Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Significant Other

Life in my twenties was a a sad parody of the lifestyles of some of my financially better-off contemporaries, whose access to deep filial pockets and a predisposition to snobbery led me to possess a similar sense of entitlement, without the means to fulfil the trappings of privilege. If that seems an oxymoron to some of you — how can you parody privilege without possessing it? — you needed to grow up in urban India in the early oughties to understand the deep economic divisions that a decade of liberalization spawned, allowing business owners to finally come out of the shadows of the license raj and openly flaunt their inherited wealth to an erstwhile judgemental society that was conditioned to feel a collective embarrassment at even a modest self-promotion.

For those of us who were the children of salaried professionals and government employees, the suddenly lavish possibilities of life such as air-conditioned cars and resort stays at vacation spots that did not have living relatives and their houses within sniffing distance, was a kind of an adorned dream-scape featuring buxom young women in smoky nightclubs and beach/farm-houses that were only a fast, intoxicated joyride away. It was difficult to reconcile this vision with the mundane industriousness expected of one by staunchly middle-class families; a clearly articulated expectation of adequate achievement at school and college, and then at careers that were judged better based on their potential for longevity, than those that had an overly optimistic accumulation of zeroes after the first number in the salary projections on an offer letter.

And so it went, from one house party to another where entry was gained with a modicum of effort and some humiliating grovelling, to a deep disillusionment with said effort and humiliating grovelling, to a dark personal revolt at everything and everyone considered mediocre and staid, to a drug addiction that I barely escaped.

Many jobs followed and sometimes overlapped with what I preferred to consider an alternative lifestyle, whose cornerstones were epic expeditions to far-flung destinations that were desirable for both the opportunities they afforded one for personal insight, and the bragging rights that were allowed you after, as a survivor from journeys that mere regular folks balked at. A career was always elusive, with the evolutionary life-cycle of each job characterized by a new convert’s zeal and enthusiasm that earned one immediate praise and plaudit, followed by a gradual boredom and disaffection encouraged by a vague idea of a greater calling, and finally ending with a personal collapse and the leaving under a cloud.

My mother then died. For a family such as ours that was held together by the tenuous bonds of an over-stated loyalty to a clannish idea of the world that none of its members truly believed, in a pseudo-matriarchal culture that had standardized a highly refined practice of emotional blackmail and public shaming at a hint of ingratitude to one’s elders, it was a particularly devastating loss: a space-time divide between what was considered normal and all-pervasive and then, over a month of surreptitious visits to an emergency room where a mass of flesh lay in an apparently lifeless coma, was not.

The emotional collapse of an individual is easily described. It is most often accompanied by a poignant visual image that alludes to a desperate flailing on the surface of a mass of water by a fast sinking human being, or a descent into dishevelment from what was once an attractive physical visage. The collective emotional collapse of a family because of a death of one of its members is a beast of a thing to be a part of: it is almost impossible to distance yourself from the pain of personal loss whilst staying mindful of the devastation the event has caused the others, all the while recalibrating interactions and alliances and emotional bonds with the survivors whose relationships with you was based on the fact that the person just passed would always be around to moderate them.
In these circumstances, when I felt the burning eyes of my devastated family upon me, desperate to put off their own soul-searching, and seeing through my so far inconsequential life, wondering if I was going to be financially tethered to them forever, in a collective effort at focusing on the practical aspects of life which is the last refuge of every kind of denier, I met my future wife just as I was turning thirty.

In contemporary pop-culture, it is fashionable to view the coming together of two individuals as the product of an act of considered choice as a result of physical and intellectual compatibility and faith in a fulfilling future to come that promises each the full benefits of the potential success of the both. Most relationships don’t begin that way, of course, and the idea that someone is on the rebound or emotionally too frail to begin a relationship always presupposes that individuals act and react responsibly with respect to the motivations and considerations of other individuals. Cases of separation during pregnancy, prolonged domestic violence, marital rape, and abandonment, give the lie to this idea and are tragically laid bare all too often by a perfunctory look at the exigencies of the legal system in any country that caters for family law. To produce individuals of sound mind and body who enter into relationships fully aware of their rights and responsibilities is the utopian ideal of any social system, and the evidence that reality most often falls short is painfully all around us; amongst our neighbours, friends, and families.

I wasn't thinking of any of this when I met my future wife. I was only aware that I needed her company immediately.
It has been five years since we were married: a time that has given us a beautiful daughter, led us to a fraught and evolving immigration to a country that seems as though it will always be foreign to us, and allowed us to develop a verbose common vocabulary that occasionally devours our individual strength of character, but that always leaves us feeling that we didn't hold back from saying what was needed to be said at the time. I grow more grateful everyday that I found her when I did.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Self-Realised Luddite

Having professed an absolute faith in education as a cure for everything from the common cold to the intransigence of nations from as far back as I can remember, I am continually surprised by the occasional eruption of a stubborn and sometimes malevolent ignorance in people from societies that have benefited the most from being notionally open and have evidently prospered from being welcoming of influences and cultures that has enhanced their understanding of the world and that should have contributed to a benign tolerance for beliefs that are not their own. This prosperity, to be sure, has been built on a savage history of violence and intolerance, but for a civilization that keeps harking back to Ancient Greece and the Renaissance as historical markers in their evolution culminating in the fair societies they are today, it is anachronistic that we should have widespread support for contemporary government policies such as the 'War on Terror', and 'Stop the Boats'.
The distinction between being a socially responsible citizen of the world and being an apologist for repression using discredited concepts such as, 'free trade' and 'Islamic fundamentalism', is as clear as glacial water in my mind and no inane discussions of globalisation and terrorism can induce a semblance of a sense of doubt to what is very clearly a fight between people who have rights and the rule of law, and people who don't and are being denied the same by the people who do.
What is horrifying is that these civic questions of what and to whom, and where and when, were answered by as far back as the dawn of civilization by people we wouldn't recognize as representative of the elites of today, and this even without having the benefit of living in a post-industrial age. We haven't simply failed as a race or a culture or even a species. We have actually failed to justify the capacity of our individual brains and our collective wisdom from a 100,000 years of history. It is self-defeating to point at all the proto, pre-historic and early-modern human civilizations and say that they failed too. So what? Is it because they failed that we shouldn't and cannot succeed now? And what about the unique tools we have as custodians of the earth today, such as science and technology and an almost limitless capacity to envision the possibilities of a better world?
Stop burying your heads in the sand. Terrorism will not stop until there are no more terrorists being born somewhere in the world right now. Poverty will not end until there are no more poor people being born somewhere in the world right now. Climate change will only get more damaging until we do not determine its destructive path any more by our capricious and obscene consumption of the earth's largesse. Share the resources you have been bequeathed. Spread the lessons of science and the benefits of technology everywhere you can. Stop stopping the movement of people around the world until people do not have a reason to move somewhere else any longer.
It is certainly not beyond our capacity to remake our world. It wouldn't even take very long.