On The Loose: Tears For Fears

On The Loose: Tears For Fears

IT WAS, undoubtedly, a traumatic moment for everyone watching when ISRO chief K Sivan wept inconsolably, buried against the Prime Minister’s shoulders. It was not the time to dwell, cynically, on questions of politically-motivated PR stunts, but to wonder at the sheer audacity of this unassuming scientist’s dream. One would have to be an evil sort of person to grudge him a few tears after the Vikram lander lost contact, the anticlimax too difficult to bear in the immediate aftermath. Though the world is largely in agreement that crying is a normal response to tough situations, Sivan’s open distress was viewed with some surprise because a display of intense emotion is still unusual in India.

I have been thinking a lot about crying lately, albeit for entirely different reasons. Among the small, niggling issues that come up in the business of living, a blocked tear gland calcified behind my left eye, causing a growth and obstructing my vision. My very skilled ophthalmologist said she had to take it out, and patiently answered when I asked whether if I had been brought to tears more often, it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if I had wept everyday, she conceded reluctantly, no lump would have formed.

There’s a metaphor there somewhere that tears have value, to give us a greater understanding of ourselves and our roles on earth, especially when we’re bogged down by failure. (Other than the fact than after clearing noxious irritants from our eyes, tears reduce stress.) How idiotic then that so much of humanity perseveres towards hiding tears, choosing instead to project a false peace via the time honoured alternative of denial.

The myth of the stiff upper lip, inflicted on the world when Britain ruled over most of it, has been rubbished by the most British of them all, Prince Harry, who says the mental health epidemic in his country — and ours no doubt — stems from the expectation that people should bottle up emotions rather than express them. It’s true, remaining resolute when faced with adversity makes no sense. Our species didn’t evolve to be calm and content; the early homo sapiens would have gotten eaten before passing on their genes if they hadn’t embraced the whole spectrum of human emotions with all its rage, sadness and violence. Over millennia, we’ve conquered our emotions well enough to hide distress, which is also crucial to get on with life.

Things would get infinitely more complicated if self restraint wasn’t a big part of modern manners. Nothing could get done if everyone was bursting into tears all the time. Yet, when interior drama surfaces occasionally for good reason like Sivan’s, it’s not a sign of weakness, just a well-deserved expression of frustration.

It is interesting to note the contradiction in India currently, that the leaders of the ruling party project a deep macho aggression, yet the PM has been choked with emotion, in Parliament, several times. Male heroes in Indian films these days have no qualms about shedding tears. Aamir Khan wept copiously in Three Idiots and I don’t think I’ve seen one movie starring Ranbir Kapoor where he isn’t crying profusely (the cringe-y Ae Dil Hai Mushkil comes to mind).

Male and female babies cry exactly the same amount until boys begin processing from their environment that they’re not supposed to, in that hideous quest for masculine pride. When famous men don’t shy away from showing their authentic selves, it’s a worthwhile reminder that we’ll all be stoic when we’re dead; right now it’s perfectly fine to embrace our tears as a privilege of being alive.