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Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Stay hungry, stay foolish'!

A disturbing thought struck me recently – do people get the impression from my blog that I am a dour, gloomy, irritable sort of person who never smiles and hates to see people smile, and who never talks lightheartedly about not-too-serious things? God forbid. Those who have known me up close are aware that while I do hate people who are frivolous and giggly all the time and have a poor taste in jokes, it would be wrong to think that I am a sourpuss. And, to put it in a great man’s inimitable words, I am not serious only when I am solemn!

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?


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

I do not know what to comment on this post. I am having cocktail of thoughts while reading your post. I feel everyone should behave his or her age but mostly that is misinterpreted since we are largely governed by perceptions about "how our conduct should be". I am sure you must have encountered lot of people who have criticised your "jethamo" and I feel it is the perceptions that make them behave that way. We believe at 13 a person should behave in a certain manner and at 30 it should be like that! Most times even the individual concerned behaves like that. Thus, the individuality slowly erodes away.

Funniest thing is people who realise that they should retain the youthfulness; most times you shall find they are doing something utterly foolish - unnatural!

What I like to say, is one should behave the way he or she feels. Time makes us wise (the saddest truth!) and thus let time only determine our behaviour; not society.

Alas! Few of us allow that to happen so we create images and try to chase them.

As far as you are concerned, I remember the 29 year old Suvroda whom I met long back and it seems unbelievable that you are 45.

Can't really feel the difference when I talk to you or read your write-ups.



Sriranjani Datta said...

The thing is 'adults' think that they are always right and childrent don't dare speak against them. they don't have the courage. Someone said"courage is not always roaring but it is also th esmall voice which at the end of the day says'try again tommorow'" That is what we teenagers (or some of us )are trying to do.

People have forgoten that the greatest good lies in recognising the potential in another and using ones energy to fan it into flame. They think that the greatest good is in making of engineers and doctors. The greatest good is in making their kids study physics and chemistry.

Thank you for such a post. I hope more parents participate in reading and commenting on this post.
Sriranjani Datta.
e-mail: sriranjanidatta@gmail.com

Subhanjan said...

I read The Little Prince about eight years ago. I was fifteen. I know I should have read it a long time ago. But sadly enough I never knew the book until sir inspired us in the class to read it.

But that is not my point right now. My point is that I was definitely not an adult when I was fifteen. Then why is it that I mistook the ‘Boa Constrictor with an elephant inside’ as a ‘hat’? I was a child, not an adult. I should have had the power of imagination and observation to realise that it was a Boa and not some stupid hat. But the truth was that I didn’t. When I read the lines following that famous picture, and realised my mistake, I was not just awed and ashamed, but took a vow that I will never grow up to an adult.

Sudipto Basu said...

Dear Sir,

This is one topic really close to my heart, even so as I just stepped into adulthood yesterday-- the supposedly important virtues of "growing up", "being mature" and "behaving like an adult". Adults pepper their solemn advice to all children with terms like these too often-- when in fact they don't understand even a tiny morsel of all that they keep on saying.

If there is one thing that is wracking my mind on this very day, it is whether I will be able to hold on to all the childlike qualities I have held inside me for so long (believe me, 80% of my contemporaries have already become aesthetically and morally dried up and shrivelled: dragging their lives onward with the foolish mantra of "money is the most important thing in life" on their lips! And behold, this includes people, who at one point of time, seemed to me to be charming and vivacious with the essential will to live in them!). If there is one wish I ask before The Almighty, it is this-- give me the strength to not imbibe all the foolishness, ignorance, utter lack of imagination and fantasy, prejudice, and above everything else, blind ego that shall make me an "adult". Let me remain as blissfully unaware of the pleasures of advising subordinates and children on things I don't mean to follow myself! May I be a child at heart forever, no matter how old I become. For after all, if there is one hallmark of how much loved a man is, it is the fondness that the very young have for him. And no matter how much one tries to convince me, I have seen far more intelligent ten-year olds than I have seen forty-somethings.

Parenting is one very important issue in today's society, and more than half the problems in our society emanate from bad parenting. If even a size-able portion of the generation about to become parents remember to teach the virtues of childhood, rather than adulthood, I think we may still have some hope for a better world.

Sayan Datta said...

It might seem too much of a coincidence, but even I had mistaken the Boa Constrictor with an elephant inside for a hat! I did feel ashamed, but when I look back now I realize the reason for my folly: I simply hadn't "grown up".
But to the more immediate point - I would say it is not just necessary to find the world as it is a terribly gloomy place to be able to see the goodness inherent in it and to find real happiness and laughter as Sir has found, it is the most important criterion. Happiness is not just a word, neither an impossible dream. It is a state of mind, a habit of thinking, a way of life and it takes time and patience and effort to cultivate. “Cultivation!” – another word used too lightly in most circles (by adults and teenagers alike). The first thing any earnest seeker of happiness needs to understand is that, these are not just words; they are perspectives. Properly understood they give a whole new meaning to life and have the potential to open doors we didn’t even know existed. So, my request to all teenagers who visit Sir’s blog – Sir’s words are not meant to be forgotten the moment there’s an India-Pakistan match on T.V! I have heard that there’s a great deal of strength in truth. I hope you will give it a chance.
And yes Sir, I do remember how often we laughed in your classes. And as far as I am concerned, no one, having seen as much as you have, will be able to do what you have done for decades without that kind of boyish, almost childlike love for laughter.
Sayan Datta.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I fear that some of the comment writers above here have 'grown up' since they wrote. No matter: more people into my memory's trash basket, maybe, but I stand by what I wrote here - as I hope I would be able to till my dying day. To use a very 'in' catchword among the young today, most grown-ups suck.