Updated: Feb 18, 2022
I’m sure that any person who indulges in casually reading about psychology or has even been casually exposed to the field will think of some sort of biological connection between pleasure and pain when they read this title. Or maybe they will think about how guilt can drive people down a path where they seek pain as a form of self-punishment and eventually end up at a place where the pain that they believe they deserve becomes a form of pleasure for them. Or maybe about how whenever we experience pain, our brain releases chemicals that make us feel pleasure and other such biological relationships between pain and pleasure in the human makeup. And maybe a few other things.
Perhaps those of us who are exposed to psychological thrillers and psychological dramas will think about how sometimes broken humans can find comfort and pleasure in their toxic and abusive relationships and habits, or the twisted ways in which some humans derive pleasure from the pain of others and/or self, inflicting said pain on others and/or self… or quite a few other such things.
Perhaps those of us who are more serious about studying psychology will think of the inseparable relationship between pain and pleasure like a seesaw wherein peaks in pleasure lead to bouts of pain or peaks in pain lead to bouts of pleasure. (This phenomenon is what some psychologists and experts in the field consider to be one of the primary root causes of addiction. An unnatural peak in pleasure such as those derived from heroin, alcohol, nicotine, gambling, or even indulgence in social media and video games put off the natural equilibrium and can destroy the homeostasis with repeated unnatural peaks in pleasure.) Or maybe you will think of many other similar phenomenons and theories, since the relationship between pain and pleasure is an endless one.
But today’s blog is not about something so dark. Or maybe it is. Afterall, the reality we live in is most times quite dark, isn’t it? For there is inevitable pain even in the most beautiful thing in existence – LOVE. Even Love ALWAYS comes with the promise of pain. Not that the pain makes the Love any less worth it. It is ALWAYS worth it. And yet the pain is… well it’s no joke, let’s leave it at that.
Today’s blog is about the bittersweet marriage between pain and pleasure.
I was recently reminded of an element of Love that showcases perfectly, the absolute intersection of sorrow and joy, the permanent cohabitation of grief and glee, the marriage of pain and pleasure… or perhaps it can also be viewed as painful pleasure… No. The perfect way to describe it would be pleasuring pain within painful pleasure – an éclair of pain with a filling of pleasure inside - an inexplicable pleasure in and of the pain itself that when you bite into, reveals another layer of delectable chunks of pleasure infused with a bitterness that you desire, a bitterness that accents and adds to the pleasure of chocolate… like the bitterness of dark chocolate. Okay, sorry! It’s difficult for me to get my mind off food… But in my defence, it was an effective analogy.
Meet my Beautiful Black Prince, Bailey. My fourth dogson. I have two goddaughters, but no godsons yet. YET. But I do have a dogson. And his handsomeness makes it quite obvious that he takes after me! So does his hard-headedness, his temperament, his gigantic ears (not as gigantic as mine, but gigantic nonetheless), his brown eyes, his endless energy, his absolute incapability to sit still, and his insatiable need to bite and destroy things.
Growing up, I used to smirk, sneer, and roll my eyes at the romance movies that flaunted love at first sight. But I was too blind to see that I, myself, had experienced it multiple times. In fact, I had experienced it many times. I did not always get to live the life I desired with those loved ones because my mom always said, “We can only afford to raise one dog, and we already have you!” But every once in a while, I would succeed in convincing my mom to allow us to get a dog. It would take multiple books just sharing the story of each dog I parented. Thankfully, I am only sharing a particular experience with my fourth dogson.
At the age of 27, as someone who lives with my mom, which is absolutely normal for an Indian household because of our culture; I had given up all hope of ever getting a dog until I got married. The plan was to get a dog only after I get married. In fact, the plan was to get at least 5 dogs – one for each child I plan to adopt. Knowing me, I’ll most definitely end up adopting more children and more dogs. But enough about my crazy fantasies. At a time when I had given up all hope of getting a dog until I got married, my mom somehow agreed to get a dog. This was probably because I was extremely depressed on my birthday. See? Even depression has its perks!
Now, I KNOW my mom. I knew that she was going to be in this permissive and agreeable state only for a short while. I had a very short window to work with. So I knew I had to get a dog right away, or else it was never happening. This was happening when we were in our native village. So I rushed to meet with my cousin who lived there and knew the lay of the land and the right people. This was when I was hounded by EVERYONE to BUY a dog and not adopt one off the street. Their judgemental and condescending comments about how I was being too cheap to not pay for an expensive dog was astonishing. Thankfully I have never liked humans, so their opinions have never mattered to me. Even so, what was truly shocking to me was that even folks from the village-side (rural areas and farming villages) held such a depraved way of thinking. I always thought that folks from the villages would be the ones who would appreciate adopting a dog off the street instead of buying some overpriced dog as if it were a toy or a piece of property.
Anyway, after ignoring all of their condescending nonsense and disregarding all their talk of “you will never find a pup on the streets this time of the year” and spending almost 16 hours of scouring the streets, I finally found my Prince - My Beautiful Black Prince. He was 11 days old. Prancing about with his tiny legs whose muscles were not even fully formed yet and were not at all ready to experience this big, bad world; this Prince was as hard-headed and stubborn as me. Just like me, he too never gave a damn about reality and its limitations. He only saw his destination and knew that he had to get there. The fact that his adorable, tiny, fragile little paws were not ready for it was not of any concern to him. He would lock his eyes on his destination, which was mostly the most inexplicable object, and set off like an Olympic sprinter. Well, at least that’s how it was in his mind. In reality, he was like a new-born prince trying to crawl away from his parents striving to change his diaper. But like I said, neither of us ever cared about reality. He was a perfect match for me. Two souls who wholeheartedly and with absolute conviction did not care about reality and preferred the world of fantasies.
And the moment he looked into my eyes… Oh! That moment!
Suddenly it felt like all the Bollywood nonsense of criminally exaggerated dramatisations may not have been fully unfounded. His newly opened, purple eyes like silent oceans on a strange planet stared straight into my soul and called out to me. And I hearkened unto and answered my Prince’s call at once!
But I did not know yet that this would open up old wounds, resting deep inside dark caverns. Once I brought him home and started bathing him… That’s when I remembered the way I had bathed all my previous dogsons whom I had bathed on their first day at home. And suddenly my hands started shivering even in the perfectly lukewarm water.
There are only a few pleasures greater than the pleasure of caring for a loved one… Unmatched pleasures such as changing your child’s diaper, feeding your child, protecting your loved ones, providing for them, doing anything for a loved one… And bathing your dogson definitely qualifies for this list… And as I was indulging in this divine pleasure, a pain that transcended time visited me from the courts of eternity. It was as if time personified had visited the chambers where the pains of my past dwelled and had brought them along to pay me a visit. As if he had gone through the trouble of breaking the barrier between time and eternity to bring them from a dimension beyond time to this dimension which exists within time only for my sake.
And when they arrived here, I knew that they did not belong here in the land within time. And yet, the pain was real. Very real. My soapy hands washing the dirt off my Prince’s fur trembled as the pain of a thousand yesterdays washed over me. As I was bathing my Prince with soap and water, I was being bathed with the pain of my lost dogsons.
That was when I realised what I was walking into. It was as if time personified was asking me, “You do realise that this is what you are signing up for? You realise that you are signing up for reliving this unspeakable suffering you have experienced three times before? This is going to be the same pain that made you skip school for three days and cry straight through those three days when you lost your first dogson in second grade. Except this will be worse. When you feel the pain of separation this time, it will be multiplied into all the three previous pains; because that is how the pain of loss works. Previous losses do not make it easier to bear losses in the future. They only magnify the pain of future losses. Everytime you lose someone dear to you, the pain of past loved ones multiply into the current pain. It will crush you the way a garbage compactor crushes a car into a small ball like someone crumbling up a piece of paper. Except, the car does not feel it. You will. You will feel that emotional pain in your body. And you’ve always been an exceptionally weak one. You cry harder than others. Your emotional pain translates into physical manifestation far too easily and harshly. You do NOT want to sign up for this.”
And I knew that every part of it was true. Except for the last line. I knew that the pain I would feel this time would be much worse. Who knows how much time I would spend in grief this time… But one thing that this personified manifestation of time was wrong about was about me not wanting it. Not that I wanted it. I obviously do NOT want to experience separation. I obviously wish he would live forever. But as much as I fear the inevitable separation, the desire I have for sharing a life with this matchlessly beautiful soul is much stronger. The pain was part of the package, yes. But so was the pleasure. The pain of the memories that my Prince will leave behind is part of the package, yes. But so are the beauty and joy of the memories he will leave behind. The reality of him leaving me in pieces when he departs is part of the package. But so is the fullness of life and true living I will experience because of him. And that is a package I will gladly choose every damn time.
As someone who has been clinically depressed for over a decade now, I have not had many moments when I’ve felt alive. Most days I just continue drawing breath just to avoid the nasty consequences that the ones I leave behind will face. But I haven’t LIVED in a long time. The phrase “dead inside” seems far too lacklustre to describe this condition. I feel more like a corpse who has been programmed to imitate and masquerade as a living person. Not just that I don’t feel alive. But I feel dead. In recent times, there have been two experiences that have made me feel alive:
When I was writing my debut fantasy novel
When I was with my dogson, Bailey
The numbering denotes the chronological order. But I assure you, how I felt when I was with my dogson was what renewed my desire for life… even if only just momentarily. Why do I say momentarily? Because right now he is away from me. He lives in our beautiful village, and I live in a city that most Indians covet living in -Mumbai. But not only do I abhor city life and love rural life, I am simply not meant for the fast-paced, hip & happening life of the city. And to make it worse, the one person who holds the power to renew my desire for my life, now lives in a village far, far away from me.
I remember the night when I booked tickets to return to Mumbai for work. I had finished potty training him within just three days… and three nights. Yes, I am bragging. Just three days and nights. And for those three days and three nights I saw only a few bouts of one-hour stretches of sleep. I set alarms at every one hour interval so that I could take him outside and get him potty trained. And here’s the crazy thing… In my entire depression-riddled adult life, I have had 5 or 6 full nights of good sleep where I woke up mentally and physically refreshed. But in these three days and three nights of barely any sleep, I found myself more fulfilled and even energetic than ever!
Like I was saying… I had successfully potty trained him. And I had successfully gotten him comfortable with solid food. And now it was time to return to Mumbai for work. That evening, I held him on my chest (the way I usually sleep with him) and sobbed for 40 minutes straight… well perhaps “wept“ would be more accurate. But anyway, that night I cursed myself for having to work in a city and having to abandon my son. I felt like I was betraying my son by abandoning him. I was cursing myself for being a bad father. I told myself that I had done him wrong by adopting him when I wasn’t capable of being with him forever. I knew that he would be well fed and provided for by my mom. But at the same time, as any parent does, I knew that their child deserves only the best care possible and also that only and ONLY they themselves are the one person who can truly give their child what is best. And so I stewed in guilt, self-pity, disgust, self-loathing, and many other feelings for which words have not yet been invented for 40 minutes.
The next morning, I departed for my train after kissing him about 20 times and whispering in his ear whom he should play with and whom he should stay away from, whom he can trust and whom he can’t trust, what he should eat and what he shouldn’t eat, where he is allowed to go and where he isn’t supposed to go. All the typical things any parent would say to their child before going away.
Right now… a multitude of waves of many different feelings once again visit me as I write this, as I sit in this train, on my way to reunite with my son.
I hate pain… I fear pain… I am even honest enough to admit that I run from it… But I’m fortunate to be blessed with the ability to see it when the pain is worth the pleasure within. Here's to signing up for heartbreak a million more times so we can love the way we were meant to love, for God is Love.
1 John 4:8 - But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.