Actually, I have found the world so gloomy a place as things are that I have not only tried my best to find all the laughter I could, but tried to share it around with everyone I know. So all my ex-students with good memories will remember, I am sure, how much and how often they laughed in my classes – with me, never at me – even while we were getting serious and important things done. My life and psyche have not been moulded by glum philosophers and moral policemen. Indeed, I have always been partial to the ‘laughing philosophers’, from Jabaali to Socrates to Voltaire and Sri Ramakrishna and Galbraith. And I wouldn’t have been the man I am without a lot of wonderful books of romance in the Treasure Island mould, or without the Charlie Chaplin movies and the P.G. Wodehouse books and all the lovely comic books from around the world, including Tintin and Asterix and what have you. In fact, the more boyish the better (without being crude and silly, of course): I loved Archie and his Riverdale High School gang when I was in high school myself, and, thumbing through a set that a current pupil has kindly left with me, I found that I can enjoy them just as much today, though I am 45 now, with a daughter stepping into teenage, and much white in my beard!
And I have been naughty enough, too: I was never a goody-goody mama’s boy, I have not grown into the kind of man that mama’s boys grow into, and I am proud of it. That makes a lot of people either look askance at me (‘he’s a bad man, beware!’), or imagine that I have never managed to ‘grow up’. Some people, indeed, think that it is possible to be both at the same time.
The fact is that the vast majority of grown-ups made me sick or filled me with contempt even when I was a boy, and that feeling did not change one whit as I grew up myself, and got to know a lot of grown-ups first hand, including a huge number of ‘important’ grown-ups in exalted places (remember I was a journalist once, and visited ministers and corporate honchos and filmstars as a matter of course). I found their ignorance monumental (one old fool asked me in a very patronizing tone when I was 13 which author was my favourite, expecting me to say Enid Blyton I suppose, and when I said ‘Bertrand Russell’, it shut him up for good for the rest of the evening); their conversation banal (hardly anything beyond neighbourhood gossip, petty office politics, chronic diseases, clothes/gizmos they have bought and the marks/salaries being brought home by their children); their prejudices idiotic (if everyone I know is putting his son through the Joint Entrance, I must ensure my son does the same/ if you criticize Indian politics you must be a Pakistan-sympathiser/ if you are a Bengali you must go gaga over cricket and Durga-pujo…); their morals utterly elastic except when they are lecturing their children or subordinates (it’s okay to lech when nobody’s likely to beat you up), their charity and imagination non-existent (cite the example of any great man or woman and they say oder kotha alaada – they’re different), and their tendency to make a virtue of spinelessness for the sake of a ‘safe’ passage through life (the boss is always right) disgusting.
I also learnt that the best of men have been fond of children, and almost childlike in their simplicity and open-mindedness – Tagore was, Einstein was, Steven Spielberg has ascribed his endless fecundity with ideas to the notion that he has never quite managed to grow up (see also what Freud said about children vs. adults: it’s a fixture at the bottom of this blog) – and I was content. I agree with Saint-Exupery (of The Little Prince fame) that grown-ups are as a rule thickheaded: you should never discuss really serious things with them. Which is why I decided long ago that I would rather forever stay in the company of children than grow old with people who will never make me either happy or wise. And lo! I find I haven’t made a bad bargain after all. Most of the people who have not given me their company have done me a favour – judging by all I know of them – and the people whom I deal with remain forever young, fresh, and, relatively speaking, free: people who can perchance still be moulded into a finer shape.
My only sorrow today is that the current flock of youngsters are willy-nilly bracketing me, perhaps out of sheer force of habit, with all the other dry, boring, pretentious oldies they know (maybe I can’t blame them? Both my wife and daughter say that all my classmates whom they happen to see these days talk and act and look as though they could be my uncles!). I wish they’d give me a chance. And my only nightmare is that, despite everything that I can do to keep the doors of their minds open, and the gears whirring busily, most of them ossify into the kind of adults who have gone before them! I cannot tell you how many interesting teenage boys and girls have become conventional dullards before my eyes now that they are in their thirties.
“And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour we rot and rot/ and thereby hangs a tale”, said Shakespeare. Quite right, too: no one can escape the scythe of the Great Reaper. But why do so many of us grow old so soon by desperately copying everything our elders have done wrong?