Delhi, mid-1970s: There was a time when the need of the day was more to do something…anything!
Possibilities were scarce, time was a luxury we did not know we had. The spirit wafted strong, both in the mind as well as in the air around. Dickens, Erle Stanley Gardner, Maupassant, Dumas, Maugham, Hardy, Gorky, Tolstoy, Sholokov, Ayn Rand formed an eclectic cocktail mixed with the frustrations or potential for change that the dailies exhorted readers through its columns in urban India. Karl Marx, Jay Prakash Narayan and speeches of Atal Vajpayee cajoled us to do something.
But, India was paused for some time. Intellectualisation was not only the flavour of the times, in hindsight, it seems to have been the only panacea.
Everybody we knew worked for the government or ran small street side businesses. Everything was small-time, be it jobs, businesses, earnings, spends, movie tickets or dreams. We did not know what it was to have a ‘career’ but needed ‘small’ money of our own to spend hours in the billowing smoke of the Indian Coffee House. Even the waiters were on eternal pause, waiting to be hollered at to get another round of coffee in those incorrigible thick bottomed glasses. We did not know the culinary delights of a pasta, a pizza or even a lassooni tikka. It was all elementary, the simmering alu ki tikki fresh off the hot huge tawa or the ignoble kulchhe chhole at a nukkad stall after scouring the pavement book stalls selling pirated editions of classics, mystery novels or encyclopaedias all over the corridors of Connaught Place. The sight of an unread cover was joy enough to be shared amongst many.
We knew that we had to soon take over the economic reigns from our soon to be retiring fathers, get married and probably lead the same life that they did – educating children, buying a few new dresses during the festival season in cooler October and strive hard to build a better home for the family. There were no pubs, no eating out, no weekend getaways and surely no ecstasy to be garnered from an omnipresent social network. We had friends we spent hours debating our acquired logics gathered through hours of poring over the written word. We had friends who not necessarily agreed with us on most issues unlike those found through the ‘created’ algorithmic logic of like-mindedness churned out from the ethereal world of a Facebook or Twitter. We had ‘contacts’ that we were in real contact with due to the similar sociio-economic cauldron we were getting stewed in. We lived with people from the real-polity that we were born to, owing to the schools, colleges, local community, family connections, we did not choose and hence accepted as ours. We were not divided by caste, language or religion, rather united by the wallowing pit India was paused in for several years.
There were no LCD screens to be glued up against. Interactions with humans did not need an HMI or a yet to be discovered natural resource called telecom frequencies.
But, there was time to read, to debate, to sharpen our thoughts about what would be good for our country – an extrapolation of the society around. The nagging need that it should be good for ‘us’ or our families was ironically not the primary driver of anything we searched to do. Maybe because there was not much to go after that would serve our selfish needs. It was like being in a commune. Communism was therefore attractive, even exciting. We considered ourselves the ‘middle class’. The ‘upper or higher class’ did exist but in some remote ghettoes where they tumbled in and out of stately Ambassadors or sleeker Fiats and rushed their kids off to ‘convent’ schools. Even they did not know the comfort of an Aircon while we happily slept in our small gardens, balconies or the terrace of our government flats oblivious of malaria or Dengue. The air in Delhi was filled with the intellectualism of Shyam Benegal, happiness of Basu Chatterjee and Rajesh Khanna still stood tall despite the advent of the Amitabh Bachhans and Vinod Khannas or Mehras. The Palekars, Naseeruddins and Om Puris belonged to us, the dreamy aware in-active middle class. Bollywood was not known to the world around and film music was still about melody and lyrics. We relished the poetic romance of Sahir Ludhianvi while soaking in the haunting music of SD or Hemant Kumar.
The word Pause was quite redundant in our lives!
We had a lot of time due to lack of potential to apply ourselves. We did not have to pause as we were not moving that much. But, we had a spirit, that probably came from our awareness, from principles taught and practiced by elders, teachers and statesmen we read about in our textbooks and otherwise. History was to be learnt from for standing firm on values, ethics and identity. We did not need to be told to stand up for the national anthem. We were volitional nationalists not requiring any motivational carrot or the stick. We were hungry for action, whether to learn something or actualise our dreams. We were wanting a future that had to be better than the sweaty, grimy present. We clutched at anything that moved – an opportunity to escape the stagnancy of our commune-istic life…
Pause was not a choice to make, but the curse we lived with in a pseudo socialist India controlled by a clutch of dudist, white clad, cash rich barons. They had mastered the art of keeping the miniscule middle class shackled in their frustrated ghettoes!
Fast forward to the 21st Century: Poor Pause! It has failed to catch the imagination of a society that is ever scrambling for an endless list of ungratified needs.
Oh, there is so much to acquire, to taste, to know, to visit, to experience!
Even if one cannot afford most of it, the virtual experience is tantalising enough. Sparkling screens with their naughty pixels in abundance makes everything – even a simple doormat – so desirable, so near, so possible that the word future, seems more fitting to a dinosaur’s lexicon. The middle class is no more the miniscule non-entity. It is a whopping 20 to 30% liberated by the possibilities unleashed by that one natural resource of the the 20th century – the telecom waves. Like the atomised molecules of a class kept coalesced for decades, we are celebrating our individualistic freedom. The thin line between individualism and crass selfishness is fast becoming a blur. Abundance of opportunities is easily seen as possibilities to slake the thirst of a society kept deprived of actualising their potentials or dreams for a very long time.
While the supply side opened its sluice gates since the 90s, albeit grudgingly and haltingly, the vast expanses of parched throats on the demand side can only be virtually satiated for the time being. But, that does not give everyone of us, the individual, a chance to gratify our selfish desires, our wants that we really, not virtually feel are our Needs. We need all that is possible badly, urgently, Now!
Ungratified needs are the greatest motivators of human behaviour, said God Maslow and wasn’t he bang on target?
Boringly, Yes! Why this guy had to be so right about human behaviour…Alas! He wrote his paper way back in 1943 and we are still in complete conformance to his PQ as we have not been able to change our DQ.
Clamouring for all that we do not have, we wish we had and believe that we can have, makes us spend more than we can afford. Credit availability is said to be at the heart of capex investment by businesses. If we individuals were a business, we have no dearth today for getting credit for our Capex. Forget the fact, that our Opex does not need any credit any longer. That was the necessity of the 70s and 80s…eons back, isn’t it?
It could also be that we do not any longer draw a line between our Opex and Capex needs. The ferocious power of our ungratified needs sucks everything we have and what we may have over the next 25 years. It leaves us in absolute penury at least for the one resource, Time, that could make us reflect on the Choices we make or simply get sucked into.
Can’t we Pause for a sec?
No, we can’t as we have no time to Reflect. To paraphrase the thoughts of Charles Handy from his book, ‘The Empty Raincoat’ (1994), ‘God only knows where or what we are hurtling towards…’
Just consider, that we wished to know what or where we are hurtling towards. Those who act upon that wish, do pause a while to reflect upon the future that one is investing upon through our current resources. Our future strategy will be fuelled by the resources we create from our current strategy.
Do we want to flourish or perish without making choices?
We are human beings, not a perennial business. None of us can overstay our finish line on this earth…
Without making Choices??
Do we want to leave a legacy behind or become a liability to those we leave behind?
To make a Choice, we need to Reflect by pressing the PAUSE button!