She: (exceedingly enthusiastic) Did you read that article on the Telecom operators’ imbroglio? What an explainer! They had laid bare all the details in such a lucid fashion. I could so understand why my calls keep on getting disconnected.
He: (judgemental-disappointed) The article on call drops and call block? Why would you even waste your time going through that, they will never ask it in the ‘Exam’.
She: (honestly) Because, I wanted to know why it was happening.
He: (ignoring her!) What a waste!
If I were to start avoiding people who do things tied up to an immediate material goal, pretty soon, I’d end up all by myself.
It is a fairly common sight. And I hold no one to blame. This is what we see people do and before we know it, we are already following suit. Have a goal. Achieve it. Move to the next goal. Achieve it. And then next and next and next. We think this is the way the world works. And apparently, it does. Or does it?
My case was worse. When I was in school, I was far more serious for kids my age. I didn’t (in fact I couldn’t) make a single phone call, if it wasn’t for a day I had missed at school. “Acha toh kya kya karaya Sir ne?” And when I got the answer, the call would end. No polite courtesies, “Acha aur bata?”, etcetra. It never occurred to me that a world existed beyond the formal. I maintained a straight face when in the company of an unknown crowd. There weren’t any inhibitions, but just no inclination. Seeing “great people”, I too had set a well-defined trajectory for my life. Good Marks–> Good College–> Good Job! There was no scope (or rather, no time) for pleasantries of any kind, lest it deviate me from this path. And it didn’t quite seem pathological then, because the output kept people satisfied. And I thought that was it.
But what about me? As far as I can remember, I can’t think of anything I did back then just for myself, to make me happy without any attached achievable goal (other than eating, of course, but coming to think of it, even that wasn’t gratifying enough then). I was fully aware of the fact that there were expectations which I had to fulfil. People were watching and I had to deliver. Everything was for them. They were the ones who got to celebrate at my success or mock at my failure.
Where was I in all this, but for that petty mechanical existence? I was the horse driving the chariot they were so comfortably seated on. A well domesticated horse. But one can’t keep on riding forever. A time will come when you have to de board. What answer will you give when they ask how well did you enjoy the ride? Did you see something new? Did you meet someone new? Alas! Like the eye cap put on the side of the horse’s eye, which keeps it from seeing anywhere but forward, mine too didn’t let me see otherwise. ‘Beautiful eyes’, I have been complimented a lot, but what good were they if they didn’t allow me the pleasure of sight? I wasn’t just myopic; I was, in fact, blind.
Fortunately, it was then, my undergrad began. You know what is the best thing about these leading colleges and universities? Either they make you really arrogant, but if not, they seriously humble you down. Our schools give us this false sense of complacency that we are the best and we gloat with pride. It is here, this mirage is shattered. Everyone’s the best. What is then, so good about you? How are you any different, any better?
When I first tasted under-achievement, I was deeply disturbed. I asked myself who was this? This wasn’t me for sure. Why? Because the only thing I was good at, I ceased being that. I was standing at a potential danger of loss of identity; and for a girl aged nineteen, it was really terrifying.
No sooner did I realise, there is something immensely sweet about failures. They make you feel bad if that is was what you so miserably desire for, and motivate you further if that is what you deserve. Mine made me question myself. Is this what I ever wanted? Was it even worth being sad for? Ironic, it was. I embarked upon the voyage of my graduation amongst the high seas of commerce with the biggest resentment imaginable, yet, here I was, sad for underachieving in something I never even wanted in the first place. I guess this is what the society does to you. It generates false needs and seduces you to want them. Even making you feel terrible when you don’t get them. Who says capitalism was limited to the material realm of profits and accumulation of wealth? We are ideologically colonized. Worse still, we don’t even know it. We are paid slaves driven towards better grades, better job, six digit pay cheques, luxury car, an enviable house, king size life. And it goes on. There is no end to it.
There is something, however, essentially missing. Yet, no one seems to have noticed it, or consider worth noticing. What about happiness? The crisis of our time is that people have seemed to equate happiness with the things listed above. Are they one and the same? Is there no difference? A tsunami of materiality has taken one and all under its swathe. And people are under the impression this is what modernity tastes like and are quite pleased with it. They’ll go to Maurya Sheraton not just for a quality time spent with loved ones, but to ‘Check in @ facebook.’ Pictures clicked are not for keeping memories fresh and alive, but to adorn Instagram and become profile pictures. Opinions are not to be contemplated upon, but for twitter. I am risking myself with the next statement, but I guess it’s worth the risk. God be with me.
Facebook has become the ‘giant living room of world’. “Feeling happy with my hubby/feeling blessed with the world’s best family/ feeling hurt/ feeling annoyed/ feeing let down”, and there is no end to it. If we are so happy, why don’t we revel in that happiness and live in that moment offline. Why the urge to flaunt? I’ll tell you why. Because the number of status updates, photos or check ins has come to become the barometer of our happiness. The only difference being this happiness is not the one to be felt internally but to be displayed publically. There is no sanctity left in pleasure, no purity in pain. Whatever is on the inside has to be presented on the outside. Else, what is the use of feeling it?
I realised this during my graduation, when good grades failed to make me happy. What I really cared for was to enjoy what I was doing, even if it came at the cost of being a mediocre student. I wanted to do it, as long as it was making me happy and as long as I was learning something from it, not just to compete with others or for puking it in the answer sheet. I wanted to compete with myself. Will I be able to apply what I learnt and be of someone’s help someday? Will that make me happy and contented? Will I be a good person? Will I be able to make a difference in someone’s life? Or did my mother carry me in her womb, despite resistance, just to be a meritorious student? That is when I realised I didn’t want the preparation of my future to foil my present. There is no harm in being goal oriented, that is what keeps us going but why become machines? Can’t our goal be less material and more humane? Are we allowed to live in the present, than prepare for the future, which is not even certain?
The last thing I want to do is to be buried under the expectations of the world. And of late, I have been getting this feeling a lot; that in the race to become an academician or a bureaucrat, I may be losing myself; the reason why short-term goals have stopped holding any meaning for me. Because in the end, I don’t want to die a celebrated person’s death, or one with full state honour, but that of a contented person, who even in death, had the most beautiful smile ever.
I was let down by myself today, at my massive inability to convince a bunch of friends. I really wanted to go to this party, not for social affiliation, but just to enjoy that moment-no strings attached. There was no potential use value involved other than just seeing new faces, observing them, knowing them and of course, some good food. Yet, I couldn’t convince them how this was any important than the work they were occupied with, with which their reward and remuneration is linked. No better than when I couldn’t convince my friend why I enjoyed reading the article on Telecom operators, than the ones which the UPSC might consider worthy of framing unanswerable questions from.
My father often quotes, “The world expects results. Don’t talk about the labour pains, show them the baby.” This is a sad commentary on how the world has become exceedingly obsessed with the achievement of the goal, that no one gives a damn about the journey. The futility of this ‘one dimensional’ life that we are leading, to quote Herbert Marcuse, has taken my peace away. In the pursuit of producing results, we are missing on an enjoyable learning experience.
What is the point of becoming a Civil Servant after mugging up thousands of books on a plethora of topics, when their utility will cease the day I qualify the exam, or if I qualify at all (which is a bigger question!) I want to engage with sociology, absorb history, relish geography and devour polity but not hate myself when I fail to reproduce that information on the answer sheet. I want to read just to know, without feeling the pressure of being answerable to, “kitna syllabus baaki hai?”
I look at my Grandfather while he is reading. It is the most amazing sight. There is calm on his face; sometimes a smile, sometimes a frown. He often notes down anecdotes or quotations he liked. Books after books, he is never bored or tired. Because, there is no pressure of being able to remember what he read. Going by the one dimensional approach we have become slaves to, he has no exams to take. Why, then does he even bother reading or writing? I’ll tell you why. Because it gives him joy, and nothing else matters.
When people ask me that most irritating cliché question, “What do you want to become in life?” I go mum. Because let’s face it. What I may want now, might not turn out to be real some years down the line; which would not quite please them. But, I always tell them, I may not know what life would I be leading two three years from now, but I know just well, what post-retirement life will I be leading, that will hand me over in the caressing arms of the most serene and happy death. And that is all I care for; now and will always. As Greg Anderson once remarked, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
A couple of days back, I overheard a man speaking on the phone,
“यदि रास्ता सुखद हो , तो क्या फरक पड़ता है कि हम अपनी मंज़िल तक पहुंचे भी या नहीं| आखिर , मंज़िल भी तो हम खुद ही तय करते है |”
After all, he did make a lot of sense.