Broken is Beautiful....

Last week, I received my packet from I ordered a black, large-sized t-shirt with the words "broken inside" printed on it. I prefer a black, oversized piece for casual, stay-at-home or go-catch-a-coffee clothing. It looks simple and hides my food sins. It also shields my hypersensitivity; I can feel lights, sounds, and words hitting my bosom directly. Even though a little bizarre, these reasons may still find acceptance in my circle. But what led to a severe backlash when I excitedly posted my picture online in this t-shirt were the words imprinted on it - "broken inside."

As I uploaded my picture, I received several messages from friends, family members and acquaintances, including those who were out of touch, asking me if something was wrong in my life. Some inquired if I was okay, and one, among all, asked if I needed help. Some were worried, and some probably wanted to feel better knowing I was suffering too, like them. The messages read like - "All well?"; "Is everything okay?"; "What happened"; "Is there a problem?"; "What is wrong with you?"; "Did something go wrong at work?"; "Did you fight with someone?"; "Are you sad?" and so on. One text message was that I should not wear this negative message. Instead, I should change it to a positive one - "recently healed."

I felt uneasy and regretful as I was put on a trial through burgeoning queries. Picking up bits of my shattered energy, I started responding to messages defending myself and trying to explain how everything was "okay" and "nothing was wrong", only to realise the futility and the superficiality of the conversations I indulged in. When a child is born, she cries at first. Apparently, this is important for the lungs to expand and expel amniotic fluid and mucus. So, one begins the life journey with a loud cry. But from the very next moment, the focus is on "Why are you crying?" We also associate crying with a specific gender and ban it for the rest; we still do it.

Most of us have been conditioned to publicly paint a super-duper happy picture of our lives. Our social media profiles display the most joyful moments from parties, weddings, get-togethers and holidays. Our movies end at a point where the couples live happily ever after. All our stories have happy endings and closures. Our characters fight challenging situations but eventually defeat all demons and win all battles. Even the tortoise beats a resting hare in our stories because losing is shameful; the ant keeps trying until she climbs the mountain because one must never give up, and the princess always finds the prince because there can be no other way to lead a happy life.

With the baggage of this conditioning, being broken seems wrong, very wrong. It is a feeling for the weak or the pessimistic, those who don't try enough to be happy, and those who choose sadness because perhaps, as we are told sometimes, being happy is a choice. The latest National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences survey found that nearly 150 million Indians need mental health care services. Still, less than 30 million seek care. It is a problem that there are only 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 population, and the desirable number is above 3 per 100,000, but those in need, not seeking care, is a deeper issue. The conditioning of being happy goes against us. It confuses and discourages one from embracing sadness, melancholy and sorrow, making one constantly struggle to find a way to choose happiness. In one's inability to make this choice, one may end up feeling restless, helpless, incapable and guilty.

What is human life without a mixed bag of emotions? Adult life, to me, is exhausting. The to-do lists never end, and the highs and the lows keep knocking on my door. In one single day, I had a brawl on the road, followed by a tedious complaint-filing process, an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague, and an embarrassing meeting. But I also had a sumptuous lunch with my daughter, a warm welcome from an acquaintance, a generous exchange of glances with a stranger, and a beautiful compliment from a student. I had happy and sad moments, both embarrassing and wonderful.

A few days ago, Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation. She mentioned that "she does not have enough left in the tank" and "politicians are human too." I feel it takes courage and kindness to accept the human side in a position that demands you always put your best foot forward. In an age of promoting oneself as a superhero on social media, Jacinda talked about being human and decided to step down. I don't know if there could be other reasons behind her decision. But her letter is an excellent lesson in communication and retaining the human touch amid the intensified debate on how AI will replace humans.

As I close, I hope more and more leaders, and more among us, speak about our vulnerabilities and humane qualities rather than only glorifying our capabilities. Probably, our generations to come will then be able to shun the toxic positivity. I am done with gratitude journals and clubs as I embrace my scars. Each relationship that tore me apart, every incident that shook my beliefs, every time I felt shattered, every situation that made me sick in the stomach left me a little broken inside, broken but beautiful. Now, this beauty manifests through my courage, kindness, empathy, touch and eyes. I am myself because I am broken inside.

Wait! What? Broken? Inside? Yes. I am. Look at my eyes.

All well? Not at all.

Is everything okay? How can it be?

What happened? What more needs to happen?

Is there a problem? Always, always.

Did something go wrong at work? Obviously.

Did you fight with someone? Please don't get me started.

Are you sad? Yes, of course.

What is wrong with you? I am broken inside, broken and beautiful.

*This blog is an edited version of a previous post here:

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Assistant Professor, Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur. PhD, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.