|Recording the Unplugged Special|
I was reading a post on “what do you want to be in life” on Rajagopalan Ratnaraj’s wonderful blog The Beautiful Mind when I recalled an incident from my childhood that shaped my personality, and perhaps even made me a little fearful of sharing my opinions and my vulnerability. This trait stayed with me through much of life, and prevented me from experiencing the true richness of life, relationships, and trust. As I read his thought provoking post, I realized I had found what I wanted to post today.
I was about 7 or 8 years old, studying (or so I was led to believe) in class 2 or 3 at a boarding school run by well meaning white skinned folk in what is now called Jharkhand. It was a wonderful school where I learned a few good things too. But I loved the place, my friends, and the breadth of culture that the community exposed me to. The usual “what do you want to be when you grow up” essay came up, and I wrote that I wanted to be a bird, since a bird can go wherever it wants whenever it wants. I was given an F by Miss Sen whose husband’s name was Cotton, our long haired English teacher and asked to re-write the essay. I figured out that my response was incorrect, and this time I wrote that I wanted to be the sky, since the sky is everywhere at the same time. I got an F again, along with detention during which I was to rewrite the essay. I was told that the essay was not about what “thing” I wanted to be in life, but what I wanted to profess. Profess as in teacher, doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc. Miss Sen whose husband’s name was Cotton never suggested farming, carpentry, or shoe-mending as possibilities, but then neither did she know that an entire generation would grow up and become steno-typists and receptionists for the global market. Maybe if she did, she would have suggested farming and carpentry too.
That clarified, I washed up after sports and headed back towards the detention classrooms while the rest of my friends went to the auditorium to watch the highlights of the previous year’s Ashes. I sat and wrote my essay again, certain that it would get me a B+ if not an outright A. I wrote that I wanted to be god. When Monday came, I smiled secretly as the English period drew to a close, and my name was not called. However, my joys were shortlived, as after school, I was sent with the class monitor to the Principal’s office, where the secretary handed a slip of paper to the class monitor, and we both marched off to Mr. Ekka’s room. The monitor looked at me sideways as we walked across the quad and said, “Straps.” Mr. Ekka, our sports teacher, had the extra duty of punishing us with “straps,” thwacks on the palm or the bum with a strip of thick leather, the number of which was determined by the severity of our wrongdoings and written on the slip of paper with the class monitor.
As I cried myself to sleep that night with reddened and swollen hands, I realized how dangerous it was to want to be free, to be unlimited, to be soaring, to be powerful. I learned that power lies with those who have it, and any attempts to lay claim to it would be punished severely. I also learned that it was better to avoid “straps,” even if that meant a compromise with what I believed. I re-wrote the essay later in the week, and got a B.
I realize that this was when I learned the meaning of fear. I also learned that anything was ok in order to avoid the object of fear. This was not a realization of courage but one of manipulation. I learned to pretend, to fake it, to be nice and pleasant and to live up to expectations. I did this for most of my life. Fortunately, the law of cause and effect has a way of restoring things to wholeness and balance, and over the last few years, I was helped to face my pretentious pursuit of vanity and my hollowness, and forced to ask myself what I stood for, what I believed in, and to re-write the essay of my life, the essay of “what I wanted to be.”
This time around, I know that there is no point in writing someone else’s essay, not even if it means getting the straps. This time around, I have no fear of the straps because life has made them powerless over me. This time around, the essay is being written as my heart dictates, in harmony with the principles I subscribe to, and on my own terms. This time around the essay is A+. Best wishes to you, dear reader, since you are a part of my journey at this moment, awakening together to our infinite potential, to our true nature, to love, to beauty, to truth and to compassion, and I am blessed for your presence in my life. May each coming day of your and my life be a new beginning, a renewal of faith and determination. May your essay be an A+ too.