At the outset of our education, right from kindergarten, we are taught the world’s biggest half-truth: that things can be divided into categories of opposites:
Living v/s. Non-living
Animal v/s. Plant
Tame v/s. Wild
Edible v/s. Inedible
Natural v/s. Artificial
Useful v/s. Useless
Good v/s. Bad
Sane v/s. Mad
The good thing about such categorization is that it provides a framework of intellectual ground-rules, which helps us to learn socially useful information and store it in memory. It makes our minds systematic navigable gardens instead of dense impenetrable rain-forests. Our civilization rewards us with tangible gains for this systematization, this cultivation of our minds.
What is not so good, however, is that we suffer a loss of personality because our minds cease to be forests.
Our ancestors deforested large tracts of land and farmed them. Today we deforest our own minds, and the minds of our children. We farm ourselves, selling the produce from our own brains for profits. We sell our time and our mental abilities to society for salaries, for profits and for social recognition. In the process, we become far less than our original selves – like cage-reared broiler chicken rather than the jungle-fowl that they descended from.
It is untrue that our world can be divided into neat categories. Nothing is neat here. Nothing is cut-and-dry and compartmentalized. It’s all fuzzy and mixed-up. We need to figure our way afresh through everything, each one for himself and herself.
There is no line of demarcation between sanity and madness. We – the seemingly sane – are more insane than we care to admit. It is precisely when we are at our controlled, civilized best that we are pathetically insane!
Let me give you an instance of this:
While commuting to town by suburban railways, I saw a not-very-rich couple request a fellow-passenger for his bottle of water because their toddler was thirsty. They got some strange looks because of their audacious request, but they also got the bottle of water. The child’s thirst was promptly quenched.
I doubt if I would have done the same for my child. In the name of decency and dignity, I would rather let my child go thirsty for an hour than ask a stranger for his bottle.
Who is sane, they or I? Who is richer, they or I? I had more cash in my purse, but this couple was richer, because the world’s resources belonged to them. They took ownership of what was freely available, whereas I would be too inhibited to do so. Their poverty may be in their purse, whereas mine is in my mind. My poverty is more deep-seated; it is a kind of insanity.
I think we do ourselves out of all sorts of opportunities because of such mental poverty or insanity. Throughout my high-school and college days, what I craved most of all was a few smiles and friendly words from some girls. If only I had been more frank and open, and less poor in spirit, I might have had a more fulfilling youth — and might have made some young women more happy too, eh?
Oh well, better late than never!
My childhood is cluttered with missed opportunities – for friendship, for knowledge, for fun. I look back with some amusement at what a sad little kid I was, and what a happy kid I might have been if only I had been less afraid in general – Less in awe of teachers and principals so that I might have gone and asked them to explain things to me. Less afraid of my parents and less mindful of what I thought was their inability to provide what I needed. Less afraid of sticking my neck out and saying what I believed. Less scared of doing what I wanted, what my mind kept crying out for.
The hero in PG Wodehouse’s novel is usually someone who is wasting his youth in excesses. Unlike him, I have squandered my youth in needless moderation.
By the time it dawned on me what an inhibited person I was, I was in my late teens. Approaching 40, I discovered the depth and extent of my straight-faced, dignified foolishness… and I am still busy unlearning that foolishness, re-educating myself to be JUST ME.
And I’m not done yet; I have some way to go before I plumb the depths of my insanity! Maybe, given luck, I shall have completed that task before age 55. Hopefully, by that time, I shall have unlearned the bad habits of my childhood, and I shall have learned to TRULY LIVE.
In my 50s, I’ll be acting very silly indeed, because someone who is thoroughly enjoying himself/herself without a care in the world looks and sounds silly to others who aren’t enjoying themselves. Someone who enjoys himself uninhibitedly is bound to look stupid or even dangerously insane!
I don’t want to rise in anybody’s estimation, to be famous or rich or even successful. I just want to have the time of my life! I just want to be myself — whole, undiluted, uncut – the way I was intended to be.