The passion Tamasha

The movie Tamasha has been hailed for the theme of finding oneself and following that elusive thing called passion. Interestingly, films and other forms of popular culture always equate passion with a creative field. Equating passion with say, what happened in Pursuit of Happyness is a rare thing. It is tough to make a story about a stock broker, staring into his computer for hours before making a kill at the market. Or a movie about the endless powerpoint presentations MBAs have to make (which has been ridiculed a lot in Tamasha). A movie on number crunching on excel sheets, no thank you. And where is the dramatic arc in the story of the guy who sits at the ticket counter punching out train tickets for you? And yet, are these lives not important?

In the recent years, there is this over emphasis, if you will, on following one’s passion. If you look at who talks the most about passion, then it is self help and start up bloggers, who, hello, are trying to make a living selling that idea (or a book/product) to you. That might sound too cynical, but there is a small grain of truth in it. And almost all of them will ask you to quit your job right this minute. Now lets not get this wrong, passion is a good thing to have. But the way it is being presented as panacea these days is bordering on toxic.

What a lot of the passion stories fail to talk about is the hours of plain old hard work and putting your nose to the grind that comes before the proverbial success. The stories in popular mass media end with the first book/music concert/acting gig, a bit like how famous romances of yore always ended in both the protagonists dead. No tallying bills, looking after snotty kids for Romeo and Juliet please. And similarly no bills again for our fictional heroes and heroines who followed their passion, they just do their thing and walk into the sunset.

Anyone who followed their passion successfully or otherwise would tell you it didn’t solve everything. That there were days when they didn’t jump out of their bed excited about work. That there were days when they worried if they would make pay day. That there were days when they were just bored. That there were days when they were so swamped that they wondered if they did the right thing by jumping into it. Some may never regret it, some may regret and even quit and it doesn’t matter.

What this lopsided representation does is create a lot of people who shall suffer from expectation hangover (a fine term coined by Christine Hassler). It creates this expectation that if it is your passion, you shouldn’t have to struggle, thereby making it all the more harder for those who do venture out. You see talent is not scarce. A lot of those who venture out actually have that level of talent. But when it comes to daily survival, a lot depends on your financial backup, the network you were born with or managed to build and your own emotional capability to go in for the long haul.

Quitting traditional fields and striking out on your own is in itself emotionally draining. Suddenly you find yourself alone, even if your deviation is just about not joining the family business. It takes great amount of courage to start and that is in itself commendable. But then so is just sticking to your job. In fact, life, whether you chose the well worn road or the one less travelled is never easy. But being told that passion means joy every day, every minute is only going to create more space for terrible disappointment.

The follow your passion or start your own company bogey also ties in nicely with the current economic scenario. If everyone who gets laid off or is unable to find their footing in the work place, can somehow be convinced that it is all upto them to now find something for themselves, then corporations and countries can be let off the hook somewhat. Empathy can take a walk. In fact, there is enough blame-y literature telling people they are not worthy human beings if they didn’t do something about their passion. If one tries to infuse a bit of practicality into the argument, one is likely to be chastised for not having faith.

The trouble though is that culture really hasn’t evolved enough despite all this to let people be. Earlier the dominant narrative was that of getting a job, keeping it and eventually retiring; only now it has been replaced by the passion narrative. Now the ones who stick to 9-5 jobs for whatever reason are the ones facing stigma, which was earlier reserved for the ones who broke the norm. It is merely replacing one norm with the other.

What is important perhaps to remember more than anything is that every life counts. That guy who delivers your newspaper, he may not have some grand passion, he just works day after day to take care of himself and his loved ones. That superstar you all envy, he may have all the fame, may travel to the best of places, but at the end of the day, he too does what he does to take care of himself and family. One must strive to have a better life for sure, but also take pleasure in the seemingly small achievements that add up to build one’s own life. What is important is to know that every life on this planet counts whether they live it examined or unexamined.

Indra Nooyi and her children

In a Forbes interview recently, Indra Nooyi trashed the idea that ‘Women Can Have It All’. Speaking about her own experience balancing personal and professional life, she said,

I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.

 

The internet erupted in a fashion similar to the one witnessed when a Washington high flyer had written about quitting her job and deciding to stay home. Back then, there had also been an interesting perspective by a male columnist about how men also don’t have it all. I do not wish to add anything more to this never ending debate. What I want to focus on though are the following lines from Nooyi’s talk :

But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. 

 You see, I was somewhat that kind of a daughter and so were some of my friends, male and female, who were the few who had working moms in an era when it was still catching on. My mom only spent half a day away as she was a teacher but even so at times I remember resenting it. Now when I look back at it, I find it extremely silly, because it wasn’t as if mom wasn’t there when needed. 

So why did this feeling even arise? Also, wouldn’t Nooyi’s children have got the benefits of the many perks that come with having a corporate rock star for a mother? So why is it that still they should feel cheated of a good mother, if they do feel that at all. After all, why do we as kids, feel so entitled to our mother’s time, indeed her entire life and personality? 

The answer I believe is partly cultural. If every mom worked in the society, no one would actually ask the kid if he/she feels left out because mother wasn’t there. In fact, working is a way of life for farmers and labourers who are women. No one I guess would ever ask their children if they were emotionally damaged or felt abandoned because their mothers worked. 

But I do remember questions and assumptions from those around me about my ‘working’ mother. I also remember the few times I’d be home alone while the neighbourhood auntie was with her kid. However, none of my major needs were ever unmet by my mother. So the only explanation for this kind of feeling that me or any of my others friends had was this cultural notion that we as kids also bought into the cultural trope our mothers loved us only if they were always around us, if they made gaajar ka halwa, mined Tarla Dalal’s treasure trove every weekend, were always at our beck and call and put aside everything for our homework (though most mothers do this last one). 

A good level of engagement with the child is necessary when the child is an infant and can’t meet most of his/her needs. Of course, there are some really self absorbed and careless mothers who scar their children. But most women are just trying their best. There is no need to have the black and white good mother, bad mother categorisation. Even a home maker cannot be hovering over her child every moment. It just isn’t possible. It is necessary to change our cultural dialogue in such a way that children also see their mothers as human beings, people liable to make mistakes, people who have their own dreams and interests other than being a mother. It is time that being a mother and wife is demoted from the position of a full time job, so that a working woman can go work at hours that suit her and a homemaker can have a girls day out without the guilt of being a less than perfect mother. 

For a man to be labelled a bad father, he needs to be a wife beating, severe alcholic/spendthrift, good for nothing. For a woman to be labelled a bad mother, she just has to be 5 minutes late in coming from the kitchen while the child is crying in the living room. That needs to change. 

Of school time dreams and achievements

I just realised that its been 6 years now that I started living on my own, away from home. 2 years in college and then 4 years in big, bad Mumbai. Seemed like a good time to trace the journey till here. I also happened to read some college discussion forum on Pagalguy.com and it just reminded me of all the studying, choosing colleges and all the madness.

I remember Joe Pinto sir writing a similar nostalgic piece, partly this is inspired by that and also a need to remember all that has gone by. So there I was, a little girl in a small city in Gujarat called Rajkot. My favourite stories about my birth year are the fact that it was the year colour TV became popular in India and the year India first won the world cup in cricket. Perhaps, it is fitting then that I am now a TV professional. But how did I come till here?

I used to be a very methodical student, a geek according to all my friends. Back in my school days, I used to have a personal time table for things. If I had say 6 subjects and 12 days, I would give each subject 2 days, that kind of a rigid time table. Though I did allow myself Chitrahaar breaks. And then, even when I studied topics, I would give them a particular number of minutes before finishing them. It may sound funny now to think back on all that, yet, it helped me all through my studies. But that didn’t mean I was only into school books. I read a lot of other stuff, I always knew all the latest Bollywood numbers, life was interesting.

Growing up in a small town has its own benefits. I have seen in a city like Mumbai, people are pretty much set about what they want to achieve, after all everything is here. But in a place like Rajkot, there was always something to aspire to. Little wonder that most of the reality shows today have more people from small towns. I remember the conversations we used to have in our college. Most of us wanted to do something big, out of the box, maybe become the next Ambani, the eternal Indian middle class dream.

During the time we were graduating, the MBA madness had just begun (umm did I reveal too much about my age here? 😛 ) Most people in Rajkot did a B. Com. then did a CA or went to Pappa ni dukan. But some of us used to look at Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, the popular celebrity show on NDTV, and tell each other stories of how one day we would be there and who all we would call as our friends then. Strangely, almost 12 years down the line, these people are still in touch and the dream continues though the show is long over.

So this aspirational crowd of ours, we wanted to get out of Rajkot, do either an MBA in Finance or in my case something to do with communication. So my options were either MICA or Symbiosis. I was what some would call a news addict back then, switching every 15 minutes to some Sabse Tez or Breaking news. Wasn’t much of a newspaper person, but read a lot of magazines, so journalism was a huge interest area.

The whole preparation for CAT and the Symbi Admission test was another thing that took hard work and discipline. Again, I had a time table, for the year that I took a drop after graduation. I enrolled with a CAT training institute that was famous for its Mock Tests and for 8 weeks, just before CAT, I travelled all the way from Rajkot to Ahmedabad, 5 hours away, to give a test that would start at 9 : 30 in the morning. Looking back, I don’t know how I did that. I also remember how my dad would travel with me each time, never complaining. It was just a hunger to do something other than the usual MA, M.Com, everyone I knew was doing. Finally I got through to Symbiosis.

The two years there taught me about people and also about how to handle some of them. The best times there were according to me the various trips we took. I also got to learn a lot about my second biggest passion – Cinema. I met some wonderful people who still are my sounding boards. Nimisha Srivastava, Megha Singh, this goes out to you 🙂 And yes, Nimisha, this post is in response to our recent chat.

As I went through those Pagalguy.com forums today, I remembered all that we had been through, the whole selection procedure for the college, the worry about placements, the rush of the first few weeks on campus, the one year of doing a quasi MBA while learning advertising and PR, the hours of watching movies, analysing them at NCC canteen, the vigorous debates on TOI and Indian Express news coverage, the first byline, the first college newsletter English and Hindi, all sorts of memories. And who could forget the Greenday song that was almost a class anthem.

Finally placement time and the first interaction with the real industry guys. Some of us bullshitted and were caught, some of us weren’t caught, others just breezed through, some cried, some had to have more than one attempt and finally that coveted job. Sometimes when I look back it seems nothing short of a miracle to have come from a city where people barely manage a proper sentence in English to working in an English news channel, but at other times I know it took a lot of my parents’ and my hard work and maybe a whole lot of God’s blessings. Yes, all those hours our moms spend praying don’t go waste.

The last 4 and half years now I have been working and living on my own. This was another lesson. I have made mistakes in assessing people, I have cried, I have sometimes ranted, I have lost faith in things, but I know that if I were to die tomorrow, I might not have many regrets. I have tried things, learnt things, pushed myself, but yes, there is still a lot more I want to learn. Still a lot more I want to do, both for myself and my parents.

Its good to dream and sometimes remind yourself of dreams you fulfilled. Its important at times to see where you were, where you are and where you can go.