Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Growing up

"When I was younger, I wanted to be much older", he said, rather matter-of-factly. The audience loved the start, and there was a gentle applause for a few seconds. "I dont know why, but the human mind just loves to do these sorts of things, doesn't it?", he continued.

"Even the most happy and content heart indulges in such fanciful thinking: elderly people keep recalling memories of a much cherished past, middle-aged people long to regain some of the lost innocence of childhood, and more commonly, children exhaust all their patience in longing for the day they pass out from school or the day they start working. It all happens."

The crowds were still trickling in, and I briefly surveyed the expanse of the hall to estimate how many people were in the hall already, and also how many seats were still vacant. It seemed like there were close to three hundred people seated already, and barring the last few rows, and the odd seat behind a tall or fat gentleman, there was no room left. But they kept coming in, some sitting down on the steps of the aisle, some others content standing against the walls. This was a surprise evening for me. I hadn't anticipated that a talk by the speaker today, a man of forty-five and limited eminence, would be so well attended. This was my third year here as a B.Tech student, and though I knew it was going to be a free talk, a walk-in of sorts, as it has been for years now,this evening's talk organised as part of the Extra Mural Lectures series seemed to me like it was going to be a special one.

Sitting in in the fourth row from the back of the hall, I wouldn't say I had a full and clear view of the speaker. Yet, from what I could see of him, there was a very frail streak of a suspicion in my mind. But it was immediately and promptly discarded to the remotest corners of my rational mind.

I gathered my thoughts quickly and reoriented my drifting attention a few degrees east, toward the speaker and the stage, and I heard him continue, "Do not underestimate the power of your mind, my young friends. I must apologise to the elderly people in the audience for sounding as if the talk is intended to the students alone, but if you pardon my presumptuosness and the frequent usage of "my young friends", and suitably replace it with "dear ladies and gentlemen", you will realise that the import of my talk will be no less impressed upon you."

"So, we all have our own little space in the head where these fancy little ideas take birth, and never ever die. But what does it all mean? Why do we have this urge, this longing, to be ourselves - Yes, but as we are now- No? Wisdom, it is believed, comes with age. Intelligence, some would say, comes with the genes, while others would argue that it is gained through effort. While our wisdom does play a tempering role for our unbridled intelligence, most of our thoughts are dominated by intelligence rather than wisdom. We like to work around an obstacle rather than try to overcome it. Our desire to escape into another "me", a little older or younger, is not very different from our desire to escape into another "me" who is elsewhere in the world. "

It was getting too heavy for my attention span. And this stupid suspicion that had been condemned to the farthest corner of my mind had now come back right in front of my eyes. I immediately tried to divert my attention to another question. If everyone had thought like me that the talk would not be well attended, would the hall be so packed? Or is it because they all thought like me that the hall was so full? Did I come to attend this talk to really listen to the speaker, or just lose myself in my silly, own, inconsequential thoughts?

"No thought is inconsequential", I heard the speaker say slowly, almost in syllables. The stunning co-utterance of those words brought me right back into the hall, and he continued," every single thought has hidden beneath it a foundation of hundreds of ideas, lessons and thoughts that the mind has learned over its continued existence. Think of your thought as a tree. That's a funny construction in a statement - think of your thought - but nevertheless, we all seem to see just the trees with the fruits, the branches and the leaves. But look beneath the earth, and what you will see is a huge network of roots spanning a great depth in all directions. And just like the tree, your thought is alive. And just like no tree is inconsequential, no thought is inconsequential. Some thoughts live longer, some thoughts give rise to other thoughts, while some others don't."

"The idea,therefore, is that one should try to trace the history of those thoughts that make us want to go into the future, or back into the past, and see what events, incidents and situations lead us to these thoughts. Sometimes they come to us during our dreams, and we don't even remember that we had these thoughts. Yes, the dreams have hidden secrets in them too, waiting to be unlocked by the right combination of questions. Other times, like when you see your daughter tell you that she doesn't like drinking milk, you instantly make yourself a role model, and tell her how you used to drink milk without fussing when you were a kid. "

I remember that I loved to drink my glass of milk everyday. I still love it. But I do also remember how I hated it, when I was a toddler. And so it is, that sometimes we need the right age to really like and enjoy certain things.

"We seek indulgence in all our whims, but honestly, isn't it a boon to us that we are unable to go back into our childhood and change some of the choices we made, because the person that is me today is the person that has lived every second of my forty-five years of life, exactly the way I have and no other way? But still we need to give ourself the occasional indulgence, to please ourselves by other means, when our mind has a foolish craving. So what if you can't become a kid again or act like one when you are 50 years old? You have a mind that has sweet memories, and you have a mind that has the intelligence to tell you what you can do as a 50 year old that will make you feel momentarily like a 7 year old."

My suspicions were slowly coming back, and now I looked at the speaker more intensely, to the point of lunging forward in my seat with my eyes wide open. As the people around me give me not-so-friendly stares, I feel the suspicion growing stronger, into a more certain form.

I forced myself to get back in.

"Life, my young friends, is a brilliant teacher. It's the best one around. It is up to us to be as good a student as we can, because we are always learning - good and bad. It is up to us to put to good use what we learn, because we cannot unlearn anything, but merely learn newer things, that we think overwrite the old lessons. At times you think the teacher is partial, the teacher is unfair or plain wrong, but when the time is right for you to understand the lesson, you will also vouch for the peerless judgement of the teacher called life. Life pays individual attention to every pupil, showers the choicest blessings on every child and still succeeds in giving every one of us just the experiences that make us who we are."

For a fleeting instant I imagine that I am actually watching a play: a play where every dialogue smoothly fades into a powerful monologue.

"So where does this all leave us? Exactly where we ought to be. Nowhere else but on the ground beneath our feet. It is all right to want and crave, but it is important to be aware of the craving. It is all right to fulfil the craving, but be doubly sure that it is what you want. It is all right not to feel your age, but know that you are as old as you would like to think you are. It is all right to want to work even while you are ten, because no one is going to hire you!"

I'm tensed now, who is this speaker? I need to know where I have seen him, oh my God! this is getting out of hand.

"There is no one in the world who is happy all the time, or perfect in all respects, but every one gets a good measure of the good things in life. At times, people around you may seem to be unfair to you, and life may appear to be giving you a raw deal. That's when you show yourself the ideals you live by, and put your faith to a stern test. To be fair, and yet, not expect fairness from others, is a secret of a happy life as good as any other. And the one thing that you need to learn in this world is to face the moment that is now."

I can see his face now, clear as can be. All the doubts put to eternal rest. And I look at the speaker as he is about to conclude the talk, "None of us knows what it really means, or what its supposed to signify, but somewhere between not wanting to go to school as a kid and cherishing the school days when you are well over sixty is this really nice little thing - almost funny - called growing up."

And the speaker looked in my direction before he got off stage to a roaring applause, as I looked at him again. It was me.


Blogger Anand said...

wow good post
never knew you had an alterego!!
Envy your blogs for their flow and plot

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 5:15:00 AM  
Blogger Srihari said...

Thanks, Anand. Dont know if the post was about me at all, but in an odd way,it connected to some thoughts I keep having from time to time. The 'I' probably is intended to represent the reader, who is another person in the audience, equally confused as the others are with the same question?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 11:44:00 AM  

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