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:
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 ]