Friday, September 11, 2015

For a seat at the plaza

One of the wisest pieces of advice I've ever been given is to converse to elderly people once in a while. That doesn't mean telling them what to do or shouting at them, but also to listen :) While its easier said than done, with our inflated sense of self-worth, and our make-believe busy lives, once in a while, a day does come along wherein a simple conversation with a man from an earlier generation stops us in our tracks and adjusts our compass' orientation in the right direction.

This is one such conversation.

A well-heeled gentleman and lady came home for dinner recently.

After a long and illustrious career, the man retired at a senior position in the central government, and by then, three of their children were settled in the USA. Like thousands of parents, the couple spent six months in the US and six months in India for a few years. Then as age caught up, they simply decided to stay back in the USA to avoid this shuttling around. They got Green cards, and have been quasi-citizens for close to a decade now. Once a few years, they come to India in the guise of a family function, and then head back.

We were conversing about the different cities he lives in the US - as his children live on opposite coasts owing to their professions. Like most parents do, they travel from one city to the other, spending a few months at each place - depending on the weather, and on family obligations like births and sicknesses. One son lives in California, and the man mentioned he prefers to stay there. I thought it was for the climate, and said so. His answer couldn't be more different! He simply said he prefers California because there is a Plaza near their son's home there, and that plaza has a bench he could sit on and talk to others.

A very well read man, a man considered as a genius in his family. He got an Engineering seat decades ago, joined a steel plant in its initial days, and grew with it into a position of senior management. Planned his childrens' educations immaculately, planned his finances well in advance, sent all three of them abroad, funded their studies, and got them settled there. The man has tremendous respect on both sides of his family, and has helped scores of others with their education and careers. While in active service, he helped dozens of deserving folks get steady jobs, and is considered a mentor by many. Folks from his family made a beeline for him when in need. You get the picture - there are people like him in all of our families. Pillars of the society we inhabit, and their number is on the speed dial of many phones.

This is a successful life - it has ticked all the items on the 'success' checklist. And then to top it off, he applied for and got a Green Card for himself and his wife so that they could stay on the USA. A dream for thousands of parents who've pursued that path and failed. 

And he prefers to stay on in California not because of the climate, or because of the affection of his grand children, but because there is a plaza with a bench within walking distance from home.

Simple stuff

What have we made of our world? We've filled it with concrete, with monuments to our own personal successes, and we constantly outdo the other in a never ending game of one-upmanship. In the process, we've left no space for us to enjoy the 'success' that we have created for ourselves! Such a simple thing - a bench in a plaza where people who're not burdened by time can sit, breathe, converse, and contemplate! A whole life - a very successful one at that - today wonders if the bench will be free to sit on when he gets there. All that knowledge, experience, and wisdom acquired over decades of education, career, and overcoming everything that life's thrown at them, lies dormant, seeking expression.

This blog post is not to come up with a conclusion or to lecture our living style. It is just a hit from Thor's mighty hammer so we sit up and realize that we're not going to be at this age forever. Things won't always happen the way they're happening now. All that recognition we run after, the objects we lust for, they will all lose their sheen. We should achieve all of those for sure; not for the sake of the objects, but to feel good that we've finished another item on our to-do list. But the to-do list needs to take in fewer items. And one day it has to be empty. That day is what I'm looking forward to.