“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
With the Government directing a countrywide lockdown in 2020, our movement got restricted to our homes. But the question was: did our life really get restricted in these times? For me, even with this lockdown/pandemic, my mind simply refused to be locked down. In fact, it was blooming. Blooming with thoughts, which, now when I think, were always part of my subconscious but it is during the last two years that I thought about them, may be, consciously.
Life has always been known to be unpredictable. The fragility and vulnerability of life is experienced in moments of loss whether personal or public. Or pandemics like we are currently facing, which bring us close to this reality. What is certain, is death. The fear of the unknown, does not allow us to live, live in the present. We mostly live our lives cribbing about the past, fearing about our future and completely forgetting about in the moment, which is now. It is well said that crisis like situations serve as an intense reminder to each one of us to pause, reflect, and take stock of our priorities. It forces us to put things in perspective, challenges us to expand our understanding of how things work, and connects us with one another in a profound way.
I frankly have nothing to complain from this pandemic. I am nothing but grateful. But does that mean I have had a gala time, sitting in my pyjamas all day, getting my fat pay cheque at the end of every month? The answer is no.
According to me, the kind of complex lives we are all leading today, is not sustainable. I would be lying if I would say that everyday was all normal for me in these last two years, in fact, in the last couple of years. Working from home; handling a toddler; doing all odd jobs; household chores; juggling between work and home can make anyone go crazy. It is even more difficult if you are the kinds who enjoys her work; wants a career and is ambitious.
This time gave me the kind of churning/the manthan that I really required. This period brought me close to myself. It gave me a perspective to a lot of things which were missing in my life. Had it not been for this period, I would have may be continued to live my life through distractions, like the most of us do today, pushing the burning questions to the next day and to the next day, and before we know it, its time. It is these times, which made me spend time with my daughter, the kind of time she and I deserved. I could see her grow. We have created memories together. I got to spend time with my family. Most basic but true in my case, I got to enjoy my house, where in the last 14 years, I came only, may be, to sleep. I got the time to go back to things I once loved doing. Amongst others, I got back to writing. The question was, “did anyone stop me from doing what I did in the last two years or was I (with my conditioning), the real hindrance to my own growth?”
Having had a career, most would envy, there were aspects which were unsettling for me. When I would sit by myself, I would constantly travel back through my time machine to the happy times spent as a junior to Justice Kaul and wished how I could go back to that time. This is, when (1) I have had the pleasure of working with some of the bright minds at my workplace; (2) I had a family like team; and (3) had an overall healthy work environment. A deeper introspection made me realise that through these years, I had completely lost sight of and moved away from the reasons why I chose to do law in the first place. Amongst other reasons, I was unhappy for I had trapped myself to the conditioning of the society and did not know how to detangle from that web. I had a life way too comfortable to let go. It is the social construct of our society, I feel which somewhere makes you tick the boxes, which if given a choice to redo, you would not have wanted to tick. An evening out with friends to a fancy restaurant with your exquisite jewels/clothes on, in an ostentatious car is a great distraction, but when you are back home, to yourself, behind those close doors, when no one is watching, having a conversation with self, the thought of, “what am I doing? Is this what I really want? Is this how it is going to be for the rest of my life?” can be troubling, sometimes engulfing. Until the next day, you return back to normal. But the question is, is it normal?
Another blow came around when I saw people close to me in our fraternity dealing with their struggles quietly. Through different conversations, I realised that as lawyers, often what we fundamentally miss is that acting as sounding boards to clients, we get vicariously affected. We do not want to acknowledge that there is a problem and/or deal with the root cause, we are happy with finding distractions. That is why, that drink in the evening is so important for us. I still remember, as a young member of the Bar, the first guiding principle told to me by my senior was, “… do not get attached to a brief, it would be the biggest mistake of your life”. I understand it fully well now. Even before we know it, being a constant ear to all the problems brought to our attention, can get to us. After all we are humans not Gods/demi-Gods.
I feel, while this issue has always been there, the pandemic, made us confront it at close quarters from where there was no running away. It was a dormant volcano waiting to be erupted. One comforting factor through this manthan was that I was not alone. I felt that to each one of us, the reasons may be different; causes may be different, struggle may be different, but, one common thread that binds us is that there is a problem which needs to be brought to the forefront and needs to be addressed. And interestingly, it is not a problem restricted to a particular set of lawyers. It is equally relevant for all members of the legal fraternity be it the judiciary; senior counsels; in-house counsels; lawyers working in law firms; independent counsels as well as law students. Each one with their own unique story to narrate.
I feel, to bring about a change, changes have to be brought both at the community level as also at an individual level.
At a community level, we need to recognise and realise our interdependence on each other. A collective conversation about the well-being of those around us is necessary. It is imperative to shatter stigmas, initiate serious and concerted conversations and a collaborative public-private-social partnership approach to redress issues concerning mental health and well-being in the legal fraternity.
They say, be the change you want to see. At an individual level, I think, we need to ask ourselves this question, “what are those small little changes that I can make to my life or rather would want to make to my life to see a better me”.
Solution is within us not outside but are we ready for it is the real question. Try to understand and accept your cause. Having no reason at all is also ok. Is it stemming out of an emotional blockage/baggage giving you a feeling of insecurity; fear; guilt, yearning for sympathy of others; ignorance of true knowledge; worry about the future; inability to focus and work to your own perfection or a combination of these or more factors or none at all.
At this juncture, I am reminded of the famous Jagjit Singh’s gazal, “Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, kya gam hai jise chipa rahe ho.…” Its time, that for once, we remove the supermen/superwomen’s robes that as lawyers the society has bestowed us with and remind ourself that we are human beings. Being human is our greatest responsibility towards ourself. There is one life to live which each one of us should live without any fetters.
Through my little realisation, I have learnt to take pride in who I am, accept myself, my journey, organise my priorities, be kind to myself, make the conscious choices that I feel are relevant and important to me (and not because the society expects me to). It is only when I would respect myself, love myself that I would be able to grow and evolve and help others around me, else I would remain stuck to the clutches of the society.
It is time that we ask ourselves, “is our life determined by our conscious intentions and deliberate choices, or are we mechanically reacting to the world around us?”
To end, let me quote Nora Roberts,
“if you do not go after what you want, you will never have it. If you do not ask, the answer is always no. If you do not step forward, you are always in the same place”.
You decide, the choice is yours.
† Independent counsel and Arbitrator. She is also a Trained Mediator; Former Partner, Disputes, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.