Busy lives and lonely hearts
More and more young urban Indians are falling prey to acute loneliness
You would expect Reva Sen, 32, a high-flying media professional with a great career, a large paycheque and a plush three-bedroom pad in south
to look confident, content and in control. Instead you meet a nervous woman who gets drunk at the slightest pretext and divulges personal details to complete strangers. ‘I desperately want to make friends, but I don’t know how to,’ she says. Delhi
For the last couple of years, Reva has been living alone in
Delhi, away from her family in the . Lonely and depressed, she is now having an affair with a married man to combat her friendless state. US
Reva’s is a classic case of urban loneliness, a trend that is on the rise amongst people in the 20s and 30s who have moved out to other cities in search of better job prospects. Alone in a strange city, they struggle to make friends and form emotional attachments and often sink into depression.
And if you thought loneliness is only for people who don’t have a ‘l
’, think again. According to counselors, loneliness can also be a function of a hectic lifestyle. Having to juggle work along with household chores leaves people with little time for themselves or for others. ife
So why is loneliness finding its way into the active lifestyles of young urban
ns? Experts say that a consumerist society’s consistent focus on achievement makes India ividuals competitive, but it also makes them unable to trust a peer completely. And without trust there’s a lack of proper communication. ‘People tackle job pressures and competition at work, and then return to an empty home, if they stay alone. They can’t handle this huge imbalance,’ says Dr. Shubha Thatte, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. ‘Besides, there is no other real support system by way of immediate family any more.’ ind
Most find reprieve in socializing. It’s like creating a wall of people around themselves. ‘Initially, I partied like a maniac almost every other day. That was my way of drowning out the loneliness,’ admits Ram K., who has lived alone in
for seven years. Now in his late 20s, with a hectic job in a television channel, Ram has ‘sobered down and can’t endure the stress of partying.’ Besides, says Arvind Rayakar, a Mumbai-based bachelor and a self-confessed lonely heart, ‘you soon realize that the distraction is an illusion.’ Delhi
Paromita Mitra Bhaumik, consultant psychologist and director of the Calcutta-based Anubhav Mental Health Clinic, points out that while the urban young have plenty of opportunities for social interaction – discotheques, coffee shops, shopping malls – they find little scope to share emotions. This emotional loneliness can lead to myriad health problems too. ‘I thought I wouldn’t have the time to feel lonely, but I was wrong,’ says Manoj Rai, 35, who works for an IT firm and has been living alone in Chennai for three years. Despite a 15-16 hour long work schedule and several ‘hang-out’ pals, he says he continues to feel alone. Rai is now suffering from extremely high cholesterol levels and sleep apnoea.
Loneliness can also awake latent mental disorders, say psychologists. Take the case of 25-year old Rupa Jhaveri. Rupa was just another bright and friendly girl living with her parents in Mumbai. When she moved to Pune to do her graduation in law, things went horribly wrong. She started doing badly in her examinations, became withdrawn, moody and sullen and went through several relationships. Finally, Rupa was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – a disorder characterized by extreme ‘black and white’ thinking, mood swings and difficulty in functioning in a way society accepts as normal. Her problem had lain dormant while she was in familiar surroundings.
Again, unlike older people who are quicker to accept their loneliness, young people are in denial of the problem till it becomes very serious. ‘In
, loneliness is supposed to happen only to the old. But it can happen to anyone,’ says Dr. Anuradha Sovani, reader, department of applied psychology, India . University of Mumbai
Swati Salunkhe, Managing Director, Growth Centre, Mumbai, reckons that the number of loneliness related case among the 30-40 age group is high, but mostly they go unreported and hence untreated. Her centre got only two or three of these cases in the past two years. ‘They came to us in the guise of career- or job-related problems. As we analysed the cases, we identified the problem as loneliness,’ she adds.
However, not all cases of loneliness need clinical treatment. Says Hemangi Naik, who runs the Harmony Training and consultancy (a mental health clinic) in Navi Mumbai. ‘I put them through tests and questionnaires to teach them to look at themselves objectively and rationally. It helps them tackle the root causes of their loneliness,’ she says.
ForBy Gouri Shukla (additional reporting by Dola Mitra in
’s growing tribe of the urban lonely, that could be the best start to dealing with their problem. India
Carried in The Telegraph,
November 15, 2005 – p. 17
1. From my own experience, I can vouch that this is a global phenomenon, and spreading like wildfire. Like so many other imports from the
US (and the undifferentiated ‘west’ more generally), this too has attacked like a pandemic. India
2. A lot of young people don’t even know this is what they are suffering from, or are hiding it (mobile sms-ing and orkut scrapping helps them to hide by pretending that they are involved with a wide circle of friends all the time!), or have no idea how to handle it. And their parents are either blissfully ignorant, or in denial, or just praying ‘it won’t happen to my kid’!
3. It is deeply ironical that this is a problem that mostly afflicts people who are apparently ‘successful’ – in the current middle-class understanding of the word! If success only brings this kind of helplessness, aimlessness and despair, what is success worth?
4. A lot of other afflictions are closely related to this problem, and are even feeding upon it. Overeating and obesity, marital discord, parental dysfunction, TV- and shopping mall or multiplex addiction, the cellphone and car craze, drug abuse, all diseases that are stress-related, such as hypertension and ulcers and cardiac ailments, the pretension that one has a lot of friends (I have always insisted that if one has three real friends one is a very lucky person. In reality, the kind of friends that most of us have only help to cause or aggravate all our problems!)… to name just a few.
5. The only cure lies in a combination of the following: training to be content with being alone, looking inwards (for which being occasionally alone, silent and shorn of all distractions is absolutely essential), not measuring personal success obsessively and exclusively in material terms and external yardsticks (marks/money/looks/cars…), cultivating the four Buddhist cardinal principles, to wit maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha, doing what one really likes to do (rather than toeing other people’s lines lifelong), and finding one or two genuine friends – who really care for you as an individual human being, not someone to be manipulated, used and thrown away for their own immediate, personal and petty gains.
6. If, like so many others, parents or spouses or colleagues cannot be such friends to you, look elsewhere. Perhaps you will get them in books – as I have done – or in a good mentor? And perhaps you need to look avidly all around yourself (beyond the little circle of relatives/friends/neighbours/colleagues) for people who are determinedly and happily different? – I find lots of such examples talked about in the daily newspaper; but I have also discovered that hardly anybody ever reads a newspaper the way it should be read!
[I just found the above article in my file of old newspaper clippings. From what I see all around me, the problem has gotten worse since the time it was written. I suggest that after reflecting upon it you get back to me with relevant queries and problems, whether you are a current student or a friend of one, an ex-student, or simply a young person who chanced upon this blogpost and wants some sensible and urgent answers.]