Monday, May 12, 2014

Here a Quack, There a Quack

My first ever report card, issued at the end of my first term in school, read: “She is an asset to the school.” The word “asset” boggled my young brain and I asked my mother what it meant. “It means ‘little donkey’,” said my mother and I never doubted her for a second. I wasn't even hurt because I believed this to be true of myself.

Birth order is said to play a huge role in psychological development and I’d be a fabulous case study for that theory. As the second born and youngest in the family – I lost that race to my brother by a narrow margin of six years - I quite naturally assumed the role of imbecile. Everyone has a natural tendency to tell the youngest what to do and how to do things. Decades later, nothing has changed.

Indian society is fascinatingly mired in the belief that seniority is the only criterion one needs to be able to play advisor to anybody younger. It doesn't matter what the issue may be – irritable bowels, financial woes, marital strife, ingrown toenails…

And since I was born into the role of the little ass, I seem to attract counsel – wise and otherwise – from just about everybody. No word of a lie, I don’t even step on the weighing scales at the gym anymore. I just walk in and some podgy woman who can’t stop belching each time she stretches tells me whether I've gained or lost weight. If she's feeling really generous, she'll even tell me exactly where that weight has appeared or disappeared. One particularly charming elderly gentleman told me I ought to “do exercises to grow taller” as only then could I “get a good life partner”. He was really tall so I presume his wife struck gold in his eyes. Imagine his shock when he walked out the gym and realised it was the 21st century, riddled with emancipated women.

These self-professed counsellors are everywhere and if you are lucky enough to have that neon sign above your head that reads “space between my ears for rent”, you will receive innumerable perils pearls of wisdom. I don’t know why the West makes such a fuss over therapists and shrinks and all that mental health jazz. Please, people, just come to India. We have pro-bono counsellors crawling out of the woodwork. No appointments. No venues. The counsellor is omnipresent and omnipotent. The world is your couch.

There was this fad where people would do crash courses in “counselling” and then scour the world for last-born children, younger people, the unmarried, the childless by choice, non-vegetarians, non-engineers and other such non compos mentis individuals to “counsel”. There must have been a mark on my front door for I entertained a fair number of these dubiously certified shrinks.

My split with my ex, for instance, brought them hammering at my door, eager for glory – to be the one that patched up the ill-fated relationship and saved the day (I’m not sure for whom). Considering that that relationship itself was born of ill advice, it was but fitting that it should end with bad counselling too.

You know how you’re supposed to go to a counsellor of your own free will and volition and talk to them with complete privacy? Yeah, we did away with all those formalities. May be the crash course crashed before it covered that part. I remember being cornered on a couch at home while my concerned folks looked sombrely on. The self-appointed counsellor gazed at me solemnly. I wasn't entirely sure this wasn't some sort of exorcism. Looking at me intently, she cleared her throat and in a stage whisper asked her first question: “So tell me, BB, why is it that you think you’re better than everybody else?”

I had to bite my tongue to stop from hollering, “Because I am? Ha!” The sarcasm would have been wasted. (Rapport building – 0, defensiveness building– 1). At least one thing’s for certain: my report card from society is never going to read “she is an asset” any time soon. As far as they are concerned, the “little donkey” is now a full-fledged ass.