I don't blame life. It has given each of us lavish gifts, only that they lie hidden in the bushes and shrubs of time. All we need to do is go out and seek them, for they rarely fall on our laps. At times, we even know where the gift is hidden, but then we tell ourselves: "Ah, that place is so far away. Why bother! If I happen to go in that direction in the near future, then I shall stop by and claim the gift." Life then gives a shrug and moves on, but not before giving a sarcastic smile that says, "You silly bugger, if only you knew what lies inside that gift-wrapped box."
These thoughts come to my mind because of late, very often, I feel like a prisoner whose hands are free but whose feet are shackled. He can move, but only to places he is required to go to and not to places he would love to go to.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had a friend called Aniruddh. "Who says smoking is bad?" he once declared in the office canteen. "Keep smoking by all means. There is nothing wrong as long as you smoke cigarettes. But the day cigarettes start smoking you, you must watch out." I wish I had listened to him then. That would have restricted my smoking. Anyway, why I remember him today is because I realise what he said about smoking is also true about employment.
It is great to be employed -- ask those who have lost their jobs. In fact, it is essential to be employed: how else do you feed yourself and your family? Socially, too, being an employee of an organisation rescues you from the clutches of anonymity. Without the tag of an organisation, you are a non-entity. No sane man will ever give away his daughter to you.
But at the same time, once you are employed, you swap your identity with the identity card. And then rules are made for you: coming to work at sharp ten and not leaving before six, only an hour's lunch break, meeting the targets, only 30 days' annual leave, retirement at 58, and so on. Eventually you realise that you have not been leading your own life at all, but only living up to the rules of your company.
By then, you are already 58 and too old to make amends. It's time to play with the grandchildren. If you turn around and ask the company, "What happened to my life?", the management will point to your wrist and say, "There, we have compensated for that with this watch, a token of appreciation for spending 35 years in service."
Now that worries me. At the age of 50 or 55, I would curse myself for having been born in the first place if I were still to be in employment of a company or, worse, looking for employment. By 55, I should have established a tiny mobile kingdom of my own, where I would be the employer as well as the employee. What fun, to report for work to your own self.
The thing about employment is that while it fulfills your mundane desires, such as buying a car or a house, it kills your deepest desires. I would, for example, like to spend January and February in Chennai, March in Delhi, April and May in Shimla, June and July in Kodaikandal before descending to Chennai for August and September. The whole of October would be in spent Calcutta, November in Kanpur and December in Kerala, with Christmas and my birthday being spent amid the mist in a cottage in Wayanad. (Long ago, I had planned a travel book on the Malabar region and I wanted to call it Christmas in Wayanad. But after a futile trip to Calicut, I abandoned the idea).
The above-mentioned itinerary would seem to be from the diary of a madman who lives in fantasy world. A sane person can't even dream of such an itinerary because if he does, two slaps will shake him out of his dream. Slap no. 1: I don't have the money! Slap no. 2: I won't get leave! As a result, the truest desires of the heart remain where they are supposed to be -- buried deep inside the heart. You can't even mention them to anyone, unless you don't mind being laughed at.
But to tell you the truth, it is possible to lead such a life, where your footsteps are determined by the cravings of your heart. If God has given you a heart that craves, it has also given you the power to satisfy those cravings. Only that the power lies hidden in the bushes and shrubs of time -- that's the gift I was talking about -- and you might have to undertake an arduous journey in order to claim it. If you are lucky, you don't have to travel very far; if you are sensible, you will make up for the lack of luck by intensifying your search. Either way, you will have to set out of home in the scorching heat. The gift is never going to fall on your lap.
To quote from Richard Bach's Illusions: "You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however." And here's another, a real gem: "Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they're yours."
The idea behind writing all this is to convince myself that time has come when I should start listening to my heart. It is one life, after all. No second chance -- certainly not at 38 when you don't have much time left anyway. So what do I do? Well, I am going to use my head in order to follow my heart. I am going to use my head to find out where my gifts might be lying hidden, and then the travel writer in me will set out to seek those gifts.
So Wayanad, here I come. If not this Christmas, certainly the next. I shall come with my mobile kingdom. I promise you.