How Do We Reform Criminals?

There has been unprecedented media coverage and public outrage against the recent crime in an Indian city, where a girl was raped by 6 men in a bus, at night. She was raped, tortured and flung out of the bus along with her male friend who had accompanied her that night. She was 23-years-old and a medical student. A passers-by spotted the bleeding duo on the road and alerted the police. Read the report here.

The federal and state government and police have since promised to introduce a series of measures to prevent violence against women, including better night-time policing on the streets of Delhi, checks on bus drivers and the cancellation of licenses of illegal buses or those with tinted windows or curtains. “We promise a safer capital. This is going to be a place where any (hooliganism) will be strictly punished,” said Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar at a press conference.

Several Facebook friends, some of whom also happen to be human rights activists working independently, have taken to protesting the incident. This is the network I interact with so I get to read their sentiments, their outrage, their sense of helplessness, and humiliation each of which are directed towards law enforcement officers, our government, the laws that don’t seem to work, and punishments that don’t seem to deter repeat offences. The protest is also directed towards civil society institutions, which have been unable to nurture a secure and violence-free environment for citizens. No safety in public transportation. No safety in schools. No safety in religious places. No safety in parks. There is palpable anger at being systematically pounced upon, hit, slapped, thrown out of moving vehicles, touched, kicked, and being treated worse than slaughter-house cattle. There is a sense of urgency in these protests. Thousands of women marching on the streets, holding placards, shouting slogans, asking the powers that be to step up their vigil, to do something, to make the cities safe once again, to hang the 6 rapists, to give us justice.

Protests. Placards. Slogans. Shouts. Outrage. My friends talk about ‘shaming’ the criminals and the government into owning up to their lapses. My friends talk about keeping ‘alive the outrage’, so that we may never forget this day of violence against that girl. My friends are devoting their time inventing creative copies, pledges and one liners that can fit neatly into their status updates and 15×15 inch posters. The only form of protest I know is to write and in doing so be an impartial documentator of society’s chronic issues.

       *************

Let’s connect the dots.  When a crime is committed, the law takes its own course. Criminals are innocent until proven guilty in our justice system and s/he stands trial when sufficient evidence is gathered. We know that it takes decades for convictions and subsequent sentencing, and in other cases, those who have power and resources go scot-free. In a country where corruption is the de facto mechanism of functioning, there is misappropriation, falsification, lapses and delays, all of which the public wearily reads in the national dailies and accepts as de rigueur.  Apathy is entrenched so subliminally in our consciousness that we don’t even react when we hear of billion-dollar scams arising out of pilfering tax payer’s money. Our sweat, our blood hoarded by someone else, who will never be punished. Someone who doesn’t care about that their act is wrong. A criminal becomes one not because s/he commits the act, but because s/he thinks of doing something illegal or unethical without fearing the consequences of what they are about to do. Their conscience has been silenced and the brain mechanism that should alert them to the dangers of their actions has shut down.

When talking about criminals, we only refer to big crimes and motives – murder, rape, robbery – but conveniently forget the hundreds of minor trespasses we give into every day. Jumping queues, jaywalking when the traffic signal is red, driving rashly, using a mobile phone while riding a motorbike, bribing officials of a school or college so our children get admissions, paying money to hawaldar who comes to verify our passports, not paying our taxes, giving into dowry demands, marrying our daughters and sons when they are underage – where do we begin to clean up our society?

So, what exactly are these protest marches for? Why are we taking to the streets and talking about shaming society? Are we hoping that this collective outrage will shame hardened criminals into confessing their crimes and surrendering? Do we hope for their conscience to ignite and refrain from repeating such crimes? Do we think that our protests will instill fear in a serial killer, serial rapist, serial robber? How do you talk to that regular guy: walking down the street, who goes about his work day, and while returning home to his parents, or hostel, or to his slum, or to his buddies, or to his wife, he sees a girl  – a teenage girl, or a middle aged woman, or an elderly lady, or a small child – and suddenly he rushes to her, forcibly takes hold of her, drags her to a secluded spot, tears her clothes and while physically holding her down, is overcome with rage and rapes her – the regular, ordinary, everyday Joe who could be my relative, my best friend, my neighbor?

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As a civilized society, we have evolved to understand that crimes have motives and criminals have varying impulses to commit crimes, including economic hardships, social conditioning and familial environment, sustained exposure to ideas in popular culture that encourage deviant / perverse / unethical behavior. The discourse of crime itself is so complicated that we have evolved a system of justifiable homicide in cases relating to murder and self-defense. When does the first act become a habit? When does crime become a psychosis, a sickness that needs medical intervention? If rapists are mentally sick then would tougher laws really deter them? If rapists are sociopaths who derive pleasure in subjugating the weaker person, then would raising awareness about the “wrongness’ of rape really cure them or change them?

We need a more evolved and consensual discourse on human behavior and motives. Remember those moral science classes in school, where the teacher repeatedly told us to “not lie,” “do not steal,” “be mindful of your actions,” “be courteous to elders,” “do not use foul language,”, “do not abuse those weaker than you,”, “be respectful of neighbors,” “be tolerant of customs different from yours,” “be a conscientious citizen,” and a list of other litanies which we had to learn by rote and recollect at the end of the year to pass the test. Now, when I look back on those boring lessons, it comes to mind that as kids we couldn’t wait to grow up and grow out of those injunctions. We wanted to break the rules and be punks. It’s disconcerting to think that if an everyday Jane like me enjoys the idea of rebelling and not sticking to a social code of conduct, what can we expect from sociopaths? If moral behavior evolves in every era of human evolution and varies over cultural divisions and geographical lines, then how do we set benchmarks for what is good behavior?

I am not sure I want to see a society where good behavior is codified into strict laws that bring out punishments for going out of line, but we are all disturbed by the massive and systemic breakdown in structures that govern our behavior. The upholders of justice and enforcers of law have a tough job either ways. Do you think there is a rational way out of this quandary? The answer lies with each of us. If you can police your own actions and be honest with your self, there’s hope for your neighbor.

If machines were to curate, circa 3051

Puppets on Display

In this post I talk about curatorial practices of a museum, the invisible multitudes who don’t get represented in a museum, including persons with disabilities, and how our machine descendants would curate their ancestors, us, circa 3051.

“It’s too late to just say no” –
Allen Buchanan, Better Than Human (2011)

“History is written by the victors” – Anon

/ Part 1
Curating is an art, or so the curators from across the museums of the world would have us ordinary gawkers believe. Since art and any form of creative output, including textile, architecture, music, and other material and visual remains, come from the Chthonic neural caves of the most eccentric (and rarefied) of us on earth – the artists – the rest of us billions can at best be thankful for this curatorial culling (Yes, thank you for helping us choose what is best for our viewing pleasure. We would have never realized that the broken shard of glazed redware kiln burnt pottery dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization, roughly 2,000 years ago, would be so crucial to answering the riddle of our existence).

This sarcasm is not petty, only ironic. That pottery dating back two millenia was hardly an artistic output. It was utilitarian at best, used for holding fruits, grains and water. Discarded but sturdy evidence of how our ancestors lived, ate, worked, and died. The design, the geometric patterns on the surface, the colors all point to our need to express, to be creative and fertile with our imagination. It confirms that since the beginning of time, with all the differences rampant between us, our need to paint (and do things with our hands) has been universal. Beyond that, it remains a mystery why certain objects are classified as art and others as functional. There are overlaps of course, however, the intention behind displaying each in their respective spaces becomes the guiding point for visitors as well to view the artefacts in the same light, as either or.

/ Part 1.2

All that we know of human behavior, of our forefathers, of ethnicity and rituals, of dance and drama – all that we have understood or are trying to make sense of – has come from our study of history. Yes, psychology helps us decode human mind, but it is only by studying the history of psychology can you hope to trace the evolution of human mind. We keenly follow our past – humanity’s collective adventure – so that we can trace the journeys we would be taking in the future. It comes from our belief that patterns get repeated, that human behavior is predictive, that we keep repeating what we learn in childhood and so will continue to behave in a certain way. It’s a matter of a small leap then to understand (or assume) that by fully assimilating our pre-history, we are in effect preparing ourselves for the future. Simple equation really.

So, shouldn’t everything about our past be on display? Should we be tagging discarded panties, curating lipstick-stained love letters, tagging torn condoms, annotating car repair bills, and studying x-rays of a child’s femur fracture? Why do specific episodes get highlighted and the others suppressed? Well, didn’t you know that “the victor’s story is the only one that is retold”! The story of the one lost in battle, of the one whose estates were looted, of the wives and daughters who were raped and murdered, of the children who died in childbirth, of the one who lost his physical perfection – is forgotten, or distorted, neglected, ridiculed, caricatured, and worst, treated as an afterthought and added to the footnotes of the ‘legend’ who survived.

Of course, history isn’t all suppositions and hokus-pokus. Comparative sources in different languages and traditions allow us to determine the accuracy of the victor’s claims, tall-tales can be trimmed towards a semblance of truth. It’s in the numbers; you have enough travelers, court historians and chroniclers concurring on the timeline and sequence of events, then you got yourself an authentic story. It isn’t all vague thrusts in open air.

What then of these surviving objects. Do they tell an accurate story? Do pottery, ivory arrow shafts and bark skin coats from the cave man signify artistic genes or is a tale of survival against all odds? Isn’t art borne out of the impulse of meaningless pursuit; we pursue it solely for the pleasure it gives us to express our vision and imagination, and not because it has a functional goal? It is what we indulge in for respite from working for survival. Why then do we consider these material remains from ancient times as art, and not treat them as the detritus of a house, a caveman’s house? And if the hordes of items on display in museums were not to be considered as art, are we actually displaying the junk of our predecessors?

I see a sort of duality here. On one hand, we display objects of high art (or rather dub them as high art), on the other, we club the miniatures with the beetle-nut spittoons – both sitting magnanimously in their glass enclosures, separate but connected by the thread of their mother – the era of their birth. We, the visitors to the museum, are allowed to enter with strict instructions of maintaining decorum and awe. The decorum is mandatory, the awe, expected. When you see everything bathed under the swich liquor of yellow hot lights, separated by the distance of glass and illegible labels, even an ordinary brass lamp (that Indian use as a prayer paraphernalia) appears enchanting and reverential.  Only the best is curated, but the best appears ordinary at most, and totally irrelevant to our present, if you remove them out of the cubicles and switch off the lights.

/ Part 2: The Best of the Lot

Curation is about representation: you represent a sample of the population. Just like statistics or market research, which surveys a representative pool of 1,000 restaurant goers – a microcosm of the population – to find out whether deep fried Kentucky Chicken tastes better with or without parsley. Curating our history works on the same principle. Since every object ever made by man cannot be put on display, curators have the difficult task of choosing which artefact best represents our collective past, either for a particular community, genre, tradition, linguistic branch, or time. So, what are the factors that go into making this tough decision? There are plenty and I don’t want to go into the details. Suffice to say, education, training, experience, exposure, and curatorial osmosis aid the curators to select the best specimen of the lot and plan exhibits that best represent the various genres. The very word curator, comes from the Latin curare, meaning to ‘take care’ and implies that these professionals are custodians of heritage.

Just as in any other profession where your experience and background influence your decisions at work and how you engage with the environment, a curator too brings her idiosyncrasies to work, every day. A curator is expected to be above bias or prejudice and work towards an impartial, objective practice of showcasing our heritage. However (pay careful attention here), representation works on the idea of a sample, and in the world of curios and artefacts, samples that get picked and put on display would also not necessarily be representative of the larger pool. When a curator chooses to study a work of art or piece of history from a lot of hundreds of other similar items, it is her and her handful of colleagues alone who decide if the piece is a worthy representation of a time or tradition. The public will never know the stories that came before or after this piece.

/ Part 2.1: Of Men and Men with Disabilities (women don’t figure into the scheme of things)

 As a kid, you must have stuck your face to the diorama enclosing the Neanderthal family. The cave man ‘mannequin’ with swarthy skin, vacant, bulbous eyes, slightly flared nostrils, and a cap-cut hairstyle appears in a threatening pose of nonchalance viewed from any angle. It was the definitive portrayal of the cave man in any museum around the world: a cave man could not have had the refinement to look at his wife with love-sick puppy eyes or at his children with tender quietude. His mouth was always half-opened in a silent snarl, driving away an invisible, but ever-present feline or saber tooth. Hurr. Hurr. Hoo.

What these displays don’t make you think is about the sheer range of humans who got left out the story. We only think of the muscled, tall and Terminator Neanderthal when asked to recollect the physiognomy of our bi-ped ancestors. You wouldn’t see the shorties, the slenders, the dwarves, the ones with different hair-styles. The diversity of life some 30,000 years ago is reduced to a handful of cave men posing in their Mowgli avatar, with the women blowing smoke, cooking or tending to the kids, where as the handful of children who are depicted in the tableau reveal nothing more than glassy eyed astonishment.

We certainly don’t see any imperfect men here. No one with fractures or 11 fingers or toes (this anomaly is quite common, let me assure you). Not a single creature with any deformities. Certainly, you don’t see any sick or old or hunch-backed Quasimodos! No disease, no visible injuries, nothing at all to give us any idea that health itself was a matter of concern. Are the curators implying that man, 30,000 years ago, was always in the prime of health, with not a limb severed or missing at birth – when we know for certain that lifespan or life expectancy in that epoch would have been less than 40? Is it to be understood by viewing this steady scene that persons with disabilities either did not hold any positions of influence in pre-history or historic times, or perhaps, it is to be assumed that they were ignored, killed at birth or left to fend for themselves – survival of the fittest? I am unable to wrap my head around the idea that curators around the world would not think about highlighting the social milieu of our ancient life, and educate visitors about diversity – or reality – whichever applies.

Which brings me to a few questions: if only the best specimens are curated to be on display and the best implies an arbitrary and biased selection, what do we really know about our past? How well are we modernists acquainted with our heritage? If selections are made on our behalf, whose version of history are we internalizing? If putting certain objects on display, places them under prominence, and sending them back to the storeroom relegates them to oblivion, are curation and viewership a game of musical chairs? Tie this all up with corporate sponsorship, cultural and political policies (vagaries) of a state, funding cuts, emphasis on entertainment value to draw in visitors to a museum, and the diktat of collectors and donors and you dig in deeper holes for bias and unnatural selection to play their dirty games.

/ Part 3

Can machines curate?

You have to know that it is too late for us. We never stood a chance against the onslaught of what is coming. It is inevitable. It was always supposed to be like this, with us. With evolution we began externalizing our innards. We learnt to paint on canvas, create music through instrument, shape our bodies within clothes, and lend our impulses to paper and pen. The long term vision was to outsource any form of manuality. Thinking is labor, remembering your thoughts that’s slavery! Machines were invented so they could outlive us, and in doing so, keep alive our memories and innards for perpetuity. The point of procreation and evolution was not about the next generation keeping our family name intact (and our faulty genes!), but about giving us enough time to build superior beings that (or who?) would outlast our fragile bodies and keep alive our legacy.

Legacy. What is human legacy? What do we wish to leave behind that will be remembered by machines and our few biological / bio-mechanical descendants? Mozart’s music sheets? Kalamkari weaves? Tutankhamun’s gold-encased coffin? It is debatable whether a man, more machine than human, would be left with enough humanity to be sentimental about preserving the past. That’s a purely humanistic trait. Machines won’t even understand such existential fears. They would of course ensure their own survival, but certainly not go around preserving our jewellery, SLRs, chandeliers, and fridge magnets.

Objects in museums have to tell us something about our past and engender an emotional connect with our history. It has to fill us with awe: our feats, our precision, our survival in the face of many odds – there are hundreds of stories that could be representative of what it means to be human and live and die as one. Why don’t we curate objects that showcase our kindness – on the other hand we do proudly display armory and tanks. What about the pain of child birth and a new life being born – after all, visitors to certain museums are inundated with photos of war, death, battle-field scars and waste. Why didn’t we take an effort in curating not what is best, but what is most honest about being frail, yet alive, being mortal, yet hopeful of a life after – after all, museums are filled with stories of the progress we made with technology and machines.

We have been so busy curating shards of pottery and tattered shrouds of saints, materials that will hold no meaning for the bionic man, let alone the machine. We have left no traces of humanness in our collective displays and we are bound to suffer the same fate at the hands of our future generations. For the machine, human bodies would appear weak, fragile, a pathetic dough oozing bacteria and secreting foul fluids, not worthy of being perceived or acknowledged as its creator. Don’t we imagine our creator to be the most powerful, omnipotent force?

If the robot or machine of the future were to curate a representative sample of the human species, it would pick and choose from among its bionic-limbed predecessors or cousins. Men and women more mechanical and electrical than biological. They would be almost-human, but best of the lot specimens, just like the stoic Neanderthal man we choose to highlight as being representative of our ancestry. The irony would be that bionic limbs and prosthetic were first needed and tested on persons with disabilities (people living with disabilities today), for they were the ones in need of medical / machinic intervention. The disabled person is the cyborg of tomorrow, who evolves into machines of the distant future. The disabled man and woman are the ancestors of the future machines and they would get prime spot in the diorama. The very demography that we ignored throughout our history would one day relegate us – the Homo Sapiens – to the storerooms.

I wonder what Charles Darwin would have to say about how human evolution gave a rather ironic twist to his thesis: survival of the fittest.

To Dream is to Fill Your Life with a Happy Purpose

Wings of Freedom

Childhood dreams spur us towards accomplishments meant to fulfill our larger purpose in life. But what happens when the very pursuit of these dreams stops us from living a liberated and happy life? Can our long-term dreams and childhood desires hinder future successes?

I am 6 months short of turning 30 and have lived through a tricky decade. It’s generally understood that the tumultuous 20s are a time for working overtime on achieving your dreams. I began by scoring excellent grades in college, securing an exciting job in the print media and landing a steady date. There, ambitions fulfilled! Well, not quite and not so easy. I didn’t realize that it was just the very beginning, the prelude in fact, to a decade of struggle and heartache in a bid to accomplish what I felt was the purpose of my life.

Like most kids, I dreamt of being various “persons” as I was growing up. At 4, I wanted to be a doctor, at 6, a teacher, at 8, an astronaut, at 10, a biologist, at 12, a poet, at 14, a scientist, at 16, a geneticist, and by the time I was 18, a historian and writer. These choices reflect the elements that caught hold of my attention at the time. It was exciting to imagine the transformation from what I was at one point in time (a fringe-haired girl wearing frocks and playing with flowers) to becoming this other being, complete with clothes, mannerisms and attitude.

At the age of 6, when you dream of being an astronaut, you only think about wearing a white suit and flying in space. This is also the reason I choose to use the word person and not profession to talk about my childhood dreams.

Take a step back now and think about the distance you have to bridge from that childhood idea of wanting to be an astronaut to the reality of growing up and being one. You have to pass through the rigors of high school science, graduate with the highest scores possible in the most obscure of subjects, all the while staying ahead of the 50-odd potential space cadets who also want to make it to the prestigious program you have shortlisted that only happens to accept the Top 5. Or, you sit through entrance exams, apply at numerous institutions, cajole your parents into emptying their life savings on your tuition fee, slog through half a decade of even more obscure theories and practicals, then sit through more rounds of interviews and cross-examinations before finally receiving a letter that announces: you have graduated! At this point, when the child in you wants to rush to the closet to wear that revered Space Suit and do the Moon Walk, comes the time to wake up: only a few fly to space, the rest are drafted to work as a junior assistant to the assistant manager at a space agency, or drafted in service to tabulate statistics and code astronomical numbers that verify the trajectory of the satellite around space debris, or any number of permutation and combinations of clerical and admin work. The horror!

                                                                                                                         *************

A permanent fixture of my growing up years was my love for books. I have always been that girl with a storybook in her hand, sitting by the window (or the couch, the floor, the bed, the balcony) and losing myself in the stories of another land. There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t read a tale on magic, fairies, adventurous sailors or frightening Greek monsters! While I changed my mind about being a doctor or scientist as the fancy took me, I never questioned that I would one day be an adventurer!

What it boils down to is this: As kids, we aren’t afraid of dreaming big because none of us know what it entails. Fulfilling and achieving dreams at that age doesn’t require a whole load of preparation. We use sticks to dig bugs out of the wet earth in the backyard of our houses and casually mention to our best friends, ‘hey, you know what, I am gonna be an astronaut when I grow up. You”ll see me flying up there, right next to the moon and sun and stars”.

What is the exact point at which we stop believing in these simple statements of truth?

At 18, when I chose to become a historian, it was a career choice first, and a secondary means to relive my childhood dream of being able to discover new lands, solve ancient puzzles and piece together stories of people long buried. It was happenstance that a History major would allow me to do all that. I clung to the notion that if I could just get waltz through graduation, scramble through a post-grad, and zombie-walk through a PhD, I would finally get to be that adventurer. I did not think about the financial repercussions of choosing ‘Ancient History’ as my major; I had vague notions of digging through archaeological sites and being paid my the government to unearth lost treasures. Yes, I was mature enough to realize that I needed money to survive, but not savvy enough to understand what that meant in day-to-day terms.

I was absent minded, sort of daft, lost in the world of reference books, happy to be spending after-college hours in the library, and my weekends pouring over research papers. My world revolved around ancient civilizations and I was in a state of bliss. Academic life for me was a journey of discovery and self-actualization. I saw my friends curse the reams of text they had to read or dread the surprise test. I actually looked forward to these! I was in love with the subject and the idea that here I was, step by step, fulfilling my dreams.

Before long, I had graduated with honors. My professors were my cheerleaders. The next step was to apply at the only university I knew worth applying at: Oxford. This is the point at which the reality intruded, again. Just as the child grows up to realize that becoming a doctor is not a costume party outing, I understood that getting through university didn’t just involve applying and flying there! You have to prove that you can read, write and understand English. You have to sit through entrance exams that endeavor to check your mathematical and reasoning abilities. As if that wasn’t enough, you have to pay for all through your last life savings. Let me not get started on the extraneous requirements of being proficient in two foreign languages, of which one has to of course be an ancient one. Once you are satisfied that you can make the cut after all, barely, you got to find three professors who can give you stellar recommendations!

Till the point you get an acceptance letter, you live in an in-between state. ‘Will I be considered worthy to be a future historian?’, you ask yourself, all the while hoping and praying that a foreign institution grants you approval for achieving your dreams.

Like scores of others in my place, I secured admission, was told I would get a percentage of bursary, but not the full scholarship amount. My world collapsed. No money means no admittance. I wrote back to the admissions officer, hoping for a miracle, stating my intentions of continuing on the path of discovery in spite of facing a hurdle at this nascent stage. Of course, I was wished best of luck and that’s that! For the next two years, every time the door bell rang my heart raced. I imagined it was the postman delivering a letter from one of the numerous charity / scholarship / rich institutions from whom I had “requested” aid, announcing my acceptance. While I knew the improbability and insanity of my fantasy, my heart was just not ready to give up.

**************

I trudged on in my early 20s, congratulating myself for at least achieving good grades, at least securing a terrific job in the print media, and at least landing a steady date (err, online). It was supposed to be enough. It was supposed to be the beginning of an exciting life. It seemed practical to forget about academics for the moment and focus on earning a living and making it big. After all, in your 20s, you also want to be able to shop, eat out, hang out with friends, visit theme parks, travel, and splurge on the good things.

The 20s was depressing and I was not happy with the direction my life was taking. I hated that I had to wake up each day to rush to work, stay after hours, edit horrendous copy, and design pages for the attention-deficit public, where as my dreams were slowly turning into mothballs in the corners of my mind. I felt victimized by fate. Why wasn’t I born to a rich family?

While I focused on becoming an editor and writer, I never lost track of events that took place in the art world. I participated in seminars and workshops, read journals and papers, and shortlisted courses I could study after a couple of years, as soon as I had saved up enough money to pursue my dream, once again.  This was just testing times, perhaps it was god himself who wanted to check if I was devoted enough to achieve the dream?

I grew estranged from my family as they couldn’t understand why I was trying so hard to pursue my dreams. They saw me as an ambitious girl, but couldn’t see the desperation behind the ambition. The desperate need to make a dream come true. It was all I knew. It was the only thing I had planned for in this lifetime. Apart from a career as a historian, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Oh, I was good at writing and editing, but it didn’t fulfill me the way history as a subject did. If I couldn’t be a historian, I thought I would stop being me. That was at the crux of it. I was a child who was holding on to her idea of growing up to be someone.

I quit my job at the newspaper and in the ensuing decade pursued opportunities at a museum, study at an arts management institute, and finally got myself a master’s degree in Ancient Civilizations. Today, I am married and balancing work, personal goals and professional commitments.

***********

The most painful lesson the decade has taught me is that dreams can be as deadly as knife edges. We are taught to achieve our dreams, sometimes by paying a high price, but lauded when we do achieve them. Stories of persistence are taught to us in school, through retelling of folk tales by our grandparents, and on the 70mm movie screens. We are consistently bombarded with glorified images of the poor, boy-next-door striking gold at the lottery, or the simple girl-next-door becoming the next top model, or the kid from a small town becoming a five-star chef, and countless other stories of people achieving their dreams through luck, sheer persistence, happenstance or good fortune. Some of them give up on their childhood fantasies, having spent long years struggling to combine their dreams with making a living – and finally, putting food on the plate won. Some others chip away at the wood consistently and many decades later quietly triumph.

The thing is, society’s idea of achievement is also closely connected to youth. Achieving dreams and making it big are projected as youthful pursuits and the vanguard of the young. In our 20s, we are slowly tinctured with messages of a ticking time bomb, as if dreams come with a sell-by date and if we don’t achieve them in that golden age, we are bound to miss the boat. We are subtly compelled to travel, find a soul mate, strike it big in the industry, and balance family and social commitments on the ten to 12-year arch of the second decade. Our parents start sending us Harry Potter-like howlers about our depreciating youth (read beauty and fitness) and urge us to settle down. There are just too many things hitting us from all quarters. The need to then achieve your dream becomes all the more urgent and poignant. After all, your dreams will have legitimacy only if you are in the peak of your life – and that peak is supposed to be your 20s.

**************

We are once again at the beginning of my criss-crossing narrative. I am 30. Today, I realize that the pursuit of my dreams literally pushed me out of having a shot at another kind of life. I was so focused on the goal that I lost sight of the larger picture. I could have tried my hand at singing, music, drawing, cooking, languages, or even setting up a business. But the thought of giving up my one dream filled me with dread. I feared being a failure – in my own eyes. I feared the censure of the public that knew me in the academic circles. Having tried so hard, for so many years, I assumed that I just had to keep trying, to keep pushing and not give up.

I failed to understand the very essence of having dreams. To dream is to fill your life with a happy purpose. Dreams are there to motivate you to get out of bed every morning and spend the day with purpose. Dreams instill in us a sense of discipline. Dreams are also a way to guide us; they tell us to avoid extraneous stuff and focus on what truly satisfies us.

What happens when you cling to a dream at the cost of your health, your social life and your family? What happens when you fail to realize that perhaps there is a chance that you are Not a Suitable Candidate? What happens when you stubbornly refuse to devise a Plan B? What happens when you lose sight of the everyday necessities required to survive?

Time does heal many a wounds. It allows you to withstand shocks that you think you can never overcome. The best part about growing up is that you get a chance to reflect and forgive yourself. I look back on my journey with a sense of relief now; I got to learn such an important lesson about the purpose of dreams. There are stories waiting to be written. You will see me sharing notes, soon.