Being brought up in a fairly loud and chirpy Punjabi household, I was taught that happiness demands compulsive sharing and that no celebration should be performed alone. Birthdays are incomplete without friends, Diwali is incomplete without family, and Valentine’s Day is meant to be celebrated with a love interest.
The idea of sharing happiness is so deeply embedded in our culture that the idea of being alone on a festival or on birthdays scares the life out of us. Needless to say, it is thereby difficult for us to imagine ourselves as ‘alone’ without feeling ‘lonely’.
This also explains why there’s a constant need for us to remind ourselves of the concept of ‘self love’ or ‘self care’ because it doesn’t come very naturally to us. It’s an alarm that we set for ourselves.
Allow me to dig a little deeper here. It would be unfair to put forward an argument that single-handedly blames families and society in general. The media too has provided its fair share of brainwashing.
Every other mainstream Christmas movie on Netflix like Holidate or Love Hard showcases the state of being ‘alone’ on a festival equal to being ‘lonely’, ‘unhappy’ or ‘incomplete’. The anxiety of being alone on a ‘big day’ is supremely overwhelming and hard to ignore.
Remember Dr Seuss’ famous poem “Oh The Places You’ll Go” for little kids, where he warned us, saying “and sometimes you’ll play lonely games too”, “alone is something that you’ll be a lot” – well, that right there is reality. If alone is something that we’ll be a lot, then we might as well normalise the same.
Now, I’m not saying that effort has not been made to correct this narrative. The media has evolved and started to repair the damage, with words like ‘self love’. However, even the idea of self love is attached to materialism, which basically means that the best you can do when you’re alone is have a glass of wine, watch movies on your laptop and become independent enough to afford your favourite items. Now there’s absolutely no problem with this, but my real question remains the same.
When are we really alone?
What I am hinting at is the fact that we never really learnt or adapted to actually be alone with nothing but ourselves – to pause, to think, to wander and wonder. Everything and everyone around us constantly pushes us to an ideal fulfilment of being surrounded by people, being together, being loved. And when we can’t attain that as adults, we develop a fear, an overwhelming fear for the idea of being ‘alone’.
We are uncomfortable with our own company and constantly need a person or content to entertain us. Maybe if we spent more time with ourselves – thinking, talking out loud, humming old Bollywood songs – it would become easier for us all to become slightly more comfortable in our own skins.
Ridhi Bhutani s a published poet and a full time educator at Teach For India. Her poems have gotten published in various reputed national and international magazines like The Pangolin Review and The Houseguest Gallery Louisville among the others. Currently, she’s also working as a Poetry/Prose reader for The Athena Review, USA.