Week 2: Sunil

Paul is on the phone talking with Kate. Talking about Max --defending the school near his home. They argue. He tells her he has a patient.

Sunil, having overheard, says he thought patients belong in a hospital. Paul tells him that technically he is Paul’s patient but he won’t use that term if it bothers him.

Sunil apparently had a soft drink spilled on him on the train and resignedly says that’s what happens in America. He did not say anything to the kids who had the soda. They wouldn’t hear him anyway because they all had earbuds in their ears.

Paul asks how it is at home. Sunil says all of them appeared at his door that morning and asked him to take a shower. Paul asks about that -- Sunil wryly says he admits he was starting to smell like a goat.

A photo of Sunil’s wife falls from his notebook. Paul asks to see it and says she is beautiful. Sunil says he is not sleeping well -- he awakes with an ache. Paul tells him he agrees with him that grief does not have a schedule.

Sunil says Paul is not married. And Paul asks why he asks. Sunil asks if he is a widower. Sunil says it is strange to him to do all the talking continuously. He says it is not a conversation if he does all the talking. Paul says he did have a wife but they are divorced. How long married, Sunil asks?  Sunil asks if he misses her and Paul says he does. Sunil says in Hinduism when the wife dies first, she is buried in her red wedding clothes and when he sees that photos he is reminded of her funeral. They had an arranged marriage. Their parents decided they would be married shortly after the first meeting. These things work differently in America he says. Sunil says he was surprised it worked well -- she was his best friend. He says he often thinks of her when he sees Julia. His wife would not approve of the way Julia is raising the grandchildren -- that there is too little discipline. 

Paul asks what else is in his notebook. He says he writes to his wife, little things. He tells her she would like the children. Paul asks if he tells her she would not be happy about how Julia is raising them. He asks to smoke, Paul assents. 

Sunil says he had to use Arun and Julia’s shower that morning and as he was in the shower in his towel, Julia came in also in a towel . Paul asked what happened -- he says he went up to his room to get dressed. She came up afterwards and talked to him as a child. Paul says she might have had disturbed feelings about encountering him that way. Paul asks if the encounter in the bathroom might be an example of Julia’s complaint about how he looks at her. Paul asks how Sunil felt when he looked at her. Sunil does not admit any feeling except that he does not understand the rules in that house. Sunil wonders how it feels for Arun to not be the master in his own house. Arun does chores to make Julia happy. Paul asks if he can accept that Arun does those things because he likes making her happy. 

Paul points out that most of what he says is about other people but he does not voice anything on his own behalf. That he has a right to be angry and he is beginning to think he is. He encourages him to put the anger into words. Sunil says he is beginning to regret he asked for Paul to speak more -- another show if his wry humor.

Sunil says tea is terrible in NY and Paul agrees. Sunil says see, he expressed his frustration. 

Then Sunil says there was one occasion when he expressed his frustration openly. When they first became engaged, Arun was happy. He and Julia came to India to visit. Sunil and his wife found their displays of affection much more than they were accustomed to. Julia stayed in a hotel and Arun with the parents. Julia was unhappy about this arrangement but it is Indian custom. Arun did not discuss her unhappiness with his parents so Julia brought it up herself. Arun was embarrassed and couldn’t make eye contact. His wife was furious when Arun left. When he came back Sunil asked if he was sure about marrying this woman. Arun became furious and said his father was jealous and did not know passion. Sunil tells Paul that he did not marry for the same reasons as his son but he came to love his wife. Paul asks if he had wanted more. Sunil says it was never the same with Arun again and he came to India only once more, just before his mother died.  That is when she made Arun promise to bring him to America and those were the last words she spoke. Paul asks if he wished he had stayed in India. Sunil says he could not because he has no money -- it was spent on Arun’s expensive American education and his wife’s illness. Paul asks if they ever spoke of the fight -- Sunil says no.

Paul says their time is up. Sunil asks if he is supposed to leave asks how to get to Prospect pPark because he is walking. Paul asks if he is taking the train. Sunil is afraid of the kids though he does not say so. He leaves.

Paul goes back in and waves away the smoke. The photo of Sunil’s wife is on the couch.


As last week, just before Sunil’s session, Paul is on the telephone with his wife. Their estrangement and Paul’s loss of Kate echoes Sunil’s loss -- both men are without a wife.

We see some passivity from Sunil again this week, this time in his unwillingness to deal with the boys who spilled the drink on him. When faced with something American -- the boys, and Julia -- he falls silent.

But as the session goes on we begin to see signs of other issues. Paul suspects, and rightly so, I believe, that Sunil is attracted to Julia even as he does not like her. Her feelings of discomfort about the way he looks at her seem founded in what looks to be his desire for her, desire that he denies and which may as yet be unconscious for him. Paul probes gently around this issue, asking Sunil how he felt when he saw her in her towel, but Sunil dodges the question. He intellectualizes about both of them being adults. But Paul did succeed in planting a seed to pursue this further. The fight between Sunil and Arun when he and Julia came to India remains unspoken of because Arun’s dart struck deep into Sunil, who married for love, not passion. So when he sees his son having something he has not experienced, though he came to love his wife, there is envy, envy he cannot yet acknowledge. 

Paul handles this deftly by gently asking questions rather than confronting Sunil. To push him hard at this point would be counterproductive. But by probing as he does, Paul lays the groundwork to look more deeply into these issues as Sunil begins to trust him more and becomes less guarded.

One other small point from the beginning of the episode. Sunil objected a bit to Paul referring to him as a patient because of his association of that term with being hospitalized. For many therapists it has become the custom to refer to patients as clients rather than patients. The use of the term “clients” comes from Carl Rogers who said the people he saw were not "patients" who were "sick" in a medical sense, but rather "clients," people seeking help with problems of living. Others seized on it as somehow more egalitarian. My own preference is to stay with patient. I do not see the people I work with as sick but I do see what we are doing as something other than the relationship the term “client” suggests to me. Client hews a bit too close to the notion of a business transaction for me plus I like that “patient” comes from the Latin meaning suffering and that is what we tend to in therapy.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.