Single-minded pursuit of passions is probably a reality only when growing up with very liberal and generous parents. That becomes even more impediment-prone once one enters married life, when life becomes burdened with varied expectations from in-laws, spouse, and children, especially for Indians, where every individual is intricately knit into the social matrix of relationships.
Thereafter it’s usually a saga of endless negotiations and compromises.
And not many can muster the courage that can let one say, in words of Kamala Das, ‘If the need ever arose, I would without hesitation bid goodbye to my doting husband and to my sons, only to be allowed to remain what I was, a writer’ (My Story by Kamala Das, Pg. 195).
This was in the context of writings that didn’t go down very well with many of her relatives because they contained truth that was unwanted and she writes, ‘They took their grievances to my parents who were embarrassed but totally helpless, for it had become clear to them that I had become a truth-addict and that I loved my writing more than I loved them or my own sons.’ (My Story by Kamala Das, Pg. 195). Ah, but that is exceptional courage, at the peril of social ostracism.
There really is no easy way out – the world needs achievers and the world needs their supporters. Let’s just hope not too many flowers wilt for want of water that goes into nurturing other flowers. As Gibran says ‘On Marriage’, “And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow”.
One just wishes we are not planting cypresses and oaks too near each other. But one only knows the potential when one lives upto it – without giving enough space and opportunity for the potential to grow and mature, one never knows what got killed, which talent got throttled, which unborn dream couldn’t come out of the womb. We do not know what the seed would have grown into if it did not grow at all. Does the world listen to their laments? Or more unfortunately, do they lament at all?
One is reminded of Milton’s sublime resignation to blindness when he says, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’. Apparently, God has two kinds of angels – some are active and plying over land and seas carrying out the orders of God while the others just stand in God’s presence and wait for his orders.
When Milton grew blind at a young age, he questions, “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” But he himself puts his doubts to rest by likening himself to one of those angels who stood and waited. He assures himself with the consolation that passive obedience to the will of God is also a form of service.
So maybe some can really experience ecstasy in passivity, in standing and waiting on others, but surely there are many more whose fate has forced them into waiting, and they really would have liked to ply over land and sea themselves.
Many would find no solace in theories of circumstantial conspiracies and would want to transcend the unknown barriers to live up to one’s true potential. For every active ‘angel’ that we see, let us not forget the several others who are waiting.
Literature, movies and other creations have often glorified such support. Margarita, for example, in The Master and Margarita, by Bulgakov. “The man who called himself a master worked feverishly on his novel, and this novel also absorbed the unknown woman. … Her slender fingers with sharply filed nails buried in her hair, she endlessly reread what he had written, and after rereading it would sit sewing that very same cap.
Sometimes she crouched down by the lower shelves or stood by the upper ones and wiped the hundreds of dusty spines with a cloth. She foretold fame, she urged him on, and it was then that she began to call him a master… repeated aloud in a sing-song voice certain phrases she liked, and said that her life was in this novel.” Margarita, a life spent entirely in lending support to her lover’s literary passions. There was of course much more in the classic and in Margarita.
The movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is based on the book by the same name of Sylvia Nasar, which is essentially a biography of the famous John Nash. Nash in his Nobel acceptance speech, says, “It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found. [Looking at Alicia, his wife] I’m only here tonight because of you. You’re the only reason I am…you are all my reasons.”
Alicia was a physicist from MIT and was studying there during the 1950s – a time when few women could boast of such a distinction. It was there that she met John Nash with whom she had a tumultuous personal life to say the least.
She became a mental-health care advocate, who had to give up her professional aspirations to support her husband, John Nash as well as their only son, both of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia. For all we know, Alicia Nash could herself have been a Nobel Laureate in Physics. Will anyone ever know?
really don’t want to belittle the achievements and efforts of those who taste success. That undoubtedly involves untiring work and stoic determination. It is absolutely incredible to tendu and fondu at 77, it is no small feat to be at the helm of the second largest food and beverage business in the world, it is great to translate the entire Mahabharata into Bengali, it is wonderful to produce mathematics that leaves long-lasting legacy in fields of biology, economics and other disciplines. And there is no dearth of praise for these achievements and achievers as well.
This article, however, is for Mrs. Poole’s husband and Raj, and Alicia, and for all those who remain in the shadows to help others stay in the limelight. A tribute to their passions and aspirations, and angst and restlessness that would probably never see the light of the day. To their desire for transcendence that is probably not strong enough to break the barriers of convention and routine.
To their selflessness and devotion that doesn’t gather a hero’s praise. To their laments that are unheard. To their sublime resignation and loving understanding of the beauty of the shadows. To their silent shouldering of responsibilities that is often not praised and thanked.
To their muffled voices and suppressed spirits. To the creativity that dies waiting to be expressed. To the tunes nobody gets to dance to. To souls that do not find utterance. To the countless sacrifices at the altar of circumstances. To the turbulence in inner lives that the stoic and calm facades do not reflect.
To their happiness basking in the glory of near ones. To their solitary days and lonely nights. And to those children who miss the company of their illustrious parents. And have to keep satisfied with their parents’ achievements to fill up their loneliness. This is for those who never get awards. And possibly never want them.
The writer works with the Economic Research Unit of the Indian Statistical