Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Young And The Affluent...

This weekend some of my mallu juniors from the Bay Area came visiting. These are the kind of guys I would love to avoid but they shower too much affection on me that I just can't get away from them how much ever I try. It is just not them, even my best friends from school and college...the way their lives have taken off has left me breathless and of course, inspired. Some years back I wrote a post on how my American friends were faring professionally. I also wrote a post on our awkward beginnings in America. Today all that is history. I am amazed really at the changes happening in front of my eyes, half-scared, half-wondering why none of it rubs off on me. The flashiest cars be it the Porsche Boxters, the Nissan 350Zs, Infiniti G35s, Ford Mustangs, Range Rovers rest in their garages, the coolest accessories like Versace glasses, iPhones, Diesel shoes...they have it all and flaunt it too with a panache that makes me laugh at all those cliches of Indians being geeky/nerdy/shy, sticking to corollas, camry's, civics, can't even get it up with a girl, etc. My friends are changing all that. These guys dine and wine at expensive places, have begun travelling to exotic places, some look to and succeed in dating americans, you name it...its all there in their "resumes". These same guys who were once so self-conscious of their FOB status, now look at people coming from India, especially the hordes of on-site visitors and watch with amusement as they too learn the ropes of becoming cool.

We drove in to this high-end shopping mall in Beverly Hills. I assumed we were in for another one of those bouts of window shopping and kept muttering restlessly.To my surprise the guys actually went into a few stores and came out spending a cool amount of money on designer stuff that left me a little irritated, a little unhappy that I who probably made much more than these guys, thanks to a greencard holding, free-wheeling, overpaid consultant job felt the pinch in my pocket, though it was they who laid off those greenbacks.
I asked one of them, "Dey, nee enthina inganathe carum saamagrikalum vaangiche kooti kaashe kalayunne?"
He told me,"This is why I came to the US. I want a good life. Why did you come here?"
His poser left me sorry for asking, and I gingerly replied, "I had the greencard."
"What do you do with your money?" he asked not letting me off the hook so easy, I guessed there was talk amongst them, that I was a miser.
"I let it add up or send it home. I don't know what else to do with it."
He thankfully left it at that...but I felt like a child in front of this "kid" who was 4 years younger to me.

A few months back I was in Chicago at my cousin's place, and similarly put-off by the high-end lifestyle she and her friends lived. I probed her about it and she gave me and the rest of us younger kids a pep-talk that went miles into helping me decide finally what I wanted from life. She and friends studied hard through school and college not wasting time fooling around, found good jobs, banded around other super-achievers like them, made sure they were placed for vertical growth and now could fall back a bit and enjoy all the best things money could provide. She advised me to do the same, identify the right career i wanted to pursue and start putting in the hard work atleast now. She opened my eyes to a grave misreading I made about youth, friendships, etc. I was the kind of guy who prided myself on having an amazing school and college life, great friendships, wonderful memories, etc but I realized none of it was of any use now. I was wasting time then as I was now. I looked around, and realized those same friends who were part of those rowdy gangs had moved on, started taking life seriously, are in line for great success,some married already and are great husbands, yet they never lost their bonds with me and could talk in the same vein of our heydays, crack jokes, call each other obscenities, give each other advise knowing it wont be remembered in the bonhomie of our chatter.

You guys will be wondering why I have so many back-to-back personal posts. The reason is, these are some new lessons I have learnt along the way the last few months, lessons that if you who is one of my younger readers who is enjoying life like I did, may not have realized or won't have anyone to tell you. I am at a stage where bad habits have hardened and tough to be changed, where its natural to come home after work and rest and do nothing though your mind wills otherwise, where weekends are spent sleeping, browsing, watching movies, or hanging out with friends even when something keeps chanting in you to change course, where the danger of being satisfied and even further accept this mediocre existence lurks perenially around the corner. I have always wondered why the world has so many proverbs and aphorisms on time, but now I feel the pinch for every minute wasted. Happily there are no regrets for the past yet, but the present lies wasted(Sarah emailed asking, besides telling me other good things, "Why do you think the tense for now is called "present" in the english language?"). The title of this post may be a misnomer...i may or may not agree with the materialism that has gripped my friends, i guess i have no right to judge them...their lifestyles may have changed but they are still the good old guys i knew back then. Their affluence, my restlessness, the youthful vigor on which these friendships were built, our paths are diverting away from the junction we once ran into each other...when we meet again, years hence, at another confluence, what new tales will I have, to tell of their exploits?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oh! Its Oct 2nd...What's the Big Deal???

I almost forgot today was Gandhi Jayanti. And I dont remember anymore if the last many years have also gone by in that manner. We live in a day and age where the only heroes we get to truely celebrate are armymen who give up their lives in the service of the country, business czars whose enterprise have provided millions of jobs and then we have the idols of young India, film actors and cricketers whose smiling, glamorous faces look up from a million posters and billboards throughout the homes and streets of gung-ho India. Those grand old men and women who fought the British, their memories relegated to school textbooks, their place in the sun not yet lost, ironically by idols installed at prime locations, yet I am sure not a single passer-by notices them except for birds looking for a nice spot to rest and shit. There is this statue in Raj Bhavan road of freedom fighter Akkamma Cherian, I must have passed it by for many years and always thought it was Indira Gandhi until a chapter in the textbook about her forced me to open my eyes. Later we studied about Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, the first of many men who fought for the amazing Freedom of Press, we now enjoy today in Kerala, whose statue I was told could be seen in Statue Jn but I never found it till one day waiting for a bus near the Marikar showroom I spotted him shrouded in the tree cover leading up to the AG's Office.

There is this favorite moment I have had with Gandhiji. It is a feeling I will cherish forever. It was during my MS days and I was walking to work on a campus road which stretched out in a straight line and ended up in an undergraduate student housing building. It was dark, close to midnight and there was this one light shining from a room, which seemed to guide me on ahead. Like most guys, the first fancy that came to my mind was seeing a girl in that room, in a state of undress. As I kept getting closer, the faint outlines of a picture on the wall caught my attention. I couldnt make out who it was, but it held me transfixed until the shape of the Mahatma grew clearer and clearer. Besides him on either side was a poster of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. I smiled to myself and wondered what possible source of inspiration could the Mahatma be to a person in the most affluent country in the world, when even Indians don't care anymore. There are moments like these, when you recognize the presence of a great man in your life, and you acknowledge his contribution to making your life a better one. Isn't that what is called immortality? Some months later we were walking on the street, when a homeless guy sniggered at us, "Gandhi Boys!" It may have been a racial taunt but we smiled, and I shouted back at him, "Thank You!" and would have loved to add, "But we don't deserve the compliment!"

Gandhiji's outward political postures, even if not in spirit are kept alive and kicking in our country, if you see the kadar clothing, bandhs, hartals, jathas, satyagraha what not. We have politicians to thank for that...if Gandhi was just a politician he wouldnt have survived...even he displayed selfishness and lack of grace at times. But his greatness was that he had lessons for ordinary people too. Even between politics he taught the importance of hygiene and a clean environment...it is funny that when ministers like Kamal Nath fight for India not to be brought under purview of greenhouse emission, he hides the fact that global warming is hurting India more than any other country in the world. I feel it...the biggest challenge before India in coming years is not democracy, corruption, economy or insurgency...it is climate change. In India, every man grosses wealth, in the safe knowledge that he is doing it for his children, but when it comes to anything that is global wealth, these same men exploit it without realizing they are digging their grandchildrens' graves even before they are born. Man is always helpless, for centuries we feared and grappled with the challenges earth posed, now we are so in the grip of technology and modernity, and acknowledge we face an earth we have tapped at indiscriminately, but cant face upto even a few minutes of power-cut, loss of transportation, air-condition or connectivity!

One moment, I make all these utopian(maybe even gandhian) schemes on how I should lead life...next moment, I find that same me, doing the exact opposites of what I thought of earlier. Truth, Non-Violence, Conquest of the Self...such impossibilities for us pampered people. For me the biggest challenge has been to win over my baser instincts...a lazy nap, porn, mindless movies, pointless net-surfing, companionships past their shelf-date and associated habits...the first book that ever gave me the tools to deal with it was no Bible or motivators like Dale Carnegie, Lee Iococa etc...but Gandhiji's My Experiments With Truth. Once you finish reading the book you realize that it wasn't an accident of history that a man like Gandhiji lead India to freedom. In his seemingly-pointless-for-us abstinence, vegeterianism, brahmacharya, etc he toughened his soul to give him the courage to face the higher aims of his life like truth, non-violence and India's freedom. It is the simplest yet most profoundly touching and inspiring book you can lay your hands on for as less as Rs.30. Truth, Non-violence and probably most of his experiments in the book are i guess beyond what we mere 21st century zombies can aspire for, but it also has lessons in simplicity, time-management, humility, health, social commitment and work-ethic we still can commit to, which can help us succeed and feel good about, in our busy lives. Gandhiji once lived amongst us, he still lives in us, we rarely seek to find out...a brilliant Rajkumar Hirani makes a Lage Raho Munnabhai and we rave about Gandhigiri for a while, every year we have an Independence Day and a Gandhi Jayanti, but if each of us truely want to celebrate him, his life and the freedom he and his men won for us, pick up his book, buy it for your friends, who knows...you or that person might discover a Gandhian thought in some simple action of yours, and who knows...we might even end up saving Earth! Happy Birthday, Gandhiji.

P.S - Albert Einstein, the man who pipped Gandhi to the 'Time Man of the Century' Award said of Gandhiji, "Generations to come will scare believe such a one as this in flesh and blood, walked the face of the Earth". I wonder if Einstein's fine statement will become a prophesy...Gandhiji becoming some unattainable freak great soul rather than the very human being he was...he will be remembered for sure...but how he is remembered lies very much in how much of him we can find in our lives, we the youth of India who are a link between a morbid, stagnating recent past and an exciting but hazardous near future owe atleast this much to that man.