From the archives….
Human needs are strange things. We all know the basic needs of roti, kapda aur makaan (food, clothes and a roof over the head). These are physical in nature, but there are other needs, which are motivated by factors and compulsions that are far from physical. They, in fact become more and more intangible, complex and vague as one grows older — from needing milk and a cuddle when hungry as an infant, to getting acceptance in a peer group as an adolescent to social status and more as an adult.
The idea intrigued me enough to make me an observer. What followed was a revelation of sorts — all in the course of a workday morning.
The early morning routine of the household is shattered by the piercing wails of the baby. “Ma, Pinky is crying, make her shut up!’ announces the five-year- old sister of the baby. She is in a bad mood. It was bad enough that the baby had taken away her position as the apple of everyone’s eye in her grandparents’ house, without her crying all the time for more attention!
In the other room a 17-year-old member of the family is wrestling with a tough math problem and tut-tuts impatiently at the crescendo of shrieks emerging from the baby’s room. Various other clucking and irritated mutterings follow. Since the mother of the baby is busy elsewhere, I rush to the crib to investigate. She needs to be changed. I pick her up, coo and talk to her as I change her diaper. When I put her back in the crib, she gives me a toothless smile of divine beauty and contentment.
Her need born out of helplessness and dependence has been met by someone who loved her unconditionally. She feels secure and her world is a happy one — for the moment. That is all that matters.
The five-year-old has clearly outgrown the stage when a hug and kiss would have satisfied her. This is not to say that these two are not needed anymore but in addition to them she also needs attention and lots of it. The arrival of the baby has threatened her position in the family. It is the birth of the ego and jealousy in the human mind. These two come with their own set of needs.
“Ma, give me a cuddle, right now!” she demands climbing on to her mother’s lap. When she is told to wait till the baby has had her milk, the five-year-old whines, “You never ask the baby to wait. You don’t like me.”
Unlike the baby’s need which when met elicits a happy smile, the five-year-old has already begun evaluating her needs and trying to get the maximum mileage out of them. There is nothing unconditional or physical about this need. I see the beginnings of the loss of innocence. It is the birth of negative emotions like jealousy, impatience and anger at the thwarting of the ego.
The ten-year-old is not bothered if the family members are too busy to pay him the kind of attention he had craved for as a five-year-old. His need now is peer approval and inclusion in their group. He is very upset because he has not been allowed to go on the class picnic. His prime worry is about the reaction of his friends and classmates. They would call him ‘kanjoos’ (miser). He is already feeling left out because he is the only one amongst his group of freinds whose family doesn’t own a car.
The teen we met earlier is done with the math problem. He has his own set of needs: to be the best in his studies, in addition to being seen as a ‘cool dude’ by his friends and admired by the opposite sex. He gets up and hastily accosts his mother. He needs permission to stay out late; it is his first date and so he also needs an advance on his pocket money for the outing and a ‘cool’ outfit to go out in. “I promise to get up early and bring the milk every single day, please ma,” he begs her. This is a supreme sacrifice for someone who loves his morning snooze. He is clever enough to know that some manipulation, bargaining and even sacrifice are in order to have his needs met. Note that the needs have become even more complex, requiring more than simple gratification.
The lady of the house is rushing through her chores, — she has some shopping to do. Her husband has got a raise and they have just moved into a bigger house in a more up market area of the city. They are planning to host a party for his colleagues. She is afraid that the old curtains and worn out sofa would not pass muster in the eyes of the guests. She has been embarrassed already when one of the neighbours had dropped in to say hello. Hence the shopping trip. The need here is one of status. It is vague since it is meant to satisfy others and not oneself — an extrapolation of the teen’s needs for approval.
Her husband is hollering for something. She can’t recognise him for the same amiable man who used to turn his hand around the house. Of late some unnamed ego hassle has cropped up which needs constant bolstering and is gratified only when she goes huffing and puffing to do his bidding. The ego which was born in the five-year-old mind has grown over the years and has taken deep roots by middle age and demands bigger gratification.
Her father-in-law is grumbling about not getting to see the newspaper till afternoon, when everyone else has had his or her use of it. Ditto with the mother-in-law who is complaining : her granddaughter has come for the delivery of her second child and as the senior member of the house, she should have been rightly consulted about the her diet. “Who has the time or patience for an old woman’s wisdom?” she shoots at no one in particular. The need of the older generation is one of respect and authority. They feel threatened by the loss of both. More intangible needs!
The target of the husband’s ire and the complaints of the older members of the family is at the end of her tether. She is rushed off her feet as it is. What about her? Does anyone care? Her need is one for appreciation of all the roles she is playing day in and day out ceaselessly.
She sighs. Just then she hears a feeble voice calling out from the inside room. It is her bedridden grandmother-in-law. In the chaos and cacophony, no one hears her. The woman pauses in her tracks evaluating her choice: husband’s tantrum or the old woman’s need? Volume wins the debate and she goes to her husband.
It is again left to me to do the needful. I run into the room to find the octogenarian woman coughing. I lift her up gently and hold her as she slowly sips the glass of water I give her. I then smooth her frizzled hair from her brows and straighten her pillows, while softly talking to her. It is no use since she is tone deaf and can only see my smile and feel the love.
With a contented sigh, she lies back on the pillows and gives me a beatific toothless smile of gratification.
Her simple physical need born out of helplessness and dependence has been met by someone who loved her unconditionally. She feels secure and her world is a happy one — for the moment. That is all that matters.
It is then that it suddenly strikes me: Human needs have come a full circle.