Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I wonder...

Statistics show that one in every 481 forwarded chain mails, is actually good reading, and won’t threaten you if you break the chain (OK. I just made that up. But I believe that it could be true). Having grown old to mushy ‘Friendship means’ and ‘Jay Tirupathi’ mails, I have mastered the art of spotting these miscreants and clicking Shift+Del instantly. However, lately I was too bored, and happened to read one. And I think it was one in the 481.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.00 each. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing....?

These questions led to some more (I think a scan of my brain at the moment would look like the image above).

Have we really forgotten to stop and wonder at the beauty that surrounds us?
I pass a river on my way to work everyday. When was the last time I stopped to look at the waves? Or the swans? Or the mossy green river bank that has some strangely pretty shrubs? Did anyone plant them there? Did a bird drop a seed? Where did the swans come from? Where do they go at sunset? Are these questions too irrelevant or insignificant? True, answers to none of these will help me earn my next pay check or help me with my deadline, or solve my issues with my teammate, or pave my way for a promotion, or a hike. But am I so busy trying to make a living that I have stopped living?

Have we been programmed to ‘like’ things only when we are expected to ‘like’ them? Has appreciating the beauty of art, music, literature, food or nature become a ‘social status’ thing? Do we ‘like’ in order to be accepted? Do we ‘like’ in order to be perceived as intellectuals? Have we stopped ‘liking’ for our own pleasure? Do we like to ‘like’ things only when we are paying a big price for it?

Q: Food at a plush restaurant that is the latest talk of the town?
A: Like
Q: A little ‘kasundi’ with the good old spinach cooked the Bengali way?
A: Kasundi? What’s that? I like oregano on my pasta, basil in my rice and thyme in my soup.

Q: An exotic cocktail that has a tongue twister of a name, at an award-winning pub?
A: Like
Q: Nimbu paani at home?
A: Who has the time for squeezing lemons? (I thought if you could make it to the pub, you could squeeze a lemon once in a while)

Q: A Bryan Adams concert?
A: Like
Q: Bryan Adams from an old cassette (that you had complied while at school, and written down the names of the songs yourself, in childish handwriting, on the cassette cover) at home?
A: Don’t you at least have a CD? Or a CD Player? Are you stingy? Are you the boring ‘stay-at-home’ kinds?

In fact, are we ashamed to admit that we ‘like’ certain things in a certain way because we are afraid that we will be judged? Is it so difficult to own up to our little ‘favourites’? Why do we then talk about ‘accepting others for who they are…and not what they can become’? I have come across that line a zillion times…in Self-Help books on the shelves of bookstores, in philosophical chain emails that are supposed to make me feel good in the morning. If we can’t accept ourselves for who we are and what we like, who are we kidding by talking about ‘accepting others’?

How much has society…or our upbringing contributed to this strangely depressing phenomenon? Does it sprout from our same obsession with taking the traditionally safe paths? If you are not a Doctor or an Engineer, or at least a Lawyer or a Chartered Accountant, you can invest in some good quality cyanide. If you haven’t listened to Bach or can’t quote from Tagore, you can tattoo ‘I am an idiot’ on your forehead.

What if I have read enough ‘Chacha Chowdhury’ to win gold at the ‘Annual Pran Quiz’ organised by the boys of the local club during Ganesh Chaturthi? Am I not chic enough for you? What if I have never held a golf stick…but could beat you any day at kabaddi? Won’t you smile at me at the shopping centre any more?
What if I have never heard of Dostoyevsky but can name all the Govinda movies that were released or got shelved halfway through (because of the producer’s connections with some underworld don)? Am I a social shame? Most importantly, am I a shame to myself?

I wonder…


Paws Awhile said...

I would smile at you... hell, I would give you one tight hug, or many... even if you weren't the star you are.

Abhishek said...

Janish .. i cross a canal for shortcut to keshtopur at least once a week .. it was only last Saturday that I stopped over and told gargi .. take the view from here .. the setting sun really makes it special .. isnt it.. she was in accordance... i know there are loads of my pals to whom if i expressed the view they would have said .. ei nongra khal o tor bhalo lagche.. mathata geche... but i think i would have still gone ahead and mentioned if i liked it at that moment ..

And yes .. true friends will alwayz be there .. even if you are not saying what they wanna hear.

Debanjana said...

Superb post...and very self-reflective. This depressive syndrome pains me as well...I've noticed this in so many people around me.

Scribbler :) said...

Thanks guys! But I don't really mean 'ME' in the last paragraph. I cannot play kabaddi(nor golf)...and neither am I a fan of Chacha Chowdhury or Govinda. What I meant was, many people woudn't own up to these, even if they were actually fond of such things.
That, I think, is quite sad.

Paws Awhile said...

Hmm... when you generalise the last paragraph, then I have to say that we can be judgmental at times - but not all the times..

No matter how big a whiz you are, it is highly unlikely that a hiring manager would give you that coveted job if you appear for the interview in a yellow and maroon ensemble.

I don't agree with the movie that says 'first impression is the last impression', but first impression is what usually gets you through the door.

Then depending on the qualities you start to acquire or drop, it goes either uphill or downhill.

OK. I am not making any sense anymore.

Scribbler :) said...

Ani - I agree with you. In certain situations we alll end up judging...and no I wouldn't hire a person in motley either :) But as long as we are not ashamed of who we are, and can express ourselves without the constant fear of being judged ...all's well with this world.

The Ketchup Girl said...

lets have a post on - things I'd like to talk about but am scared i'll be judged- my point number one will be: I loved watcing one particular ekta kapoor serial, even if it meant turning off sex and the city.

we live in a continuous state of falseood and self deceit..

Paws Awhile said...

But Nonz, is it really fair to put the entire onus on oneself. I agree with you that we should not be ashamed of who or what we are... but to leave it at that would probably be unfair.

Hardly any human equation works with one person... there has to be at least two people in any scenario... one who is not ashamed, and one who will not judge.

Interestingly, we should probably have a bit of both these people in us in order to make the ideal situation work.

We need to not be ashamed of ourselves, and we need to not judge others. Sadly, it is a tough call for most.

Scribbler :) said...

Ani - Yes, it surely works 'both ways'. But to a great extent the onus is on us. We can't change others. But we can work towards what you have said 'having both these people in us'. We have to stop judging ourselves first...and then stop judging others. By that we can hope to overcome our fear of being judged.

Scribbler :) said...

KG - Good idea about the post. Will you start?

The Ketchup Girl said...

promise u wont judge?? :D :D :D

Scribbler :) said...

@ KG - God promise :)

Paws Awhile said...

And I think you have your post with the highest comment count yet.

Dip Narayan said...

And, if I may just add to the huge comment list, judging is a way of ascertaining value of items and positioning it in "your" value chain.

I would like people to judge me because that way I am sure I am being evaluated, and not just smiled/glossed over.

The corner where "judging" bumps into "appreciation of beauty/stuff" is where the acceptance street starts. We sometimes respond unhappily to judging because we want to be accepted by other people for whatever we are and like. It is not easy to like the cannon, but it is more difficult to love something and not get it accepted by others. IMHO.

Once we stop expecting others to "accept" what I like, the "judging" act becomes neutral and we can be more at ease with Govinda or, in my case, Munnabhai.

If I am allowed to hog the comment space further, I'd like to go to a related hypothesis I have. We, I guess, take "liking" as an endless wall, as if it is there as one whole and not built brick by brick. Somehow the notion of unconditional liking, I'm afraid, has something to do with us sometimes not probing into why we like something. For example, excuse the showing off but since we started with an example from music etc., I am listening to Dvorak these days and I like a fast piece called "Humouresque" a lot, while the other more complex peieces, Wikipedia and other websites tell me, are to be appreciated more. If I analyze the structure of my liking, I will see that I am not aware of the grammar of the complex pieces and hence a racy tune appeals to me more. Once I realize that my understanding of music is rudimentary, it places me in a position where I can understand why people with more musical bones in their body may think that my taste in Dvorak needs improvement.

However, sneering is bad taste and not judging, so I will keep that out of consideration.

As for Mr. Bell and beauty, given our socio-historical background, we should work harder to appreciate those kinds. Beauty, sorry for being trite, is culturally constructed, and enjoyed as much. Hence, it is expected that certain people, when given the visual stimulus of Sydney Opera House, will expect grand music and will not in a subway.

I think I have neatly collated most commonplace observations on this point, and thanks folks for going through it! :-)

suranjana said...

loved this....the subject is very close to my heart....reminded of Wordsworth's "the world is too much with us"...happy writing!