Week 5: Sunil

Sunil is listening news on a smart phone -- news about monsoon in India. He is in Paul’s waiting room.

Paul says he was worried at the end of last session. Sunil says monsoons have flooded the region where his parents were born. He says Paul could not have heard about it in NY  because all the news is about basketball. Sunil says he is having difficulty sleeping -- he says he keeps seeing the same image, a picture of a boy clinging to a tire in the flood. He feels trapped in Brooklyn like a prisoner. Arun is away at a medical conference. Before he left, the watched the news of the floods together. Sunil says he feels outside of his life.  Paul wants to look at the situation at home -- clearly he is concerned about Sunil’s feelings about Julia. He asks what are the possibilities of him finding a place to live in his own apartment. Who would pay for it, Sunil asks. Paul suggests he could get a job. Sunil says he is as helpless to change his surroundings as the people in the flood.  

Paul urges him to talk with his son about what he wants. Sunil says  Paul is wasting his time -- Sunil says it is a strategy to make him say what he feels. Again Sunil takes out his tobacco and says there is nothing to be gained by talking with Arun. He says he spoke to Arun the night before he left. He told him seeing the images made him aware that he is useless and he needs to return. Arun told him why does he want to make a fool of himself and go back to India, that they will donate to the Red Cross and get him a queen size mattress. 

Then he overheard Julia and Arun talking -- Julia says why not let him go back and that she is not comfortable staying alone in the house with him. Arun says he is more comfortable having a man in the house, Julia said Sunil was unstable. Sunil tells Paul she is the unstable one behaving like a mad person. She went out and had a nanny take care of the children because he is not allowed to do that. He saw the author come to pick her up. He met him -- he said he had heard quite a lot about Sunil -- and as Julia and the man walked down the steps they looked back and laughed. Her laughing made him angry. He says they were humiliating him. Sunil sees Paul’s face and sees he is alarmed. Sunil says it got worse -- at 1 am he heard talking in front of the building -- the man kissed Julia good night, a kiss on the cheek. Sunil says he knows Paul will think what he wants. Julia put her hand on his face and drew her fingers down his face and she never touches Arun this way. Sunil says heatedly that Julia is humiliating his family. 

He could not go to sleep because he kept thinking of her and who she was thinking of. He says it would be better if she ran off with the author or just disappeared. Paul says some of the words he is using disturb him, if his feelings are as extreme as he is saying. 

He had another dream, Sunil says. Paul asks about it. In the dream, he sees his son lying on the street unconscious in front of the house , the children inside looking out and afraid. There is a forest near the house. A woman with long dark hair comes toward them. He is trying to pull his son, pulling his arm, but the arm pulled off. He thinks he should use the arm to protect the children.  The arm was heavy and dense. He raises the arm and woke up as he was about to strike the woman. He wonders if it was Julia, but Julia is blonde. He says the woman was not Kamala because he would not harm his wife. He could not make out her face even though she was so close. He could almost smell the flower in her hair -- Paul says like the flower in the El Greco painting. Paul says he felt the need to protect his grandchildren and he was prepared to harm the woman. 

Sunil gets up and says he no longer wants to talk about the dream because he doesn’t see the point. Sunil bursts into Bengali -- a man can only be pushed so far -- he says -- I have decided the woman is not Malini and he would never hurt Malini. Again in Bengali. Sunil says Paul has no idea what his life has been. Sunil is walking around the office. Paul asks what he did when he woke up from the dream. He says he checked on the children and they were sleeping then he went down to see if in fact Julia had locked her door and it was. Paul asks what he would have done if it hadn’t been. Sunil says he thought of calling Paul. Why didn’t he, Paul asks. It was the middle of the night and things felt out of balance. He says he went back upstairs. Paul says next time do call him. 

Paul is concerned and says so much is going on in his life and he has very conflicted ideas about Julia. He says he is concerned about him and all the conflicted feelings coming to the surface and how it is to control them. Paul suggests he come twice a week. Sunil picks up his things. At the door he asks Paul if he prays. Sunil asks Paul to pray for the rains to stop in India.



Sunil is the kind of patient that poses a dilemma for therapists. His escalating intense feelings with their undertones of violence are disturbing, but there is no evidence or history to suggest that Sunil poses a threat to anyone. Still, Paul must find some way to indicate his concern with pushing Sunil and so he proposes that Sunil come in twice a week. This is a good option, if Sunil will take him up on it.

Julia and Sunil have a fairly good read on each other. It does seem that Julia could be at least flirting with another man. And Julia intuits that Sunil has some troubling feelings about her. Arun deals with it by being blind to the concerns of both of them and wants to remain above the fray. This is unfortunate as either Julia or Sunil might escalate in an effort to get Arun to engage somehow. So what is Paul to do? Sunil is not threatening Julia in a direct enough way to warrant Paul breaching confidentiality and talking with Arun or Julia. The requirements of the Tarasoff Warning require that a therapist report any threat that is credible,and toward a particular person, identifiable persons, or defined property, rather than a general group or category. Sunil’s feelings thus far do not meet that test. If he were to breach without meeting the criteria, he could be sued for doing so. It is a bit of a catch-22. I have had only once serious instance where I had to breach confidentiality because of the danger a patient posed to someone else. It was an agonizing choice I had to make and one I did not make until I had consulted a number of other professionals. This kind of action is not taken lightly. This is why I say Paul is acting appropriately at this point, though he will have to be alert to the possibility of things getting worse.

Do note that once again, as things began to heat up emotionally, Sunil took out his tobacco. 

The dream is the source for some of the alarm that Paul feels. The woman with the dark hair seems to be a negative anima figure -- the anima is symbolized in men’s dreams by female figures. This figure feels dangerous to Sunil, and might be the cause of his son's injury and what appears to be his death. Keeping in mind that she is a part of Sunil, likely his long repressed passion and desire, she emerges from the forest, from the unconscious and threatens his family. Sunil cannot yet recognize this threat as lying within him; he projects it out onto Julia, who by being unlike Kamala, carries passion and thus threatens the family structure and honor.


You might enjoy this interview with Irrfan Khan about playing Sunil.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.