The Other as an Elusive-Equal
In a scene that depicts developing conjugal care and affection in The World of Apu, we find an instance of Satyajit Ray’s ‘economy-of-expression’ reaching a summit. In that specific scene, Apu is shown dejected, as he observes Aparna, his newly-married wife, perform some house-hold act. While Aparna comes from an aristocrat family, Apu barely manages to meet ends. Apu questions Aparna, “Don’t you have regrets?” The Bengali choice of word for ‘regret’ in the script is ‘onushochonaa’. In a dismissive manner, Aparna replies that she does not understand such difficult words. Apu, then uses an easier synonym—‘aakkhep’ and further asserts that she much be having a lot of regrets for not being able to get married into a rich household, where she could have comfortably lived without putting any labor. Apu’s act of self-pity, soon gets translated into the male-urgency to find a maid, even though he barely has the resources to afford one. Apu is willing to do overtime. At this point, Aparna utters a line, where she uses the newly-learnt word ‘onushochona’ to politely counter Apu. She says, “Instead, why don’t you leave the private tuition that you offer. And thereafter, my poor husband can return home a bit early, and I’ll also have no regrets.” Such a simple, yet, profound cinematic expression of romantic longing and craving, emerging as a consequence of ‘equal’ considerations for each other.
Locating Power in the Inter-Personal
Wish life was so full of instant, innocent and amicable solutions. Instead, it is flooded by examples of impositions and expectations. Power and not passion, is central to that on-going negotiation and bargain, where we want the other person to re-molded and altered. ‘Gaslighting’ has become the buzzword these days, though there are more self-explanatory terms such as ‘emotional-manipulation’, ‘insinuation’, being ‘inconsiderate’, or not-letting-the-other-person-be-the-way-s/he-is. Transgression of boundaries is not a naïve initiative. The grand project of compelling the other person to speak, appear, believe and behave in a certain desired way—stems out of an (in)human desire that is premised on inequal power-relationships of domination and subordination. In the name of seeking emotionally-available-individuals, many demand taken-for-granted validations to feed their insecure-selves that demand uninterrupted attention. It takes away the sacrosanct private space that any individual deserves in order to think and function. An individual is dishonored in the process of exclusive possession and its consequent manifestations. In fact, many forget that an individual is not a property to be possessed like a material possession.
How ‘Reverse-Gaslighting’ Works
This power-project, and this powerful project that is unfolding in billion-households— requires some amount of emotional, physical, spatial and temporal distancing—to even realize the extent of domination and its consequences on the self. By the time, you
acknowledge it, the damage has already been done. Or, you internalize this domination to such an extent that you even refuse to see it at work. Its modus operandi is: my-way-or-the-highway. However, the control could be so complete, that s/he is ever-ready to shift the blame on you for ‘gaslighting’. Conveniently and consistently, the sufferer is accused for treading of the path of my-way-or-the-highway. This shifting of the blame helps to portray the predator as a victim and the victim as the culprit—a ploy often adopted by during communal riots. Violator can do no wrong. Strategy of violation entails cutting a clean image and outsourcing the accusation. For not calling-back immediately, for not socializing enough, for not wearing the right type of attire in a social gathering, for not wanting to dance, for not showing enough affection, for not being sufficiently invested, for not being sufficiently romantic or sexual, and for host of other shortcomings—the onus lies on YOU alone.
Power Demands Signs of Capitulation
Daily confrontation is an obvious outcome, if you show slightest resistance. Commanders are usually better-off with docile characters, who are willing to show obedience and submission. Dictators usually remain at peace with petrified people willing to take orders, or be(have) in certain desired-way, or just listen to their man-ki-baat without asking critical questions. It is always a one-way traffic. So, when the other person wants to talk, any time during the day or past mid-night, you have to be available. To be with a bully, is to surrender and obliterate your individuality. Any defiance could invariably lead to a dispute. Every decision-making, every travel-plan, every choice may turn into a brawl—the moment you present a differing opinion that contests, what the other person demands. You start wondering, if tranquility is so rare in life. You start wondering, if peaceful coexistence that evolves organically, and makes room for mutual-understandings—with or without spoken words—is that a utopia?
Power Demands Production of Docility
To be around someone, who is craving for noisy attention all the time—is a violation of your sanctity. To bear a person, whose being is defined by high-decibel levels of hyper-expression—is to delegitimize your self-entitlement for silence. If you are put-off by noisy gossips, and if you are incapable of participating in the utterly meaningless cacophony called the ‘party’, and if you chose a distant corner—you will be labeled as indifferent or unavailable. Doing what you like doing, without disturbing the noisy proceedings, amount to an act of indifference. Because, not socializing with his/her friends is not optional. Choosing your corner to do something more meaningful (like reading, for instance) during a group-travel—is qualified as ‘disregard’. You are not allowed to have corner of your own. You lose the freedom to remain aloof. No corner could be accessed without due permission. ‘Self’ ceases to exist, or live with a belittled presence.
To Make You Fall in Line
Once you concede, it leaves an impact on each and every aspect of your everyday-life. However, like a paternalistic and patronizing state, the exercise of power is always for your well-being and benefit—that is the justifying line. What you wear in a friend’s wedding, begs
an approval. Saying ‘no’ to any offering is an unacceptable offense. S/he will demand everything unapologetically, but when you demand the same, you are labeled as selfish and unreasonable. If you demand more space, either you will be reminded that you already have more than enough, or you will be advised not to be so self-centric. Afterall, couples do things together. S/he will talk about equal-measures, all the time, however, s/he will continue to operate in a manner that is fundamentally inequal. The narcissist will accuse you for the slightest of self-love you show towards yourself. The chronic-selfie-taker in him/her will compel you to be a part of every selfie for every insignificant non-event, against your wishes. Your wishes do not matter, because you exist to make him/her happy, and to say ‘yes’, or to fall-in-line. Domination is all-pervasive and all-encompassing.
Marital Milestones as an Ultimate Goal
Making the other to fall-in-line includes the lengthy process of manufacturing consent in matters of private life-choices. You can be introduced to the family, not as a lover or as a boy/girl-friend, but only as a prospective husband or wife—even when both individuals are economically independent, and consenting adults living in the twenty-first century. Defying the normative family values, amount to an inadmissible crusade. Though, one wonders, how is marriage even an option, when peaceful coexistence without confrontation is unthinkable, even for a single day. Particularly, when marriage was never favored or promised, why is it even expected? It is expected, because your expectations do not count. What matters more are the socially recognized conventional milestones. Even if you are ideologically opposed to the ritual and legal dimensions of marriage, you are pestered or expected to take a ‘leap-of-faith’, and accept the familial institutionalization of domestication.
Total Possession or No Relation
And if you do not fall in line, you could easily be sacrificed, abandoned, and strategically chopped-off from all scheme-of-things—so that his/her milestones can be executed at an accelerated pace. Shutting or blocking communication with you, is essential. Because s/he is only capable of thinking in binaries: self or the other; treat or a threat; total-possession or no-relation; either you are fully there or you are not there at all. Such people usually do not have friends, or they have very few friends. They have dependents. To be and to remain friends—is to consider the other as an equal; and not as an obedient loyalist. But lessons of equality are wasted on such characters. So are, expectations of civil-exchange, if you choose to disagree on their pet-projects and marital propositions.
Interrogating the Non-Exit
This is not a victim-narrative, where the casualty-card is revealed to frame you as a sufferer. On the contrary, there is a need to address the act of living-with-violations, as a testing limit of one’s tolerance. Sustain collaboration with the violator could out of empathy for a few other aspects of other person, where domination is either absent or not so pronounced. However, domination exists because there is submission. It is important to honesty introspect and admit the reasons for participating. So, it is necessary to ask: why you chose to live with it for years either as a man or as a woman! What made you ignore the red-flags
for long and tolerate the insult? Why did you not execute the choice to leave? Why did you choose to collaborate, instead?
Consent, Incompatibility and Confrontation
That question is as futile as asking, why did we choose a ruling party which maligns dissenters as anti-nationals. Only after they depart, you can see and measure the amount of damage that they have inflicted under the assurance of acche-din. We often tolerate the unjust out of a habitual tendency. Or we appreciate certain things in the other individual, and total rejection seems unreasonable. That incapacity makes you limp and linger on. Or we fear a complete closure, unless the other person is overtly vindictive. But vindication is not necessarily confined to physical or verbal abuse or living-up with unreasonable demands. To talk, to travel, to participate, or to behave against one own’s wish, in order to avoid a possible enragement—is no less an infringement.
We often forget that consent is not just confined to the sexual act, but it also extends to each and every aspect of everyday-life. Two individuals willing and jointly doing something is grossly different from feeling compelled to do something to avoid yet another confrontation. Lack of compatibility cannot be compensated with any level of adjustment. By trying to adjust with the emotionally, physically and intellectually incompatible person, one invalidates the self. It is indeed an act of undermining and disrespecting the self. It demeans the self.
Yet, at times, we willing or unwillingly do it either to appease the other, or fearing a total loss of the other. Total departure is never an easy call, even if you are detached, after talking and sharing life becomes a habit over the years. If the departure is imposed on you with ruthless apathy, and then, if the same person shares contacts of Counsellors and Pranic-Healers to outsource healing; or states that “Oh! I am there if you need my professional influence someday for something”—then, the desire to play God—is completed. It adds injury and insult to the already-wounded. It mocks the abandoned in the most deplorable way and below the belt.
Moments over Milestones
Having said that, let us return to the opening scenario from The World of Apu. It is another matter that Apu was shattered by the sudden death of Aparna, but till then, irrespective of the immense class-difference between Apu and Aparna, they manage to reach a mutually amicable and effortlessly romantic solution, because they see each other as ‘equal’. Equality is ideally—the fundamental operative-principle of modern era, and should be the template of any relationship. But unfortunately, in our ego-driven desire to dominate, possess and rule-over the other person, and in our zeal to take the upper-hand all-the-time, we often forget and flout the rules of the game, and enforce ourselves on the other. It is indeed a destination-centric personal-trajectory, where moments matter less than societal-milestones