RSS Feed

Living with Fear

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

I have been watching Breaking Bad for a few days. I am reaching the end of season 4. It is a very well directed and scripted crime drama. Acting-wise also it does very well. But what is compelling me to write about it today is the way Walter White’s character evolves in the series.

The series begins with White’s diagnosis of an advanced stage lung cancer. With the realisation of the shortness of his life, comes fear. The fear disguises itself in the form of an instinct to leave something behind for the family. This instinct leads him to take the first irreversible step, which takes him away from his family, a sense of responsibility towards the society he lives in and his ethics. He forgets the primary responsibility that comes from his role as a school teacher. He has been a teacher for the longest part of his life. But he forgets.

Why does he take this road? Many people suffer from cancer, do all of them take the road that Walter White did? We all know that people like Walter White are very few. Some people leave the life of crime when they see their end is near. Why does Walter White walks down the road of crime? The crime drama tries to tie this thread logically by showing scenes from his past life where he was quite a genius in his field but couldn’t make use of it as well as his contemporaries did. Instead he settled as a school teacher.

This frustration of not living his life to the fullest surfaces when he hears about his diagnosis. That frustration leads him to make satisfy his creative core. His creative core finds an easy expression in manufacturing meth. His conscience does not feature in his decision making. He is determined to make something of himself.

That is how it begins with frustration that fuels fear which process both these ingredients as a passionate urge, that cannot be reasoned with. His awareness of his actions gives him guilt. This guilt is manifested as fear. Therefore, while Jesse and Walter White, both are making meth, you find only Walter White living with fear. Because Jesse had accepted his life as an addict early on. He didn’t have the urge to satisfy his creative core. Nor did money attracted him. He was just tagging along.

As the drama unfolds, Walter White’s fear also becomes greater. Fear colours his perception of life, of people. He finds himself on the edge everyday. Fearing it to be the last day, he lives his days strategising to reach a space where he could feel unafraid, secure.

But the thing is that no such place that is free from fear exists in the outside world. Such a space that is free from fear lives inside us. That is what one needs to find to feel unafraid and fearless.

Therefore, even after killing so-called threats Walter White lives in fear all his life. This fear influences his actions. An action that is influenced by fear becomes the cause of a greater fear. This vicious cycle consumes the individual till he/she lives. Unless through some intervention the person is able to, even momentarily, comes out of it to face the reality. The reality is not as scary as the idea of reality cooked by our mind.

Innocent Things

Posted on
Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

Being born in a middle class family, Neha has many toys. She likes her toys. She plays with them. Sometimes, when her friends come over, she shares her toys with them. She picks her choice of toys from the lot and plays. While playing she keeps a close eye on how her friends are playing with the toys. She likes to see how they use them. It gives her ideas. This is her secret game- to see how people do things.

Besides her toys, Neha likes to play with things adults use. While using them, she also feels like a part of the group. She wants to be one of them. So, she observes them closely. She observes how they use their things and when no one is around, she collects these things and plays with them. Once done, or when she feels adults are about to catch her redhanded, she hides these things in her bag. Her school bag. Neha knows that it belongs to her, so anything inside it would be safe from adults.

Now this got her into trouble. Because her teacher found a spatula and a knife in her bag. She immediately called her parents. Luckily, Neha was born at a time when children couldn’t be imagined as terrorists. So, after sternly telling her parents to carefully check Neha’s bag before she comes to school, all adults had a laugh about it. Her teacher was more concerned about Neha and Neha’s friends well-being than being scared of a young child.

One wonders what paths our adults and we took that we arrived at a time and space where innocence is considered improbable.

Time

Posted on
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Neha was never in a hurry. She had time for everything. It’s not that she managed time by time-tabling. She just let herself be with the time. So, neither was she running after time, now was time running after her. They were walking together holding hands and breathing in. Time helped her see things, hear sounds, smell roses, feel thorns, and taste everything that came her way. That is how she got to know things. Time introduced her to all of them.

Neha painted when she felt like it, played with dough, jot down stuff, cut paper, ran around the house, helped her ma, prayed with her grandparents, nearly always said forgot the words but she followed the tunes. She like to make castles in the mud for which she had to stealthily get water from her house. She never missed school, and always did her homework because she didn’t mind it.

She lived by the minute, never planning and accepting with open arms what life offered to her. She was curious but adults saw her curiosity as mischief. Not her fault but she was reprimanded for it. She felt hurt and anger too. The best thing was she forgot all about it as soon as it was over. She moved on easily with open arms and a smile on her face. Not a single blemish inside her. So, everyday was a new day for her.

Questions Adults Ask

Posted on
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

Neha likes the comfort of her privacy. She tries to avoid adults, yet they are everywhere. They have so many questions- What are you doing? Where are you going? Why are you touching this? Why can’t they mind their own business?

Just as questions end, instructions begin- Don’t touch this. Don’t do that. Don’t go there. Don’t sit there. That camel has been sitting on the shelf for so long. No one touches it. Even looks at it. Sometimes, papa dusts off the dirt, that’s it. They have forgotten about it. Yet, if I touch it they all suddenly remember the camel. Aren’t they even a little bit curious about the things around them? That camel is silver in colour. It is very shiny. It’s eyes are also very shiny light blue in colour. They look like rocks that are pasted on them. Neha wishes if she could just check if the eyes could come out or not. She wants see if its light or heavy. How does it smell? and taste? Can one bend its legs? What would happen if it falls on the ground? What sound will it make?

Neha is looking at the camel intently. She is lost in thought when her mother asks, “What are you looking at?”

Hiding

Posted on
Hiding

Neha knew the best places to hide. These places were so good that no one could find her. She went there when she wanted some alone time and stayed there for as long as she wanted. There were times she could hear her mother and grandmother looking for her everywhere but she wouldn’t come out until she really wanted to. She would let them look for her for sometime.

No, she wasn’t mean. She was a child that grew up in a household of adults. Only child living with six adults. They were always watching her. She was always trying to avoid their gaze. They wouldn’t let her out of their sight even momentarily. No, they weren’t scared for her. She was just very curious about the world around her. She liked cutting paper. Making shapes out of them. She would very often hid herself in the store-room and open everything that was stored there. Opening the lids of boxes, taking out paper. She tried to look for mice. No, she wasn’t afraid of mice. She didn’t find them disgusting either. She was alright with their smell. In fact, their smell often led her to them. They weren’t friends. She was just curious. She wanted to see where they live, how they live, what do they like to eat.

She re-arranged the store-room when her grandma rested in the afternoon. She would slip through the covers and go to the dingy, smelly store-room. Close the door behind her and just look around. Sometimes, she just liked sitting there. That small space away from the gaze gave her some privacy. Sometime to think.

She would also hide under her grandma’s diwan. From under there, she could see everyone’s legs. She liked to see how they moved. She liked to see what was on the hidden side of the diwan. Yes, there were cobwebs. Things looked different from down there. She felt comfortable away from the gaze. She could never really handle attention well.

Adults do not understand everything. What they don’t understand, they laugh about it. One day, everyone was eating oranges. There were so many of them and so many adults. She like the shape of a slice of orange. She peeled an orange and took it apart slice by slice. Then she arranged each slice in a row. She began to collect slices of oranges and arranging them in rows. She didn’t want to eat oranges, she just wanted to have many many slices with which she could play. But adults! They began talking about her. “Oh! look at her. She is so naive. Beta, eat this slice.” She told them she didn’t want to but they don’t listen. They think they know everything and they always right. Eventually, she had to leave her orange slices and find something else just to avoid them.

Why are adults always meddling? Can’t they mind their own business just like children?

Fear

Posted on
Fear

We all know fear. We have experienced it at home, in school, on the streets, in the train. Our experience of fear could differ in intensity and time span it consumes us. It is the darkest of nights and you got held up at work, now you are walking all alone on a seemingly never ending bylane, feeling the exhaust fumes of airconditioners and as you near a lamppost, you see a shadow close to yours. More often than not, this fear would last till you reach a familiar space. On the way, if a familiar person says ‘hello’ to you, you are pulled out of your bad thoughts. Sometimes, we are not fortunate enough to get pulled out of fear. Fear finds a space in our mind and stays there. Julio Cortazar’s story, The House Taken Over, is a good example of fear that could not be shaken off. The story is about two siblings, who have been living together luxuriously for a long time. They manage their house on their own, which includes cooking, cleaning and repairing it. The large house is divided by a long corridor and a large oak door. One night, the brother hears some voices from the other side of the oak door. He returns to his room fearful and informs his sister that the house is taken over and I have bolted that section. So, they begin to live only on one side of the house. A smaller space requires less maintenance. But the things they left on the side are missed. The fear lives within them. They do not go to check their suspicions on any following days. They begin to believe in it. On another night, a few days later, he hears voices from his side of the house. They run, run with whatever they have in hand. They leave with nothing but each other. When they leave they throw the keys in the gutter, so even a thief couldn’t enter the house that was taken over. This is where Cortazar ends his story.  

Did the fear leave them or did it leave with them? What if the fear leaves with them? How would their experience of leaving in another place be? Would fear restrict your experience, your movement, your life? This fear would decide their response to life and experiences. The intensity of the fear defines how much it would shape our life, our experiences. Cumulatively, it would shape us, our perception of reality and it would colour our experiences.  

Democracy is a way of Life

Posted on

I have been engaging with the practice of democracy in everyday life for some years now. My recent two work experiences compelled me to engage with questions of democracy. An organisation’s ethos and culture is influenced by its leadership. If the leader is indecisive, the employees would find it difficult to find direction. Due to indecisiveness, the leader can create ambiguity, which could be used in his/her favour later. Unplanned and ad-hoc ways of working makes the work environment very oppressive for the employees, who are seldom clear about, direction and also what action to take. Then suddenly, one morning they are asked to do an assignment, which is overdue from the leader’s side.So all the pressure is now on the employee. Speeding up the work takes away the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction from the employee who begins to doubt her/himself. Did I do it write? I hope I didn’t forget it? The context state of self-doubt and uncertainty and lack of planning ensured at the structural level takes a toll on the employees. They begin for feel unfulfilled, anxious and restless all the time. While the leader becomes dictatorial. Such dictatorial practices are possible only one or two people are entrusted with power and decision making for a number of people. When an organisation becomes a one-man show. Today, it is very easy to find such organisations that depend on just one man. Rarely, that man is a woman. One cannot say for sure if it is a coincidence or a gender disparity?

It reminds me of Gandhi. He ensured that every proposal was tabled and that every one was convinced and on board before going through with it. Even one small, feeble, singular voice of dissent was heard and engaged with and the action was deferred till that voice was also not on board. Time was not a limiting force for Gandhi. Time was space, boundless, inexhaustible space.

Living in these times and working in such organisations, one wonders if the times we are living in are democratic. Imagine when dictatorial attitudes and oppressive behaviours are becoming so common that nearly everyone has been afflicted with it in someway or the other, on does wonder if the democratic fabric of our society has faded. Why is the common person so violent, unfulfilled, indifferent and frustrated today? If you are looking for evidences to this, the just pick up today’s newspaper and you will find it filled with news of road rage, parking disputes, domestic violence, rape and murders.

These changes have been gradual and if one goes back to tracing these changes, one could easily think of the 1980s at least. Education system, reading culture was on a decline then. Libraries were turning into abandoned spaces. This is a more complicated and long discussion for some other time.

A newspaper opinion published in The Indian Express by John Keane helps us make sense of our present times. The opinion is titled How does a democracy die? John Keane explains how after the 1920s and 1930s democracy is once again under threat all over the world.

What resonated with me was the way he describes the changing everyday life of the citizens when the democracy is under threat. This change illustrates that democracy is not just an institution or a structure. It is a way of life. It is a way of life that we choose to live by. It comes from within and is manifested in our everyday practice.

This idea fills me with hope because democracy is in the palm of our hands. We can make it work and re-fuel it. We just have to choose it and live by it.

On Peace

Posted on

I am reading Vincent Sheean’s Nehru: The Years of Power. Sheean (1960) vividly describes the years after independence. It amazes me how issues that were current when India became an independent country continue to cause violence, fear and insecurity. In 1946 the relationship between India and Pakistan became centred on Kashmir. He argues that this issue has lead to huge economic losses on both sides as well as spending of majority of GDP on defence at that time. It remains a reality even today. 

However, we have come so far along this path of violence that it seems impossible to take a different route. This different route could be shifting focus from defence to other areas such as education; health etc. The constant fear of declaration of war between the two countries and its result makes us waste our resources on defence. 

Is there a way out to restore peace in our country? How would Gandhi respond to this situation? I can only speculate. But I know he followed the politics of guilt. Sacrifice and non-violence were his weapons to arouse guilt in the perpetrator.

Would his politics be as successful today as it was then?

A Restless Mind

Posted on

Have you felt your heartbeat moving so fast that it seems it has left your body and flying away like a butterfly? You are trying and failing to catch it, to bring it back home. What do you do in these moments?

I write. Ayn Rand has said somewhere, “words are lens to focus one’s mind.” Putting a word after another helps me calm down. Then I observe how swiftly my fingers are moving. I want them to relax too. I remember watching a movie many years ago, the hero was typing so fast. I could see how fast the words appeared on screen. I wanted that too. I practiced. Then one day I discovered my speed while documenting a UNICEF conference. I found my typing speed matching the speaker’s utterance speed. If I concentrated well enough to the words uttered by the speaker, I could even pause when he paused. I was amazed.

Sometimes it is difficult to know who is catching who- the mind or the hand. There is so much that is wanting to be articulated that it makes one restless.

Now, I want to slow down. I want to nurture my writing. Take time to just think and write. Then rewrite. Stay with a thought and see it unfolding gradually. Oh! how beautiful it sounds.

I SEE-3: Peace or Non-violence

Posted on

Gandhi has frequently used the term non-violence rather than peace. Was it a conscious choice?

The other day I was listening to a lecture in which the speaker said that when you are articulating a disagreement of something you are still referring to the thing you are disagreeing with. Instead, if you choose to articulate your disagreement by referring to what you think could be an alternative, you give your audience something to consider, to take home.

Does this mean choosing the term peace would be better than the term non-violence? When you are trying to be non-violent, you are essentially attempting to cultivate peace?

The difference between the two is the difference in the way you choose to see. The act of seeing has more nuances than one is aware of. It shapes the way we live in the world. It shapes our experiences and our interactions with the world around us. Answer to most questions come down to how you see.