The imperfect perfectionist

I am always fascinated by people’s approach towards everyday jobs and activities. For them, performing an activity or a chore, however small, deftly and precisely provides more delight than completing a huge task meagerly. A job to them becomes of utter personal importance. The success, failure or delay of a particular job then has a direct impact on their daily personal and professional lives, meaning that these standards would be expected of everyone working or living with them.

It is all about perfection in this highly imperfect world. Yet i can not fathom how people overlook the fact that are performed by human beings, not machines. Well, even machines, for that matter, are created by humans, and they err from time to time. One thing that singularly differentiates a human from machines is emotion, the same factor which leads them to err.

I tell you all this because of the recent turn of events in my neighbor’s house. I stay alone in a small flat in a Bangalore suburb, a little away from the city. It is a quiet residential area built by one of those big builders providing all the amenities like pools, gardens and landscapes within their compound walls, faking nature you know, mostly occupied by the software industry employees. People usually keep to themselves due to their lack of time in socializing. I meet with residents staying in the building occasionally, greeting each other on the hallway or in the lift, albeit nothing more an acquaintance.

So last Sunday, when Mr Nair from the above flat came to me seeking help in mediating their relationship strife, i was quite baffled. The reasons for my astonishment should be clear to the reader. Firstly, I am a bachelor and know next to nothing about marital issues and second, i do not know the couple well. I invited him inside and over a cup of coffee, explained my predicament in providing any solution to their ongoing problem, but Mr. Nair insisted that i would be the right person to help them especially since i am unmarried, I would take a neutral stance about the issue and because I do not know them well, I would be unbiased in my opinions.

The next Sunday morning saw me knocking on their door, feeling like Sherlock, ready to take on his next big case (wishing there was a Watson to take down the case). I was invited inside by Mr Nair and was seated in the hall. The flat looked a little gloomy, having a musty closed up smell of a hotel along with smell of burnt coffee, with articles, books and newspapers strewn around, dried plants on the window sill, paintings on the walls all dusty. If you observed close enough, you could see a logical division in the house, one side belonging to Mr Nair and the other side to his wife. We had just begun conversing when out came Mrs Nair and sat down in the right corner of sofa in front of me, sitting as far from Mr Nair as she could. Then there was eerie silence. If you dropped a pin, even it would not have dared to make any noise.

Before the case (as I would like to call it) begins, I would like to educate the reader with information that i could gather about the couple in the last one week. Mr and Mrs Nair have been married now for about 5 years. Mr Nair, a journalist by profession, as you would have surmised, belongs to Kerala. He left Kerala after his studies to pursue a job in Cochin and thereafter moved to Bangalore. Mrs Nair, a software engineer, belongs to Mysore, a city in Karnataka. She completed her college and moved to Bangalore for further studies. It was during this time that they met in the weirdest of circumstances. Let me tell you how.

It was midnight. Mr Nair had just reached Bangalore by train and was looking for a short accommodation with lodgings nearby his new office. As it was colder than Kerala, he took out his shawl and covered it across his face and neck. The helper in the lodging had given the keys and guided Mr. Nair towards his room. Mr Nair climbed the stairs to the first floor and instead of taking a left as told by the helper, took the right and made of mistake of getting into the wrong building. You see, buildings there were all connected and even seemed to belong together. Before he realized he took the wrong turn, he was hit from behind and fell unconscious. When he opened his eyes the next day morning, he found a pretty face smiling sheepishly. Mrs Nair (then Ms Acharya) had been reading a thriller the previous night and Mr Nair seemed perfect for the part of a serial killer inside the novel. She mustered all her courage and hit him using a rod. Well, all was settled in the next few days, and in a few days had become good friends, and before they knew, it was marriage time.

All went well for the first two years. As they did not go around much before marriage, the honeymoon period was flowery. They discovered a lot about each other and everything seemed fresh, every act was performed to impress each other. In short, good old days for them. It was during the third year that trouble first came to them; in the form of mother-in-law of course. Mr Nair’s parents came sight seeing for a week. When they noticed the state of affairs in the house, all hell broke loose. The next few years of their relationship can be summarized in the following words.

Rebuke, Roar, Riot and Repeat.

So here I was in their house, amidst the tsunami and the monster. I cleared my throat and began.
“Mrs Nair, how are you? I am Roy Numen. We have not been formally introduced.”
“Good. Can i get you something to drink Mr Numen?”
“Errr No thanks i just had my breakfast. Please call me Roy. I am sure you know why i am here.”
“Look Roy, no offense meant, but i really do not want anyone interfering in my life, let alone giving me marital advice.”
Mr Nair suddenly interrupted.
“How can you be so rude to a guest in our house? He has nothing to do with our situation. I invited him as per our discussion last week to have someone listen to us and provide a third person opinion”
The atmosphere in the room just got a little more serious. I started feeling uneasy for no reason. I gave it another try.
“Mr Nair, please. Madam, I understand your situation. I can see you are apprehensive about me being here. Obviously, no one would like to discuss personal matters with strangers. Clearly it was Mr Nair’s idea to bring me into this. Since i am here and know something of the ongoing issue, i would like to be of help in any little way i can.”
“Thanks Roy, and sorry for my earlier outburst, but i think i can handle this on my own.”
Saying this, she got up and left, not before giving Mr Nair a stern glance. He gave me an apologetic look and i just nodded my head in response.

A few days later i met Mrs Nair at the local library. I waved at her, but to no response. Mr Nair was ready to talk to me, but she wasn’t. I took a couple of books and sat in a desk opposite to her, trying to get her attention, but she looked away, until she noticed the book i was carrying in my hand. It was an old copy of poetry by Pablo Neruda. Suddenly her face lit up and she came up to my desk.

“Roy, is that book for you ? Do you read poetry?”
“Yes i do. In fact, i am a fan of Neruda. Do you like Poetry?”
I could see the excitement build up in her.
“Yes ! I love poetry and I love this guy’s work. He is one of the best romantics the poetry world has known. Glad to know that people still read poetry.”
“Of course they do. Not as many as before, but still there are some romantics, like Mr Nair” said I, with a wink. Sensing that did not go well, I immediately changed the topic.
“So what poem of Neruda do you like ?,” I asked trying to get her talking.
“I don’t think i remember all the names, but i think there was one named ‘I do not love you’ or something”
“Oh yeah! Thats a beauty. I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,” I replied, quoting a line from the poem.
I could feel a sense of joy rising in her. We talked some more about poetry, story and art and then she had to take leave. Neruda had managed to make us friends in a short time. We met a few more times that week, and as we talked, she started opening up and finally, she agreed to talk about her issue with Mr Nair.

The following week, as i showed up at their flat again, the scenario had changed a bit. Mrs Nair was most welcoming. She invited me inside and brought me coffee, as Mr Nair looked on, bewildered. I explained our visits to him. There seemed to be no change in their seating arrangement as they sat down for discussion on the extreme ends of the sofa. This time i was a little confident and began on a lighter note.

“So guys, i am going to be your referee here on. Any fights shall only commence in my presence henceforth. Do you understand?”
They obviously did not FEEL the joke.
“Never mind. Here is what i had in my mind. I am going to talk to you individually at least a couple of times in the following weeks. I need you to be completely honest with me. I, on my part, take solemn oath to keep the conversations confidential. Is that ok ?”
They nodded their head in unison.
“Good. So let us start with you Mr Nair. Shall we meet tomorrow evening around the same time in the walking track ?”

During the next couple of weeks, I met with Mr and Mrs Nair separately, trying to understand their routine, their hobbies and passions, their level of dependence and commitment and few personal details. I am obviously not going to let you guys in on their secrets as i am strictly under oath. I will, however, divulge certain general information i jotted down that can help the readers understand the case.

Mr Nair was extremely passionate about art, be it music, literature, painting. He was also secretly passionate about acting, which probably, even his wife wasn’t aware of. He believed that everything in life should be as beautiful as art. In his own words, “Life is like music, flowing in a rhythm, it is like a painting with colors and textures. It is like a good book, with varied characters, lively events, love and passion. Life is pure magic.” Needless to say, Mr Nair was always in a dream world. He longed for perfection. A kind of perfection that is seen in music, paintings and great books. He did not like unnecessary worries, nor extreme stress on living. All he demanded was a smooth flow. Mrs Nair, according to him, did not understand art and in turn felt she did not learn to live life to the fullest.

Mrs Nair, on the other hand, was extremely practical. If not for her enthusiasm in poetry, I would have written her off as a very grim person. Poetry brings out the innocence and joy in any person. In spite of that, when it came to matters of daily routine, Mrs Nair was uncompromising. She considered life as a journey. In her own words, “Life is a journey. It needs to be traveled, not dreamt. As in any journey, you will have work to do, places to see, people to meet. Life is not your computer based social networking. Life has to be lived outside.” She longed for perfection. A kind of perfection that is seen in doing, not dreaming. The joy of performing work in an immaculate fashion, the joy of going out as a couple, the joy of discipline in life, all this was perfection to her. Mr Nair, according to her, wasn’t being as capable as a husband should be in supporting the wife in her daily duties. He just shied away from responsibilities.

Even though like any reasonable person, each of them described what life meant to them and what are their expectations from life and spouse, there was one singular characteristic imbibed in them through their experiences and knowledge – the need for perfection, the kind that varied from person to person. What i noticed in my conversations was that they talked a lot about love and romance. They longed for each other’s presence. Yet, due to varied lifestyles and principles, not only did they fail to acknowledge their love for each other, but only noticed how the other strayed farther from each’s idea of perfection. The imperfect perfectionist in each had taken the reins.

How do we find an answer to this problem ? Perhaps we could reverse their roles for a few days ?

Actually, thats exactly what we did. In a slightly different manner. We decided that for the next 4 weeks, the roles would be reversed. Mr Nair would do all the household chores that Mrs Nair was responsible for and vice versa. The catch here was that, instead of just performing the task, there would be explanations on why a task was done in a certain manner and what was the best way to do it. This would solve the problem of expectations they each had from the other, when they realize the struggles gone through in each task.

In the first week, it was a little challenging as there was hardly any talk between them. Let me describe you the scenario in the house as i saw it.

Mr Nair was in the kitchen, his laptop right next to him, with youtube opened up, trying to figure out the best recipe that could be cooked for the evening meal. On enquiring what the meal was, the only response i got was “please don’t disturb me. Can’t you see i am busy ?” The vegetables were cut with the same speed that the youtube channel described, the dishes washed and looked pristine. I cannot describe a better example for mindfulness. Mrs Nair was given the task of editing an article for newspaper that was due on Monday. She too opened up her laptop, started searching for wiki pages on the best possible way to write and edit and newspaper article. With the level of energy and eagerness showcased by Mrs Nair, the spot of a newspaper editor wasn’t far from her reach.

The enthusiasm to surpass each other in tasks saw them outperform their level and the first few days went pretty smoothly. However, as days passed and they were doing the same thing over and over again, the need for perfection starting waning. It was easy to achieve perfection in what they liked, however it was hard to keep up the same level of perfection in other activities.

It was during the mid of second week that a certain miracle happened. Mr Nair was in the kitchen as usual, tears flowing from his eyes due to cutting onions (actually it was also when he realized the rising prices of onions, that tears flowed a little more). Mrs Nair suddenly called out.

“Vijay, could you please come here. I need some help” . Oh yes i forgot to tell you. Mr Nair’s first name is Vijay and Mrs Nair’s, Sunitha.

Mr Nair stared at me in disbelief. Did she just say help ? In any case, he decided to go check it out. While trying to remove the fan from the ceiling for cleaning, she had accidentally cut some wires and now it wasn’t working. Also, the weight of the fan was little more than she could hold on with one hand.

In trying to re-connect the wires with the fan in her hands, she suddenly lost the grip on the stool and slipped. Just as in movies, It was exactly at the same time that Mr Nair stepped into the room, and jumped inside, in perfect time to catch her. She let go of the fan and it fell to the ground, crashing into pieces. Mrs Nair however, fell right into the safety Mr Nair’s arms. The look on her face revealed everything. Shocked from missing a fall, but relieved and most of all, thankful and loved that Mr Nair was there for her.

The lost love came back to them almost instantly, but the game wasn’t over. They asked me to stop the game, but i insisted that the rules were rules and it had be carried out. This sort of led to a protest against me, and they now took each other’s side and started helping each other out in their respective tasks. In doing so, they learnt to explain their love for own tasks and welcome the other’s tasks with the right perspective. The distance between them in the sofa decreased to an extent that they almost seemed to be in each other’s lap. The villain in me somehow prevailed.

After four weeks of the game, it looked like they were never separate in the first place. In fact the teenage love for each other could be seen floating in the house. Not only that, when i told them that the game was over, they just asked “What game ?”

To me, that one sentence was the epitome of success in what i had undertaken. The game had now become part of their life. They were now always indulged in working on each other’s task with the same enthusiasm that they had for their own. Now their individual definition of perfection was lost and converted itself into a combined sense of accomplishment and happiness. The imperfect perfectionist within them took leave and was never to be seen again.

As for me, i too have learnt a lot in this process, one thing being my idea of marriage changed for good. Also, there was this new hobby of mine i,e solving cases in my free time. So anyone looking to resolve any problems, i may be of certain help. Here is my business card.

Roy Numen
Consulting detective and counselor
Ad astra per aspera

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