I have always been one for serendipity, the view that the best things in life happen unplanned. Being raised in a highly disciplined environment, which I was, the best things in life were always outside for me: It was always about being free.
This is why, perhaps, I lived the way I lived, doing various things at different points, setting off on journeys without planning out where I am going. This is why I perhaps write like this - conversationally and confusingly, veering off to different subjects and putting on different styles - leaving the structuring of thoughts and ideas to people reading it. This is what defines my politics, averse to authority and to conformity, equally ill at ease with the groupthink of the left and market-fetishism of the right. In a way, this is what makes who I am - excited about new ideas, purveyor of new opportunities, but bored with structure and set ways of doing things.
However, one question I always left unanswered is what those best things in life are. While I wanted to get outside the structure, the 'best things in life' were all defined by the structure. It is not so much about trying another way, but defying the gravitational pull of what's desirable, the values and desires of others that we all live by, makes freedom so difficult. So, my life has been a cycle of setting off for dead ends, where the inherent promise of freedom was incompatible with the intended end result: The disappointments that came on the way were obvious with the benefit of hindsight.
As I learned, I came up with another theory: That focus, the deliberate embrace of unfreedom, may be the best temporal strategy to achieve freedom. So, I put my head down and achieve certain goals, goals that, once achieved, will allow me a certain escape velocity to live a life more freely. This is suspiciously similar to a retire rich dream, but it did not appear that way. For me, it was a 'critical minimum effort', borrowing a concept from development economics, to get to a platform for free pursuit of opportunities. In the end, it was about enough money in the bank to buy a house on the hill.
But, this strategy is a myth: It does not work. This is because one can't achieve freedom through repression. This is a Freudian formula - repression as a price of civilization - but we know that the elaborate schemes to promote repression, consumer culture in the latest form, has always failed. At a personal level, this meant living someone else's life, while always dreaming to be free: This made me a perennial and incorrigible dreamer, while living a rather ordinary and orderly life. There are two, rather contradictory, problems that come with living like this: I started to treat indulgences, like buying books, as markers of freedom. They became obsessions rather than freedom, and they bound me more into the conventional bounds of desire. On the other hand, though, the pursuit of freedom within convention made me dream up grander schemes, far over-reaching the limited goals that my flirtation with conventional life was to achieve. This was an irreversible obsession too - the commonplace ideas of business and life lost its appeal to me completely, and I was fixated within this Quixotic complex of chasing the impossible bigger dreams.
It is only recently, therefore, I have started reconciling the necessity of focus with the beauty of serendipity: To do this, I had to focus on serendipity. The only way journeys to nowhere can be successful if they were intended that way: My earlier journeys to nowhere were full of milestones, so they were almost always circular and full of disappointments. My repulsion of structure stopped me from seeing that the way of freedom is not necessarily prescriptive, but deliberate. Pursuing freedom does not start with giving it up for a limited time, but rather always being free, in whichever limited way, in everyday life. And, this freedom is as much a means as an end: There is no big signboard for the territory of freedom but it is manifest in the omnipresent desire to be free. The retire rich life, the house on the hills, isn't being free: They are trophies of unfree designed to sustain the illusion for the next person on the line, and they are sustained by the lack of freedom in the life leading up to it, and even essentially thereafter. Freedom is, on the contrary, manifest in this very moment of writing this article with no clear purpose, and to no clear end, other than the joy of writing and the peace of settling the argument within myself, even at the cost of looking foolish, confused and lost.
This is a rather significant shift - from searching for a life of freedom to recognising and enjoying the episodic freedom of life, the everyday moments that make us free and happy. It is about escaping the lure of objects, because they are purely markers of a socially ordained position, and even of ideas, because they are usually socially sustained messages to constrain the individual. The true freedom, in that sense, is the momentary connection that firms between the nature and humans, often in the most serendipitous way, something that is freely available to all, regardless of education, taste or financial means: This is not about freedom to look into the river from the balcony of one's million-pound apartment, but the purely accidental joy of looking at a rainbow on the suburban sky, even if interrupted by endless airplanes cutting along the line of sight. These freedoms are inherent in us, and not based on material enablers tied to unfreedom. They depend on no one but me - because nothing can take away my freedom of ignoring the work at hand and looking out to the damp grey sky of Wintery London and being happy.
In the end, the great myth of civilisation is that freedom remains outside and one needs to earn the way to freedom: This is a deeply Freudian construct that our lives are built around around repression. But it is possible to give up the transmuted forms of desire - things - mandated by the society as the end in itself, and rather look out for the episodic, persistent, freedoms all around us. I don't have to try to be free once I understand this, because life is essentially free - it is only when we start listening to others, those want to pool others' freedoms into a vast reservoir of power for themselves, that we give up the freedoms that comes with our being.
Being bound is a choice and freedom is our default state of being.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.