Saturday, 1 April 2017

Anchored Aspirations

"...and while there may not be a book in every one of us, there is so often a damned good short story" - Jeffrey Archer.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
It is in the nature of a kite to strain for freedom. As the wind flies into its harnessed face, a string cuts across the breast of the sky and brings to a nought the labours of the kite in freeing itself from all impediments. Gaze long and far at the distant object in the sky competing only with high-flying birds until you have a crick in your neck. Only those of us who have had the privilege of kite-flying in our youth know the ethereal pleasure that is to be had in feeling the struggle of a kite at the other end of a kite string.

Welcome to a short story. It is short, because it is not I who play the principal character in the plot, so I cannot provide the reader with the finer elements of the story the way an experienced novelist would. It is a story of a million human beings, with whom I share common DNA, identical social environs, and a lot more. It might, in all probability, be your story.

Picture Courtesy: Author
The tale commences on an auspicious morning in a middle class neighbourhood in my city, and it happens to be the day of Durga Ashtami. It might as well have begun on any other day, but I look to invoke the blessings of Maa Durga upon our protagonist, now just a small child, who is standing among a throng of people waiting for the basket containing flowers for anjali to reach them. Fold your hands and pray, the mother whispers. The child looks confused. A few minutes later as the mother takes the heat from a fiercely burning piece of camphor placed upon the wide copper spoon of the priest, she places her palm upon her child's head and offers a silent prayer to the Almighty. What a mother might be praying for to Maa Durga to bless her child with is up to the judicious interpretation and vivid imagination of the reader.

As the child grows up, our protagonist begins to gather some knowledge of the world around. Folding your hands and bowing your head in prayer is not sufficient to achieve all that is out there to be attained, the teenager now concludes. The society is quick to impress upon the young adult all that is expected out of a responsible young citizen. Hence it is not long before our protagonist has been rolled forged and machined into a shape that my society would deem to be a perfect fit within the jigsaw puzzle of civilized existence. While this shape is one most of us are pretty well acquainted with, the bits and pieces of the teen-aged soul that were pruned away in order for it to fit the jigsaw are swept into the trash can by the municipal sweeper the next morning.

Picture Courtesy: ©yordphotos
And in the midst of this chaos and confusion, a small family somewhere in my vast city celebrates the birth of a child who is made of a somewhat different mould. A chef who prepares the same dish every day at a restaurant cannot say with certainty that his every fare tastes exactly the same, even though they all undergo the same treatment upon the stove. This uncertainty, on a lucky few occasions, creates a brilliant dish far beyond the travails of his everyday fares. This child, even after going through motions very similar to what all others go through, turns out different, like that unique and exquisite dish the chef produced by sheer accident. But this child is not the subject of our narrative today.

Recall our protagonist once again, dear reader. Now a proud parent in a family of four, this respectable citizen of our society can now boast of an enviable academic and professional record, approbation in the eyes of fellow citizens, a loving spouse, and two beautiful children who win hearts of all those they come across. If social norms are anything to go by, 'successful' is an expression that might define the state of our protagonist perfectly. Even though I was not privy to the silent conversation that occurred between a mother and the Almighty many years ago on the day of Durga Ashtami, I have a hunch that Maa Durga must have fulfilled a lot of the lady's prayers.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
That is where we part ways with our protagonist. As our story reaches its abrupt conclusion, I implore a question upon the readers. A society is a reflection of the people who inhabit it, and it would be gross injustice to smear entire humankind with black paint. "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart" : these magnificent words by Anne Frank give rise to profound faith in humanity within me. Every human soul is a conglomerate of customs, traditions, principles and scruples. The society and the culture that has brought me up to twenty-one fine years of survival is the one I owe all my soul to. I have been taught how to put up a jolly good fight when need be, and I have also been shown the manner of gracious retreat when the situation demands. The best of me and the worst of me are all embedded in the bedrock of my surroundings. The foundation of my character lies within the by-lanes of this society, and if I were to absent the entire presence of this pervading influence on every day of my life, my character and my principles would die a premature death. And speaking of character, what is a man without one but a hollow mess of confusion and instability?

But then the demon shows its head. There are thorns of middle-class shackles which unnecessarily and unjustly bind our aspirations and dreams, and most of them have got deep roots in the psychology our society has brought up to be so used to with. Surely no one needs recounting of instances where passions were killed, careers busted, and talents smothered without a second thought on the pretext of abiding by grossly misinterpreted social guidelines. Sociology defines a society as a group of people who identify with one another, but when mass generalization on a large scale leads to stifling of individualism in humans, a powerful and glorious social tool is being used for the worst of purposes.

So dream like there is no waking up, breathe like there is no tomorrow, strain at every rope which binds you with the last drop of your strength! But before you do so, it is prudent to go through a spot of self analysis. The world runs by tried and tested rules and regulations, and disobedience for the sake of contrariness serves no purpose. But the moment someone with a huge pair of scissors approaches threateningly to clip away your wings, put up a fight like there is nothing to lose.

A kite-flyer knows the pleasure of feeling the tug of a kite string in his hand. The flyer also knows the subtle technique of releasing the string few feet at a time as the wind carries the contraption to celestial heights. Pull hard, exhorts the wind to the kite. The kite pulls hard and in turn grows in grandeur. But, Irony, how cruel is your blow! The moment a rival kite's knife-sharp string jags across the harness of the defeated one, it is the wind itself which carries away the torn bird. Without the restraining influence of the string, the kite is soon reduced to a torn piece of paper dangling from an electric pole, its magnificence and glory lost to the sky.

Go fly a kite.