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.

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