Diary of an Empath
It has been exactly one month since I landed in Kolkata for the first time. How sweaty and nervous was I on that day! But in no time, the humidity outside the airport muted on the backdrop of a warm feeling when cigarette-smelling cabbies addressed me as Dada. Gradually, the nervousness slowed to an indescribable feeling as I started experiencing the culture, the language, the cuisine, and the joy of the city of joy.
It was, indeed, a fresh beginning.
When you are a stranger to a city, you feel free of the tiring responsibilities of loving or hating the typical attributes of a place. You tend to observe the locals’ behaviour closely, as to learn from and to adapt to their way of living life. It is intriguing how you find newness in the same old things simply because you choose to pay attention.
In the last one month, the city has become a love-and-hate friend. The knowns of the different cities I have lived in so far have effortlessly blended into the unknowns of the cultural capital of India.
On a different note, I need someone to talk to when I return home. Should I get married?11:30 PM, September 20 2017 | The Discovery
Recently, I made a friend while sharing a boring cab ride to the office. Rishabh Kankaria, a Chartered Accountant, initiated the conversation and welcomed me to Kolkata. My eagerness to learn more about Kolkata, the forgivable distance between our workplaces, and coinciding work hours led to frequent interactions between us.
It was one of those usual meetings that taught me a crucial lesson in life. That fine day, we met after office and were looking for a restaurant to rescue ourselves from starving. As staunch vegetarians, both of us preferred a vegetarian-only restaurant but couldn’t find one nearby. We traced one multi-cuisine restaurant and my undeniable hunger prompted me to go for it. Rishabh was reluctant and in a self-satisfied tone pointed out that the food wasn’t worth a penny.
So, we spent time searching for another restaurant, but were equally unsuccessful. Finally, I decided to revisit our first choice. To my utter surprise, Rishabh politely refused to join me and left for home: hungry!
On my way back home, I was lost in my curiosity. Why did Rishabh decide to stay hungry and not eat there? Not a vegonly hotel? A tad expensive? Bad quality of food? Bad service?
The quality was good and majority of the online reviews suggested the same. It wasn’t expensive either. Given how relative in nature such factors are, I wanted to understand Rishabh’s perspective. From the next day, I started observing Rishabh’s actions whenever we met.
My analytical mind raced fast and figured out the following:
- Rishabh wouldn’t spend unnecessarily.
- He would eat in non-vegetarian restaurants, if left with no other choice.
- He wouldn’t mind spending for poor-quality food in a hygienic and quality place.
I was confused. It was merely one restaurant that Rishabh had an issue with. Maybe a bad experience? But, he wouldn’t speak. I started observing him closely; rather, I started living his life. Rishabh was an introvert; he was specific about timing, cleanliness, and dressing. He wouldn’t cook as the process ate time and involved the deadly task of cleaning; he would leave pretty early for office to beat the traffic. Above all, he was rigid about his food habits; he wouldn’t share his food with anyone. He would avoid dining with a non-vegetarian, particularly when not sharing table with the individual is not an option.
His food habits caught my undivided attention. The next time we dined together, I started recollecting how I had despised the idea of plate-sharing in hostels, and how the thought of a brownish-white piece of a non-veg something on my plate had often terrorized me to an uncomfortable silence. Rishabh seemed to strike a chord with the tale and narrated one of his own: a bad day, when a simple order for a plate of Veg-Fried Rice and Gobi Manchurian turned out to be a Veg-Fried Rice and Gobi-a-piece-of-Chicken Manchurian.
Trust me, they look the same; it’s difficult to tell unless you take a bite. Rishabh was sincere.
The six-year-old experience at a plush restaurant had changed his outlook towards a chain of restaurants forever, I sensed.
That day, I discovered ‘Empathy’.
Turns out, I am an empath. Which is why I need to empathise with myself first, and take care of my needs. I should get married.7:28 PM, May 14 2018 | The Doctor
Rishabh suffered a medical condition. Though a firm believer in the power of Google, I advised him against searching a medical symptom online and advocated going to a clinic to consult a real doctor. The internet-bred doctor within me pinned the condition on work pressure and mental stress and he expectedly endorsed my thought. We were not imbeciles to embrace the idea of self-medication, though. So, we left it to the professionals to ascertain. I accompanied him to multiple clinics in the city as we discerned a pattern- a set of questions were asked frequently: current job, daily routine, personal issues, diet, habits, and past occurrences.
This was similar to a traditional market survey that is conducted by firms to understand the issues and needs before introducing a new product/ service. The doctors assimilated the available information and arrived at the problemdefinition that, based on individual analysis, varied considerably. The proposed solution included tests and medicine for the thus-defined problem.
The clock ticked in time but there was not enough improvement. The recommendations seemed ineffective. My friend, an unsatisfied client, had to look for other options.
He apprised me of his appointment with his family doctor, his trusted counsellor, who had just returned from a family vacation in Pondicherry. We reached before time and waited patiently for our turn. What followed remains a refreshing episode even today. I witnessed the true strength of a trusted relationship; I must admit that I envied the fact that the doctor knew more about my friend than I did. Dr. Chatterjee opened a file that read ‘Patient History’ and for the next 30 minutes or so, he was absorbed in listening to the stories that were documented. My ears grew taller and more curious with each story, as they told me that I didn’t know my friend well enough. I discovered how Rishabh had lost his parents in an accident seven years back and more importantly, how the incident affected his mental health.
Rishabh’s nervousness peaked as his trembling hands welcomed a piece of paper from the doctor. The paper listed guidelines and general instructions apart from medicine to be taken. With every line, my hands sensed the need to comfort my friend, but the doctor beat me to it. The doctor’s comforting smile and kind words manifested assurance and we left the clinic on a highly positive note.
And yes, it worked! Dr. Chatterjee did not come up with any innovative solution or creative ideas but still he did something that comes under the realm of ‘beyond the obvious’.
The doctor empathized. He assimilated the information and defined the problem accurately, and he suggested the best option considering the not-so-obvious factors.
Primarily, a wrong treatment is a result of fallacious understanding of the root cause. Product failures or failed marketing strategies are no different. Any innovative product/ service or any creative strategy that doesn’t cater to the true needs of the people is futile. Whereas, these things, when done right, prove to be the differentiator.
Amma is happy after I expressed my need to get married. She is the most empathetic person ever. All mothers are. Now, she is blasting my WhatsApp inbox with photos of girls. I feel embarrassed as I don’t know how to reply to her. But some of the girls are really sexy. Love you, Amma.10:15 PM, September 6 2018 | The Pride
My boss, Tirthankar Sir, was so happy today. He is always happy, but today he seemed a different kind of happy after the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Maybe, he was crying when he was smiling. I couldn’t figure out.
Since I joined the firm, I have seen him advocating LGBTQ rights in some way or the other. I remember one instance when he spoke about lineage. That members of the LGBTQ community don’t come from LGBTQ families. That often their own family members can’t empathise with them, resulting in a difficult loneliness and a sense of not belonging. The message hit me hard.
I researched a bit on the Internet and discovered how unfair we have been towards the LGBTQ Community. A while ago, I discussed Pride with Amma. Whatever she told me made me realize that we don’t really understand love as much we understand the idea of love. After all, she is a brilliant psychologist.
Tomorrow, I will give Abhay a call and apologise to him for making fun of him in school. An apology, I know, isn’t enough but certainly a good place to start.1:30 AM, February 2 2019 | The Grandma
I have not been able to sleep. Talking to Kavyanjali makes me happy. She is beautiful and compassionate. It is because of her insistence that I am jogging every day.
Last evening, I was strolling in the park after a tiring day at work. Few kids were playing football in the nearby locality. One of the kids, by the name ‘Messi’ (yes, Kolkata has a lot of Messi fans), got into the character of the name he was carrying on his jersey and kicked the ball trying to replicate his idol’s shot; the ball landed next door, much to the exasperation of an old lady who lives there.
That moment took me back to my times as a notorious kid -- dreaming to become the next sporting legend -- who had bothered everyone in the locality. But there were people who would interfere with our play, too. Thavaseelan’s grandmother, who lived next door, would annoy us by playing loud music on her old CRT TV, which became a subject of serious concern to us. Much to our delight, his brother, Karthik, who had got a new job, was planning to gift her a 32-inch Plasma TV. Fortunately, this plan was given the needed impetus by the amazing discounts available and the new TV was delivered within a week. We witnessed the moment when she was informed about the gift. She smiled but her peaceful wrinkles told a different story. It was the first TV Thava’s grandfather had purchased and the apparently dull colours rendered a high definition image of her life. Karthik realized that it wasn’t the right gift for her, and that day, my outlook towards marketing changed.
We are emotionally attached to few of our products, but I was surprised to know the extent to which our attachment impacts our buying decisions. I realized empathy is easy to understand but requires a great deal of patience and perseverance to apply. We are oblivious to the fact that we fail to empathize even with people close to us and with those we have known for years.
People seldom speak out their subconscious emotions. It requires deeply observing their behaviour and closely living their lives to understand the story behind their decisions. It isn’t just the story of one old lady but the story of your life, too.
I know Kavyanjali wants me to discuss sex. But I am too shy to even utter the three magical words. I should start sexting.7:00 AM, September 8 2019 | The Companion
The long day at work exhausted Neha. She was stressed and hungry. She turned to the most used app on her phone: her dinner companion. It was another day of enjoying the deep discounts on her favourite food items. "Thank you, saviour," she murmured. Things were about to change, though.
The 45-minute waiting time seemed unbearable. Out of options, Neha decided to take the long route to the common food court inside the premises. Little did she know that this long walk would become a routine, and that the stranger she would bump into will become her best friend. It was the beginning of a new relationship.
It was also the end of another relationship. The discounts got deeper in a bid to revive the relationship, but the app was unaware that Neha had found her new dinner companion.
Last night, I heard the story in the most animated way from her now-husband, Prakash, who is about to publish his first novel. We celebrated their first anniversary at the same food court. The owner of the food court, Mr. Aman Nahata, surprised the couple by offering a 30% discount on the overall bill.
After returning home, I told the story with more enthusiasm to Kavyanjali. We are getting married in a week. Yay!11:17 PM, January 21 2020 | The Change
Things have changed. Kavyanjali is not well. She is finding it difficult to deal with the winter in Kolkata. I am looking for new opportunities. We are planning to relocate to Vellore. Besides, Amma is not keeping well; she wants me to be with her.
I have started working on my resume to strengthen my candidacy. My target is to work in the field of Design Thinking, given my personality and the projects I have worked on in the last two years.
“Saved time, money, and efforts by creating a social media post inviting 5000+ highly valued current customers at once to an important product launch event,” read one of the points on my resume, under the header 'Initiatives'. The evident glow on my face would reflect unadulterated pride.
Last night, I was chatting with Amma on WhatsApp when I received a message from Anuj Sachdeva, one of my close friends from college days. It was his marriage invitation: "Please consider this as my personal invitation. Do attend.”
The words left me misty-eyed. I thought he valued me. It took me long to get over the message. While writing this line, my resume has one point less under the header 'Initiatives’.