Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sweet Aroma of Success

Does success have a smell? How do we know that we have succeeded? Is it just the material effect for the cause of our effort or is it the emotional kick we receive?

I was compelled to think of this on my idle lil train journey, back home from college. That unassuming moment just passed me by & it took me a full minute to realize its impact.

A boy (possibly aged 10 or 12) boarded the compartment at a station. The next station was 10 minutes away, atleast. He carried a sling bag on his right shoulder, with a pair of rubber slip-in soles in his left palm. His face was dark & covered with soot, his eyebrows mixed with the toil of the day. Hair silky yet disheveled, sweaty & dusty. He wore a GnR T-shirt with an indistinct cloth underneath which I presumed to be his shorts. He was the 'local train shoe shine', carrying his mobile business from station to station, from compartment to compartment, hoping that his next meal would come from shining a leather shoe. Before the pitch, he hummed a very fine tune under his breath. Totally unrecognizable but a tune nevertheless. His eyes gleamed with a sense of pride & sunk into a pitiful despair when the first prospect turned him down.

Unrelenting, he moved on from one alley to next in the compartment, soliciting his shoe shine service. He had no hope on his face, yet he knew the rules of the game. He knew that its not necessary that every person wearing a leather shoe will always have his shoes shone from him. Did this realization permit him the strength to skip a meal?

Still humming under his breath & only momentarily pausing while approaching a prospect, to ask "suu polisss", "suu polisss" & resuming the hum in perfect rhythm with the clanking of the train's wheels. His proverbial "suu polisss", "suu poliss" also seemed like a part of a song, with the clanky beat trying to convey a sense of integrity to not steal his next meal, but to work for it.

Finally, just a few minutes before the train arrived at the station, a prospect is converted into a customer. His brown shoes dont prove to be a challenge & he pulls out all the tools of the trade. Like an expert soldier re-assembling his firearm for the next round of fire, or a chef getting ready to make his best meal ever, he draws all his tools & small tin containers with a wax based polish. Within the next 20 seconds, the whole compartment's concentration is broken by a distinct "sqweaking" of the cloth licking the shiny surface of a shoe, rejuvenating it to its ultimate glory. The sunlight from a window nearby left a spotlight on the shoe which shone brighter than the brightest diamond that kid had ever seen. Five rupees went into a small slit of his sling bag & a smile went on the corner of his lips. Not trying to conceal his joy but also trying not to look too eager & show a professional class, he stood near the door.

A few seconds before the train came to a halt, he did the most unthinkable of all things. He discreetly drew his fingers closer to his face & had a whiff. The smile, now radiant & streak of jubiliance on his face, his hair responding to the pounding wind, in that moment of victory he gets off the slowing train & vanishes into the crowd.

Everybody in the compartment watched his gesture but I am not sure how many might have contemplated it this way. He smelt the aroma of success, that victory for which he toiled all morning. However miniscule it was, his tiny brain, over who knows how many years, had conditioned his response to that aroma. The sweet smell of success possibly will drive him to some other compartment of some other train waiting for his next fix.

Does success then become an addiction? Do we realize the importance of the hours gone in reaching it? I had read once that the anticipation of success is what drives us & not the success itself. For when success is achieved, the hype of the anticipation has already made us high on it, even before reaching it. Does it mean that this little boy, awaiting his next fix, didnt realize what he was losing in the process? His circumstance making him shine stranger's shoes, unfortunate enough to not enjoy a normal childhood, makes me question what is this normalcy anyway?

I have seen people getting so high on their success that next time they forget to try as hard as they had tried before & lose. For does the smell of success condition you to this response as well? Is the smell any sweeter when we have had it more than once?

Questions, questions & more questions cloud my mind even more driving to a high, anticipating the next moment of clarity.

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