Living alone : Being alone

Last two months I have been living alone in my apartment in Mumbai. Currently, my wife is in the US to help my daughter in taking care of our newborn granddaughter.

When I told my Professor friend that I am living alone, he immediately corrected me. “Dr Modak, you are not living alone, its just that you are today differently experiencing life of being alone”. When your wife will return end of this month, you will not be alone.

“But Professor, last two months of being alone has been quite some experience for me”. I wanted to make a point.

Professor said “Human societies have always organised themselves around the will to live with others, not alone. Well, you may not realize that during the past half-century, millions in the world have begun living alone –  Sometimes by choice and most of the times, without much choice. I realized that Professor was referring to those people who live alone in old age houses courtesy their loving children!

Professor said “When it comes to living alone as a choice ask me what is driving it? The wealth generated by economic development and the comprehensive social security have enabled the spike. One reason that more people live alone than ever before is that they can afford to. In addition to economic prosperity, the rise stems from the cultural change that Émile Durkheim, a founding figure in sociology in the late 19th century, called the cult of the individual. But despite the worldwide prevalence, living alone isn’t really much discussed, or understood.

I thought of adding another perspective. “Professor, one more driving force for choosing to live alone is the technology revolution. It has allowed people to experience the pleasures of social life even when they’re living alone. You now have smart and supersmart TVs with 3D experience, house automated with voice-based instructions, mobile phones that provide gateways to the world transactions and food accessible with unlimited choices – of course all as much you can afford.”

Professor nodded

“But Dr Modak, your case is different. You are alone just for a while so I must ask you your experience of being alone.” He lighted his cigar.

I didn’t have much exciting to say.

Living alone and being alone are hardly the same, yet the two are routinely conflated. In fact, there’s little evidence that the rise of living alone is responsible for making us lonely. What matters is not whether we live alone, but whether we feel alone. You may well live in a family but feel lonely because you are not understood due to poor communication or misunderstandings. As divorced or separated people say, there’s nothing lonelier than living with the wrong person. On the other hand, there is also good evidence that people who never marry are  significantly happier and less lonely than people who are widowed or divorced!

I got some coffee for me and Professor and responded

Professor, now, for the first time, I come home to an empty, silent flat, nobody to say a cheerful hello to, and no one to listen to the stories of my day. It’s been two months on my own and a difficult adjustment.

Although I am getting used to living on my own, I still think it’s not natural. We humans are herd animals. If it were left to me, my wife and I will get back my daughter  (and even son in law , new-born granddaughter  and son to my house like the families who live in the mountains, with all the generations packed in together. We’ve evolved to depend upon each other, we need each other, especially the old. And I am not an exception to such thinking.

But honestly, last two months of being alone has certainly made me understand myself better. It strengthened my relationships with friends and neighbourhood. I could also identify when I felt most lonely and found answers to how to keep my spirits high.

I joined a library that I had stopped subscription over last several years. I felt nice when the librarian recognized me. I checked out musical concerts at the NCPA in Nariman Point. I started regular morning walks with friends and looked for volunteering opportunities. Essentially, I rediscovered myself. Was this some kind of active independence?  I dare not say. There were more suggestions. Some friends asked me to adopt an indi dog for two months, but I knew how bad I was in taking the dog out two times every day.

I have always been in some kind of work stress – of course it has been all my own creation. My systolic blood pressure has now risen in this loneliness, and I had to consult the doctors. My doctors said that besides the work stress, I am not able to cope up being lonely. So I got a maid to sleep at night. She asked me who are the contacts she should reach in case of emergency. When I started listing the names with contacts, I realized that there were very few people I could count on – my life depended on those very few. That was another (bitter) discovery.

What worked to get over the anxiety was meditation. I think I had some barrier in believing the power of meditation but when it got unleashed, I experienced the power of meditation and the ultimate truth. Thanks to the videos on Isha Yoga by Sadguru. If you want to enjoy living alone, then you must master meditation!

Professor agreed.

“Now Dr Modak, you must plan living alone and spend more time in nature at some of the distant resorts where there is no internet and simply silence”

He must be really serious as I got a call from a travel agent that I was booked at a resort on one of the less frequented beach near Cancun in Goa.

When I reached the resort, that was basically a vintage bungalow with Portuguese architecture with two suits. My host D’souza was very courteous and kind.

It was late evening that I had checked in suit #1. I had some rum and coke with cashew nuts in the veranda. I was thinking of retiring early to bed, and someone knocked at the door. I saw an old man standing outside with a friendly face. “Dr Modak, I just learned that you checked in. I live in the adjoining suit. I thought of saying hello – its been so lonely here and so good to have your company”

We chatted for a while.

Next day I walked to the breakfast area. D’souza started  serving me corn flex with hot milk, buttered toasts and a black coffee.

Did you have a good sleep Dr Modak? He asked.

I nodded.

This is a perfectly quiet place Dr Modak. The travel agent  was keen to ensure that no one is around.

But what about the old man I met last night living in suit # 2? I asked

Seems there is some misunderstanding Doc. No one lives in suit #2

After some more conversation with D’souza, I realized that people feel lonely even after death. Many souls not yet got the moksha must be living alone looking for a company or conversation. Old man in suit #2 was not an exception.

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  1. wow, what an experience. ! I read some good stories in your book too. Think of it all of us live lonely in life even amongst people.

  2. Thank you, Dr. Modak for writing this.

    Usually, the comparative analysis would be of loneliness against solitude, with the takeaway that one should convert being lonely to the ‘sole’ act of self-discovery. Being vs Living is a welcome change.

    I am going through a tricky phase of a ‘being-living being.’ Work means living alone. But a friendly colleague in the neighborhood means not being alone. The colleague, who was the sole after-work social life soul for me, got an unexpected transfer. And all those primordial social being emotions got welled up. Living alone without certain people around translates to being alone for me. Far from the comforting territory of solitude, I’m trying to ride out the turbulent tides of loneliness. And yeah, the colleague had offered me a way out – meditate! Writing is meditative now I discover.

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