The secretly jealous parent who never grew up and hates your kid!

Standard

The constant effort by individuals and schools to neutralize brilliance, to bring down competition to make the average kids “feel” better about themselves and protect them from the “feeling” of failure is ridiculous.  The proponents of “everybody gets the trophy” are growing rapidly.  To rob  the sense of achievement from the kid who has worked hard to get there is purely evil. This is the case where people demand equality not equity.

These parents do not mind the wrath of jealousy being unleashed at a kid better than theirs; pushing their own children to become  bitter and angry people who covet every good thing the other kid has.

Jeaolus parents` message to their children is:  if you do not have what you want, it is the fault of the one who wanted it enough and worked hard to have it. If you do not have what you want, there is a simple solution to get over the discomfort, simply blame others or worse snatch it.

In my long practice as a mental health practitioner, I have banged my head against individuals who never accept that they might have certain limitations; they ostensibly hold the view that they are the chosen ones to be victimized and persecuted by others.  Any scope of change comes to a screeching halt. Disowning responsibility is the sure shot way to never succeed.  The most dreadfully difficult job  for me is to hold a mirror to them and engage them in some form of self-reflection.

When parents think that their kids are amazing but could not succeed because of others you have a breeding ground for “victimhood”. It is here where the seeds of this self destructive trait are sowed. Such individuals then take upon themselves to speak for all victims. Victimhood becomes a right; the crusade is not to remove it, but to own it. It is difficult for parents to come to terms with the reality that their children are special only in subjective terms; they cannot impose this “special” status on the world, especially the global market.

This mentality of the parents who encourage “victim narrative” plays out terribly  at the kids playgrounds.  Such kids will snatch everything your kid has, every single time. A game is played within certain structure of give and take. The aim of such kids is not to have fun, the aim is to take over and decimate the other kid. Take, take, take.

Why? Because the victim mentality says “I am entitled to all you have, literally everything you own but I do not want to work for it”. Obviously when these kids become  adult they cannot commit this day time loot. So the  the tactics change. Victimhood is playing victim all the time and  an attempt to oppress. These people can turn violent oppressors as well, history has plenty of examples.

The jealousy gets out of hand and destroys the genuinely nice kid, making him/her feel unsafe in the world. The kid will think that this is how the world is and carry this impression of the world as they grow up.

Parents of cruel kids do not check this behavior, why? Some I would say just do not have a clue how to address this, they have no tools or support. Some do not even realize it is a problem, others think it is okay – chalta hai, bache hai. However unfortunately some parents are driven by pathology – they are weak, coward or they derive a certain joy from their kids nasty behavior, as they say the apple does not fall too far from the tree. It is a form of getting back to the above average kid. “I cannot beat you in grades, in your cognitive ability, I will oppress you in the play ground” – plain and simple motivation.

So what should parents of kids  do who experience this menace being set upon their young ones? Well, if the behavior stemming from jealousy is beyond the capability of the kid to handle, it is a completely new experience or too intense; do intervene. But I would ask parents not to make a habit to intervene in the playground, the rumble and tumble,being able to win and fight will give your kids a sense of accomplishment – the experience of being able to manage themselves in the outside world. It will raise their confidence in their own capabilities and make them less anxious and neurotic. This will build the ever so important characteristic: resilience. They will not be scared of people and interactions.

Of course the kid with victim mentality has no use of resilience. Anything that makes them less of a victim is repulsive.

Most of your work is when the kids come back from school or play. Talk to them, talk them through the events, listen to their emotions, let them express and then stimulate the “adult” in them. Every individual has a child, parent and the adult ego – the adult is the one who thinks rationally and finds solutions. Give them tools to deal with things at the playground. Give them permission to assert themselves and be a bit forceful. Tell them you have their back. For more sly pests who will come across sweet and play the victim card, work with them on how to use language to protect their interests.

With some kids you will have to patiently put in the bricks (tools) to deal with these pesky irritants, but you will soon find a wall of resilience and defense has been built, what a happy moment that will be? It will be the best gift you can give to your child. A gift that will help them navigate through life with a broad chest and fearlessness.

 

 

Advertisements

Sridevi and the hurt child

Standard

I was in the 3rd standard when I met Sridevi. I watched Mr India and she captured my imagination. I had not seen anything like this before. She created a fantasy world, Sri had this amazing capability as an actress to make  fantasies alive and believable.(Nagina, her weird get ups, Hawa-Hawai).

Stuff was going on in my family with my mother`s schizophrenia and nothing made sense. What made sense was the wide-eyed fascination for Hawa-Hawai.  Sri since then became my escape. I escaped from the reality of life. People do not understand this. People are like, “get over it”. They forget that this is a woman I used to escape to, to get away from the sadness, pain, cruelty of life. Since then she was my refuge.  How do you get over the death of a person who was your only true friend growing up? Who  made you smile and laugh?  I had a relationship with this woman since I was 10 years old. This woman died. The woman who created a safe world for me – died.

So why not Madhuri? Because Madhuri was  the adult- woman – epitomized and embodied traditional and modern Indian femininity to perfection.  Sensual like Sri but not child-like. What role does a child have for that in their fantasy world? Sri was a child-woman. This is a major difference. Everything about Sri was childlike. If it was not, she would have not connected with a 10 year old. How do you win the heart of a kid? How do you talk to them? You become a bit like them, you make faces. You intuitively tap into their innocence through your innocence. It is organic. It just happens. You have to have a big child in you, playful, naughty with a twinkle in your eye. Sri was that child. Fragile, tender, vulnerable.

People find being made faces at disarming. People find their “child” tapped into scary. Letting go of the adult, I, ego, mind, intellect – is so threatening. Sridevi laughed and was a bit crazy;  she challenged  “adultness” (if that`s a word). Such women are alien, not to be taken seriously. But for me adult-ness used to get too much. It was everywhere and very boring.

Sri and Madhuri are thus very different. It is not about their acting, it is about their being and what they draw out of you. Sri was the one who made faces, ate grapes hanging off her head, squealed and made noises. A child needs to see innocence, Sri reflected my own innocence. My innocence was safe with her. She gave recognition and face  to innocence, playfulness.  I felt wow, that is me! Silly, goofy.

While Sri preserved and expressed her child through her roles, she preserved   and expressed mine too and probably the child in millions of us. She was flamboyant, unapologetic and loud. All the things the child sometimes wants to be.  Intuitively, I felt Sri herself was scared of the world, just like me. Unsure and unsteady, slowly finding her feet. Crystallizing her identity. If you ask me who I am? I would say, I am mostly a child trapped in an adult body, who comes out and plays only with few selected people. Trapped because most around me are so adult. Sri was the one I felt safe with.

So yes guys, it will take time for me and million of Sri fans to get over her death. I appreciate your patience. Thanks for all the people who called. What would be the best tribute to her from all of us? Let us be a bit more child? Listen with our hearts and not always the mind?  Drop that adult mind sometimes, and listen. Connect with feelings and tune in.  That is the best dialogue. Get a feel of the other person and stop analysing everything? Too much intellect makes a lonely world- not only for children but even for adults. Balance it out with more laughter, playfulness. Recognize the child in others and be more gentle with each other?

Sri thanks a lot for taking care of me,  and millions of fans.  You went away in a whiff Sri, just like that. We will miss you. Love, Ketan

The boy in stripped pyjama (spoiler alert)

Standard

The fence. We all have our fences. We watch others through the security of them. Sometimes it even lets us judge the one`s on the other side. “Vermin”, that is how the teacher who teaches the young boy and his sister in the “The boy in stripped Pyjamas” describes the Jews as.
But you never know with fate. It is known to change. One day you are a prince, the other you are the very same vermin you scoffed at. We can always cross over. That is what happens in the movie. A German boy, befriends a Jew boy in a concentration camp. The German boy, Bruno lives in a house which is near the camp and one day he happens to meet this boy over the fence of the camp. A friendship develops. Bruno, promises Shamol, that he would help him find his dad in the camp, who most probably is dead. Bruno digs the ditch deep enough for him to slide through to the camp. Both kids, really do not understand the true nature and purpose of the camp. Their innocence is not able to grasp the magnitude of it.
The last scene of the movie, is perhaps, exactly how death is experienced by anyone who faces demise through cruelty. The people in the death camps are never told that they are sent there to die. They are all just marched into these camps. When commanded to undress, they tell each other, perhaps it might be for a shower. The feeble reassurance that “do not worry, nothing too bad will happen” does not last long. The fear that something unimaginably horrible is going to happen to them only grips them as the lights are shut out. Their screams however do not silence the death knell. You see the helpless banging of the door, a futile, last attempt to escape. This scene left me numb. No one escapes. But just as the lights go out, we see the two little friends holding on to each other’s hands tightly. By the time Bruno`s mother and dad come to know that thier beloved son has escaped into the cruel world becoming one of the “Jew workers” it is too late. Ironically, the father is the one, who is in charge of the concentration camp.

We all have our moments when someone from the other side of the fence, needs us. I remember this homeless guy, I could not help. I could not sleep for a few days. He was just twenty two. I tried my best to help him, but I could not. But, I know he knew that I cared. What made me care? I just felt, it could have been me in his place. His face still haunts me sometimes. I cared, because, it could have been me in his place. It could have been me born into the circumstances that he did. It could have been me who was not strong enough or faltered. Sometimes it just takes one slip and your life can spiral out of control. Not everyone is strong, some people fail, some people falter.
Strangely enough, the last scene in the movie also made think of me being a vegetarian. Aren`t all slaughter houses, concentration camps? Don`t all living beings, cling to their lives?

Fences. We sit comfortably within them, looking down upon or ignoring the less fortunate on the other side of the fence. But never be too comfortable to feel smug. Fate has its own funny ways. Now I understand why simplicity appeals to me so much. It is closest to your core. You are your very true self in times of tragedy. There is no room for an image, a lie. There is no room for a facade. There is no room for brands. Enjoy all these things, but never get too smug about luxury, your materials, your intelligence, the things that you have. Do not rub them too much into other people`s eyes, so that you can feel superior, enjoying the fact that you can make someone feel envious. Basking in the realization that you have something that not many have. But be just a bit cautious, you never know when you might cross the fence. When you are stripped naked of all of these, you would stand only with your humility. Looking out for kindness not judgement.

Here if you do not say Kemcho, you are somewhat of an outsider.

Standard

Anxious I take my first flight to UK. I do not know what to expect. I feel nervous and am bit on shaky grounds. My anxiety takes off as the plan makes a landing. When I get out of the plane, I realise I have lost two travellers cheques. So typical me. The guy who is going to pick me up from the airport and take me to my new house for at least a year, does not turn up. I panic. In a completely new land, I feel very lost. I do not even have the address of the place I am going to. He turns up nonchalantly one hour late. He sputters something in what I know is Gujarati. I say, “Sorry, I do not understand Gujarati!” He gives me a look. A look which said, “What? Really? How is that possible?”
There. Now, I actually felt like a foreigner.

This experience is the harbinger of experiences I never had in India. Everyone one, every single one was a Gujarati. Was I in Gujarat? Did I take the wrong flight? No, this was Wembley. The word “ghetto” now made more sense. Everyone spoke Gujarati. Hardly anyone spoke in chaste English that I was expecting. After a few weeks, I knew when I bump into anyone, the first thing I should say is, “I am not Gujarati”. There were I guess only three Maharashtrians in the whole of Wembley. My two roomates and I.

I was looking for an experience that would be really international. I dreamt of the hot intellectual debates I would have about politics, philosophy, films. No. None of these talks happened. There were only two things people talked about. Money and jobs. Later I realized that I and my two roommates were the only ones who really were there to study. Almost all the students from Gujarat when asked about their colleges or universities got evasive, shifty and uncomfortable. I also wondered how they got here with the very basic level of English they spoke. How come they had no clue about their subjects? We all later knew that these were illegal students.

Finding work was a huge uphill task. It was not about what you know, but who you know. It was about whether you are a Gujarati are not. Just like the imported vegetables from India, nepotism was the cultural import. It no longer needed to be imported anymore now though; it had taken roots and was growing well. I felt infuriated. Is it how people start becoming prejudiced? Was I forming concepts which were fuelled by angry emotions? You heard everyone say, “gujju kay pas job karte ho?, kafi nichodta hain kya?” or something on the lines of, “arre galti say bhi gujju kay pass kaam nahin karna”. Prejudices get strengthen when you have the same experience again and again. I am very sensitive about justice, fairness. These experiences made me very livid. I worked with three rich Gujarati shop and restaurant owners. I was exploited to the bone. I now knew how a regular “kaamwali bai” may feel.

While I was there, the Gujarati community built a huge temple of some Hindu God. I never stepped in it. It was a symbol of elitism, hypocrisy, corruption, lies. God knows how many who worked for that temple were exploited. Is this what we Indians love to fight for? Temples? Why do not we come out and fight for justice, peace and equality?. I now know big huge temples are sometimes also excessive, no wonder I never care about building temples or mosques. Shouldn`t we focus on building characters, sowing seeds of love and respect. Cultivating compassion. People will stop going to temples with their broken heart and shredded souls if we treat people well.

The businessmen were rich, had big cars and chains of restaurants of their business. The British government lauded them and gave them awards. But was this wealth was built on blood and tears of really helpless people trapped by tragic poverty? You would never know, these thoughts get lost amidst the shine of money.

As much as I had started hating the community from this particular part of India, I suddenly was a part of them. I was one of the exploited. I connected with them through pain. Unfortunately they were more desperate than I was. These restaurants, shops etc employed illegal cheap labour. When I worked under Indians, I was stripped of every iota of my dignity and self respect. I was a thing, easily replaceable. We were like animals, paid peanuts and fired for a wince of protest. I remember one day I was running a fever while at work. I was in bad shape. I had done all my work and asked my manager, is it okay if I rest for few minutes. My manager told me, no, if you do not have anything to do, why don’t you wipe the tiles on the walls of the restaurant. He knew I was sick. But he got a sick pleasure from being cruel. I thought if I worked here long, would I end up like him? Victim becoming the victimizer? I was reduced to a prostitute; I was not just selling my body (labour) but my heart and soul.

Discrimination was rife. Imagine going to a foreign land and experiencing racism at the hands of your own lot. But I had a choice. I had a Father back in India to send me all the hard, corruption free money he had earned, every single penny, if he heard just a single sob down the phone line. I just asked him I am leaving the job, I cannot do it. If I had told what I had experienced, he would have been heartbroken; he would have asked me to come back. I left the job. Though very happy never to go back and work in those treacherous places, I left with heavy heart, leaving my fellow Gujarati friends, to their cruel fate. Two more jobs with Indians, and I was very weary to work for an Indian in UK. What broke my heart is the cruelty faced by a woman almost of my mother`s age. humiliated and treated like an animal. She was illegal and had no way out. When I got a job at a University and before leaving Wembley, I wrote and made a lot of complaints at the home office. As I write this article, I wonder what has become of her. To think she is still trapped there breaks my heart. Gandhiji was so right; poverty is the worst form of violence. But I think it is more of a poverty of spirit, generosity, love and compassion.

More than pain, I feel very angry. Injustice makes my blood boil. I realised even though I had my share of trails in India, I still have led a so protected and sheltered life. I ackowledge this privilege and make sure I give more than I take.

Yes, these businessmen have made a lot of money, a lot of cars, but at what price. They are rich but really poor. No temples, no Gods, and no amount of prayers will ever wash their sins; will never wash the stains of blood and tears they have caused to shed. They might be rich but still depraved. And am I still prejudiced? No, probably slightly so, but it is not about Gujarati`s, it is about human beings sucked in by greed. Greed, like I have never seen before, but coincidentally found it a lot in Wembley, but I am sure it is everywhere. Its human beings` favourite flaw.

The Facebook Affair

Standard

As Facebook celebrates its tenth anniversary, I too want to celebrate five years of association with this bewildering thing. To date, I do not know what purpose does it serve? I ask my friend who was on Facebook just for 2 days. It serves egos, he quipped. True, makes sense. Also for many the real world can be daunting. In the real world even if you hide behind masks, the mask does slip sometimes. The slipping of the mask is traumatic only because others see the real you. As long as the flaws are hidden one revels in the glory of projected image.

Facebook provides a safe haven for us to hide. What no one noticed your new t-shirt? Do not worry, they will surely on Facebook. The Facebook phenomenon is telling us something, not just that we have turned into species that constantly seeks validation, but also that maybe we have become stingy with real genuine praise; we have stopped paying attention.We do not care about making people feel generally good about themselves. Result? People are having an extra marital affair. I do not get the acknowledgement through real people; let me flirt with the virtual world.
Human beings probably always suffered from the malaise of constant attention seeking,Facebook has given it an outlet. Facebook has given it a social approval. Seeking attention, is not necessarily a bad thing, but self obsession certainly is. A need probably filled by Facebook.

Facebook is very much an advertising platform. It is an image maker. It is a “me” platform, where everyone steps on and shouts, “hey look at me, ain`t I amazing”. Did I say everyone? Oops, no, probably just me. Facebook is like talking to a crowd; where there is no real dialogue. It is not withdrawn from reality, it is the reflection of today`s shallow conversations. It is not for troubled souls like me. I have my share of flaws, made worse by a questioning mind. A mind which questions the mundane and the not so mundane. Questions, like, why do I look forward to the likes; why do I check if people have commented on my new photo. Do troubled souls like me; need that extra bit of attention? Should I be happy with the attention or should I question the insatiable need for it.
I do not know why I was not chuffed by the video that Facebook made for its users, including me. Does Facebook claim to know me now? I doubt it. it surely has information about me, but it does not know me. I doubt even any of the 276 friends on my list know me.

I surely care about some people, and I do know some people on Facebook. Though there are others, I surely do not want to know. Especially the over exposed types. The ones who have updates about their life every 15 minutes. I would dread meeting such self obsessed people in real life.

Let me not get carried away with cynicism. There are some wonderful things about Facebook for sure. I am amazed how powerful it is. Politically it has organized people to throw off brutal regimes,it has galvanized the anti corruption movements in India. More personally, what a feast it is for your brain to stumble across some inspiring quotes, mind boggling ideas, tantalizing opinions. Creativity and talent of any kind deserves to be shared. It is a great tool for business too. How can one not like the debates and discussions? It is also a great filtering tool. You know whom you do not want to meet in real life, aka, the over exposed types.

But the triumph of Facebook for me is celebrating the unsung heroes. I am talking about the,” not so cool and happening”, inconspicuous lot. Like this guy who studied in the same university I did and is providing counselling service in villages. I love to “like” their achievements.
I would want to keep on working on really “liking me” than getting worked up about counting the external “likes”. Who knows tomorrow, I might just end this affair. But for now let me post this article as my status update and get the last dose of “likes”

. :).

So Mr. God, where are you?

Standard

Dont read with an ego and you will be fine!

During my lowest of times, I used to think of God as the biggest mother, father I could ever have. Someone who cared for me,   loved me and  was  like a HUGE CUSHION of comfort. The God I spoke to, was me, speaking to the inner most being.  Perhaps, it was a way for me to love myself unconditionally. Speaking to ” someone up above the sky”, made it easy. In a way God granted the permission to do so. It was a way of accepting myself… saying , “Dont worry Ketan, God loves you” . Or probably just validating my existence. Boy did it  help! It is what we all do and it does help all of us. Having this same love for self and others is the biggest gift that comes from such understanding. It`s however just reaching out to the love within… nothing to do with the imaginery friend without.

 

Many are at this stage of understanding of God, while  some are stuck at, ” Why is God doing this to me?” phase. It`s the ultimate victim phase. Saying, ” I am destined for a horrible life” , lessens the blows of life,  mitigates the pain  as you already expect it, and desensitizes you to agony. It not only acts as a buffer but lowers your expectations of happiness.Hence the fall does not hurt as much as it would have.

 

There`s   ofcourse   the ” big brother who is  always handy to  blame”  use of  God. It works really well for some, not for me. Each to his own. Maybe life has been so cruel on some people that letting one realize that they are to blame for their failure is too much to take. I can never see myself as a victim,  probably sometimes,  but rarely to my liking.

The whole,” hope pschology” is another reason why we so want to believe in karma, afterlife and the heaven/hell above. We believe in these things  without  proof ,  rationale,  scientific or historical  evidence for its existence whatsoever. Believing that justice would be done,  no matter what, is a balm which soothes slight and severe wounds. 

 

I definitely believe that justice is central to humanity. When justice breaks down so does the human spirit. If belief in God keeps it from breaking, then why, not, am all for it. But I don`t buy the idea of hell, heaven, Karma.

I believed in it, but found huge logical loopholes.  The assumption that you are a sinner (right from your birth!)  is a nice way to establish a patronizing relationship and cultivating and fostering guilt. Guilt my dear friends is  the best ammunition to manipulate and control.

When you think of the concept of  Karma, which I used to strongly believe in, being justice (e)centric… was demolished by my thinking brain. I firmly believe if one does not know  their mistakes and gets punished for it, it brings no realization and redemption. It doesn`t help human growth.

Second, justice delayed is justice denied for both the victim. If the sinner is going to be punished in his next birth then it makes no sense.  It also implies  that if something tragic happens to you, you deserved it. If there are laws of Karma then we dont need a justice system?. The victim has been punished( if bad things are happening to him) and the perpetrator (the one who does the bad things) has  rendered the punishment.

 

I have read a series of books by Cathy Glass. They are her experiences of a  foster caring severely abused children.

A particular story, made me think real hard. It is a story of a young girl, who is  gang  raped, abused, by her whole family and relatives from a very young age. This trauma  leaves her damaged psychologically  beyond repair. For her the abnormal becomes the normal way of life.

Would any sane person say she deserved it?. Given she did, will she ever realise why she was punished  and can make amends so that she does not get gang raped by her family in her next birth?.  By the same understanding of Karma, her abusers should not be punished, probably they are merely delivering the punishment commanded by God`s justice system. Any attempt to stop such injustice by mortals would mean perverting the path of God`s  justice.

 

I really think I have come a long way. From believing, to rationalizing the exsistence of God, to questioning his/her existence.

This is how I understand God.I have come to believe the if there is a God, he/she is almost absent and very much an uninterefering entity, infact it is not an entity at all.  For me, God is  Love spelt in three letters. At the risk of commiting blasphemy,you and I are God!. Simply because you and I can do things which are impossible. Simply because you and I are unique and beautiful no matter what. Simply because the immense power of love can do wonders.

The quest, is not for God anymore, its for the Truth.

Erik….

Standard

My first impression of Market Street, San Francisco will always stay with me.  As I walked towards my hotel, I saw a man urinating right in the middle of the street. Epic. Where the hell am I?

I opened a window of my hotel room. The San Francisco air seemed unabashed just like that man; it had a touch of bohemian.  It was very different to the stiffness of London.  San Francisco then and there promised me that there was more to come.

I closed the window and realised that I had throbbing headache. Cribbing that I always doze off, my friends went off to tour the city. I dozed off. I got up around 4pm.  I was woken up by a growling, hungry tummy.  What I saw when I stepped out was startling, hordes of dishevelled people, all around, roaming, quite aimlessly.  It felt like a zombie nightmare come true. Checking my wallet a few times, I got into a cafe, got myself some tea and a few croissants (yes a few, I was hungry ok!). A young man, with a huge rucksack  walked in and gave smiled at me. I smiled back, realizing that I was clumsily trying to chew a huge piece of croissant at the same time. Everything’s big in America, I muttered to myself. The guy came and sat next to me with his cup of coffee. “Hi!” he said and was amused seeing me eat the big croissant.  I finally managed to say “hi”, gulping down the croissant along with the lingering embarrassment.

Something about his huge, “oh am so glad to see you again” grin struck me. Trying to make sense of it, I asked, “You from here?”  “ Am from everywhere” he replied.  Squinting my eyes a bit and with an incredulous smile, I said, “ Oh, so you are like God?”. I found it funny me being an atheist.  He laughed loudly. We hit it off instantly. He told me about SanFrancisco, showed me his paintings and told me how much he misses his dog, who died last month. Lucy was her name. It seemed like a huge loss to him. The best part was when he got out his guitar and played some beautiful music.It stirred my soul. I was touched that he played a piece of music for me. I asked him where does he live and what does he do.  Flashing that smile again he said, “Come on, lemme show you where I live”.  Brushing off the hint of fear, I went along. Something told me, this guy won’t harm me.

We walked into a stinky alley. “There, that`s my home at least for now, where are you from?”.  He pointed at the piece of footpath near a closed shop, with his stuff there. I was shocked. I was not thinking clearly. Gloom, compassion, shock were jostling in my brain. I told him the name of the hotel where I lived. “ No, I mean where are you from, where`s your home?” , he asked again. “Oh! Yeah, my home…London and India”.  I said.  The sadness I felt, was intense. I could literally taste it. It was palpable. He caught it. “It’s strange, strangers don’t give a passing thought about me, and here you are feeling sad, C`mon here tiny one, give me a hug!” He opened his arms and gestured a hug. I hesitated. “I don’t stink that bad, I promise”. “No, no, of course not”. I  gave him a fleeting hug. He did not stink.  “And, please don’t call me tiny!!” I barked back.  We laughed out loud.

I had to know this person. He came from a completely different world than mine. How come he lives like this? Where is his family and friends? Does he have any? We laughed, talked about random stuff for almost half an hour. I had to know how he ended up there, mustering some courage I asked, “How did you get here?”  “Long story, but I ran away from home when I was a kid…”  After a meaningful silent pause shared between us, my phone buzzed. My friend was screaming down the phone, asking me where I was. I told him I will be back soon.” Hey, it was great meeting you! I need to go now!” I exclaimed.  Shaking my hand he said, “Same here, you know where to find me now?”  I said bye and he flashed his signature huge smile.

In my next meeting I learnt that his name was Erik.  He had been homeless for the last five years. When he could not deal with the abuse of his father, and ran away. He lived with his grandmother for a while, but ran away from there as well. After the death of his grandmother he was devastated. She was his only support. He slipped through the safety nets, and ended up on the streets. His addiction to speed got better of him and made sure he remained on the streets.  Abused, beaten, humiliated, burnt, prostituted, Erik had been there and done that.  He had a terrible life. He did not like speaking about it, but somehow wanted to tell me all. I knew there was more pain and more sadness. I felt how lonely he felt. I told him that he had an amazing personality and how witty and funny he was. He loved to hear those words.

The day before I was to leave I asked Erik, if he would hang out with me for dinner. He said, he would love to. He told me he`ll meet me around six the next evening at the corner of the street.

The next day at 6pm, I left the hotel, and waited for him where he said he would be. It was almost seven now.  Erik never turned up.

At 2 a.m. in the night, I ditched my friends and went for a walk on the streets. The street was full of homeless people moving in circles. Some were high on drugs, some prostituting and looking for clients, some looking for drug dealers and some just walking to keep warm. A few even came upto me and asked if I wanted weed. I bantered with more people, not once, did I feel scared.  This was a community.    The next morning, I got a few doughnuts and gave it to another homeless guy, I saw on the street. “I hope you like it”, I said. “Thanks, I appreciate that” he said. Giving can be so wonderful.

Some parts of me felt more at home with these people. Probably because, I felt a bit free. There was lack of judgement, lack of sizing up, lack of showing off. All I saw was humility. Pride is a distant relative of the broken, I thought.   I felt a bit liberated among them. These people had nothing to hang on to. No structure and no pressure to sustain one.  No pretence and no facade.  Not worrying if the other one has got a better job, house, or a  car. It’s that kind of freedom these people have, which probably we will never know. These invisible people gave me a glimpse into what freedom could really mean.

Some people fall harder than others. They do probably because of their own flaws but mostly due to circumstances. But they are not failures. Probably they did not have people to break their fall, to catch them. Not everyone is as lucky as some of us.

I felt thankful that I have the basics that I need. But ever so doubtful of the slight sense of pride I might feel for earning an “x” amount, being in UK or having that amazing phone. I learnt an invaluable lesson, you never own anything, but things own you.

Coming back to the story, the day I was about to leave, the receptionist told me someone had left a message for me. I was curious.

I unfolded the scruffy piece of paper. It read, “Dear Kiaan, Sorry, I could not come the other day. I hope you understand. I want to thank you; your kindness would keep me warm for days to come. Erik”. A tear rolled down my cheek. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and Erik. I will never forget his smile. It had a captivating quality. It still haunts me and I know why. In all the horrors of life he faced, the child in him, the innocence in him was left intact. You saw that in his smile.

Note: Name of the main character has been changed to protect identity.