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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The trouble with being well-off

This recent article in The American Scholar caught my eye and made me ponder. I am rather surprised at the title, though, because it seems that the author is saying that the rich are different. Tell me if I read it wrong.

I am especially pleased by two things in it. One, that the author quotes a contemporary psychologist cum science journalist in the same breath as Shakespeare: as I say to my pupils, these days you have to be a ‘scientific expert’ to say things that our finest poets said long ago, and far more beautifully and memorably. Two, that the author echoes something I wrote recently (see the post titled That’s it on the homepage) and years ago: we live in an age that allows us to live the ha-ha la-la life for far too long, and it is only when we are sobered up by close proximity to poverty and death that things that ought really to matter start mattering again, and we grow up more in a day or week than in the last several decades. Some people, I have myself written elsewhere, ‘need Auschwitz and Hiroshima to sober up’. Millions of well-off but insignificant people with a bloated sense of self-importance currently in their late twenties and thirties certainly need to have a major accident, or hear that a loved parent has got terminal cancer, or lose a real friend forever out of cussed stupidity. Or maybe the rot has gone so deep that even that won’t make a difference?

On one point, at least, I’d beg to differ with the author. She says that not being always vulnerable has its benefits: ‘because we are not vulnerable, and aren’t preoccupied with it, we are free to achieve many things and contribute to society in creative and constructive ways’. Perhaps she has not heard that lots of people have lived in poverty and under the shadow of death and yet ‘achieved great things and contributed to society’ in far more creative and constructive ways than most contemporary suburbanites with their pretty villas/condos, sleek cars and fancy phones ever will.

Could it be that our ancestors, even till the mid-20th century, were simply made of far more heroic stuff? I compare my grandfather (see the post The End of an era) who was a young man in the 1930s with people I have seen growing up in front of my eyes, and I wonder that they even belong to the same species... people who have been brought up by "helicopter moms" or people who have never yet handled a single real crisis in their lives all by themselves, and are not even aware of what they are.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

New Year's tidings

‘… and the new sun rose, bringing the New Year’.

So it’s a new year again. I try to make fresh new beginnings every time, and this new year seems to augur well, after the annus horribilis that is now nine days behind me.

I have decided not to compromise my essential self any longer for anybody’s sake. I have rediscovered that love, though it may be unsatisfactory or passing, is not always and necessarily a chimera, and I am looking forward to some good things happening in my life again. Which I shall notify my readers about, as and when they materialize: watch this space. I am not poor, I am not ill, I am not devoid of a sense of purpose, my classes are full, and insofar as a man can ever be happy, I am happy. Not a small thing to be, as I should know. No man or woman will be allowed to rob me of this happiness: that is my single New Year’s Resolution. For too long have I tried to live for other people. It doesn’t work, and that was the mistake I had been making for a long, long time.

I said in the last post that I want my most serious readers to explore some of my old posts, and comment on them. I am waiting. No better way of showing you are interested in me than in engaging me in conversation about things that interest me. Conversely, I have no better way of finding out who is really interested and who is faking it.

My daughter got a smartphone recently. She might write about her own experience herself, but watching her using it, I now know more certainly than ever that I am not going to need one in the near future. How the world is filling up with useless trifles… it makes me wonder how Shakespeare wrote all those plays without the aid of a ballpoint pen, leave alone a word processor, and how Newton discovered all that he did without even a calculator at his elbow. Shall I live long enough to see a world filled with hairy apes again?

The coldest part of the year is rapidly passing by, and I am sorry to see that it never became really cold in these parts this time. Especially considering that other parts of the world are being swept by once in a decade snowstorms. How capricious Mother Nature is, really.

I have gotten back to books with a vengeance. And also decided not to talk about them except with people who are capable of reading and thinking, by my standards.

A woman friend of mine runs a playschool for very small children in my neighbourhood. My daughter went there too, 15 years ago. I met her at her doorstep one morning recently, and struck her speechless by offering to come and teach her classes in a few years’ time.

Arvind Kejriwal has gone remarkably quiet on the question of ‘doing away with corruption’ within days of assuming office as chief minister of Delhi. I was wondering what he is up to.

That’s enough by way of an update. Have a happy New Year. And old boys, do look me up if you are around: I have a light workload till mid-February.