Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Where do men find happiness?

Asked Bhartrihari, in one of the verses in his Shatakas:

The span of a man's life is a measured hundred years;
    Yet half is lost to night
    And of his waking time,
    A portion each claim callow youth and hoary age;
    His prime is spent in servitude, suffering
    The anguish of estrangement and disease.
    Where do men find happiness
    In life less certain and more transient than the waves?

Turns out that even back then the thinking people of India inquired into where we find happiness.  A thousand and five-hundred years ago!  The question is not one we ponder over in this post-industrial age alone.

In the few years of Sanskrit that we learnt in high school, we did read and memorize a few verses.  And understood even fewer, I would think.  The older I get, the more I feel shortchanged in my education--it did not convey to me the phenomenal richness of the literature in Sanskrit and Tamil.  Even the little bit that I managed seemed to have been out of my own initiative.  They did drill quite a bit of science and math into our curriculum though, as if life was all about science and math.  What do mathematicians know about where men find happiness!

But, no point blaming the old school or the old country. Or anybody at all.  The system is messed up. Education systems all over the world seemed to be messed up.  Instead of viewing education as a path towards a greater understanding of this universe and our own place in this vastness, we have equated schooling to the cheapest possible aspect of life: earning money. As if making money is the raison d'etre!  There is really only one way to describe this--Situation Normal: All Fucked Up :(

Oh well ...

In my penultimate year of high school (the junior year in the new country) two classmates managed to convince me to go with them for special coaching in math in order to prepare for the selection exams to the country's elite engineering institutes. But, my heart wasn't in it. I started skipping those classes.  Soon, it was time to pay the fees. I walked up to the tutor to give him the money. He remarked about my absence and wanted to know the reason.  I told him the truth--that I was not interested in the exams or the institutes.  The tutor, who was perhaps in his late thirties, said that it would not be fair for him to collect the fees from me when I had skipped so many classes.  I was impressed with him for not simply pocketing the money.  I never went there after that and life became easier.

The more I think about that incident, I realize that life has been a sincere pursuit of doing only things that truly appeal to me. Even if it has meant that I walked away from attending prestigious institutes. And, therefore, from earning more money. No amount of math and money could have ever brought me happiness.  After all, as Bhartrihari noted, I would have spent my prime--well, my life--in servitude. Serving everything and everyone but myself.  I shudder at that; you, too, should.


Ramesh said...

Pattabhiraman would be proud. That you are quoting Sanskrit verses in your ripe old age.... :):)

Yes, indeed, much of life is "wasted". But enough of serious stuff. For a change a flippant mood might not be out of place. Please quote Edward Lear in your next post !!

Shachi said...

About just memorizing and not understanding, you are SO right. I wish I lived a slow pace life and paused to find beauty in the small things in life vs always dreaming to be an engineer or a doctor.

I feel I got a second chance with my life in form of my children. I ensure we keep our life simple. No pressure to learn things. And I will definitely be giving them the freedom to choose their path.

Amazing post!

Sriram Khé said...

In all seriousness, I am willing to bet the Pattabhiraman will be mighty happy that I fondly recall the Sanskrit lessons and that I continue to read up verses--though only in translation.

Life is full of serious stuff, my friend. We do not live in a Disneyland .... hahaha ;)

Yes, a huge gulf between memorizing and understanding, right? Looks like you contemplate about all those ...
I bet your children enjoy all the lessons you bring to parenting from your own experiences ...
Parenting is one of the most difficult tasks ever on this planet. At the risk of upsetting Ramesh for not being rosy enough, ... I always share with friends this wonderful verse from Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth

Parenting is bloody tough ... There being no "schooling" all we can do is give it our best shot, just as our parents did. I wish you the best ...

Shachi said...

A beautiful, touching verse, indeed. Thank you for sharing. Have read it before but can read it over and over.

When it gets tough, I always keep in mind "never let the job of parenting take over the joy of parenting :)". So far, the joy far surpasses the stress of the job - so far, so good!

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