I glanced at the names scribbled on the file. There was nothing unusual or familiar about them. As I waited for the husband and wife at the Mediation room, I began to idly speculate (as most of us do) about the nature of this couple, their appearance, how and what they would say, who had been cruel to whom, and how the mediation would pan out—all based on their names. Suddenly, a booming voice thundered. “How dare you,” it said, “how dare you, a Mediator, be judgmental or form opinions or have preconceived notions about the parties or the dispute”. Perplexed, I looked around but found no one else in the room. A moment later it dawned on me — it was the voice of my Mediation Trainer chastising me for transgressing a cardinal rule of Meditation. Unnerved by the thought that Trainers had acquired the power of remote monitoring (through TOT’s or otherwise), I sheepishly put away the file and the guilt feelings swore never to repeat the mistake and began a quick mental revision of the principles of Mediation.
Long after the scheduled time for Mediation, the parties and their Counsel
sauntered in. Not being keen to hear my Trainer scream at me again, I refrained from expressing, either verbally or through body language, my annoyance at their delayed arrival but welcomed them with a smile that would have launched a thousand ships!! None of them seemed to notice or care but chose to respond with a stoic silence that was deafening. The much- flouted theory of ‘Silence as a means of communication’ expounded with great proficiency by my Trainer, did not need any further validation. My enthusiasm turned to guarded optimism.
The husband was a double Ph.D. from two prestigious universities in the USA and a brilliant techie, earning a salary that most of us would consider obscene!! Short and lean, fair of skin, wearing old fashioned spectacles, a three or four-day old beard, uncombed hair, a variety of coloured threads on both wrists, and a large blotch of kumkum on his forehead. He was clad in a cotton dhoti that had not seen the insides of a washing machine for weeks and a T-shirt that had kept pace with the dhoti. He wore a pair of half-torn Hawaii slippers. I began to typecast him as abnormal when the same voice growled and prematurely ended the errant behaviour.
The wife was petite, elegant, well dressed, composed and a soft-spoken woman very accomplished and of a charming demeanor.
The contrast was too stark, aggressive and visible to be ignored. As I began to admire her composure and sympathize with her for being saddled with such a man, the voice growled louder and more threatening than before, warning me to be neutral, empathetic and never to judge a book by its cover. I recognized how easily, though unintentionally, a Mediator could be carried away by superficialities and the need to consciously guard against it.
The joint session was comical…the husband sitting cross-legged on the chair and staring at the floor, the wife looking directly into the eyes of the husband, one Counsel, holding a highlighter, engrossed in his file and the other Counsel taking a quick nap. I had no clue who I was addressing the opening statement to. Nevertheless, I dutifully made my opening statement, albeit to me, self-rated it as brilliant and asked if they required any clarifications. She confirmed that she had understood and was happy to participate in mediation. He continued looking at the floor while she said “Sir this is the problem. He does not talk or open his mouth except to eat”. Despite my best efforts I could not suppress a smile as a few hours ago in another mediation the complaint of the wife had been entirely to the contrary!!!! One more paradox of Life.
The private session with the husband was disaster simpliciter. He refused to talk except occasionally in monosyllables, refused to look up or respond to open- ended questions. In an attempt to break the ice, I asked when they were married. He responded, “That data is in the laptop”. Laughing would have been justified but cruel!!
I dutifully made my opening statement, albeit to me, self-rated it as brilliant and asked if they required any clarifications.
The session which lasted close to three hours was an uninterrupted, clear, lucid and impressive monologue by him on software programming, while staring at the floor. He ended very wistfully, did not look up and said “Sir I feel as though I am actually married to the computer. I can converse with it; I can relate to it; I am in love with it and I can feel its response”. I was too dumbstruck to respond or to visualize any strategy to move forward or to encourage him to generate proposals for resolution. Suddenly, I recalled my trainer’s profound observation that an effective mediator will convert adversity into opportunity. Drawing inspiration from my trainer and believing that I was being smart, I asked him if he thought that he could replicate these sentiments for his wife as she loved him. In a matter of fact, the tone and with a deadpan face he replied, “Sir she is not a computer, but I still love her”. I thought this was a confused but reasonably encouraging response and therefore, nudged him on.
A little later, cautiously and with trepidation, I asked him if he had ever told his wife that he loved her. His reaction was incredible – he went flaming red in the face, looked up at me in horror, eyes wide open, stared at me and said nothing. This non- verbal communication of silence and staring continued for three or four minutes and as I was preparing to gently prod him on, he stunned me with his first question Sir “ he asked, “is it necessary to tell her that I love her ?” I was tempted to tell him that I would happily tell his wife that I loved her, but that it would be inappropriate as she was his wife, but I remembered the voice and refrained. Then came the next question. “Sir, Can I send her a mail or text her instead?”
Before I could recover came the next question. “Sir is it OK if I asked my colleague to tell her that?” Followed by another question “Sir, but how is that too said”? I was not sure if this guy was naïve or plain stupid. After prolonged silence and deep thought, I decided to educate this young man in the nuances of romance, love, caring, affection, sweet noting and joys of marriage et al that I had accumulated in 70 years of my life. What followed, in conversation mode, was (even if I say so myself ) a brilliant comparative study and exposition of kinds of love, an analysis of the love, caring and affection for a computer versus for a human being, love for a wife, demonstrative love and all other possible dimensions of love. It ended with him asserting, with immense confidence and self-assurance that he had clearly understood all that was said; that he had identified the problem in his marriage; that he fully understood his shortcomings; that he recognized that his wife’s desire to be told that he loved and cared for her was justifiable and that it was not abnormal to speak with his wife or spend time with her. As he got up to leave he added (in an undertone) perhaps to himself that he would try to be a different person, assured me that he would tell his wife he loved her and thanked me profusely.
I heaved a sigh of relief, congratulated myself and was proud that I had succeeded in mending a relationship. Smiling, beaming and contended, I opened my diary to note the date for the next session. While I was writing, this young man stopped at the door, turned to me and said “Sir, can I ask you a question?” I was in a happy and congenial mood, glowing in my own perceived success. I said “Certainly.” He looked at me squarely in the eye, adjusted his spectacles, tugged at his T-shirt, waited for about 30 seconds and said, “Sir How many times do I have to tell her that”?
I put my hands on the table, hid my face in my palms and wept……
Long Live Mediation !!!!
Mr. Shiv Kumar
An Advocate, a Mediator (since 2007) and a Master Trainer at the Bangalore Mediation Centre, Bengaluru, India. Author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org