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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is speed always conducive to human happiness?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, people’s lives have been moving faster and faster. Today we can travel around the globe in a matter of hours, talk across continents over the telephone, follow on television what is going on in the farthest corners of the world, and work out millions of calculations per second on computers. Our ancestors would stare in awe if they saw us now, and many of us would loudly boast of the tremendous progress we have made since their time in every walk of life. – And yet there is a growing feeling among many thoughtful people that all things have not changed for the better: that life does not become happier or more satisfying if we simply do things faster than our forefathers.

Most of us prefer driving cars to cycling or walking because cars are faster. But we rarely pause to ask ourselves whether we always need to move about so fast, and we forget that greater speeds greatly increase the risk of death or crippling injury on the road. Also, that cycling and walking cost little, keep us fit and do not pollute the atmosphere. Why does the average man need to move so fast? Alexander and Hiuen Tsang travelled on foot, but they achieved in a few years much more than today’s common man will do in his lifetime, and Gandhiji, travelling on foot or by train, saw more of India more closely than today’s prime ministers do from their aeroplanes!

In education today, many parents and teachers are trying to cram little children’s minds with more information than they ever acquired until they were adults, not realizing that there is a limit to what cramming can do. The more children learn by rote the less they understand, the more they forget, and the more they hate learning. As a result we now have millions of young people who cannot or do not want to remember even what they learnt last year, while their grandparents can happily recall what they were taught fifty years ago! You cannot speed up the pace of education indefinitely without spoiling it.

People keep saying that because it is a ‘fast life’ full of hurry, worry and activity, they have no time to spare for loved ones any more. And so more and more people, especially children, housewives, the old and the ill are feeling neglected, frustrated and terribly lonely. Families are breaking up, crime and juvenile delinquency are rising, love and romance are vanishing from human lives, TV-addiction, drug abuse and suicide are becoming widespread. Even as luxuries, amusements and gadgets of convenience multiply and we become more prosperous, it is strange to see more people complaining of unhappiness than ever before. The reason is not hard to find. Mere material prosperity cannot make people happy – they need time to enjoy their possessions and privileges, and an excess of speed, by robbing them of time, can make life unbearable.

Much of the most important work in life cannot be done in a hurry. You need time and patience to cure a sick man, not just medicines. Rearing a child, reading a good book, learning a serious skill or making a garden – they all take time, lots of it. Some of the most marvellous things in this world would never have been created if people had always been in a tearing hurry. The Taj Mahal would not have been built, the Oxford Dictionary never compiled, the electric bulb never invented: they all took many, many years of slow and patient labour to see the light of day. In many ways our lives are rich and full today because we are enjoying the fruits of the long and loving labours of our ancestors. If we want to enjoy our lives more, we must learn the virtues of slowness and patience and attention all over again. And if all of us waste our lives in fast living, our descendants might complain that we never did anything really valuable for them!

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!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


(that was Sudhirda with my daughter on her sixth birthday)

He was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in February, and we were all told we must simply wait for him to die, so I pensioned him off and he went home, and lingered on for a few months, steadily wasting away, until this morning, Monday July 10, 2006, I was told that he passed away more or less peacefully last night. God rest his soul. ‘He was my friend, faithful and just to me…’, he had brought me up right since I was a toddler, had stuck around like my shadow through an incredible number and variety of vicissitudes, had been my all-round factotum, comrade in arms, shoulder to weep upon, ever smiling, uncomplaining drudge ever willing to oblige, someone I could trust with everything except what was beyond his ken and work alongwith at mundane chores and laugh and pass the time of day with when no one else was there, and now, after forty years, ‘aaj sathe nei chirosathi shei more puraton bhrityo’

No one who hasn’t known me and us will ever know what the ‘feudal’ relationship at its best can be, how little else there is in the world to compete with it (I have seen too few marital and filial and corporate relationships that can hold a candle) and how much I have lost. ‘Any man’s death diminishes me,’ of course, but some few diminish you much more than the rest – and for the remainder of my life I shall be a much diminished man. It is my great good fortune that God in His infinite mercy has answered a part of my prayers, in that Sudhirda died with the minimum of pain and indignity, and it will always be a matter of agonizing regret that he wasn’t given a few more years of peace and rest and fun in my care, as I had been trying to provide for him over this last decade, as very humble and inadequate recompense for everything. Childish I may be, but I will never be able to fly again without feeling a pang that I could never take you along with me. Goodbye, old friend. The thought that I might meet you again in a better place will greatly reduce my own suffering when death comes calling for me. If there are more lives to come, you will be a happy prince next time round, and may I have the good fortune to be your servant.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Why should I want to start a blog?

It is neither a case of vanity nor idleness, though I say so myself. I have been counselling people on almost every matter under the sun and giving encouragement and telling stories for well-nigh a quarter century, besides writing a considerable amount, both fiction and other stuff, and teaching all the time, with a short stint at journalism thrown in in between. Willy-nilly I have learnt a few interesting things about life and living, which I feel a never-ending urge to share with as many people as I can. Some of my ex-pupils, both young and not so young, have often expressed a wistfuless that they cannot keep in close and face-to-face contact any more; and disappointment that many of their friends have never had the chance to meet me and listen to me talk; some have even seen things I have written on the Net, and suggested that I start up a blog of my own. Hence this experiment. I would like my own old boys and girls to look up this site and post their comments and questions here first – then they might tell some friends to do the same. I have no desire whatever to impose myself as a fountain of wisdom upon the world: God knows there are too many like that around already, and I never thought that I was such a clever and profound person anyway. But it so happens that a very large number and variety of folks do keep looking me up and asking me about all sorts of things, from aeroplanes to love affairs, from literature to ecology, from health issues to career choices, so I thought that perhaps it mightn’t be a bad idea if I tried doing on the Net what I have naturally done for so many years with people face to face, so that my ‘net’ could be spread much wider, and a whole lot more people might derive the same kind of harmless enjoyment, if not benefit, that so many people close to me have done. Let’s see whether we can set a good thing going!
July 8, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

First foray

I have been repeatedly told by a lot of ex-students that they want me musing on the Net. At 43, I thought I should make a beginning. So here's reaching out, in the hope of seeing some folks getting back to me. Lots more can follow.