Ideals? Yes, it is important to have some ideals, especially in a world which is rapidly becoming gross, totally obsessed with the here and now, convinced that just about everything goes, and mindlessly materialistic, nowhere better illustrated than by the way caring for skin, hair, teeth and nails has become a multi-billion dollar industry, promising to keep you eternally young and appealing, utterly at odds with the ineluctable fact that no matter how much we try and spend, we are all going to grow old and fusty, and then die and be forgotten all too soon, all of us except the blessed few who leave valuable things behind, and not even they for very long… It is important to love living things rather than gadgets, it is important to dream (and not just about making money!), it is important to hold on to certain non-negotiable values simply because one is convinced that they are good in themselves, it is important to believe that there’s more to life than bestial, sensual existence, even if that is a five-star existence… that’s the sort of thing I mean. And so (see my post titled 'Skepticism and cynicism') I celebrate when I see young people who do have some ideals, and I take my hat off to elderly people who still retain a few.
I am, however, congenitally the kind of person who is wary of wild enthusiasms of any sort, especially idealistic ones. It is possible to be too idealistic. One can simply be bone-lazy all one’s life and pass it off as an effect of idealism – I have personally known far too many people of the sort. They do no good to themselves and remain burdens on their families and friends lifelong, myriad forever-just-about-to-become-great artists and philosophers among them. The type is not unique to any particular age or race, but I am ashamed that there’s a preponderance of such folks among my own people, the Bengalis. Then there are people who are truly idealistic, loving, caring, deeply spiritual, but such a one too can be a cross for others to bear. The great medieval Marathi saint Tukaram wrote a song in a moment of total candour that while he spent all his time praising the Lord, the cow ate up the vegetables from his stall, while his wife wept and cursed him for not feeding his own children. In today’s world the type has grown pretty uncommon, but not extinct.
What led me to write this essay, however, was this article about how the very great romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was not, in real personal life, halfway as wonderful a man as he comes across through his poetry. One shudders to think of the dichotomy, really, and thanks heaven that he never got a chance to ‘remould the world nearer to heart’s desire’, in Omar Khayyam’s words. It is this type who, when they do get a chance to wield power over men’s bodies and minds, become Robespierres and Lenins: and millions rue the day they stopped writing poetry and started making and executing laws. No wonder Shelley’s long-suffering wife fiercely wanted her son to become just a normal, ordinary man!
As my dear old boy Abhirup says, quoting a line from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I only seem to have a ‘choice of nightmares’. What would I rather have: a world with more Shelleys in it, or one filled with dumb and crass teenagers (of all ages… see my post titled 'Juvenilia') living it up at the pubs and shopping malls as if there need be no tomorrow?
[P.S.: The results of the poll have been fixtured at the bottom of the right hand sidebar]