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Monday, July 24, 2006

Are you sure

· That ‘status’ is worth hankering for, that it has any real meaning?
· That anybody (other than maybe a few rockstars, sportsstars, presidents and celebrity billionaires – a few hundred folks on the whole planet) has any generally acknowledged ‘status’ at all? Is the average doctor or engineer or job contractor or banker – say your own father – known (let alone admired and respected) to anybody outside his little circle of colleagues, relatives, neighbours… town?
· That ‘status’ will give you security and meaning and purpose in life, rather than attract envy and malice and spiteful talk and so fill you with growing frustration? That’s what happens most commonly – have you found out yet? It would be miserable to find out after you are forty!
· That status (and security, and health, and love, and happiness – all the really good things in life) can be bought with marks in childhood and money for the rest of your life?
· That beyond a certain (quite humble) point money matters at all? I find that if I were alone, I can get along very well with Rs. 8,000 in Durgapur and Rs. 15,000 in Delhi; having a family, I maybe ‘need’ three times that much. Are you quite sure you ‘need’ a job that pays, say, five or ten times that much – even if you know it’s a boring, or embarrassing, soul-destroying job?
· On the other hand, do you want such a job, despite knowing that it will not really give you anything you want – like real wealth (which means you need at least a thousand times as much as the figures mentioned above), and might quite possibly rob you of leisure, and hobbies, and privacy, and love and health and other precious things like that in the bargain? Aren’t you selling your life short?
· And if that’s the kind of life your parents and teachers (whether in primary school or management school) are grooming you for, having already succeeded in convincing you that there’s nothing better to aim for and you don’t merit anything better, haven’t they shortchanged you badly? Are you still quite sure that they ‘wish you well’? Are you sure that you are ordinary and want to go on being ordinary like everyone else?
· If you are in your early twenties, you’ve still got time to make a big change. Ten years more, and you will be left with only worry and regret for the rest of your life … say another forty years? Does that sound good?
· Have you got any ideals? Has any of them become both successful and happy by doing the things you are doing, the way you are doing them? – mine haven’t, whether I think of Abraham Lincoln or James Herriot, Richard Branson or Tom Hanks, Dadathakur or Bibhuti Banerjee.
· Does buying and owning things – not because you need them but just because you own them – really make you feel happy? Does anyone ‘need’ 80-lakh rupee cars, one lakh-rupee watches, 10,000-rupee shoes and 5,000-rupee handbags – or ‘need’ to change them every few months to be ‘in’ with one’s peer crowd? Couldn’t an obsession with shopping and owning things and ‘being in’ perhaps be a sign of mental weakness or disease, quite akin to eating disorders or obsession with ‘looking good’ – a sign that a person’s life is absolutely empty of meaningful interests and occupations? Wouldn’t it be a better use of your time to look for such interests and occupations – whether they be learning music or reading or exercise or gardening or making happy families – than to keep on shopping, and fretting over how to pay the mounting credit card bills? Has it ever occurred to you that big business is making you and your peers dance to their tunes, like puppets on a string, like slaves, in the name of giving you a good life?
· Does love matter? Does love mean anything beyond habit and tradition and biological/economic dependence and ego-identification (I think I get angry when somebody criticises my father because I love him – maybe it’s only my own fragile ego, which greatly depends on my father’s image in my mind, that gets hurt by what may quite possibly be the truth? Or I love my mother because she feeds me without asking for payment and does all my cleaning and washing for me? – have you pondered over what Karan did to his father in Rang de Basanti?) Have you ever loved rather than merely wanted to be loved? Have you identified loving with giving? Do you often tell your ‘loved ones’ that you’re ‘busy’? Do you know how to take gifts with love? Do you know that time and comforting words and non-judgmental listening can be the greatest of loving gifts? Are you sure that without love anyone can be either ‘successful’ or happy? If so, why is there so much delinquency, drug-abuse, TV- and shopping-mall addiction, extra-marital affairs, rocky marriages, confusion that needs calling on psychiatrists, violence and divorce in so many ‘educated’ and ‘well-off’ families today (just read the papers!)? Are you sure you’re not going the same way?
· Have you ever thought ‘out of the box’, done something because you like/want to do it, instead of just blindly following the herd? (this may relate to everything from clothes and parties to schools and examinations, pujas to watching movies or chattering about cricket). Did it feel good, or painful and frightening?
· Have you ever carefully examined your attitudes (do you have any personal attitudes at all, or do you merely parrot the conventional ones you have unconsciously imbibed from parents, relatives and friends?) to things like work, study, health, leisure, love, money, sex, time, death and all the other important things in life? The best counsellors down the ages are unanimous that leaving aside luck (or karma, or God’s will – call it what you like) attitude decides everything in life. Are you sure your attitudes are not exactly the opposite of the ones you need to be really successful in life (for example, you are lazy and afraid to take risks and responsibilities and have no imagination and no special/valuable skills, yet you want the lifestyle of a billionaire – have you ever made the effort to find out what makes some people billionaires? Are you sure that accepting that you will forever be ordinary and learning how to be happy as an ordinary person won’t be the best attitude-change that you can make: NOW? Otherwise, when will you start aiming really high? Isn’t it getting mighty late already?
· Do you have any inkling of what the world is really like? (one way is to check how much you know about the lifestyles and problems of the poor or badly-off – more than half the population of this country still! Or are you totally hypnotized by the rich and powerful ten percent? Then again, have you ever read the biography of a seriously rich man?) Are you sure that outside your little sphere of ‘specialisation’, you will never ‘need’ to know?
· Ever tried a bit of charity? – It’s said to work for your own good, more than others’! Or are you sure (perhaps without ever trying!) that it’s no good?
· What about religion? Have you thought about your elders’ attitudes? Are they very religious? In what sense? Why? Does religion mean anything to them beyond practising certain rituals unthinkingly with others like themselves? If they aren’t religious, why not? And what about you then? If religion is bad or uncool, have you found something better?
· Do you have friends? Are you sure they are your friends? Have you tried to make friends?
· Are you sure that when you keep saying you are busy, you are not actually being merely lazy and forgetful and irresponsible? Have you looked around at people and tried to find out what they are ‘busy’ at? Surely mere gossip and TV and attending parties and shopping around and sleeping and eating cannot make anybody busy? How many people do anything but that – except when they absolutely must, like at examination time or when a job is at stake because one has got a tough boss? Have you ever cared to find out?

The above questions are all designed to make you think – really think, not like in solving inane school-math problems or plotting mischief against classmates or colleagues or choosing a hotel or beautician, but brainstorming about the most important things in life, all by yourself. That is what people like us need to do most these days, and are actually doing the least, on the pretext that we are busy and actually because we are afraid of thinking and would much rather dumbly follow the herd. Whether it’s Socrates or Bertrand Russell, J.K. Rowling or Robin Sharma (The Monk who sold his Ferrari), they are all asking you to think – but you either don’t listen, or pay attention to them for all the wrong reasons (Rowling is making so much money!), or don’t reflect on what they are saying, or forget everything promptly, and never try to APPLY what they are saying to your own life and see whether it makes life better for you.

So think. Then, if you like, get back to me. And if you liked reading this, get as many of your friends and relatives to read it as you can. I am sorry I didn’t put in any graphics – but that’s only because they are always designed to distract you!!


Ankan said...

I would have responded to the blog and a mail with a stereotypical answer " I was busy" but unfortunately( or fortunately) I read the blog first.
Of course I had some work...I did that, but now I realise that you are never too busy for things that you really set upon doing. Firstly that was a HUGE musing, all of it very true, things that we all know and yet most of us somehow try to avoid or provide excuses to oneself so as to escape the guilt maybe(?)
I would like to differ on one point though. I dont believe that a person is entirely one of a herd. Depending upon styles and tastes , interests and confidence a person may take his own stand on certain issues, and might like to follow the herd ( out of ignorance,laziness,lack of imagination et al) in others. I would have to shamefully accept here that in my case it's mostly laziness that makes me follow the herd at times. I believe however, that majority of beings would always be part of the herd (that's how the "herd mentality" phrase came into being.) I would like to be a part of the select few fortunate ones who are able to change themselves by reading the books that you mentioned and by this blog itself maybe.
Getting back to the blog, I think the trend has begun changing now and doing a job that makes you happy is fast becoming the first priority for a person who has ample opportunities at hand instead of just going for a job that pays you the most. The figure that would disappoint us however is the number of such people in a country like India. For the rest of the people, doing something they like most would tantamount to being rebellious, taking high risks amidst higher uncertainties at crucial junctures in early life. Again what we see is the herd mentality..but I really don't see a substantial section of the population doing much different. Some do and they would do it anyhow, and they will probably be the future Bransons, Gates, Lincolns, Keats and so on.
Lots more to say..would come at a different comment may be..Sir please do pen in your thoughts too amidst the comments.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I agree entirely with Ankan that not everybody belongs to the same herd; at the same time it remains true that few of us really walk alone (or even want to!), and most of the time we have only laziness, timidity and force of habit to blame for it, not any serious threat to our well-being, or being 'busy'. It wouldn't have mattered, were it not for the fact that so many of us are wasting our lives that way, and making others miserable by forcing them to shed whatever little sparks of individuality they were born with, and lamenting inwardly all the time that life is so 'boring'!

oldtownboys said...

Interesting site. Useful information. Bookmarked.

shubhranka said...

Last Sunday I was having a usual chit-chat with one of my former classmate.......She said since her nephew was interested in mathematics and she loved literature ,her 'dida' who had always wanted atleast one of them become a doctor ,now has her last wish 'ekta dactar jamai jeno hoey'.Just as I was about to join her in laughter a certain conversation on the T.V caught our attention.
Here was an ongoing discussion on whether 'todays children were victims of rote learning?'.The anchor questioned a smart little girl (an audience), her aim in life . At once she answered that she wanted to become a doctor (BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO 'ESTABLISH' A 'BETTER' SOCIETY).
When the anchor further questioned whether she wanted to be a doctor bcause she wanted to establish a better society or was it because she had seen 'ESTABLISHED DOCTORS',the girl was flabbergasted!.She was helplessly looking at her mother!.
See, things have changed so little.Now when be boast of 'varied fields of specalisation', parents want nothing but the same stereotype profession to be followed by their children.Here, I agree to your your view that they are " making others miserable by forcing them to shed whatever little spark of individuality they were born with".They are simply killing the insticts of their child .Today a mother complains that her 7 year old child suffers from the so called 'inferiority complex'because she can't perform well in art and sports!!!!(see ROBIASORIO- 22nd october).
I believe a child can never be born 'dull' . But in some cases it is the conservative environment that is forcing them to forget theier 'selfs' and join the herd and thereby they really do not 'live a life' ,but simply drag on a 'morbid existence'.

12:08 P.M

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It is good to see (in re. Shubhranka's comment) that our elders cannot entirely stamp out the urge to think independently. Good for India! I wish a few more would join Shubhranka. I know for a fact that mere laziness prevents a lot of young people from actively joining in any serious argument these days!

pratanu said...

Sir, I have a question which I have never asked you: How do you propose that we students, raised from birth to follow certain traditions, trained to folow them, identify our aptitudes, our talents, find that niche where we can really give free reign to the same talent? Before we were nine or ten years old, the age at which persons start to 'think' , these were ingrained in us- so how do we realise what we were meant to do, what we can do without ever havivg tried out a variety of things-which essentially means that we are given a hostof choices which we are not? Is this not the very reason that we are constantly producing engineers and doctors and not great teachers,musicians, artists , authors, actors, ... in the same numbers?
(Sir, our preboard results are out-I got a modest 86% , Abhisekh got around 95% - I believe he will create a record -100%in Board exams)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

to Pratanu:
If you read through all my blogposts, you will find I have blamed our parents quite adequately for turning children into morons (and I am not the only one: watch movies like Iqbal and Taarey Zameen Par!) But, as I have written in my earlier comment here, I find it most heartening that all parents do not wholly succeed in their diabolically endeavour: lots of youngsters are growing up with a lot of creativity, wonder, courage and initiative intact! To a very large extent, it depends on the child concerned how much he will resist and fight back and resolutely do his own thing despite all the pressure on him to become another mediocrity!

In this context, why did you have to bring up the question of examination marks? How much do they matter? Doesn't it indicate that you (like so many others) have hypnotised yourself into believing that they are all-important? While I wish Abhishek well, I do not, unlike you, think for a moment that even if he scores 100% in the board examinations, that by itself will guarantee that he will do anything of the slightest significance in life later on. I know far too many people who were very 'bright' boys in school and have succeeded only in becoming mid-level managers (if that - some are still doing clerical jobs in their mid-40s!), utter nobodies, in this business firm or that. Whereas if you make a survey of all the movers and shakers of the world, you will find that only a tiny fraction were great academic achievers!

sriranjani, in search of a true meaning said...

We are living in a wrong world then. We are leading a totally wrong life style pretending to be someone else and blindly following the herd. Is there no way by which we can change this attitude of the so called learned group and make this world a beautiful place to live in?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Of course we are living in a bad, sick, self-deluded world, Sriranjani, and the evidence is there for all of us to see: from the obesity epidemic to the soaring graphs of marital dysfunction, juvenile delinquency, neglect of millions of old, ill and handicapped people, rapidly falling standards of education, global warming and dwindling/polluted natural resources portending imminent planet-wide disaster and what have you... the tragic pity is that most of us, even so-called 'educated' people, cannot see the connection among all these and with our own foolish/misguided sense of what constitutes the good life: the obsessive conviction that mere personal, unsocial, monetary and momentary success can immunize our children from every kind of looming disaster, even if in the process they grow up to be warped, callous, irresponsible, greedy, quarrelsome, opportunistic people by the millions!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

This is one of my oldest posts, and one that has hardly dated. I wish many more readers would look it up and allow themselves to be persuaded that they really need to think about the things I have talked about here: otherwise, regardless of their marks and pay-packets, they are merely sleepwalking through life!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

With your permission, I would like to link this blog to my own. This is the sort of a wake up call that most of us need to rouse ourselves with. If only we took the trouble, this would sort of serve like a compass, pointing due north.

A younger cousin of mine is being forced down career paths that he is sure he does not want. He wants to major in history and take up a profession in that line but his parents won't hear of it. "People will talk", "this sort of thing will not suit our family" and all that. Maybe if I get him to read this he might think with a clearer head. We live in a largely repressive society. All around us, there are people older than us forcing their opinions down, schools and colleges teaching us that time is money and vice versa, media propaganda for all the wrong stuff, peer pressure about all the wrong things. The daughter of a friend of my father's saw the blackberry I was given at work and threw a tantrum till her folks got her one. She is fourteen or fifteen I think. Thing is, how much really can we blame all the outside factors? Say a teenager or a twenty something wants to be different? Wants to be independent, responsible, socially aware, free of constraints, prefers to form his or her own view and opinions by observation rather than follow the dictate laid down by those around?

It is entirely possible Sir, to be all of thee things. We just need the gumption to look closely at ourselves, however uncomfortable it may get; to use a compass, to introspect. If I were to look to closely at myself, I dare say I would find a million unsatisfactory things, just the sort you have described; toxic things, urges that stamp out individuality, things that urge comformation just for the sake of it but maybe half the battle is won by just being aware and by trying to set ourselves straight so to speak. It takes courage to look at ourselves, flinch and then do what we can about it. And it is necessary. Jorge Luis Borges's poem, INSTANTS come to mind.


Subhadip Dutta said...

Sir, in connection with this post, I will say that whatever you have said is very harsh truth, and people rarely want to face the truth and have the guts to do that. They simply do not have the capability to rectify themselves. If you call an ass an ass, the ass will try to do all sorts of silly things to prove that it is not an ass. That is why that bunch of asses want status, they show off how many credit cards they own (they feel proud to lead a literally "udhaar ki zindegi"), they ride in BMWs and go around in the city on Repsol Honda motorcycles (exclusively used for MotoGP races), speak in English in public places (maybe just to show off that being Indians they know a lot of English, or maybe they want to show how much they sneer and can sneer at their own country and their mother tongues), and the list never ends.... These morons also try to bring more people into their groups just to increase the number of insensible fools on this planet, and strangely they are very successful in doing that, because hare-brained people are to be found in plenty on this planet!

By the way, I would like you to listen to a good song called Numb by Linkin Park. If possible download the official video from youtube and watch it. It shows what the effect of the society is on a person who wants to follow her heart, and not her parents or her instructors at school. It is good. I think you will like it.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

The permission is gladly given.
Thanks for the link: I shall certainly look it up.

I am glad to see that this particular post has lately been visited so often as to have made it to the top-ten most read posts. As I shall insist, the content and the message have most certainly not dated: it was being urged upon men three thousand years ago, and it will be as long as men are so easily deluded into living bad lives - for themselves and for others - by the material blandishments of this world, and worse, the notion that one acquires something desirable called 'status' by chasing them. No man ever lived a good life by chasing wealth and status for their own sake - as distinct from things like love, beauty, knowledge, charity, justice and inner tranquility.

Harman said...

Wow, compelling post. Thanks for reposting it.

Whenever our ego tries to get the best of us, it is worthwhile to take a step back and think: In the grand scheme of things, does an individual really matter? Even the president of the United States, arguably the most known/powerful individual in the world, is merely a speck in the realm of human existence. Will the world even skip a beat if you were to be wiped of the face of the earth today?

On the flip side of things, whenever you are being sucked into inaction and procrastination, it is important to remember that there are some things that will never be done in this world if you dont do them.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for raising those questions that we ought to think about, yet, which are comfortably forgotten by us. I just bookmarked the page so that I would be able to look it up and remind myself of the priorities whenever I get 'busy' or waste my time in other frivolities. As Vaishnavi says, it would be my compass.
I am at least proud that I have been able to stay away from the urge to buying and owning things and spending loads of money in things that we don't need, a habit that I have seen in many of my friends, especially when it comes to buying cellphones. They have failed to realise why I am sticking to a five-year-old phone, despite blackberries being so affordable. And nor can they understand my logic when I say that I am not going to buy another one unless this one stops functioning or is lost.

Thanks and with regards,

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,
This post is indeed applicable to all ages and all times. Your blogs have helped me shape and form opinions on many a topics like following the herd, the true constituents of a good life, charity, true feminism, death and love. I understand these terms better now.
I can now clearly see that it is only one’s dissatisfaction and a sense of inadequacy in life which leads to all kinds of perversions and addictions and also that the same dissatisfaction makes people rude when they talk to their sub ordinates and flatter their superiors at work. I can understand that the sense of inadequacy makes old age even more unbearable. I also know now why I feel so miserable sometimes when I have procrastinated things out of sheer laziness.
Unlike many who seem to dislike ‘thinking’ in any form, I like to ponder over the many things in life and understand the connections. This has helped me in living a happier and more satisfied life and most importantly has given me the courage to look into myself and accept my faults and work over them. (As Vaishnavi has so rightly said- “half the battle is won “ by doing that alone).
Sayan and I have constant conversations on the ways of the world and we always feel your invisible presence between us. Thank you for opening up our minds in the first place, Sir.
I am now pondering over what you said about people mistaking ego-identification for love.
Warm regards