Today, let’s ruminate over “Pain”. I know. I could’ve been more original? Haven’t hundreds of thousands of poets and writers before me come to this very word, this very thought, this very emotion and exclaimed, “Pain!”? Yes, they have. Might we be so arrogant as to assume none of the others saw the recurrence and sought to be original? I hope not. The thing about pain is that as much as it is part of the fabric of life, it is also intensely personal. No doubt the varied tragedies of the human race cause us more than a pause and elicit deep emotion but it doesn’t cut to our heart unless we find something personal in it, something to tug at “our” heartstrings, even if no one else’s. That said, pain, our own, is something that is a different matter altogether. Here I speak not of empathy as I did a few words back, but of knowing that the blood that paints the scene red flows from our own veins, the saltiness we taste is not the surf but our own tears wetting our palate, the deep shudders that wrack our frames find source in a personal agony that throbs low in our gut and burns a vapid course through our bodies. It is this pain that goes even beyond what is poetic, and most often it is this pain that causes poets and writers to wax eloquent. It is so deeply personal that it rouses emotion in me, and it is so universal that it rouses emotion in the other. Indeed, aren’t the innumerable ballads espousing lovelorn lovers, or broken-hearted tales of lost love, tales of betrayal and vengeance, of shattered dreams, of ailing bodies, of crumbling dynasties and dying hopes gutting the literary scene testament enough? Assuming they are, I will press the point no further.
Coming back to pain, why does this emotion move us so? I currently believe that it is so because as much as it is intense it is real. What do I mean by that? Look at other emotions, ones that make up literature. Love, envy, greed, malice, revenge, ambition...the array. It makes for beautiful literature, but how often does one relate to it and see the protagonist as themselves? How many of us feel emotions with such intensity that we can feel it in our bones that we would die for the one we love, or that we have dreams big enough to live for and beliefs strong enough to die for? Not too many. Yet, when it comes to pain, haven’t we all felt it? Isn’t it easy to fear for one’s manhood and grimace in pain at the kick in the groin the hero receives? Isn’t it easy to feel the violation a woman suffers when raped by a depraved lout? Pardon the sexist remarks but the point was not political correctness but personal impact. That apart, haven’t we felt pain at the loss of a loved one, or rejection, or at feeling unworthy of this that and the other. Pain is real.
As real and universally personal as it is, so it gives us all the opportunity to be bigger than ourselves. What are the odds that I will find the love of my life and have to fight tremendous odds to win him or her over? What are the odds that I will find a life’s mission, a calling that will demand that I get over myself? Or that I will let it find me. What are the odds that I will build an empire or bring one down? What is there to stop me from living a life of no purpose and dying a death of no consequence? Pain. Every time that little demon tears at our flesh, every time it digs its pincers into our soul and threatens to suck us dry, we are faced with a choice. We can reach into our reserves of strength and overcome the pain. We can let it nourish us rather than feed off of us. We can and we do. It is in times that we face pain and tragedy that most tales of courage are etched. It is in the face of panic and chaos that we rise above and reach out, that walls of prejudice and hatred are broken and people find their humanity. Be it the Mumbai floods, the aftermath of 9/11, the earthquake that shook Gujarat , the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the devastation of the tsunami and countless others. Times like these the world has come together in prayer, in a realization of our own vulnerability, and the strength we have within us and around us. There I go again, adrift in my penchant for drama and my strong affiliation with romanticised notions of everything life comprises. But it is not all in vain. For the cliqued “triumph of human spirit” examples I quoted are echoed in the personal lives of all of us and the triumph there is no less significant. To gather the courage to pick up the pieces of your life in the aftermath of a relationship that ended leaving you with a heart more resembling a fistful of splinters tearing into you with every breath, shattered illusions that hurt even more and a crushed sense of self that makes the journey even more arduous. To find in yourself the strength to sit smiling beside the bed of a loved one day in and day out, not knowing whether they’d live to see another day or whether you want them to, and that for them or yourself. To have the balls to know the mistakes you’ve made and to forgive yourself for those and to try again. There’s pain in all of these, and there is triumph. Every day, each one of us decides to give life our best shot and life surely doesn’t make it easy for us. We face the pain we do and it makes us a little bigger, a little stronger and a little better able to roll with the next punch or to hit back with all our might. Do some of us give up? Yes we do. Is it valid? Yes it is. Are they weak? Maybe not. Must we have the arrogance to assume that we know what hitting breaking point feels like? I think not. Have I faced it and overcome it or has it just never reached that point for me? Or if it has and I’ve triumphed over it, does it not then mean that I have just pushed the threshold a little farther away? Challenging life that it’d take more than that to bring me down? Does it make me stronger than others to have pushed the limit, to never have faced something that reaches my threshold of pain and crosses over to break me down? I dare not answer that. It is too relative. Also, there is nothing more humbling than feeling pain so intense that it threatens to break your very spirit of triumph and survival. You know you can go through it (always wondering whether the next time it would be it) but you really don’t want to repeat the experience. That is when you know you have reached the threshold once and pushed it further. If it weren’t the end of your reserves that you had reached you’d still be full of bashful arrogance. And then when you do see people who broke under the pain, you do not jeer and feel superior, for how could you when their fate is exactly what you have feared for yourself. And when you meet those who do jeer, knowing that they’ve never reached there, you say a little prayer for them, for you have and you wouldn’t be human to wish it on someone else. Pain is real, it is universal and it is very very personal.
As I lay broken in the hospital bed, having to deal with broken bones that felt like a bother after having dealt with so much more in the past, ruminating over the nature of pain and the implications of it, in walked a couple whom I’d known for long and their faces shocked me. They looked the same and they didn’t. On their familiar features I saw a shadow of pain so deeply etched that it seemed to have changed them forever. They reminded me of a battalion fighting a losing battle, their backs to the wall and as the famous poem puts it; dying but fighting back. They were there to visit me and to ask if I needed anything, when their own daughter, younger even than me, lay in the ICU right next door awaiting a death that was certain. Only the time it would strike was not. Until then, they had a life to live, together, all three of them. And from that precious life they were there, offering me a few minutes of solace. There it was, the human spirit that triumphs in pain. Could they have fought my demons and triumphed? I cannot know. Could I face the imminent loss of my child’s life and live? I wish not to even hypothesise. But here we were all dealing with our share of pain, like everyone else. Pain that inspired poetry, that goaded strength, that broke spirits and that sometimes just throbbed inconspicuously in the background of our lives. With such differing points of reference and varied perspectives, is what I am examining here just my experience of it that in the way of numerous writers I am prone to generalizing? In most likelihood, yes. But then, pardon me being human and just toss it around in your head before you toss it out.