My anger is not me. This short sentence has been one of the most powerful I’ve come across in 2023 and perhaps longer. The idea it sums up is that we shouldn’t let our anger define us. We should learn to look at it dispassionately – perhaps as a haughty little friend, invisible but always with us, like a genie that shouldn’t be bottled up and yet shouldn’t be let loose like a terrier in a China shop.
A recent mental health peer counselling training is where I picked up this learning – not new learning, but still fresh. Our trainer explained that we need to understand where our anger stems from rather than suppress it as something bad; we need to explore what triggers it, what other emotions it masks, and how it can be expressed in a smarter manner. I realized I hadn’t engaged with this friend of mine in a long time.
Counselling sessions in the past had helped start a conversation with my anger, which had gradually prevented small inanimate objects in my room from being smashed or mobile phones from being launched like unguided missiles. Yet, intense but silent episodes of adorning ‘wrongdoers’ with colourful epithets (combined with teeth gnashing my dentist would disapprove of) have continued. So also have short bursts of unhappiness with people closest to me, which may end with me tearing up in the solitude of my room (there was some hair pulling too in the past, that is, when hair was there).
I’m not sharing this because my conversation with my anger has led to any breaking news (all news breaks you anyway). If anything, the dialogue has just been revived and I know it must be life-long. What is clear as day through Kolkata’s smog is that my anger draws from several roots. The first set includes toxic social attitudes, andhi bhakti, and communal biases displayed proudly as the ultimate truth. Then there’s the destruction of the physical environment. If you say, how green was my city, I’ll choke with dust and nostalgia. There’s also an ageing body and an ageing house, in which people watch ageless TV serials. Not the best of circumstances while you humour your compulsive desire for orderliness and quietude (this desire is also one of my invisible friends and often plays with or on or under my anger).
Somewhere in the tangle of all these roots is also dejection in romantic love, which is enmeshed with not just what my exes or I said or did in the past, but also the social circumstances which irreparably queer the pitch for queer love and lovers. No, I don’t necessarily want to sing songs running around in municipal parks. I’m not pining for marriage equality either. But deprivation doesn’t have to be socioeconomic to mean something – denial of opportunity to be together with someone you deeply care for can be debilitating. My anger draws from the hurt of having to hold myself back – not because of personal and professional responsibilities, but because of not having a systemic opportunity in the first place that would have allowed me to fly even if I were to have a disastrous landing. Many straight folks in similar social circles as mine don’t have to think twice about such an opportunity.
As I explore the founts of my anger, I realize that there’s no hierarchy in these sources. Even if there’s one, it seems too complex to unravel. The good thing is, if I must confront these sources to channelize my anger better, I can begin anywhere. The tougher part though is in making the confrontation assertive rather than aggressive, and sometimes it’s extremely difficult to close a chapter firmly without unhinging the book.
This brings me to another learning from the training workshop – the need to work on oneself to become assertive. I’ll leave a rant on this for another day but let me just make this note for myself: Remind colleague that working on oneself doesn’t mean fiddling with the filters on the phone for selfie shots.
In the meantime, I dedicate this last Varta editorial of 2023 as a toast to all kindred spirits who have had to stay back. Get creative in 2024 and let your anger shine through. My anger narrative is flowers that are white hot. What form and colour is yours?
About the main photo: A shot from the Karlapat Sanctuary Range near Bhawanipatna in Odisha taken in 2017. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall