How many people around us actually listen to us when we speak to them? How many are actively engaged in a conversation with us when we are divulging secrets, talking of our pain, reminiscing a moment of brilliance, or even just rambling on about life and its unpredictability? More, importantly, how often do we truly listen when our family, friends, colleagues, associates, clients, and Rahul Gandhi seek our undivided attention? We are all guilty of listening for the ‘sake’ of listening with little interest in understanding what is being said and empathising with the speaker (Unless of course they are talking about how cool we are and all the incredible things we’ve done in life, including driving at high speeds like a maniac, posting a selfie every three minutes, crossing the railway tracks with the train just meters away, partying fourteen days a week, and ridiculing the next door boy for his interest in sewing).
And there are people, whose presence just seems to offer comfort without the need for any interaction (Unless they change the TV channel against your will). Just knowing that they are there in our room, and our lives provide assurance and enhance our confidence to stand up and face life. While I’m blessed to have a few such people in my life, not everyone is lucky enough to have this sort of mental and emotional backing. However, there are phases in life where even our pillars of support have a breakdown or move away for various reasons (Hopefully, not because you changed the TV channel back to the one you were watching originally). While it is imperative that we offer our support in their times of trials and tribulations (except when they are frustrated over Bigg Boss results), we too need to be in the right mental space to do so.
I was the first child in my generation, across my extended family, and by a few years at that. I grew up in a joint family and while I had my parents, uncles, aunts, a grandmother, and a lot of house help (no Indian family is complete without a battalion of helpers) around all the time, I spent a fair amount of time on my own. Despite their constant support and affection, I always sensed an emotional gap, leading to insecurity, loneliness, and a feeling of detachment. This is when I invested a lot of my emotions into my toys, which comprised of toy vehicles at a very young age, and progressed onto action figures over time. Today, I am a diehard pop culture and action figure aficionado, with hundreds in my collection (And for the mockers, these aren’t just toys, but a revolution for past, present, and future generations. Look around you, there are only billions of you, but millions of us). A large number of my emotions were invested in sports, my other passion.
He-Man was my first superhero, followed by the G.I. Joes, Sachin Tendulkar, a host of other athletes (including the finger-exercising Vishwanathan Anand), the Punisher (the anti-hero married to guns, my version of ‘Gun-pati’) the X-Men, and the list continues to grow even today. As a young boy, I used to sleep with my ‘Masters of the Universe’ figures to ward off any evil lurking around the room (Which, invariably turned out to be the shadows of my other action figures on the wall). As an adolescent, I used to pick up my cricket bat and shadow practice my batting in order to lower my anxiety before an examination (I ended up scoring more imaginary runs than marks the next day). As a teenager, I spent time reposing my action figures, which added cheer to my day after a squabble with my girlfriend (I couldn’t take a flight from the USA to India to patch things up every few days unless she was willing to fly me, first class). After college, as a young twenty-three-year-old, I spent time frequenting comic book and pop culture stores in New York City to help me fight desolation caused by joblessness (And also tell myself that I had no time to apply for jobs, when I could be busy walking the streets, having fun). During my days at an investment bank, I always had sports scores refreshing in the browser in the background, telling me that if the Indian cricket team and the Yankees could win, I could too, in my race against time to meet challenging deadlines (While mocking my Pakistani colleague, even if India had just defeated England). Finding my way back into India (this was extremely hard in many aspects) in my late twenties, after almost a decade abroad, was made easier by the various 6 and 12 inch characters staring back at me from their glass houses in my bedroom, offering daily encouragement (With their swords and guns trained on me, threatening to attack if I decided to call it quits). Even today, a frustrating and demoralising day at work, or in a personal setting can be tempered by watching short video reviews of the latest Hot Toys releases and sports highlights for a few minutes (Watching any more than a few minutes of these at work would likely take me back to my days of job applications).
Today, I’m fortunate to have the presence of my parents and extended family. I’ve been married for nine years to a very supportive, loving and caring woman. I’m a father to a beautiful three-year-old brat. I have fantastic friends who have been along the ride with me for over two and three decades (How many people can claim to still be friends with people that they shared diapers with? Mind you I always had first use, before there was poop in them). And it’s these people that make life worth living and form our support system. However, we all have our bad phases, and the best efforts of our parents, family, and friends fall short at times. They care and always mean well, but if results always followed intentions, the world would have far lesser problems (Assuming the intent isn’t to cheat, hurt, damage, or just simply blow the world up).
This is when we need to help ourselves. And we can always use a little extra succor to keep us moving forward. We may have a great mindset, strong will, commitment to our cause, a positive attitude, and high resilience, but we need reinforcement every now and again. For me, a few moments of playing or watching sport, or spending time around my action figure collection can prepare me for days of rough weather. For you, music may work wonders, or confiding in your pet dog could make the blues go away (If your neighbors saw this, it will make them go away as well). You may feel better by playing ‘who blinks first’ with your cat, or ‘drown’ your sorrows away while watering your plants (Unless you own Attenborough’s pitcher plant, in which case it may alleviate all your problems by having you for lunch). Testing the contents of your wardrobe could put a smile on your face (unless you suddenly realize that most of them have shrunk because you invade McDonald’s frequently), or your library could give you one reason to rejoice amongst the gloom surrounding you.
Sports gear, toys, pets, plants, books, music, stationery, furniture, movies, shoes, underwear, and a million other things; we all have something (or non-human beings) that we have an attachment towards and ones that we hold dear to our heart. And while we seek solace amongst our family and friends, we must realize that there are some paths that we need to walk alone. But there is a cheat code to this ‘alone’ business, and it is all the things that we have always cherished subconsciously, for most, if not all of our lives. The key is to recognize them and feed them into our conscious mind, to help us through all those rainy days (Or just use an umbrella)
When I wake up, my gaze falls on my wife and daughter first, and then I spend a moment acknowledging all my little warriors that have stood the test of time with me, always present, steadfast in their commitment towards me.
‘By the power of Grayskull,’ you can get through anything.