L for Loneliness

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Loneliness is a very un-lonely word. Forever and ever, its companions have been Betrayal, Fear, Pompousness, Malice, Low self-worth, Insecurity and Thwarted ambition. Pretty much like King Arthur and his merry knights. And they all sit at the table, only this one is not round.

So it is presided by Lord Loneliness himself, accompanied by his Chief of Staff, our very own man, Misery. And they draw up the annual calendar for their conquests in such a way that there is no human being who is not touched by loneliness, at some point or another. Some kind of anointment ritual really. Whether one comes of age after that or wallows like a buffalo, I guess is decided by a combination of the squiggly fellows called DNA (sounds like a newspaper!) and an elusive character called parvarish (Urdu for upbringing).

I had not paid much attention to the machinations of this word until about ten years ago. As a child I was quite happy losing myself in the la la land of books. And may be I was luckier than most because I loved reading both English and Kannada literature, so the two together was an almost infinite world to explore. And as you know, as long as you have books, you are never lonely.

Then through the years of growing up, I was way too busy, finding my feet first, then finding myself in the assorted hats I wore. Wife. Mother. Corporate professional. Friend. Lover too. Those were the years when I yearned for some ‘me time’, so there was a serious restraining order on loneliness.

I also think in my generation, we did not confuse being alone with loneliness. I think it has gained such currency today because this generation’s biggest fear, I am told, is being alone. And therefore lonely. Methinks the two are not related, even if they conjugate from the same root.

About ten years ago, I started to feel an alien emotion, something that threatened my equilibrium. I would look around my beautifully appointed apartment and sigh wistfully. I would fix a drink for myself, lounging in my hammock and I would feel a longing. I would make gajar ka halwa on a freezing winter day and even as I shoveled hot spoonfuls into my mouth, I found me tearing up. And for the sensible person that I am, I chose to do the most unsensible thing. I got carried away by the hype and labelled it as loneliness.

Mind you, this loneliness was not accompanied by his shining knights in armor. I was a highly successful, well-respected, much loved professional, well-heeled, good-looking, sociable, fit and articulate woman, nearly saying bye bye to her forties. So I was not betrayed, I did not have low self-esteem, and I bore no malice towards anyone. Nada. It was text book happy place, into which, somehow, this sneaky bugger called loneliness broke into and lorded.

He was a tough, unscrupulous, mafia squatter. It took me close to five years to evict him but not before I made ginormously poor decisions, behaved in a manner which I didn’t recognize as me, alienated not just everyone around me but me from me! But even as I evicted him, I learnt something interesting, He was not loneliness at all, this impostor who invaded my sanctum sanctorum. I had been quick to give him a name and I laid all my angst at his door, poor bugger. I had actually bought into all the media hype around me and convinced myself that I was lonely because I lived alone!

I made yet another startling discovery along side. After I evicted the impostor, for the next two years, in the aftermath of my folly of incorrect labelling, I lived in a mind-numbing, self-loathing fog of dismay, disgust and despair. And I found I had loneliness (the real goods this time) for company.




Nandini Vaidyanathan is the founder of Carma Connect (www.CarmaConnect.in) which mentors entrepreneurs, teaches entrepreneurship in ivy league business schools across the world, writes on entrepreneurship (has written two best sellers), climbs and treks. She loves to live life on her terms, using her discretion and not someone else’s.

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