Courtesy My Secret Bookshelf
I was in my wife’s kitchen today, baking bread – this is one of my latest hobbies – we are now not buying bread from the market. Every third day I get into the kitchen – which surprisingly even my wife has stopped objecting – I choose to believe that I am now baking decently good bread. The other hobby is making wine at home and I am currently trying plum wine – this hobby I resumed after a gap of six years.
Over the last year I have also seen quite a few movies where one of the characters has gone into retirement out of disgust for the system. The system cannot do without his expertise and a senior executive is sent to his house to persuade him to come out of retirement to help the system. In almost all the movies, this executive finds the retired person pottering around in the kitchen garden.
My dream at this late stage in my life of 61 years is for such an executive to find me baking bread in the kitchen or making wine. I no longer think of going back to the system, but doing some constructive community service. Though why should there be even any requirement for an invitation for community service? But it is my dream.
I always had dreams, only they kept on changing depending upon my age. The only age at which I did not dream was probably till I was 6 years old. My father got me a comic adaptation of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens around that time. I was impressed by the way David tackled the adversities in his life, particularly as a child, when he is sent to the boarding school by his stepfather and is saved from being bullied by a group of other children by James Steerforth. The two form a friendship which only ends with the death of James – who is more of a scoundrel, but David still thinks of all that was good in James. My dream at that time depended on my frame of mind – sometimes I would want to be like David, overcoming all adversities – other times I would want to be a good friend like James.
I entered adolescence and my dreams changed. Having studied most of my earlier life in all boys’ schools, that too in Hindi medium ones, I was shy about speaking to girls in my school. I would look enviously at those boys who could not only speak with the girls in our class, but were also fluent in English. I would dream of speaking with the girls in fluent English. Fortunately for me this dream lasted only a couple of years.
Three heroes entered my life around this time – Sunil Gavaskar from the cricket world, Bjorn Borg of the lawn tennis fame, and Amitabh Bachchan from the Hindi film industry. There may not have been any commonality in the three for any other person. But to me all three had a common trait which I desperately wanted to emulate – their capacity to display no emotions – in scoring a boundary or getting out for a duck, in winning a point or losing a point, and walking away from a blast after lighting a cigarette with the burning end of the dynamite.
I was and continue to be sentimental and it is a different matter that I have come to understand with wisdom of age that being sentimental is also akin to being passionate about your dreams and is not such a bad thing. Age does impart certain wisdom.
My dreams were not so spectacular in my intervening professional years. They were the routine dreams about going up the career ladder to reach the top – whether in the government sector, where you are bound to move up at a steady pace to a point predetermined by your age and your seniority even with a decently average performance, or to earn better money in the private sector than in the government sector. Everyone has the same dreams in the corporate rat race – it may be better not to dream.
I then started writing and another dream was born – to win a Booker prize or a Sahitya Akademi award. Once you have crossed 60, you want to be immortal – and better way to be remembered even after you are gone – my dream is for my books to be occupying a place of pride in someone’s book shelf in the 23rd century – like my favourite author, Charles Dickens, whose books are in my book shelf, 200 years after he first wrote them.
I pray to have the strength to continue to dream and to pursue them passionately. I have found a new dream – to help overcome illiteracy – so that everyone can dream.
I first read about resilience in my physics classes as the ability of a material to absorb energy and release back that energy as it springs back to its original shape. Later, as I studied engineering and then joined my professional life, I added a third element to this capability of materials – which was to spring back, without creating a permanent distortion.
As I grew older, and faced adversities in my life, and saw many close to me face their own adversities, I realised the real meaning of the term ‘resilience’ – the ability to recover from misfortune or to adjust to change. This was all about humans and their strength to face adversities and bounce back with renewed vigour.
I remember a very senior colleague of mine almost 35 years back. I was only 26 years old to his 56 – he was my boss. He had a happy disposition. The gentleman had a son – an only child, who must have been my age. The son went to Sundarbans with his friends on vacation, met with an accident on the boat, and tragically died. I went with my wife to condole and realised that words were superfluous – what do you tell an old couple, who had just lost their only child? I had tears in my eyes, and I found the gentleman consoling me instead, reciting passages from the scriptures. Adversity had altered him, but he came back, seeking solace in the scriptures and deriving strength from them, to lead as normal a life as he could.
I approached my friends on the social media seeking their experiences in dealing with personal adversities. Another of my colleagues, Priya (name changed), wrote back to me about the loss of her 41-year-old son, Varun (name changed), a few months back. She wanted to write about it, had even tried multiple times, but could not bring herself to articulate her feelings. I encouraged her to write and she sent me her innermost thoughts.
Priya wrote that a woman goes through severest of physical pains and mental suffering through labour pain at the time of her child’s birth – this is the natural cycle of life. But what is unnatural is when this cycle of life breaks due to the untimely death of the younger person, whom the woman had given birth to, nurtured to become a good and strong human being, to face the world. Priya went on to add that even the thought of such a situation sends a chill down any parent’s spine. Priya has chosen to live through Varun’s memories. She also expresses her feelings writing poetry or short stories. This is her way of coming out of her traumatic experience and living life.
The two incidents narrated above are extreme forms of adversities that an individual can face. All of us have faced and will continue to face adversities of one form or the other and many of us will find our own inner strengths to deal with them. There are a few, who unfortunately are not able to cope with difficult times and sometimes take extreme steps. There also are a few people who may require additional medical help to deal with feelings of depression – these are medical conditions and need to be taken care of through medicines.
If we look at the above two incidents and our own life experiences, we find that what has kept us going is ‘this too shall pass, tomorrow is another day.’ This has also meant that we have been able to draw upon an inner strength to overcome the adversity and that others around us have supported us with all their heart. In the two events I have written about, the inner strength came from religion or memories. What then could be the skills required to be resilient?
- Resilient persons believe that they are masters of their destiny. Circumstances may change, it is they who control their lives.
- Resilient persons are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and thus, work to their strengths.
- Resilient persons adapt to situations – they are willing to back-off if circumstances so demand; and make course corrections.
- Resilient persons do not try to influence factors over which they do not have control, they find alternate solutions.
- Resilient persons are optimists – ‘tomorrow is another day’. They learn from their failures and move on.
- Resilient persons create a supporting social environment around them and do not hesitate to take help.
I close the article, with a prayer that all of us find the courage to be resilient, and with a quote from Emil Dorian, a Romanian poet, prose writer, and physician, “Strong people alone know how to organize their suffering so as to bear only the most necessary pain.”