The Past Demons

Swapna Narayanan

Psychologists always say that suppressing thoughts, feeling, opinions, views do not work well for us and often lead to severe physical and emotional stress. While some of these pent-up emotions come out to the fore sooner, some stay dormant for years together and then spring out one fine day throwing our life into complete disarray and spoiling the harmony of our body, mind and soul.

Yet, these are common occurrences. These are experiences that do happens to us.  All of us.

Especially, to women. While living up to the expectations that are thrown at her as she goes on playing her myriad roles as a daughter, a professional, a wife, a daughter in law, a mother etc., she invariably ends up suppressing a lot of her thoughts and feelings. Social coexistence is the core theme of our society and we all lean on each other. And in the process, there are times when she ends up pushing things deep within.

I recently saw an English movie on Netflix, The Lost Daughter. The story revolves around a divorced middle aged English professor, Leda, who, when her grown up daughters are visiting their dad, decides to take a vacation to a small town in Greece. It all begins well. Leda is happy, elated and free, till she spots a big joint family that comes to this place for vacation often. The family is brash, rude and is the undisputed mafia in the area. While she tries to keep a distance from the family, a young mother in the family with a 5-year-old daughter, Nina, constantly attracts her attention.

The Lost Daughter

What starts as a casual observation of this young woman, soon manifests into seeing her own self in her. And along with it comes her own past memories and all her emotions, and the sense of regret and guilt. As Leda sees Nina struggling to take care of the child singlehanded, while her husband and others in the family only superficially help her out, all of Leda’s past life comes tumbling out in front of her.

Leda sees a tired mother in Nina. As they start interacting, Nina expresses her growing exhaustion, disappointment and unhappiness in her situation.

Nina and her daughter

And Leda sees her own younger struggling self while bringing up two daughters. She remembers her own life as a budding academic and a young mother with two toddlers, struggling to get the fair and right amount of support from her husband while they juggle their respective careers and take care of the children. Her suppressed memories of losing patience, eventually being selfish and withdrawing from her family come out to the fore. And they fill her with a sense of guilt and sadness.

What began as a serene holiday for the professor turns into a walk down the memory lane with all the horrific demons from her past showing up.

Unexpected for Leda? Yes.

But then isn’t life about expecting the unexpected? Who knew a planned ‘me’ time will turn into an unplanned ‘insight into the real me’ time for the protagonist in this movie?

Uncommon? No.

There are umpteen Leda’s and Nina’s around us across the spectrum of age groups. Guilt in women, and their associated manifestation in some unrelated context is a common phenomenon in all our families.

Look around. Our grandmothers who bore dozens of children did not know how to understand, articulate and express their innermost thoughts. While we have evolved across generations and situations have improved, the disharmony persists. Generation X, Y or Z – we all have the same challenges, though the facets and the intensity dips or differs across generations. Erratic behaviour, unexplained rants, inexplicable bouts of crying, hurting and harsh statements to our loved ones, are all the repercussions of the unsaid, the unexpressed and the suppressed thoughts within.

The key lies in knowing ‘what we want’. Not from the parlance of our roles; not as a daughter, as a mother, as a professional; but as the woman within, the soul and spirit.

Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza did it last week.

I am sure months of introspection preceded her eventual decision that 2022 will be her last season. She thought through and found that voice, and chose to take this life altering decision while listening to that voice.

It takes courage. Courage to confront your own self.

Rani, Queen

Like Rani Mehra did in the Bollywood movie, Queen. Jilted by her fiancé a day before her wedding, she chose to go on her planned honeymoon trip solo. While the thought that propelled that decision could have been varied, the experience of that journey changes her. She realises that she is not what her environment boxed her to be. She is more than that. Her horizons widen, and she could meet her true self in a totally unexpected trip.

It also takes a humongous amount of courage to make your own self a priority, break the mould and step out from the cocoon of safety.

Amrita, Thappad

Like Amrita Sabharwal did in the Bollywood movie, Thappad. She had everything going perfect for her. A loving husband, a happy family, a lovely house, good status in the society where she was playing her role to the hilt. And then the unexpected happened. Her husband, in a fit of his own uncontrolled emotions, ended up slapping her in front of a room full of people attending a party.

What follows is the expected trail of shock, denial and disbelief. And then a journey towards self-respect and love that entailed leaving her cocoon and walking out of her marriage. She chose herself over the safety net of her loved ones.

It is easy to take on the world. But it takes courage to fight the people in your inner most circle, your own family, your children.

Shashi, English Vinglish

Like Shashi Godbole did in another Bollywood hit, English Vinglish. A perfect woman, helming a perfect family, while running a small business that gave her the desired independence. Yet she sought respect. She was slighted often by her daughter and husband for her inability to speak in English.

She was perfect, but she was not respected. And when an opportunity presented itself, she took the steps and enrolled herself in an English-speaking class. She eventually turned the tides and made people realise that a knowledgeable woman need not be measured by her ability to speak the English language.

Whether it was Rani, or Amrita or Shashi, each of them had a right to choose and they exercised that choice wisely.

Imagine if Rani had not gone for that solo trip and had stayed back with her whole family, neighbours and the community feeling sorry for her and she wallowing in self-pity. Or if Amrita had chosen to swallow her self-respect and continued living with her husband and mother-in-law. Or Shashi grew older to continue getting taunted by her grandchildren too.

While they would have towed the line much to the happiness of those around them, they would have suppressed themselves and created demons within. And eventually, they all would have had a Leda like experience later in their lives.

The past demons never lie dormant. They spring out unannounced and unexpected.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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