Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Skylark

November 28, 2009 (Modified: April 14, 2010)

She seemed to be caught in a whirlwind of mirth. A frail, bony structure... a mess of unkempt hair… she looked like an other-worldly being, as she rotated on, naked, amidst a sea of onlookers.

Otherwise, it was a usual busy evening at the pavement outside the Dumdum Metro station. Srijan, Amit and I sat at a corner, chewing homemade ‘murki’, occasionally knocked by some slum-dwelling toddler who wouldn’t move without a share. The kids had mastered the art of begging before they learnt to arrange words.

How old could she be? At least twelve … or thirteen. Not exactly an age to move around unclothed in public, though she looked barely a toothpick. Swarms of people walked up and down the pavement – some stared at her, some turned their glance away. She rotated on around herself – unaware of the surrounding world. Her entire body arched backwards, her hands spread out as she moved. She looked straight up and brimmed with unearthly joy. And once, when her eyes caught glimpse of a flock of birds flying across, she laughed out loud. She ran behind them in pure ecstasy. She was more than a bird.

A man in mid 40s walked up to her and said something – the gesture seemed lewd. She wasn’t perturbed. She was beyond obscenity.

What is independence? Independence, co-existence, social expectations – these concepts do challenge each other at certain points, often in our personal lives. Prioritizing is never easy.

The ‘she’ of this piece seemed a strikingly HAPPY soul. She basked in a level of joy that we rarely come across. Gazes did not bother her. She had nothing to prove. She didn’t need to fit in. She was independence personified. She had put a ‘N/A’ mark on the factors of social expectations and co-existence, and thus, deemed crazy by us, the majority, the judges of this really real reality show.

What if we play a bit with this scenario? Let us assume the power to recreate the girl’s actions that evening, alter the weightage she allocated to the factors we have been talking about, discuss the reasons for doing the same and check out the measure of happiness that could be left with her!

We begin with the assumed ratings of the central character of the story in her original version:

Independence: 100%
General social expectations: 0%
Expectations of immediate circle: 0%
Resultant happiness: 100%

And then, we bring in SHE version 1 on stage, and go right back to time instance t0, where the young, skinny girl sits at a corner of the pavement outside the Dumdum Metro Station, looking in a dejected manner at the uncountable heads moving in and out of the station building. She, now, is wearing a shabby polka-dotted frock, which once used to adorn the child of one of the houses where her mother works as a part-time maid servant. It is evident that the weightage she used to associate with the general social expectations has increased siginificantly, say by 20%.

At one instance, she looks up at the sky. A clear, consistent, spirit-lifting blue rules the sky today. Happy-looking clouds of varying shades of white drift by slowly, creating various patterns in the sky. She gazes on, engrossed, until, from deep within her soul, an unmindful smile emerges and lights up her face. She stands up, follows the plump-granny cloud for some distance, stretches her hands to their full, and takes a turn of joy, and then two more, with her gaze still fixed at the sky above. She spots a flock of birds making a V-curve across the sky, and runs behind them hilariously. She feels happy… unless, her ears catch some words thrown at her, making her suddenly conscious of the weirdness of her presence right at the midst of the busy stream of people. Flushed by the eyes watching her curiously, apprehensive about the jokes she had triggered among the rest of the children from her area doing their rounds of begging religiously, she walks towards the corner again, She will be the butt of ridicule once again today. Here, the importance she now gives to social feedback and expected behaviour pattern has increased hugely, say to 80%, while her resultant happiness drops to somewhere around 50%.

And then comes the factor of family expectations. Our SHE version 1 is now reminded of the slaps she had earned from her drunk father last week for returning home without the single paisa, while the other kids had managed quite a few rupees through begging. What shall she do now?

Sacrifice the remaining 50% of her happiness (or a chunk of it) to fulfill the expectations of her immediate family, and thus be an unhappy kid mechanically and monotonously churning out some rehearsed sentences to invoke the irritation (or pity, if luck favours) of the people around?

Or should she let her heart admire to the brim, the hue of the sky and purest joy of the hour, to which the other children of her group have no reach, and fill herself with freshness and life, instead of stooping to beg (which again, is either a requirement for her family, or a requirement for her to avoid her drunkard father’s thrashing ) ?

A perfect situation where individual independence is threatened to be buried under social responsibilities and obligations.

But then, why is individual independence so important? Will surely take up the point in the forthcoming piece of blog. Till then, keep thinking on these lines, and don’t forget to keep me posted on your ideas.

Buh-bye till then. [ By Antara Kundu ]


  1. Yes, the true meaning of independence and the true meaning of social independence - have always allured me. The freedom of doing something varies in multiple levels nowadays - it always matters which level you are going to chose. But then again, it matters only to you. What happens when, one day I walk out of my room to find that a rain has just stopped but has not completely disappeared and suddenly I decide that I'd spend the rest of the day walking alone anywhere I like? It probably never happens. Our social independence is in many way a limited subset of true independence, but I don't know what it is in its true meaning!

  2. Riddhiman10:02 PM

    This is a very good thought experiment. And a very well written article. It’s the thought more than the language which really makes this stand out.

    This article somehow reminds me of the film 15 Park Avenue. There the protagonist played by Konkona Sen Sharma is a schizophrenic patient. She imagines that she is married to her ex-boyfriend(Rahul Bose) and have 5 children. She also hallucinates about a place with address 15 Park Avenue(which does not exist in reality). The film tries to depict that she is totally content with her imaginary family and is engrossed so much in it that she does not have time to think about anyone else. In the end she finds or imagines finding her residence in 15 Park Avenue.
    In this scenario we can put
    Independence : 100%(Although she had to depend a bit on her elder sister and Rahul Bose for finding the place, but this dependence is not contrary to happiness)
    General social expectations : 0%
    Expectations of immediate circle : 0%.
    Resultant happiness : 100%
    Had she been normal, the traumatic incidents of her life would alone have reduced this happiness by 50%. Also she would not have been free of Social Expectations. Her independence also would have been greatly hampered.
    As a result, it would have become:
    Independence : 20%
    General social expectations : 30%
    Expectations of immediate circle : 50%
    Resultant Happiness : 0%

    We can also take up the scenario of a student who has just completed his school level education and is on the verge of deciding the course of further education. We all can relate to this situation.
    His parents expect him to take a degree in engineering and secure a good job. He personally prefers taking up Physics honors but it would take him at least 6 to 7 years to get established in this field and the retired parents would not be able to support him economically that long. Also he would himself be frustrated when his engineer friends would become IT professionals and he would still be studying. In this case
    Independence : 0%
    General social expectations : 50%
    Expectations of immediate circle : 50%
    Resultant Happiness : 0%

    Having said all this, I must remark that in all these scenarios we are basing the measures of Social Expectations and Independence on a single factor. In reality these would depend on several factors and the calculations would become very tedious. However these assumptions are justified since all experiments have to make certain assumptions and it is definitely more fun this way 

    I must also mention that you really have a flare for writing and I would encourage you keep up the good work. Hoping to see more thought-provoking articles from you soon.

  3. Thanks Sourav and Riddhi for your well-thought comments :). Yes Riddhi, this is definitely just a thought experiment, too simplistic to measure happiness, and can be rattled with counter-logics easily. Basically it all depends on the priorities of an individual.. independence vs. security vs. happiness of near and dear ones and so on... Who has ever been able to compute something like 'Resultant Happiness' with a general formula :) ? And then, we ARE ultimately social creatures, and quite happily so.. society will definitely have its demand...
    Just wanted to convey that the society, at times, grossly underestimates the importance of individual independence and happiness... and it has its own sets of terrihorribly simplistic logics and set notions for doing so... and the worst part is that you may just be tagged as a peculiar non-mainstream creature if you are not to keen on conforming..

    Open views and and an inclusive attitude is what should help things get a lot more amicable, beautiful and free... say what?