Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mediocrity as a Lifestyle

We live to be mediocre. As I write this, I am sitting in Hyderabad Airport looking into the shop-window of the Landmark bookstore, prominently featuring a Brian Tracey book, which promises to tell you ways to achieve everything that you wanted to achieve, faster. That's possibly the self-help section I am looking at, as the other titles promise everything under the sun - money, career success, happiness. If you are looking for great sex, you may have to take the trouble of walking into the shop and peeping into higher shelves and narrow corners, but this is a good book shop and I am sure you will get that in abundance too. Everything today is possible, achievable; it is just the dream that is falling short.

I was brought up to be a civil servant. Some sort of a government job, I was told by teachers and others. It will provide you with a lifetime of security. A steady paycheque end of the month. A pretty girl from your caste as wife. Enough time to raise a family, play cricket with your son when he grows up. Two holidays a year, Puri and another place in the Sun. May be even Pattaya or Bangkok, the airfares are coming down. And, then a retirement and death, but you dont have to worry about it now.

Everyone in my locality saw the same dream. With some variation, of course. There were those bright kinds who wanted to be doctors and engineers, and studied for right exams. They passed, and did exactly the same thing as above. Lived happily ever thereafter.

Somewhere down the years, there were small additions and deletions in the script. Developers started building small flats and it became fashionable to live in them. They were trendy, compact, and were much cheaper. So, everyone wanted to buy one. The government types got entitlements for flats, which were slightly darker and slightly run down, but they had a class structure of their own - High Income, Middle Income and Low Income - and everything, number of rooms, window sizes and door panels built accordingly. Those who did not get to work with the government had to take out a mortgage. There were new vocabularies there too - EMI and Superbuilt area, for example. They lived on the cycle of monthly mortgage payments, but prided on the corner of the world that was their own.

Probably we started caring more for money as things became dearer. One needed money to keep going. One needed more money for a car. The government built small cars, and then others built bigger cars. We replaced the stately ambassador of the family with our own puny Maruti 800, and then we needed an AC, and then we needed a bigger car as we got married and had kids. We needed more and more money and needed ways to supplement our income. We turned to share market, where we could invest little but get a lot, if we played things well. So, we watched over financial pages over breakfast and took on a broker, along with the family physician, as an integral part of our life.

Of course, something happened to India then. There were lots of jobs coming to us, because we were cheap and all we wanted is a decent job and a good girl and a vacation in Puri and an apartment and a Maruti. So, everyone loved us. They gave us the money to take their calls, do their accounts, type their reports and file their returns. We obiliged - we now have a bit more money and a new world, of GMs, VPs and AVPs. We bitched about them in the evening and obiliged them in the offices. We lived a happy life, of office to home, just like the old time.

Hail then, mediocrity as a way of life. As smooth and predictable as ever, in this great nation of India. You and me. All of us. We wish to be mediocre, aspire for a middle way of life. It is the corrosive blessing that keeps us wherever we are, chained to the small things and aspirations. We must break the cycle, some day, and try to be us. Do what we wish to do. India wants to be a great nation - we must start the transformation within ourselves first.

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