Making up is hard to do

Feb 02, 2014, 08:29 IST | Paromita Vohra

Some weeks ago, I read an interview with an Iranian American journalist, Hooman Majid, where he talks about the established Iranian cultural practice of sulking

Some weeks ago, I read an interview with an Iranian American journalist, Hooman Majid, where he talks about the established Iranian cultural practice of sulking. Apparently President Ahmadinejad, not being able to get his way on firing an intelligence minister, engaged in a public sulk. Which is to say that he declared he would not come for work for 12 days, till he got his way — and he did, with public approval, too. This story should give Arvind Kejriwal reassurance.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Sulking is always dismissed as something childish, which is to say, somehow irrational and something a reasonable grown-up would not need to do. This implies that society and relationships work transparently, when in truth, most of the time we say one thing while meaning another. People go back on promises. People block each other through nit-picking argument. People act nice while seething with resentment. They indulge in un-pinpointable sarcasm, passive aggression and lies. When you call them on it, they refuse to acknowledge it — they imply you are over-reacting. They deliberately misunderstand your meaning. Or simply lie. What else can we do then — but sulk? Sulking, an elaborate behaviour of the unsaid, communicates that we all know that what you are saying, and what is really happening are different. In effect, you are ignoring my desires, making me less important. Fine, I too will play this game and let us see who wins.

Kaikai did it in the Ramayana, Arvind Kejriwal did it last month, lovers do it every day.

Sulking is a lot about lasting the distance. Recently a friend of mine was treated rudely by her friend. I agreed with my friend, indignantly, that this rudeness was unacceptable. “Don’t talk to him till he says sorry!” I encouraged. The next day an SMS acting like all was normal arrived from the offending party. “Don’t reply,” I yelled. My friend declared, “No, never! I will even stop liking anything he puts up on Facebook.” By evening, my friend was already losing her sulking nerve, and held back only through repeated lectures from me. But those who want to squander their power cannot be helped and I have no doubt that the moment my back is turned some message will be sent and give-up will happen.

Effective sulking requires nerves of steel, patience and confidence in one’s own importance. What could be worse than throwing a sulk and being ignored? A good sulker knows how to bring down the intensity of the sulk to the degree of the response, thereby still maintaining power. Sulk too much and you fundamentally miscalculate the complex equations of a relationship, political or personal, and risk emotional obsolescence. There is a moment when sulker and sulkee must unfailingly recognise that they have reached the edge of their mutual worth. The strike must end, the compromise must be made, the silent fight must be made up.

When the sulk reaches stalemate then it is important to create an opportunity. Two friends of mine disagreed on who was at fault in an incident until they were no longer talking to each other. With no interaction, the possibility of compromise and recalibrating the sulk didn’t exist. Finally the oldest trick — one dialing the other’s number by ‘mistake’ was the only way.

It’s an undeclared truce where no one wins or loses. It is biding one’s time, for those who matter to each other, will fight again and test their importance through a sulk again. As the old Hindi song goes — tum roothi raho, main manata rahoon… to maza jeene ka aur bhi aata hai.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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