Friday, January 29, 2010

Reflections from Walden Pond

This is more like an after thought than one of my sudden bouts of writing. I had read Thoreau's Walden a few months back which had evoked some difficult issues. Some questions that I have been dying to ask myself, but I didnt have the time to face them. Last night, the family who lives just above my home had a huge fight. The father was practically yelling, no yelling is too small a word, how about this: practically breathing fire down his son's throat - thats more like it - ... down his son's throat to drive him out of his home. There are issues under which this happened, but while trying to drown out that noise I was trying to intently focus on my books and study. I could to a certain extent but later I just got drifted away. 

Every syllable, although incomprehensible evoked a small feeling of derisiveness that, its people and the way they think or perceive reality that drives them crazy and not the circumstances. Lawyers know how to play the circumstance card in the big UNO game of the courtroom - its their wild card. But can all humans play the circumstance card? There is a wonderful mention in this book about how man should never feel self-pity. I dont recall the exact words, but he calls it pretty close to a sin to pity ourselves and our condition. From what I understood is that its not that pitying himself/herself is bad in its own way, its just that we dont want to stand up to our own guilt and accept it - and move on - but rather stand there and think: "why does this always happen to me?"

After all this why do we even bother to worry?

It also led to thoughts of several references to the grinding, grueling effect of the mundane daily existence, which many people, who are creatively inclined (self-diagnosed 'right brain heavy') believe they should get away from. I have noticed so many people shun the idea of day-to-day living for seeking more adventure, blaming the former as a mediocre way to while away our lives. I have begun to wonder, whats not exciting about something so trivial and simple as a mundane life when weekends can be spent in the warm winter sunlight with legs facing north and a book balancing on the tummy? This want for excitement, I believe, also creates a want for belonging to some adventure and not here, not now. Not accepting whats here and appreciating how it got to be that way. There is more materialism (I chose not to use that word, but there are some thoughts that are to be expressed with exact words) in constant thrill seeking than just wanting material happiness through spending more money. This is by no means an excuse for complacency - every adventure has its own time & its own definition for us. 

Thoreau quotes some fellow named Chapman:

"The false society of men - for earthly greatness
All heavenly comforts rarefied to air"

I must admit, this wasnt so obvious at first, but I went back to this line last night to find that there is a constant obsession for some security, although there is no thought given to how to earn this security while having fun at doing so. I also admit, I love the idea of money and what happens to it once it is invested into the right assets for the right (rational) reasons. I also admit, I hate to spend it - doesnt make me a miser in my own eyes (some people do think about me that way) but it surely does allow me to "create" more security for later when I really need it by allocating it wisely right now. Not just allocating it, but having fun while I am at it. I think the sole nature of hating the mundane and the daily stuff of life is only because of the fact that people dont know how to have fun while generating security for themselves. Now Chapman dude feels so correct after thinking through it. There is disheartening realization here that this lack of emotional security while getting more security is turning normal people into savages. I dont think "savages" would suffice, but for clarity it works here.

There is a lack of self-sufficiency. A friend once said to me, that local trains in Mumbai are the classic example of mediocrity - I disputed jokingly that they are the bedrock for opportunity - since we want to get off it as soon as possible so that we could go on with our lives. He refuted. I think there is some merit to what he says that the opportunity that I was talking about also lies in finding a sweet spot inside a crowded train wherein not many people would step on my shoes and I would have that sacred spot to myself. Thoreau says that, " I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion". We put ourselves through all that misery every single morning just to reach where we want to reach to fulfill what we set to do. The idea of homely comfort still beseeches us to find a similar comfort outside our homes. Which makes every single person on the platform including the most mild mannered fellow go wild and slightly aroused as he watches the train approaching. His hands, his feet, his eyes assess complex physical realities to deal with that one ideal flick of his calf and ankle muscles to jump on that train to comfort. What happens when this is multiplied by 100 on just a 6 ft wide door? 

It felt like an hypocrite as I do this every morning, but with less fervor and less risk. I too care for that sweet spot amidst all that testosterone pumped compartment, but I care for my life more to jump on to it. This is my pumpkin it seems. 

Can I do what I love to do, for the rest of my life? Will it make it any more or any less mundane if I choose to do what I love, every single day? I'm still not bored and I don't presume I'd be bored. It then seemed to me like a constant struggle for happiness. This passive hedonism is justified in many ways. Although misery also catches up pretty quickly if there is no choice involved in what course we have to take. I am one of those lucky bastards who does what he enjoys. This also allows me the privilege to filter all thoughts about other activities which I enjoy doing, when I am focused on one. I spoke to many people, who have confessed of being in the wrong jobs, doing something they dont think they want to continue doing - but their reasons were usually material - good hours, good money, "this is my fuck you money", "what else have I got to do?". Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - it works for some, it doesn't for others.

I found it really worth knowing which category of people I fall into - nothing wrong in being either one of those people - to each his own, I believe.

PS: I also realized as I proof-read this - that I need to add a tad bit more humor on my reading pile sooner than later :)

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