burden of an unfulfilled desire or an unmet dream all life through…
And then he could be a super achiever occupying a most coveted position, and still be thinking, “Hey Dad, I made it! Err, do you agree with me…?”

WHEN ROMANCE ENDS...HOW TO PART ON GOOD TERMS

Vinita Dawra Nangia

When Priyanka Chopra and Harman Baweja split, she seemed to move out faster and more smoothly from the relationship than Harman did. In a recent interview he talks about his suffering during the shooting of What’sYour Rashi? “There was a lot of awkwardness. It was hard to see her talk on the phone and text. I knew what was happening…” he says, hinting that Priyanka was carrying on with Shahid right under his nose.
Priyanka, on the other hand, well into another relationship, was seemingly insensitive to Harman’s suffering. When Kareena and Shahid split, Kareena seemed to move on more smoothly into a new relationship with Saif, while Shahid seemed to linger on in the now defunct relationship for a while longer.
Almost always when a relationship ends, one person tends to shed it off faster, while the other wades through the pain and grief of parting. How you respond depends on your personality type and state of dependence on your partner, but mostly is dictated by the manner in which the parting happened. Did one unexpectedly walk out of the relationship while the other was unprepared? Or, was it a slow and helpless falling out of love on both sides? Did the relationship have a history of one martyr and one perpetrator of injustice? Did one cheat or hurt the other in any way? Was there respect in the relationship?
What helps the process is if the break is for the right reason. If two partners decide to break off to move on to more positive and fulfilling stuff, the parting is likely to be amicable. However if one partner walks out more as a statement, seeking to hurt or ‘punish’ the other, the parting and subsequent interaction is bound to be acrimonious and painful for both. In order to have a peaceful after, it’s important to weed out the negativity along with the end of the relationship.
The younger and inexperienced you are, the more likely are you to take the break-up hard. However youth also grants resilience and a younger person is likely to recover faster from a break than an older one. Longer the relationship, the harder the hit. The hurt is bound to affect both partners; there can be no break without some pain.
However, in deference to the relationship and earlier shared love, it is incumbent on the break-up pair to ensure the impact on the other is minimal. Some people find it helps to have a “Transition Relationship” around the time of a break up. Almost always in a breakup, one person has found someone other to love, while the other is smarting under disbelief and grief.
The hurt person may attract such a temporary relationship, which often breaks up after a while. It is commonly looked upon as a “relationship on the rebound” that was a miscalculation and so, bound to break. However, I prefer to agree with those who look upon such transition affairs as a helpful hand Destiny extended to help us across a difficult period of life. And since such help is needed for just a while, these relationships, by their very nature, are destined to be short lasting.
The most critical thing to remember in the midst of all this grief is that time heals all. There comes a time when the heartache stops, tears dry up and the only emotion that remains is maybe a soft regret for what could have been. Unless of course you have reason not to let go that last link with the relationship. As with actor Rekha, who often chooses to create embarrassing moments by keeping alive the memory of her decades-old affair with Amitabh Bachchan. The Big B though, seems to have moved on. Unless he is a better actor than her!
One moves on and stops grieving, no matter how sharp and unnerving the parting. Knowing this as a reality in the middle of your tragedy helps. And what helps more than anything else is the knowledge that your partner, even though estranged, is still according you due respect and making an effort to help make the parting easier for you. And so, it becomes important that you return the favour.
You cannot predict or help how a relationship ends. But you can certainly choose to let go of it with dignity. For this, it is important to first accept that yes, the relationship has actually ended. The support of friends and family is something that should be actively sought to help you tide over the worst of the crisis.
Remember that under the stress of a breaking relationship, tempers can be mercurial; try and avoid getting into fights, and make some allowances for the other partner’s irrational words and actions; it will help you retain your sanity.
Even if you have moved into a new relationship, do not flaunt it in front of your ex or mutual friends. Every relationship needs a closure. It is important to talk as well as to listen, to discuss and together try to understand rationally and without emotion what went wrong. Also, take think of all the things you can do now that you will be free. Plan your days in a manner that doesn’t allow you time for brooding.
Try staying away from reminders of happy times, at least for a while. Those memories will bring a smile later, now they will only make you miserable. Do not try to “remain friends” at least at this stage…that’s unnatural and can perhaps come later.
If handled carefully on both sides, parting though still painful, can cease to be a lifelong trauma.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Asin launches Times Nightlife Guide 2009


Vinita Nangia (author of Times Nightlife Guide) and Bollywood star Asin at the launch of Times Food and Nightlife Guide 2009 at Hotel Maurya Sheraton on May 3.
The nightlife guide lists the best bars, lounges, nightclubs and discotheques of Delhi and NCR. An annual event, this the Food Oscars of India, sees Bollywood stars and A-list celebs handing awards to Delhi's best restaurants and bars.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

WHAT IS ROMANCE? THE MANY HUES OF ROMANCE...

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, June 17, 2007)

Romance, who loves to nod and sing,
With drowsy head and folded wing,
Among the green leaves as they shake
Far down within some shadowy lake
-Romance by Edgar Allan Poe

Deeply dipping d├ęcolletage, dinner by candlelight and ardour in his eyes…… Romance?
Yes, of course.
Walking hand in hand by the seaside, silhouetted against the sunset as you murmur sweet nothings to each other….. Romance?
Sure.
Giggling together over nothing; shared chocolates, songs heard and sung together; fingers touched and snatched away; champagne and roses…. Romance?
Mmmmm, YES!
Time spent together, full of love and mischief, but parting to go your separate ways, love locked deep in your hearts; a baby’s quivering dimpled bottom, pitter patter of rain, streaks of sunset colour in the sky … Romance?
Ma…ybe.
A glimpse of knickers under Anna Kournikova’s tennis skirt; loving more than one person at a time, having no-strings-attached sex with a friend once in a while …. Romance?
Ouch! Cheeni kum hai…But hey, WHY NOT?

Why must romance necessarily be something to do with love, togetherness and spending time with your lover? Like most things in life, why must romance be bound by definitions and limits? To the extent that when a website asked a number of romance writers to post their definitions of romance, each one defined it as the love story of a man and woman, their strength of character, trials and tribulations, and how they overcome these. Each author specified that a romance could only possibly have a happily ever after (HEA) ending!
But how realistic is that? The definition of romance changes with time. From medieval to Gothic to 18th century romantic poetry to early 20th century War romances, onto the Harlequin series and realistic romances – what a world of difference!
One way to measure this is to flick through a few romance novels. Pick up the all-time favourite Mills & Boons for instance. A few years ago, virginity was a pre-requisite and the main characters verbally sparred their way through the story till the end when they discovered their all-encompassing love and were allowed the first kiss… Swoon, swoon… how sweetly romantic!
Today, they start off as ‘fuck buddies’, move in together and the idea of marriage and HEA comes almost as a surprise! Virginity is not even considered, though fidelity is still a requisite.
Medieval romances were all about quests and adventure. Modern romance too is about quest – but an internal quest, a quest to discover yourself. Romance today is as much about your journey inwards – a relationship with self -- as it is a loving relationship with another.
Romance is no longer about waiting for the right time or opportunity; it’s about the here and now. It’s for you to find romance in every moment, every thought and every word. For, romance emanates from within you. If you keep waiting for the right time and place, it will just pass you by.
What are the feelings a romantic situation arouses? Romance is when you feel good about yourself and everyone around; when your good hormones are flowing and you love the whole world. If knickers peeking out from beneath a skirt seem kinda cute to you, then that’s your kind of romance! If you get addicted to exercise and look forward to your early morning walks, even that could be your experience of romance. Glaze gazing far out into the horizon with a blank mind could be as romantic as a bubble bath with your lover. Anything and everything that helps you connect with joy of living is romantic.
If you are willing to stretch your definition of it, romance is always in the air around you; you just have to sniff it out. It’s there in the leaf that just dropped to the ground; the trees laden with droopy, bright yellow amaltas; in the colours of dawn and dusk. It’s actually nowhere without; it’s within you.

CECILIA, YOU'RE BREAKING MY HEART!

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, June 3, 2007)
Unlike France which votes for virility, India seems to vote for celibacy!

French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls wife Cecilia "my strength and my Achilles heel." When it comes to her, Sarkozy is reported to be “soft, helpless and impossibly forgiving.” The French are said to love this! Sigh! Who wouldn’t?
The French image of helpless, forgiving romantics contrasts sharply with the rigid, unforgiving stances rest of the world takes towards love and lovers’ foibles. Cecilia eloped with her American lover in 2005 and disappeared for several months reportedly while her husband dallied with a French journalist. The 49-year-old brunette was missing during the crucial part of her husband’s election campaign, but reappeared when he took the Presidential oath.
Ever since, French press has been rife with speculation over will-she-won’t-she give in to social pressures as First Lady and give up her wild ways.
A pat and tweak of the cheek and a shared public kiss between the Prez and his wife have raised hopes Cecilia will allow Elysee Palace to rein in her free spirit. However she recently declared, "I don't see myself as a First Lady. That bores me. I'm not politically correct. I potter about in jeans, combat trousers or cowboy boots."
For the French, several marriages and divorces, children on the wrong side of the sheet or any number of dalliances are a part of life. French politicians, unlike their hapless British and American brethren, share a rare protection from exposure despite scandalous conduct because of the country’s strict privacy laws. No paparazzi cult here!
In fact, a recent French poll showed that 83 per cent public would vote for a candidate even if he had cheated on his wife. It seems that a few seductions and extramarital affairs increase a candidate’s chances of winning since this proves his virility!
Consider the Presidential record. In 1899, President Felix Faure suffered a fatal heart attack while having sex with his mistress. Mitterand led a parallel romantic life. Outgoing French President Jacques Chirac had quite a reputation as a Don Juan. He even admitted that he loved some women "as discreetly as possible." If anything, this endeared him even more to the sentimental French. Contrast that to President Bill Clinton who denied a liaison with Monica Lewinsky amidst immense national moral outrage over the oral sex scandal.
But then, France is where the role of mistresses has been an established institution for ages. Right from Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress for 20 years, to one of France’s greatest designers, Coco Channel, described as “a great mistress, a great designer and a problematic historical figure" to legendary couple Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who gave themselves as wholeheartedly to tempestuous affairs as to each other.
Now just picture the situation back home in India, where our leaders, if they are to remain in power, are expected to maintain celibacy through their lifetime if they are single or widowed. Unlike France which votes for virility, India seems to vote for celibacy!
Indira Gandhi ostensibly led a celibate life for 24 years after her husband’s demise Though there were whispers, nobody dared speak any louder. And, imagine the uproar if Sonia Gandhi’s name were linked romantically to another man’s! And not just women; men too must refrain from l’affaires de couer if they hope to retain their positions of power. Everyone loudly whispered about Atal Behari Vajpayee but they were just whispers… And what about President Abdul Kalam? Jayalalitha? Uma Bharati? Mayawati? They aren’t even married, but catch them owning up to girlfriends or boyfriends! And yet, for all France’s chutzpah with romantic dalliances, at heart the French are traditional in their own manner. And while affairs on the side are fine, they don’t want to see broken homes. Amidst immense pressure from the new President, French media was forced to withdraw stories about wild Cecilia’s romp with lover boy and instead concentrate on her loving reconciliation with husband. Just like in India….

OUCH OF HONESTY!

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 27, 2007)

Have you seen the TV commercial where this man finds a 500 rupee note as he walks down the road? He stops, looks around; finding himself alone, he seems to weaken for a moment, before straightening up painfully and walking away with a shrug.
Honesty? A sense of integrity? No. It’s an ad for Iodex!
Even as viewers grapple with moral issues, ironically, the only thing that stops the guy from bending and picking up the note is fear of hurting his back further. A painful decision both ways.
But then honesty is painful! As are most of the “right” things in life! They don’t come easily. And, more often than not, most of us toe the straight line out of a fear of being caught doing wrong. It is fear rather than principles that keeps us on the straight and narrow. Fear of ostracisation; fear of being branded dishonest, unfaithful, immoral or a thief.
And so either you remain honest or make a great show of honesty. Honesty doesn’t come naturally to us because honesty is quite complex and again, like truth, contextual and somewhat cultural too. It’s a tag you choose to give, and then, hang yourself by. Being totally honest is pandering to your ego, convincing yourself you have achieved the impossible. And then, it certainly isn’t easy to stick to honesty when you get labeled “bechara” or an idiot for toeing the straight line!
Wonder how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh felt the day newspapers displayed his assets front page for all to peruse? Not a very comfortable situation, even if he had nothing to hide. As a result, the whole country went, “Bechara, sirf char crore!” The rising respect in people’s eyes can only be cold comfort when you are subjected to pity as the predominant emotion.
What’s bechara about an honest man? A bureaucrat friend narrates the incident of how friends told his father they would rather go to some other officer than request his son to do their work since “woh bewakoof na khata hai na auron ko khane deta hai. Darta hai!” As a result of which, they said, he was ineffective. They would rather go and pay up another officer and ensure their work gets done! So, not just bechara, but stupid and a coward as well!
If that is the common perception about honesty, it is indeed a difficult virtue to nurture. As Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka, who uncovered many a dishonest face, said in a casual chat, “There are no black and white rules regarding honesty. Everyone has to apply their own yardstick. Human beings are complicated and being honest isn’t easy.”
A colleague confessed the other day how her daughter found an expensive Barbie doll watch outside a mall some days ago. They asked around but couldn’t find any claimant. Struggling between the desire to let her child keep the watch and the fear of sending her a wrong message, the mother arrived at a compromise of sorts. She told her daughter that because what they had found wasn’t money and because they had made sincere efforts to find the rightful owner, she could keep the watch. Having done that, she is still assailed by guilt pangs -- not over keeping what belonged to someone else, but over whether she has sent her daughter the wrong message!
Different mothers would certainly have reacted differently in this instance. And yet, each one of them would have convinced herself that she was being honest. Because in the ultimate analysis, you have to be honest to yourself and do what you are comfortable with.
All of us are honest. In our own way.

THE GIFT OF GAFFE!

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 20, 2007)

The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable!

The world smiled indulgently when the American Prez fumbled, then winked at Queen Elizabeth during her state visit to the US. The Queen, instead of taking umbrage, actually seemed amused. Dubya’s faux pas, engineered or genuine, seemed to go down well with all, earning at best a chuckle and at worst a tut-tut.
What helped perhaps was that probably everyone, including the Queen, expected the President to slip up some time or other. Though perhaps not so early as within15 minutes of greeting her!
Even as Yank bluster fumbled in the face of Brit ceremony, it was clear that the world at large seems far more accepting of George Bush’s gaffes than his own countrymen. In fact his perpetual cowboy boot-in-mouth serves to make the world’s most powerful man seem more human. Of course what helped further was that the Queen sportingly took the slip in protocol in her royal stride. Even better, she chose to partake in it by poking gentle fun at Bush’s expense just before returning to England!
Reportedly at a ceremony, “grinning widely,” she raised a toast to her country’s friendship with US, obliquely referring to Dubya’s gaffe with a witty, “"I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, 'When I was here in 1776..."' amid laughter.
The incident possibly took the Queen back to her last visit to White House in 1991 when George Bush senior was President. George junior had then introduced himself to the Queen as the "black sheep of the family", asking her who was the black sheep of the Windsor family, much to the horror of his mother, Barbara Bush.
One wonders if it is the famed stiff British upper lip that brings out the worst in etiquette from Bush, known for his Texan drawl, fumbling ways and informal manner. After all, he also once greeted Prime Minister Tony Blair with: "Yo, Blair. How are you doing?"
Be that as it may, but certainly the Presidential wink is far more than what it has been made out to be. It is difficult to believe that even Bungling Bush could have winked at the Queen without meaning to. The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable! A world where a bow is replaced by a wink; affectation by affection. A world where the monarch is forced to not just graciously accept breaks in protocol, but to loosen the stiff upper lip enough to grin back widely. A world whose foundations were laid by the likes of late Princess Diana, whose slip from protocol was constantly frowned upon by Buckingham Palace. Certainly a world where ceremony and protocol take a backseat to just doing it!
And if that is so, are we saying Dubya just stumbled upon that carefully executed wink? One wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t built into the script carefully prepared for President Bush by some of the world’s most clever men in a country that prides itself on changing the destiny of nations.
Even as the memory of that cheeky, conspiratorial wink is likely to cause keepers of royal protocol many a sleepless night, the Queen all of a sudden seems more human and approachable. One wink has served to transform her from a frigid, distant monarch to a warm, vulnerable, dignified woman capable of a dry turn of wit and of holding her own when put in a spot!
It is true that possibly nobody less than the world’s most powerful man would have got away winking at monarchy, but it is also true that it would take none less powerful than him to attempt a wink that clearly symbolizes a dramatic shift in power equations!

WE'LL LOVE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE IF YOU ARE PERFECT!

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in The Times of India, May 13, 2007)
Men move around under a cloud of guilt unable to understand or meet the ever-burgeoning expectations of women in their lives!

Sometimes, just sometimes, I feel bad for men. Considering the quantum leap women have taken from last generation to ours, men can only be said to have regressed As women gain confidence and poise, they are not just challenging men in their own space but also questioning what for generations has been accepted male behaviour.
That leaves men befuddled, with no role models to follow. After all, when they look towards their dads, they see a generation of guys who still shout out to their wives for a glass of water – and get it! Dare they try the same?! Not a chance, faced as they are with perhaps the most formidable generation of women in years past and to come – women who have discovered their identity and are reveling in the new-found strength of their feminity.
To make matters worse a recent study indicated that men may no longer be required for procreation either, with the possibility of creating sperms from a woman’s bone marrow! How men must have quaked at the prospect of being nudged out of the only activity they believed women couldn’t manage without them! Pleasure of course is a possibility without guys, as women have known since Stone Age it seems (as indicated by the recent discovery of sex toys and dildos in a Stone Age cave in Germany)!
Men today labour under a perpetual cloud of guilt, not quite sure what they have done wrong nor what they are expected to do! Not surprising because women themselves don’t seem too sure of who or what they really want their man to be!
It begins with Mom, who starts telling her little boy he shouldn’t be like Dad because no woman other than her would tolerate such an attitude. She forgets to mention however who or what he should be like. Then there is sis who is perpetually complaining about perceived disadvantages and blaming him for these, “Just because he’s a boy!” Quite unsure what his being a boy has to do with everything wrong in her life, he moves on to girlfriend and wife.
The problem here is that no woman is quite sure whether she wants a macho guy who sweeps her off her feet and vows to protect her, or a metrosexual man of the world, who is gentle and savvy and her equal. While she makes up her mind, our man has been hurtled through many avatars, which have left him one confused mess. Counter to what he has heard about feminists, a woman is quite happy with him paying all restaurant bills and holding open doors for her; wants him to be the chief breadwinner of the family and to handle all payments and matters that require running around. Pant! Pant! And yet, she also expects him to help around at home, with the house as well as kids! Whoa!
Well, to be honest, no man actually does all that, but that’s where the guilt seeps in! Expectations are a strange thing. They have nothing to do with you. And yet, either you do what you are expected to do, or you suffer guilt pangs. And once that happens, it gives the woman in his life just what she needs – a handle on her man. Most men complain women have become adept at making them feel inadequate. But of course, how else would we feel more than adequate? Come, honestly girls, how often have you heard the guy in your life whine, “Why am I blamed for everything that goes wrong?!” There you are!
Is it any wonder then that most women think men today seem confused, inflexible and inadequate? He’s damned if he does; damned if he doesn’t! And either way, he certainly can’t hope to measure up to the paragon we dream of!

Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn't fast enough
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are
If you're perfect
Alanis Morissette

WHAT TRIGGERS YOUR TURN-ON?

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 6, 2007)

The kissa kiss ka refuses to die down. And, why should it? How often do we get the opportunity to legitimately focus on and replay a titillating scene except on DVD in the confines of our bedrooms? And here the courts and media are doing it for us, ensuring we don’t forget what the misguided judge issuing Gere’s arrest warrant, called “the indecent act”
Indecent? Show me one woman who wouldn’t have wanted to be in Shilpa Shetty’s shoes when Richard Gere swung her into a clinch – and I will tell you she is lying!
It’s not so much Gere, as the idea of being swept off her feet that fires a woman’s imagination. And Gere’s action when he grabbed Shilpa is the stuff a woman’s dreams are made of. Women are suckers for romance and find it incredibly sexy to be taken unawares and surprised with a quick hug, an unexpected kiss, a sudden clinch, a gift out of the blue…
Unacceptable as the thought may seem, a hint of aggression is always thrilling. Remember Raj Kapur’s near manhandling of Nargis in their love scenes? The way he pulled her hair to turn her face up to his; how he twisted her arm behind her back to bring her up against his chest? Sigh! In the act of adopting refined metrosexual attributes, men today have forgotten some caveman tactics women swooned over!
Look at the emotions Gere’s act on stage aroused. In a Times survey, every second girl in Mumbai and every third girl in Delhi expressed the desire to switch places with Shilpa as Gere recreated the screen romance when he similarly swung Jennifer Lopez to a gravity-defying angle in Shall We Dance!
Strange indeed are the ways of our titill-o-meters! Not everyone can understand another’s turn-on trigger. Expecting it to be an interesting exercise, I started asking friends and acquaintances what excited them most in love scenes.
Women predictably settled for “that look in the eye,” “a deep baritone,’ or “a lopsided smile.” Smiles and eyes remain a hot favourite with the fairer sex, with humour and a prolonged courtship not quite as desired elements as they used to be once!
However, it was the men’s response that came as a pleasant surprise. Not one of them settled for hard-core sex. Something of an eye-opener was that most men indicated mushy stuff as their big turn-on – certainly not what one expected!
Said a male colleague, “It’s the talk that turns me on – intelligent double entendres that say everything and yet leave a question mark. For instance, if I were to rub my cheek against a woman’s and suggest, “Do you think there’s something between us?” Wow. Just then another said , “No talk. That’s what excites me! Remember Falling in Love? Almost half way through the movie and the tension is palpable but Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro still haven’t spoken to each other. And then one day he does … that’s the stuff turn-ons are made of!”
Not quite yet recovered from this unexpected male mush, yet another male colleague took the wind out of my sails by referring to the scene from Desperado, going gooey over the scene where Antonio Banderas teaches Salma Hayek to play the guitar amidst a sea of candles…
Omigosh, before this gets too mush for me to handle, let’s turn to more pragmatic guys. And, there were some! Said one: “The subtle display of skin, and by this I do not mean in your face nudity. Also stolen glimpses of skin are very erotic. For example, a shapely pair of legs revealed when the wind is blowing hard or a hint of cleavage is far more erotic than the same legs on display in a micro mini or cleavage in a low blouse.” Well said!
Yet another named his erotica: “I find that risk adds a measure of erotica to things. It creates a great frisson when you're making out and there's every possibility you could get caught in the act. Anything from a stolen kiss to making out when someone could walk in at any moment is exciting.”
Wow, we do seem to have made phenomenal progress with men, if indeed exotica rather than erotica dictates their Big Os! Heigh ho!

PR IN TOP GERE!

Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, April 29, 2007)

Shilpa Shetty is a metaphor for foxy celebrities who manipulate social opportunities to gain fame and fortune.Witness the kiss with Richard Gere...

How many of you really believe wide-eyed Shilpa Shetty had no clue what would ensue after that very delectable onstage kiss shared with Richard Gere? Did she have no idea of what was coming when Richard swung her into a clinch which is the stuff female dreams are made of? Not likely.
Paris Hilton’s “leaked” video sex tapes; wardrobe malfunctions ranging from Janet Jackson to Carol Gracias; Mika’s smooch for Rakhi Sawant, and now the Richard-Shilpa kiss – all incidents announce the arrival of the new PR Gods of the 21st century. These peripheral celebrities have perfected the art of keeping the arc lights focused on themselves. Not just that, after creating controversial situations and dropping a timely hint to media, they are also perfect at adroitly stepping away and pretending innocence when hell breaks loose – much as it was meant to!
These are the people who engineer their own future by playing with destiny, but who can also convince the world that they are mere playthings in the hands of destiny! They live a dangerously tantalising life – living on the edge in a new era of media, creating a willing suspension of disbelief.
Shilpa is just a metaphor for being there and yet not there, for having your cake and eating it too. It’s an era of disaggregated identities, you are a part of a process but you are also the one who initiated that process! You step away and pretend it never happened; it’s just a figment of the media’s imagination! In the bargain you become victim as well as attacker; creator as well as the creation! So then what happens? The turn your life takes after that can only be called “conditioned destiny” and the response is far more incisive and effective than a paid PR plan! This is premeditated social behaviour that creates Gods out of mortals.
Consider this. First Celebrity Big Brother helps shoot Shilpa to international celebrity status with well-timed hints and interviews to media from her mom and sister on how Shilpa is being missed at home and how she is bearing up to the pressure of racial discrimination. In the blink of an eye, you find the girl-from-nowhere at the centre of a huge racial controversy spanning nations. Next she is being presented to the Queen and riding high on the popularity index. In the middle of it all, Shilpa plays God -- putting on an innocent act, magnanimously forgiving Jade Goody all her racial taunts and insults!
Then, just as the brouhaha around her threatens to settle down, Shilpa finds herself at the centre of yet another storm that stirs up media in India as well as abroad because of the involvement of a Hollywood star. Once again, Shilpa steps forward as the generous protector and benefactor “Poor guy! For such a trivial issue! How will it look in the international press? … Richard was just trying to entertain an unresponsive audience."
Of course she glosses over her own “teasing” of Richard Gere at lunch the same day about his “dance step from Shall We Dance. She hurries to clarify, “it was nothing but a joke and not pre-planned at all.” When reminded about a similar uproar when Padmini Kolhapure kissed Prince Charles many years ago, Shilpa said, "That was on the lips. This was on the cheek, for crying out loud!” Much like Bill Clinton’s protest that he never actually had sex with Lewinsky!

THE ENTIRE TRUTH?

Vinita Dawra Nangia

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
Its life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…

(Joni Mitchell, Love Actually)

How many times have you heard people say, “Oh I know my husband so well, he just wouldn’t do this!” or, “I know her through and through; she’s my daughter after all!” Famous last words. Don’t ever believe them!
You can live with someone an entire lifetime and yet not know everything about them. We know only what another may wish to reveal or what actions and words give away. And that holds true of even those closest to us.
Believing in my salad days that loving is telling all and knowing all, I would be frustrated if loved ones chose to keep away certain things or even at the hint of a falsehood. I would consider it a betrayal to keep even stray thoughts secret. Being painfully honest was almost a religion. Why should there be any secrets between lovers – loving is to be naked with each other in every respect.
And yet, we all remember Tess d’Urberville’s instant fall from love and life after her confession to Angel of a prior sexual encounter. And this, after Hardy’s heroine has forgiven her husband of a few hours, all his trespasses! What value truth?
Life is a great teacher and we all grow up to know better. Revealing the simple truth isn’t possible because there’s nothing simple about truth. Revealing your self entirely to another is impossible because there are multiple dimensions to your personality just as there are multiple dimensions of the same reality, looked at from different perspectives. There’s a generous you and there’s a mean you; you are honest as well as dishonest; creative as well as destructive; calm as well as chaotic. It all depends on the time of the day or who you are interacting with. Were you to reveal all these selves to another, would they not consider you a fit case for multiple personality disorder? And yet, you know you are fine with the way you are because an amalgamation of all these characteristics makes you, YOU -- the entity!
Revealing the entire truth is not even an option because truth, far from being just a binary representation of life, is contextual and multidimensional. Can anybody but Eva Braun understand the Hitler she loved, lived for and died with? And yet, that Hitler was her reality, while the rest of the world’s reality was a totally different man! "I’ve always said that I shan’t go on living if anything happens to you. You know that my whole life is loving you," she wrote to the man hated by the entire world!
Being truthful to one another is a complex expression because you are just revealing an aspect of yourself which is true and there are many other aspects. And so, when there is a truth and a falsehood in everything, your reality is the end of the stick you happen to latch on to.
Don’t we all know people who bring out different perspectives and evoke varied reactions from us? Some make you feel on top of the world; some bring out the worst in you; with some you go all quiet, while others bring out the talker within you. Some leave you stone cold, while others get you red hot!
They say there’s a sacred space that each of us keeps locked deep within us. The world sees what you choose to reveal. And isn’t that a blessing? Imagine your soul laid out bare for all to see, every thought, every emotion, every idea that flits through you. What a horrifying thought! Today, far from insisting on revealing all, I wouldn’t want to peep into another’s sacred space either! Call it loss of innocence or a part of growing up, but today I respect the need for a sacred space within that one can withdraw to, gain succour from and always depend upon. As for not knowing everything about friends, acquaintances and loved ones, thank God for that!