Living it my way

I watched Queen recently. I think it holds up a mirror to our society, subtle but solid and every bit entertaining. Gender-based norms are challenged through a picturesque scenic and cinematographic topography as the protagonist goes through a sharp transformation necessitated by her situation, emboldened by her will to fight all odds. Replace gender with social convention and you get Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Focus on ambition, add a little nationalism, and a deft social comment, you get Chak De India! Tone down the social comment and you get Iqbal, Black, or even Navrang from ages ago. Make it poetic, dramatic, romantic but tragic, and you get Mughal-e-Azam. Keep the formula and add some masala and melodrama and you get Maine Pyar Kiya. Subtract a few decades and you get Bobby. Bring it closer home in the warm embrace of a family and relatable characters and you get Khoobsurat. Coming back to Queen as well as with the rest, it’s all about taking a stand, staying true to your conviction, and having the courage to face the odds.

I started with films here because as stories go, this medium is the one most accessible – many would have seen 3 Idiots, a far lesser number would have read Bertrand Russell or Dostoevsky, even fewer would be able to discern the challenging spaces in Vivaldi’s music, myself included. Pop media does a great job of simplifying and then distributing an idea “ rise against the rules, contravene conventions, challenge traditions, re-engineer norms, question taboos, and above all, do everything to protect and follow your conviction. There are books, too “ from Gandhi’s autobiography to Anna Karenina, from Romeo and Juliet to Harry Potter, from The Elegance of the Hedgehog to the Bhagvad Gita.

You see that from Satyajit Ray to Ekta Kapoor, without conflict, there is no story to tell. Moral of the story remains the same: Live it your way.

Then there’s real life: a teenaged schoolgirl is targeted by militants all for going to school. A sickly boy growing up in abject poverty goes on to become a yoga Guru taking the world by a storm. For every such story of spiraling success there are hundreds of nameless, faceless, people going about their normal tasks fixing pipes to keeping house to selling horses to growing crops to practicing nail art! – everyone having their own stories to tell.

Only one thing separates people from one another: One is satisfied with his/her life, the other is not. One is happy, the other isn’t. One is practicing his/her vocation ethically, legally, and therefore fearlessly. The other isn’t. But both encounter a number of challenges. The ethical one feels he/she is swimming upstream while the unethical one has to constantly watch his/her back. Look around yourself. There is no other difference. Each one of us faces challenges; every single one of us surmounts a few, is failed by a few. This quest to go into a challenge rather than accept a situation that makes our hearts and minds wallow in bitterness and cynicism is what is meant by living. Life is rarely about that echoing applause after the warships are docked and the enemy has surrendered. Because¦ the true enemy, just like the true friend, is within. When you say live your life your way, questions arise. What is your way? Gandhi had his way, Nathuram Godse had his; Buddha had his middle path, but Hitler? He had his way too, did he not? Again, what is your way?

This is complicated enough without bringing in scriptural wisdom and religious edicts because then we circle back to the same question: if our scriptures are to do the job of pointing out œthe one correct righteous way to live for all of us, where is the scope for œliving it my way? What does it mean to œlive it my way? Even if you do manage to live your life your way, where is the guarantee that you will live without any regrets? Your way today and your way 20 years down the line, could it not be different? So, what is your way going to be?

And, if as a mentor I tell what it should be, would it remain ˜your’ way? It can’t. I probed these questions some 16 years ago when I was mulling leaving the corporate world for academics. A trek to the Himalayas led me to an epiphany.

I decided to ask myself the following questions every time doubts cropped up:

Am I happy, satisfied, and carefree, and do all those things that should come to me naturally “ hunger, sleep, happiness “ do they actually?

Why do I want the changes that I do want? How solid are the parameters? “ Is it as tangible as making myself and those I am responsible for physically more safe, nourished, or at peace, or is it things like social status, greater luxury, social image, greater power, etc, which are a very subjective realm?

What is the worst that could happen if I went about changing things? Would I be hurting someone in any way at all? Would I be okay doing so?

How far am I holding myself responsible for people’s feelings? Is it possible for me to please everyone all the time, and can I achieve that?

What exactly frightens me “ is it the uncertainty, the society, the battered image I may get, or is it the fear of someone or some idea of divine wrath?

When there is a desire motivating me towards an action what is my main driver? “ Is it to feel happier by doing a better job or is it about pleasing someone, proving something to someone, trying to enhance my image in someone’s mind¦?

So far, these questions have been a reliable compass that has helped me find my way.

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