I started working in the early 1990s, and unlike many of my peers, I never took the path of steady, secure jobs and a career because it was never an option for me. This was because I had always been restless. Steady meant static, secure meant fear, and career meant loss of freedom due to conformance. By this time, I had enough data from within my family, family-friends and their family-circles to conclude that I had to find my own path. Please note I use the term family-circle – in today’s parlance this would be network. Most (more than Pareto’s 80%) of the people I knew of were in careers. Of the remaining, 15% were self-employed, craftspersons or business people, and a minuscule percentage (5%) were artists, of which less than half (so overall let’s say 2%) were making a living only of art (the others did art and held day jobs.
Stepping out of college – I went to a “professional” college for hotel management, the benefits of which education was a cornerstone of my entire life) – I stepped right into the living room of my family’s one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai and I stayed put there in front of the TV, contemplating life (MTV and Star Sports were very instructive). Keeping me company was Dmess, my friend and classmate from hotel management, and the four months that we spent watching TV were for all purposes the only four months we have spent doing nothing (from an outsider’s perspective) in the past 25 years.
In the subsequent two years, I travelled to (some times working, sometimes looking for work, always staying a few months) Bengaluru, Mumbai, Nashik, Delhi, Shimla, Chandigarh, Delhi, and back to Mumbai travelling by train and bus over Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. This was 1992-94 and it was a difficult time in some ways, globalisation had started in India, there were political changes underfoot, terrorism made its first attacks, there was turmoil and churn in the job markets, but what I discovered was that life goes on. Throughout the parts of India I travelled to, hungry multitudes continued to toil every day come rain or shine, restless youth continued to stumble into their purpose in life, seasoned veterans provided assurance, stability and became the loud voice of caution against reckless abandon, teachers taught, students learned, fathers and mothers toiled and worried about their children, the children played wherever they could find space, criminals did what they always did, politicians argued on how to come to power, government tried to keep it all together and shepherd the nation, opposition raised performance issues against the government insisting they had alternatives … and meanwhile, the sky was blue, grey, purple, red, yellow with seasons as it aways had been; the wind traveled at its own pace, the rains came and went as they pleased, the mountains stood tall, the rivers flowed and ebbed, the animal kingdom continued its progress as per Darwin’s theory, the plant kingdom waged its lonely war against a shrinking area of existence. I learned that life was happening all the time, everywhere – this learning was important and I had to evolve a mechanism eventually to keep reminding myself that my problems and I are just a tiny part of a whole, enabling me to find solutions in the broader experience of the world.
Since May 1992, I have been out of job, out of money, out of support, out of favour in jobs, cornered, up-the-wall, down-the-creek (literally), up-the-mountain-with-no-way-to-climb-down, several times, but I have never been alone because in those two years, I learned to walk with myself. And I learned that when you learn to walk with yourself, you get closer to God, and you learn not to argue about the form or shape of God with others, but just to talk to God, the God that resides within you, guiding you. And I learnt that when you find God, you find people walking with you, people from all walks of life.
Seemed like a good lesson to revisit in a new year.