Brown Critique, May 2011

"Edited and published by Gayatri Majumdar, Brown Critique (since 1995), the literary quarterly, was a meeting ground for Indian writers and those from abroad, young and old. In 2000, the magazine was re-launched as an e-zine. The 'Brown Critique' is now re-launched and features work published in previous issues of the quarterly as well as new writings. Besides writings, it also includes works of art, music, reviews, and other forms of expressions."

Editing and publishing a literary journal is as rewarding as it is thankless.  Kudos for this wonderful persistence of Gayatri's that provides a forum for sharing writing and thinking that is not pop or mainstream.  The May issue also has three of my poems in it.

Is Normalcy Good for Kids to Grow Into!!

A recurrent feedback on my posts over The Story of Parth is that it is not suitable content for a young person, that he should be exposed to more middle of the road stuff that will help him become more of a "normal" person as he grows up.  I keep deleting comments on the blog telling me that the young man can do without knowing about the "weirdos" of the world, that he can do without exhortations to question rules and dictats, to challenge his conditioning, and to choose value over material comfort.  In spite of my hard boiled nature, I often end up editing, entirely changing, or even deleting posts based on such feedback from those I respect.

My belief that each of us should live life on our own terms, and not on those imposed by governments, corporations, bankers and arms dealers in the garb of education, is something that I have tried to pass on, and in the face of all protest (criminal lawsuits included), something I persist in.  This post, though not the one many of you have been waiting for (some patiently, others with poison dripping into my inbox from your nibs and shift keys), is my rant in defense of this view.

Let us start by looking at what a middle of the road, balanced, healthy upbringing is commonly understood as.  Friends will read the text as is, the rest will want to filter the cynicism out, fare thee well.  First lesson in normalcy, be realistic, not an idealist.  Be reasonable, do not question the system.  Study well if not hard, so that you score well enough to get where you or your parents want, well enough so that you can get admission into an institute that you or they will not feel ashamed of telling friends about. Befriend only those who fit into your social circle (young people learn the concept of discriminating based on social class from their parents and from television; they are not born with it, there still is hope!).

As you go forward, get a job that pays reasonably, and one that you can tell others you do, (not the "I am a painter, not the signboard types" types) and keep at it, or keep at changing jobs or set up your own business till you are earning more than you are spending so that you can start saving, first for your own needs, and then for your children, so that you can turn them into what you have become yourself, only a little less questioning, please.

Okay, I am being mean and this is not what ALL parents do, but hey, is it not what most of us would want for our kids?  I am eternally grateful to my parents for helping me grow up weird, and I can only imagine how painful it must have been for them to see me bruise myself over and over and over again as I attempted to figure out my destiny.  The logic behind this love for normalcy at any cost is obvious, we want our kids to be happy, not hurt or be caught in an existential struggle, or in jail for defending land rights of displaced farmers.  Let the policy makers break their heads about homeless farmers, not my kid.

Let us now look at what "normal" people, the ones who embody conventional normal values, are doing with their lives, and let us look at it without contexting it with the mess we have made of what little is left of our "civilization." 

A basic assumption that I am making is based on the etymology of the word normal, a pet peeve of mine from my days as a language trainer, that which pertains to the norm or the statistical majority.  Strangely, the majority has no issues with this definition.  Go figure!

Everyone of us common folk have to work for a living.  Studies variously quote 55 and 70 percent for job dissatisfaction globally.  That tells me that it is normal to be unhappy.  It is no secret that an unhappy worker is detrimental not just to the business at hand but to the overall health of the worker himself.  The fact that unhappiness is not what any of us were born to achieve is besides the fact.  Yet, compulsions of material need, monthly budgets, and social standing keep most people in those jobs, unhappily pulling everything down.  I have largely been happy doing what I have done for a living.  That puts me in the abnormal club!!  But then, if I had to do it over, I would rather be happy than normal, and I would want my kid to be happy doing what he does, no matter how insignificant it may seem to anyone else.

Normatively speaking, and going by the numbers being reported in the other street, the debt free sovereign state is a rare breed.  Now take this down to an individual level and the truth will hit you, 4 out of 5 people on this planet are in debt.  The one in five who are not, surprisingly, are not the wealthy ("wealthy" is a funny term, since time proves them to be the most bankrupt, in more ways than one), but usually the insane, the utterly destitute, or people who have dedicated their lives to a cause greater than themselves.  I would prefer my kid not be normal in the matter of financial debt.

An abnormal question here, if all nations are in debt, with even monster economies choosing to go for a haircut, who are all these several trillions of dollars owed to?  I have an abnormal answer, pretty much in the vein of Shutter Island, and since nobody is listening, here it is.  It is owed to our future, to our kids and our unborn kids, but who better than kids to cheat out of their candy?  Yes, Keshav, congratulations for May 30, 2011, teach well, I know you will.

The best selling drugs at pharmacies worldwide are those that deal with the threats posed by poor lifestyle, obesity, and anxiety.  Stress related diseases affect more than half of the world's population, and obesity is a major problem not only for adults but for children of progressively younger age groups.  Statistically speaking, stress, anxiety, obesity, and similarly terrifying conditions are normal, and no longer questioned.  Instead of addressing the root cause of these, we pacify ourselves with medication and psychotherapy.  What if we stood out of the way of our own happiness instead?  That would be abnormal, but it would result in healthier and happier kids, no?

US marriage rate is presently at 6.8 per 1000 people, and divorce rate is 3.4 per 1000, i.e., half the marriages end in divorce, and in today's world, it is rapidly becoming normal for marriages to not survive and for kids to grow up estranged from one or the other parent.  The Indian numbers are far behind those of US but for all purposes, many of the so called Indian marriages that are intact are really virtual divorces, with emotional and physical abuse, infidelity, and other dysfunctions silently being swept under the carpet for the sake of social appearances, a situation beautifully captured in the Amir Khan produced I Hate Love Stories (abnormal spelling of Luv intentional here).  This normal state of marriages and parenting is surely not one I would want my kids to grow up into if I can help it.  If that makes me weird, put it on my Facebook wall (right next to the night shift day shift couple in the same office wishing each other on their wedding anniversary).

I am reminded of Uddalak's Aphorism, one that I stole (plagiarism is a dirtier word than stole in a writer's vocabulary) and turned into a poem that brought me much more than 15 minutes of fame.  Uddalak went on to write copy for an ad agency for a start. I on the other hand, who had always wanted to be a writer, to be able to write about the pain and suffering and misery of people, was able to, even if tangentially, fulfill my destiny.  I became a medical transcriptionist, typing out reports of the pain and suffering and misery of patient's at the mercy of medicare.  Till I kept doing that for a livelihood, I was with the normal brigade.  The moment I stopped, I no longer was.  I feel tempted to reproduce some of the concerned mails that I received in the last few months, since they amply illustrate the point of this post, but the fun of it would be lost if I had to edit them or conceal the names and events in them, so, I will let normalcy prevail in this regard.

It is also normal for youngsters to have not been able to dialog with their parents about illicit drugs or unwanted pregnancies, leading to behaviors that can be life threatening.  It is normal to give or take dowry, to employ children as domestic labor, and to walk past an accident just to avoid trouble.  It is normal to pay "donations" to get admission, to pay bribes to cops and lawyers to expedite matters, and to break traffic rules.  It is normal to aspire for a job in the administration so that the rot can be perpetuated, no matter how idealistic or passionate one may be about reform.  It is normal for kids to cheat or pay for question papers so that they don't let their normal parents down.  It is normal for kids to commit suicide when they discover that
all their honest efforts did not get them the marks that they expected.

So much for normalcy.  I would like my kids to be happy and at peace, to be free to be who they are, not who the world expects them to be.  We, the ones who have made this world, have no right to expect anything from our kids if we cannot be role models to them.  And given the fact that our pursuit of the normal has only resulted in grief and darkness, the least we can do is encourage our kids to grow up weird.
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