Isha brought six photos to interview that centred on her struggle to fulfil social expectations while attempting to deal with her own emotional turmoil that involved broken dreams and a feeling of emptiness.
Perceived standards and unfulfilled expectations
“I deal with students in this room but few years back I was sitting in one of those benches. So this was maybe- I think I was 18 […] I was sensitive in the sense that my father was there in the same college. He was working as a library assistant. And I had this thing in my mind that- even my grandfather worked here. So I had this thing in my mind that I had to- I had to have a good image here. That- at that time I was like a nerd- okay a real boring person. I didn’t even step out of my college gate very often because I felt that if I went out- if I roam around with my friends- it will be a bad thing […] I must have a good image because my grandfather worked here my father is working here so I must have a very proper- proper kind of an image here. So I didn’t use to go much- I- I didn’t go out much. Then whatever fun I used to hav, I used to have within the four walls of the classroom.”
Isha’s first photo provided the context for the standards she felt pressured to maintain and the boundaries she placed on herself. She referred to herself as ‘cocooned’, defining things very starkly as good and bad and doing everything to keep a ‘good image’in the society. She continued:
“So whatever was there- all my- I sat in these benches. I had fun with my friends. I have fought with myself. I introspected. I analysed my dreams, my pain, my sufferings- all within these classrooms and when I now look back at these empty benches I- I think ‘Okay after keeping myself prim and proper what have I gained now?’…”
It was this question that led Isha to experience crisis, feeling all her efforts to have been worthless and leading to nothing fruitful.
Becoming and knowing oneself≫
Isha felt that every time she appeared to be going in a positive direction, things changed and made her feel miserable.
“Every time I chase something it turns to be a- an illusion and it gets lost somewhere. Every time I make myself stronger. I gather myself up and every time there is something to break me down.”
“Then this went on and then a few years passed and when I was 24- 25 a new phase of my life began. Now people were talking about my marriage. This is very normal. But even this thing- this phase of my life umm I saw the shades of green okay. But these shades didn’t remain green for long. Okay. So this- this kept on happening with me.”
The photos of green leaves and then dried leaves represented how Isha felt about her situation and she went on to picture herself as an empty chair.
“So every time I feel that there will be shades of green somewhere- coming to me and every time I’ll find only the dead leaves. Okay. I only find the dead leaves. I find an- an empty me sitting somewhere. I find the windows broken […] The windows through which I tried to see a new world. The world which I had always ignored. The world towards which I didn’t want to- I had never wanted to see. Okay for the first time I felt like opening the windows. Looking at that- at that new world. Every time I only found that the window is broken. And I will only have a broken image out of that.”
Isha conveyed hopelessness about her lack of control over her life situation and the chair and window illustrated her sense of being empty and her future broken.
Unlike most participants, Isha did not bring a photo to represent how she coped with her experience of crisis. On probing, she said:
“So when these things happen I talk to my best friend. Okay. I sometimes talk to her and sometimes I eat a lot. And that is- I don’t know it’s surprising or not or I don’t know if it happens to others also. Maybe it happens. I eat a lot.”