I have looked at a number of people and wondered, “What does anyone gain from hiding feelings?” Yes, there are people who are annoyingly oversensitive and irritate the hell out of others by constantly overdoing the display of emotions – mostly whining. What I am talking about are people who live life on the philosophy that love, affection or any form of endearment are to be in one’s heart and not to be expressed in words or gestures. I had once before written about how even something as sweet and simple as a hug is looked at as “show off” or “aping the Western culture” in our society. But this tendency in a lot of people to maintain an impassive look on their face when encountering any instance where strong emotions are involved or even in simple everyday things is something I have never understood.

I am an expressive person. I laugh out or smile broadly when something makes me happy. I cry when something makes me sad although I mostly manage to be alone or in the company of someone very close when I do that. I hug my loved ones irrespective of their age and gender. But there are so many who consider that unnecessary and awkward. Their definition of having control over emotions extends to all aspects of life, all day, every day. I can never imagine how anyone can live like that.

True, saying “I love you” a million times a day might not be as important as a cup of coffee that is waiting for you on the dining table when you get back home exhausted. But you would still want to hear “I love you” once in a while, not because you don’t know it already, but because it makes you feel special. The same way that explicit expression of love is important in marriage, it is important in every other relationship.

I happened to visit Hari’s ailing uncle the other day. He has always been a very sweet person. Being mostly bedridden has dampened his spirits so much so that his eyes well up every time people close to him visit. He spent some time watching Vedu ramble on and on in her baby tongue. There was a joy in his eyes suddenly. Our aunt, his wife, who suffers from many ailments too, kept talking about things that she was worried about, things that were completely imaginary. I could see that she was genuinely anxious and believed every word she said. Everyone around seemed uncomfortable as they didn’t know what to say and so chose to ignore it. The helplessness in her eyes seeing no one believed what she said was heartbreaking. I sat beside her and told her, “It’s okay. Whatever has happened is over. Don’t worry about it.” That acknowledgment, telling her I believed her, made her feel better even if it was for a minute before she forgot about it. I could feel it in the way she clutched my hand. She just wanted someone to listen. What did I lose by doing just that much?

Watching his wife go on like this every day, when he is suffering from numerous problems himself, is not easy for our uncle. When it was time for us to leave, he was sobbing. Hari’s dad, his brother, who loves him dearly was at a loss for words and being a person who shies away from expressing his affection except with his grandchildren, he left the room quickly. I saw Hari’s brother rushing out too. I could see that they were both trying to protect our uncle from more despair and did not want to make him cry. It was their love for him that made them rush out and think it was an awkward position to be in, not being sure of what to say or do when someone cries. What they failed to understand is that just like our aunt needed an acknowledgment of her worries and fears, baseless or not, our uncle needed an acknowledgment of his emotions too. When anyone says, “We will meet you the next time we come”, it is evident from his face that he is scared that there might not be a next time. Like they say, people become like kids as they grow older. And in their old age, especially when they are ailing, they do need all the care and affection a child needs. Wondering whether it will be awkward, thinking that it is better to leave quickly – that is so not what they need. I could see it in his eyes. So I decided to forget all the restraints on emotions that they all believe in and hugged him tight and gave him a kiss on his cheek. He seemed taken aback for a minute. The next minute he held me close and kissed me on my forehead and cheeks the way a doting father or even grandfather would with his daughter or granddaughter. Sitting close to him, feeling his tears fall on me, I realized how much he had been longing for that hug, for someone to stand by when he cried and hold him close like a baby that needs comforting. Whether I get to see him again or not, I will always feel peaceful knowing I was able to give him two minutes of happiness with what he wanted the most.

People talk about how you can’t pack up all the love and feelings and take it with you when you die and why it is important to say and do things that matter. But you also need to understand that it is not just about what happens when you die. If someone who longs for a word or gesture of love and kindness passes on without ever getting that, how will they ever find peace?

So please, stop bottling up your feelings and let them out. If you can make someone’s day that way, consider yourself a savior. Never forget – you matter, your smile matters, your words matter, everything about you matters to someone or the other.