Volume - 12 : Issue - 2

Published : April - June 2013

Group : Think About It

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By Ranjit Butani

“Why does GOD heap so much misery on humanity, His very own creation? What is the entire purpose of our existence – to suffer?” is an often heard lament of a miserable soul which I’m sure all of us must have encountered on several occasions, in our lifetime.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that GOD cannot be a sadist. Then why this misery all around? Let’s give it a thought.

Personally speaking, I have begun to feel that it is of our own making – it seems that there is no greater paradox on earth than man’s quest for happiness invariably leading him to the guaranteed and well-proven path to ever increasing misery. Let’s PAUSE for a moment and objectively contemplate the various stages of our life in this journey from birth to death. I must confess that my views may be slightly subjective, based on the contemporary urban environments I have experienced  and been brought up in but I’m confident that at a macro level the perspective would remain broadly unchanged.

EARLY INFACNCY – Age 2 to 5 : Assuredly the most exhilarating, carefree years – pampered by parents and elders; all whims and fancies catered to; no responsibilities or concerns or worries. But then slowly the change unfolds. What initially seems fun and games, like learning to express some intelligence by means of exercising your vocal chords – “MAMA” & “PAPA” – and seeing the thrill on your parents face, gradually turns into pestering.

To ensure your admission to the best neighbourhood nursery play school, which will enable you to be admitted into a prestigious school subsequently, you need to get through your INTERVIEW! So relentlessly you are bombarded with the English alphabet, nursery rhymes, knowledge of colours, animals etc. etc. I have still not been able to fathom this mystery of interviewing the child to conclude whether he knows all that he is supposed to be actually taught at the school. Isn’t that why the child is being sent to school in the first place? But then who am I to question this ridiculous practise?


YEARS IN SCHOOL AND EARLY TEENS : Relatively stress free but for some minor irritants like class bullies and the sudden exposure to non familiar faces and behaviour patterns of fellow students. But then gradually you begin to feel the increase of stress on account of pressure from teachers at school and homework, pressures at home from parents to obtain good grades, comparisons of your performance and rank with that of friends and cousins of like age. After all your parents need to feel proud while showcasing the superior intelligence of their child.

Even holidays bring no respite as, without any inclination from your side, you’ve been assigned to attend classes on music, art, cooking etc. After all you can’t let down your parents in their social circle can you?

AND THEN – the final year in school – BOARD EXAMS – you are in a pressure cooker. Pressure, pressure, pressure – anything below 95% will get you nowhere – is constantly drilled into your head. For acquiring admission into a decent college and a discipline that will ensure success in future you have to make sacrifices now! NO TV, NO MOVIES, NO PARTIES, NO OUTINGS – study, study, study.

COLLEGE DAYS – Late Teens and early adulthood – The initial exuberance of freedom and pre adulthood soon evaporates with reminders of sacrificing enjoyment and pleasure NOW for a much happier and pleasurable TOMORROW. Strangely you don’t realize at that time, that this assured happiness and pleasure at a later stage of life remains constantly elusive – moving further and further into the future.

But let’s assume that somehow you have managed to survive all the pressure, stress and misery and have graduated with reasonably good grades. Now you have graduated to the next and higher level of misery. You have to start preparations for your JEE to ensure admission for your professional qualifications. Another 3 / 4 years of misery. Let’s assume you have somehow survived and cleared your finals. IS THE STRESS NOW OVER? NO WAY. – What is just a degree worth today young man without a post graduate MBA – OH NO! When will all this misery end? AND TO KEEP YOUR MORALE AND ENTHUSIASM  High you are constantly told of the goodies in life awaiting you – your own car, overseas holidays, branded accessories, your own apartment – all the luxuries of life – JUST KEEP AT IT for another 2 / 3 years!

POST ACADAMICS – Professional Life in Mid Twenties – WHAT A RELIEF – END OF THE MISERY. Academics is behind you now and you’ve managed to secure a lucrative job in a MNC or an organisation of international standing and repute. ALL’S GOING TO BE WELL AND LIFE’S GOING TO BE SMOOTH SAILING – you presume.

But how naive can you get – What you went through was just the trailer – THE MAIN SHOW IS YET TO BEGIN!

The battleground has only shifted from the Academics to the Professional field – you begin to experience the pressures and stress of office – constantly on guard against colleagues trying to put you down, pressures of meeting deadlines set by your seniors who are constantly throwing their weight around, trying to remain in the good books of your immediate boss to ensure favourable appraisals that could lead to promotions and increments.

Oh yes there have been a few compensations no doubt – you’ve bought your own car, and are able to afford eating out often, splurge on new clothes and accessories – all this without asking your parents for funds – why you’re even able to buy gifts for your parents and younger siblings.

AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN – amidst the hurly-burly of office pressures, social pressures, constantly updating your face book status to let the world know how successful you’ve become in life and share some of your exciting moments, you are now confronted with your mother’s constant pleas to get married and settle down – you are badgered with “you need to start your family, you’re not getting any younger you know” or similar entreaties from parents and uncles and aunts and the entire clan and neighbourhood.

AND WHAT CAN YOU DO – HOW LONG CAN YOU POSTPONE – YOU FINALLY SAY YES and one fine day you find yourself married.

MARRIED LIFE AND PARENTHOOD : Initial years of marriage – a mixed bag of euphoria and anxiety once the honeymoon bliss is over. Now begins a period of adjustments and learning to adapt your lifestyle to be in synch with your lifetime partner – his / her parents relations and friends. At times the stress of coping up with pressures of office and maintaining harmony and peace at homes do culminate into flare-ups and quarrels – but you reassure yourself – this is part of married life – and take in your stride – demands from you wife for a Gucci bag, holidays to Europe, a Solitaire ring and so on and so forth.

And then a few years later your first child arrives. JOY and HAPPINESS all around – but then you encounter an altogether new stressful experience – the baby’s needs and demands – ailments and illness, problems of the maid etc. now become the focal point – pushing the professional pressures to the background.

Years go by – a second child and maybe a third – now you face space constraints – you need your own apartment – sharing the house with parents and siblings becomes impossible. And what does that result in? Just that expenses and EMI’s keep mounting and often to switch off you hit the bottle more and more often.

TIME FOR KIDS TO GO TO SCHOOL  : Tensions mounts – will they get admission in a prime school? Will they get through in their interview? What would be the donation required? Without realizing it, besides being stressed up yourself you are putting your child through the same agony you experienced yourself, at their age.

Then the pressure of demands from your kids – a new playstation, branded clothes, an expensive hit-tech cell phone – after all their friends have them and they don’t want to feel inferior, do they? Demands and expenses ascend in the same ascending curve with the age of your kids.

You have to plan for their education – what if they need to go overseas? For your daughter’s marriage expenses – the list just seems to be endless.

AND HAVE YOU REALIZED ANOTHER THING – YOU HAVE HARDLY SPENT ANY QUALITY TIME WITH THEM – Busy making money and maintaining your position at the workplaces. You console yourself – I’M DOING ALL THIS FOR MY CHILDREN AFTER ALL – I’LL GIVE THEM TIME LATER. LOT OF CRAP – You don’t have time for them now, during their formative years when they need you – Be sure they’ll have no time for you when they grow up and you need them.

MID 40’s TO MID 50’s : SURE, you now have two cars, a fancy apartment, luxuries that money can buy – but you also have hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, a wretched physique and bouts of depression. Irregular meal times, irregular hours of sleep, lack of exercise, high alcohol intake have all taken their toll. You start getting worried about old age and sickness. Have you secured yourself and your spouse with adequate insurance cover? After all medical tests, visits to doctors and God forbid – hospitalization cost a bomb – don’t they?

WHEN WILL THERE BE SOME PEACE OF MIND OR HAPPINESS. But then when did you ever give HAPPINESS a chance to get a foothold in your life.

LATE FIFTIES AND AFTER : At every annual medical check up you are advised to slow down – but you’re on a treadmill – you just have to keep running to stay in the same place and you have forgotten where the switch to slow down or turn off is located.

EVERY VISIT TO THE DOCTOR or HOSPITAL now brings dread and apprehensions – you start thinking about illness and death.

WHAT WAS THE WHOLE PURPOSE? Your whole life from beginning to end – DESIRE, CRAVING, ATTACHMENT – I, mine, my car, my house, my children, my possessions, my beliefs – and on and on.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse who has spent several years counselling and caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives has recorded their dying epiphanies and listed their TOP FIVE REGRETS :

  • I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.


SO WHAT CAN ONE CONCLUDE? Without realizing it you have always been suffering because you want to be other than what you are, worrying about what others think about you – spending all your time and energy – acquiring money, wealth, seeking happiness in the material world you perceive outside.

I cannot resist quoting Dorothy Parker in a lighter vein – “If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

Finally, once the game is over the King and pawns go back into the same box.

The most important things in life  - air, water, sunshine have been provided for free by Nature – when was the last time you peacefully witnessed the beauty of sunrise or sunset, heard the sounds of the waves on the beach, the birds in the trees, enjoyed the flight of butterflies and the fragrance of flowers – the beauty of nature – all for free.

Have you forgotten those brief moments of happiness and warmth you felt whenever you selflessly came to the aid of some person in sorrow or need. It never occurred to you that sacrifice, piety, charity that you displayed at some rare moments – had given you such a feeling of elation and joy.

You can eat only 3 meals a day, sleep on only 1 bed at night – then why this lust for mansions and more and more of everything material. No doubt you need some basics – but beyond that?

Next time you stare up into the starlit sky and wonder if there is intelligent life in space you might as well as ask if there is intelligent life on earth – THINK ABOUT IT

A strange coincidence or a supernatural assertion – I penned this article on Saturday the 25th May and as I lazily spent the next morning with my fix of Sunday newspapers in bed – I came across 2 articles in the Times of India and Mumbai Mirror which reaffirmed and lent credence to what I had written the previous evening.


The Times of India – 26th May 2013

40% of Mumbai suicides due to family issues, illnesses second


Trends Are Similar Across State And Nation

Psychiatrists say a wide range of problems have their repercussions at home – like financial problems, difficulties in relationships, long working hours, shrinking social support and skyrocketing prices. “The pace of life is causing a disconnect and isolation, leading to depression and suicide. The ‘disconnection syndrome’ could be worse than HIV. Lack of emotional contact leads to distress, depression and suicide. Family contact time ahs also shrunk,” said psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty. Shetty added that social chaos has increased stress and depression within families.

Shetty said the age for onset of depression has come down, with even kids suffering from the syndrome. “The three ‘S’s, as in the ‘three schools’ phenomena, is largely responsible – school, tuitions and studies at home. Severe anxiety as a result of exam stress or poor marks is also a major cause. Lack of play and relaxation has caused a pressure cooker for kids,” he said.

The National Crime Records Bureaus (NCRB) listed failure in exams as one of the top ten causes of suicides in 2011.

There has been an increase in the calls made to helplines just before exam results are declared. Some city helplines are currently witnessing a 40 to 50% increase in calls as dates for declaring CBSE, SSC and HSC results approach. “The biggest fear students have is how their parents will react if they don’t fare well,” said child psychiatrist Dr. Milind Joshi.

A study conducted by Sion hospital in 2011 revealed how children as young as 11 can suffer from anxiety disorders for reasons ranging from academics and co-curricular activities to appearance. The study was conducted on 450 CBSE students in classes V to X. the findings show that 36.7% students showed anxiety disorder, which escalated as students climbed grades.

“One can’t rule out that students are under intense anxiety of failure and rejection by family or kith and kin” Shetty said.

The Sunday Read MUMBAI MIRROR, 25th May 2013.

City Paediatricians are busy figuring reasons for stress attacks in four to 10-year-olds


For two months, eight-year-old Roshan (name changed) had a recurring abdominal pain. Several doctors were consulted and tests conducted (blood, stool, sonography), but no one could fathom what was wrong with the South Mumbai resident, who for all practical purposes, seemed healthy.

In fact, Roshan kept up his daily routine through those months, too. The young boy would wake up at 6 am, attend football class at 6.30 am, and would then head to school from 8 am to 4 pm. Once home, he’d be busy with Hindi and Math tuitions. He would watch television or play on the iPad on a short break, before sitting down to complete his homework. Dinner would be at 9 pm, bed at 9.30 pm.

At their wits end, Roshan’s parents took him to Dr. Raju Khubchandani, director of paediatrics at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Peddar Road. They were told Roshan’s problem was stress-induced. “the pain didn’t keep him awake at night. Real abdominal pain doesn’t do shift duty. These children need their parents’ time, not my prescription,” he says.

Roshan’s case isn’t unique. Dr. Khubchandani says that in three decades of practice, he has never seen so many cases of nonspecific abdominal pains, recurring headaches, chronic fatigue, muscular-skeletal pain, and sleep disorders among children, as he does today – nearly three cases a week. Each of these cases is a response to stress, he says.

Other city doctors, too, have noted the phenomenon. Malad-based clinical psychologist Malini Krishnan sees nearly three children with stress-related disorders a week at her clinic, Inner Space. According to psychiatrist Dr. Zirak Marker, 60% of his younger clients have stress-related conditions – that’s close to 25 cases a week. Marker, who is a consultant at schools like JBCN International and Aditya Birla World Academy, has clients of all ages. His youngest is six.

Both Dr. Marker and Dr. Bhinderwala remark that most of their cases are of children who have lost interest in studies and perform poorly in academics. “Add extra-curricular activity classes like skating and elocution to that and they would obviously be pressed for time and reel under stress,” says Dr. Marker. In other words, the kids aren’t making things up – the pain is real, it’s in their head.

Where are we going wrong?

That was a question that 36-year-old Sewri-resident Ritika Kashikar asked herself when her eight-year old threw a fit over an innocuous chess class. The part-time fitness instructor had enrolled her older son Eshaan in every class that his friends attended. After school, he’d juggle tennis, chess and swimming sessions. “I realised I make him to do what he doesn’t like,” says Kashikar, whose ‘bandwagon parenting’ was taking a toll on her son. “I was part of this system, where if so-and-so’s child is going for a certain class, so would mine.”

Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy, developmental paediatrician at Ummeed Child Development Centre, Parel, sympathises with parents like Kashikar. “Keeping up with the Joneses has acquired an altogether different meaning. Life has become more complex for today’s children,” she says. “They don’t have opportunities to interact with other children because they hop between classes and put in more study hours than a corporate executive does at his work.

It is vital for a child to possess a social life that isn’t monitored by adults. Time spent on the playground, unsupervised and among peer groups, is vital since it helps a child understand social relationships and learn how to cope.

Meera Isaacs principal of Fort’s Cathedral and John Connon squarely blames the number of activity classes that children are put into, as the reason for their stress. “How will it hurt if the child doesn’t go for them?” Competition among parents is ridiculous, she adds. Dr. Bhinderwala offers the example of a seven-year-old patient who told him, ‘If my cousin is so good at his studies, why doesn’t my mother adopt him?’ “Can you imagine what the child must have gone through to say that?” he asks.