You have a choice…
There is a book about Mumbai (Bombay) called “Maximum City” in which the author, Suketu Mehta, chronicles his return to the Mumbai he left at 14 years old and this city he finds. One of the first things he discovers in his return is that in India, “I am paying rent every month to my landlord for the privilege of fixing his flat.” Oy, how true.
Within a month of moving into our flat — an apartment built and marketed as friendly to western needs and tastes — everything broke. Air conditioners broke, pipes leaked, so-called filter systems that were supposedly there so we could drink the water were there (meaning the equipment was there) but did not, in fact, filter the water. In the first week the refrigerator was dying a slow complicated death that involved periodic spasms that blew out the electricity. Our landlord later confessed he’d chosen a cheap fix rather than buy a new fridge. It seems to be a generally accepted real-estate-owning technique to let things die or break and other people (your tenants) fix them and then see whether you could delay and avoid paying long enough that they give up asking. I think this was his hope with the fridge.
Anyhow, the dying refrigerator blew the fuses for the first time on one particularly hot and inauspicious night. We assumed it was a power outage (which happen regularly in India) and so we waited out the dark. Unfortunately, this no-power night was also a night my husband was also adjusting to the flora and fauna of Mumbai, which is to say, he was was vomiting muscularly in the bathroom all night. And the bathroom had no windows which made the whole business particularly challenging. It was a bad night.
Meanwhile the landlord was a little too relaxed about getting us up and running. Much-needed repairmen were saying they were coming, but not quite coming, or coming and not quite fixing, or fixing but not quite fixing in a way that lasted for more than twenty minutes after they left. We were constantly in what my dad called “sheep dog” mode, nipping at heels, curving in around the side to push the flock of repair people forward, but we were also losing our minds. Well, I was. Losing the will to live, as a friend of mine says sometimes.
It was about then that our Aunt and Uncle invited us out to one of Mumbai’s fancy clubs. This, frankly, seemed like a nice contrast to our refrigerator-less apartment of broken air conditioners, mosquitos and leaky pipes. So we went and told them our tales of woe. It was then that we got the advice that I have thought of a thousand times since I first heard it that day. Our uncle, an experienced, retired, CEO of a major company said, “In those moments there is only one thing you can do: you must — “ and he hesitated for a slight dramatic pause. When he did, his wife spoke also. The result was that we got two simultaneous responses to this fill-in-the-blank moment. Our uncle said, “aaram se” while our aunt, in her elegant, clipped speech said, “pitch a fit!”
Therein lies the choice at the heart of every moral quandary in India. Because, you see, both of these two advisors were 100% right. You have two choices in India — two choices in those maddening moments of frustration that come every day — you can “say aaram se,” or you can pitch a fit!
Today, let’s take the first. Aaram se in case you don’t know, is the Hindi phrase for something that might best be translated as “relax, let it be.” Saying aaram se is basically like deciding that the whole business isn’t worth a heart attack or ruining your day. It is deciding none of it is not worth your trouble and energy and to just live with things as they are or at least not get yourself worked up about them. Aaram se can be about surrender to what is, but also can just be a reminder that, yes, you will try to face down this headache but that you will remember while you do so that life is more than this and so move through it a little lighter.
I do think it is great practice to have a moment where you ask, “How much heartache is this worth,” before you get caught up in the emotion and struggle of it all. Does it really matter? And it leads to all sorts of other questions, if you let it, like: Why is my ego involved in this? Why and I taking this personally? Can’t I do something more fun with my time and energy, and what?!
And if you cannot bear to surrender…. read the next installment!