Dealing with Damage


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Category: Reflections 04 May 14


“I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.”

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending

This week finally it happened. The slow unravelling that had been happening in my life for years, since I was a child, bubbled up to the top of the funnel and spilled. Perhaps it was related to that video of the girl getting lashed by her mother on Facebook for dressing inappropriately. I think that the mother’s intentions were correct—but her rage was criminal. If there was some way she could discipline that girl without violence—and if there was some way that every grown woman could dress decently in public and put “books” before “man” in adolescence—it might solve every problem in society. I feel pure disgust when I see grown women in tight shorts in public walking around with their grown daughters in tight shorts in public. I contain it, because I get told, too often, to go home. I contain my urge to say “please read, please tell your children to read, please tell your daughters their greatest asset now is their youth—the beauty in their potential will bring them everything they want, from anyone they want.” But I will feel like a mad woman and they will feel I am mad. Telling grown women not to wear pum pum shorts in this country is like trying to bring down the wall of China with a feather.

You get my drift. Yes, you do. But this week I felt a grief that made the Niagara Falls feel like the Caura River in dry season. There was no containing it. Some find it distasteful talking or hearing about grief, tears, the states humans find themselves in. The unexplained sudden rages, the irrational acts. But if that’s all writers and journalists do all their lives— examine and observe human nature, put it under the microscope the way scientists obsess over permutations of interactions of a few cells—well, what do you expect? A kind of a meltdown...We get off the drawing room chaise longue pontification and become a heap on the bathroom floor.

I have been reading ever since I can remember: backs of cornflakes boxes, signs, comic books, exclusion clauses in shops, trashy romances, books too big to understand (The Alexandria Quartet at 11—Lawrence Durrel) not because I was a literary genius —far from it. Moving around Indian states, each with its separate language, history, geography—pushes children into such a dense fog, one starts to disassociate from one’s life. Instead of a child student, I became a shortsighted readerobserver of adults of Indian army life. At the races and sports days and bridge parties and brunches and dances. All I saw was masks. Laughter. Alcohol. Sport. Uniforms. Then something would happen. A general would shoot himself in the head. There was blood in the snow in the Himalayas. The general’s wife, suspecting an attachment between the maid and her husband, murdered the maid (she poured stinging cold water on her, and scalded her to death in freezing conditions). The wounding was observed.

When I was three, the wounding was experienced in Sagar. I stood in a puddle in a rainbow in a playground. My parents were out. The help disappeared. A group of bigger boys kicked a mangy dog till it was still and then rained blows on me till I peed myself. They ran off when my grandmother swooped me up in her arms. Comfort came. Too late. When I was four, the wounding showed me the shattering of safety. That afternoon I was snuggled on a windowsill with a cosy blanket, looking at the sheets of rain. My mother was reading Jane Austen. The radio was on with some classical sitar or ghazals. A warm pervasion of ghee and butter sailed in from the kitchen, heralding dinner, my father’s uniformed presence. The news came on in Hindi. My mother’s voice. A sudden stifled scream. A school bus had overturned. Children died. In my foggy world I felt my brother was on it. Everything collapsed. My heart became a rock. What I want to say is: every time we leave the drawing room, or porch, or bathroom, and get help to wrestle with our own demons—which are firmly, make no mistake, attached to some of our most stunning sun-warmed memories—we come out of the fog, and find that reality gives one a quality of light that the comfort of the fog can never give us.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur