I am not a travel freak. But I travel as and when work calls. Travel freaks look forward to the challenges of travelling both chartered and unchartered while I cringe even at the thought of moving away from certain comfort zones. But, when you think about it more, there are no comfort zones for a person. What one considers as comfort zones are just spaces made familiar by habit. Navigation in such places becomes easier because in those places one need not feel the need to navigate at all. Like a person who drives a car while day dreaming, things happen automatically, pressing the clutch, changing the gears, speeding up or slowing down and negotiating a curve. We live in automated zones. Even most people who are known as travel freaks like to tread on the oft-beaten path not the off beaten path because in that path, with the knowledge about the curves and straight lines, one could travel without certain amount of alertness. Most of the people like me tread the off beaten path in day dreaming; another safe zone like martial art games played in a virtual video game. You are excited, your adrenaline flow is high, you are euphoric but at the same time you are away from injuries and worries.
When I travel, I prefer to take up unchartered paths. Morning walk in strange places, or in that case any kind of walk in a strange place, is exciting because even if you have not seen that place before, during the break of dawn it definitely look different. Sights and sounds are fresh, serene and at times dipped in the syrup of early morning dreams. Office goers are not yet on the roads but cleaners and rag pickers are already there at their work. Way side eateries and tea-stalls come alive slowly. Flower and talisman sellers haunt the traffic joints. Dogs use roads as if they own it. Strange smells of cooking waft in the air. Morning walkers like you hurry to their oft-beaten tracks. Paper boys move like lightning. Maid servants from their bastis rush to posh localities where they work not because they want to be there on time but because they do not want to hear the oft repeated words of chiding from the anxious women who tackle demanding husbands, kids refusing to get up from bed and so many other chores. Sounds are still clear; of birds and radio. You are an absolute stranger amidst all these sights and sounds. You can walk like a spirit without getting noticed by any. You could melt into your surroundings provided if you do not feel so much about yourself. You are not important, I am sure, when I look at these early morning activities of people in a different city. Nobody is important for a city to survive. Like a monster it feeds on itself. Auto cannibalism is a trait of all cities.
I was not planning to tell all these things. What I want to talk is about my morning walk in Kolkata, where I am today. Kolkata is no longer a strange city to me though I do not know many areas in the city. But Kolkata, like any other city, looks different during the early morning hours. I walk to the park, which is next to the Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata. There is a huge lake where young people practice rowing. I had been here before too. This time I feel that this park is meant for old people during morning hours and it is reserved for the young lovers during the evening hours. I have often felt that seeing a person eating alone is one of the most painful sights in the world. But today, I think that seeing people desperately walking or working out for regaining the lost health is a sad sight. I insist on the word ‘regaining’ because it is different from maintaining. Most of the people start morning walk and related physical exercise activities when health issues strike and doctors intervene in their private lives. I see frail people, obese people, people trying desperately to regain their youthfulness back and people who want their egos to be intact. I am here to walk, not because I want to regain my health but because it is a habit. During the morning walk I can think of thinking. Walking is a way to flow along with thinking without resisting. It is meditative. I do not like the word meditation because meditation is a forced thing. And they say, in meditation you can do away with thinking by resisting thoughts slowly and systematically. It is a sort of violence. I like to flow with the thoughts and may be you end up in losing all your thoughts. Sometimes you realize that you were not there while walking. Suddenly you realize that you were walking. What happened to you between the thoughts that you were thinking and the sudden realization of coming back to thinking? May be you were existing.
As a writer, I have this brutal habit of overhearing things. It is not deliberate. But I hear what people talk. Today, I hear most of the people talking about money. As in Kolkata, ninety nine out of the hundred words that I heard today were either ‘taka’ (money), money, amount, paisa, rupees and everything related to money. I realize that all the people while walking to regain their health are still thinking or talking about money. They do not realize the fact that it was this very same thought that had ruined their lives so far. When I say this, please do not misinterpret me as a nihilist who hates money. I do not hate money, on the contrary I love it. But when you love something or somebody, it is not necessary that you need to think about it or speak about it all the time. If you do, then it is not love, it is obsession. Obsession leads to a sort of possessiveness, which is fatal and detrimental to health and happy living. When you are speaking about money even during your morning, which for many, is meant to be a meditative exercise, you neither walking nor meditating. You are simply obsessing yourself with the thoughts of money. Whether you are reading Gita aloud or any other scriptures aloud as a part of focusing on positive energy, at the end of it if you are still talking about money, then you are not working towards positive living. Money cannot be the sole aim of life though it is a necessary tool to live a good life. Let me explain.
Living is a form of economics, in my view. Whether you are rich or poor, if you are living, then you are within an economic structure. Generally we say that business people are out there to make money and live a good life. They are greedy and so on. But what about others? They too are there to make money in order to live. For businessmen, money is a by product of their activities. They put their capital and entrepreneurial energy as investment and reap profits out of it. Other people invest their personal talents as executives, software engineers or accountants or menial workers to name a few job profiles, and make profit out of it. That is the way the world functions. Avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, scriptures say. But this avarice is not about money. It is about the desires and the desire to fulfil these desires. To fulfil these desires in the material world one needs money. So money is just a tool. In the Buddhist lines one could say that desire is the root cause of all worries. But I would say, having desire for anything is a beautiful thing. You need to have certain amount of desire to live life fully and killing the desire cannot a monk out of you, but a frustrated soul could definitely be the outcome of it. Understanding the desire and setting benchmarks for fulfilling that desire is the intelligent way to handle worries in the world. If you are constantly thinking about bettering your life, there are hundred ways of doing it without the medium of money. But if you are obsessing about money, then you are not trying to bettering your life, instead you are still thinking about the medium of bettering it. When you are obsessed with a medium, your life remains abandoned. However, you jog or walk your health is not going to come back because for the happy return of health one has to stop thinking about the medium. Medicine is taken to kill the illness but if the patient is obsessed with medicine, the illness remains and the pharmaceutical companies make profit.
I am not here to pontificate against/about money. But what I think is that if anybody wants to be happy in the life, he or she has to do the work that is supposed to be done by him or her. This may sound apparently quite classicist. That means a rich can further become rich and the poor should remain poor. In that case, our basic premise itself is wrong. People are differently abled and different talented and differently gifted. A painter can become a property dealer or a musician could become a businessman. There is no problem with that. But the question then is, what will happen to the painter’s painting when the painter becomes a property dealer and starts making a lot of money? What will happen to the music of a musician when he becomes a businessman? We can always accept that if a painter gets a lot of money by selling his painting or a musician gets a lot of money by selling his music. These are not unheard of things. These things happen. But the money thus comes is not used by painter to turn into a builder only because there is more money in building business than making paintings. If somebody abandons painting for becoming a property dealer, then his life as a painter ends there. Property dealing and business are not bad things in themselves. They are good so long as they are handled by people who are good at it. If so what does a common man, who goes for morning walk and obsesses about money, do?
I say, he would end up in misery. The more he thinks about money the more he misses the point in his life. He may be an executive, drawing a good salary and even might have invested in various avenues to make sure that his and his family’s life is secured today and in future. But still he is thinking about money. He forgets the fact that even if he thinks a lot about money his salary is not going to increase or his investments bring him great dividends. The more he thinks about it the more are the chances of getting him corrupted. What about a labourer who thinks about money and does not go for morning walk? They generally do not think about money the way the morning walkers think about it. They are here to survive. They think about the money that would help them to scrape through the life. But both the parties are committing the same error because a wage labourer does not have the tools or talents to increase his money making power. If he had it he would have branched himself out into more profitable ways of investing his labour. As he does not have the tools or talents, his overt obsession money could bring only misery to him. This is not different from the misery of an already comfortably rich man obsessing with money.
I want to reiterate the fact that I am not against money. But as I am not obsessed with it, money which is good enough to lead a good life comes to me because I do my work the way I am supposed to do. There was a time I used to obsess a lot about money. I always used to think that what will happen to me next if I do not have enough money. This obsession with money had put me to great misery. One day I stopped thinking about money. I started focusing on my work. I realized that if I did my work well money for my life appears through the channels that the work had opened up. It was a great realization. If you do your work well, use your talents in the right direction, help in terms of money including, follows. But one has to control the desires. One has to set a bench mark for the desirable desires. Do not kill it but understand the desire. My understanding about myself is simple; I do not earn a salary. I am a freelancer. And people approach me for doing their work; a quality addition kind of work through writing. And when I do that work they pay me for that. It is not arrogance. It is the way things happen in the world. A bus driver who earns a salary, unless he involves in various other activities is not able to more money than the salary. But still we consider him as a needy person who is suffering from financial troubles. But the trouble is not in his earning capacity; the trouble lies in his desires or the collective desire or trouble of his family or people related to him. This is a chain reaction and there is no end to it.
I have learnt to understand my desires. The greatest learning came from the fact that I can ask for help without thinking too much about myself or keeping my ego at the forefront and suffering from it. Asking for help is not about borrowing money. Asking for help is a great way of sharing your lacks with those people who are sympathetic to your life, who care for you and like you as a person. It is not necessary that you need to know the people from who you ask for help. I have learnt a great lesson from Paulo Coelho who otherwise writes spiritual soothsaying kind of books (for an Indian like me those are primers to fake spirituality). He in his autobiography talks about how he could stand like a beggar in the road and could ask for nothing. When you do not ask for nothing and only share things, which could be even your troubles, you gain happiness. You gain material and soul comfort. But for that one should shed ego. One should empty oneself and become a nothing and nobody. When you are nothing and nobody, you can ask for help. No part of yours gets hurt. After learning this lesson, I practiced it. When I travel without a laptop, I could ask someone to let me use theirs. They do not say no. When I am hungry, if I do not have any money, I can ask someone to provide me a meal. I have never been denied a meal. But if have money and freeloading becomes your tactics to save money, then you stand to lose, a meal and a kind hand.
I learnt to understand my desires too. I am a person with minimum desires. Nothing excites me; that is the first rule that I have found in myself. Nothing makes me feel awe. That does not mean that don’t wonder at things. But my wondering at a tight rope walker is different from my wondering at a sunrise or sunset. I stand wondering at the movements of ants, birds and clouds. But I do not stand wondering at some so called great personality or celebrity. I am not excited at the prospect of eating good food, going for a movie or a vacation. I take it very calmly. As the sense of excitement is not there and a sense of wonder is under control or operative in me differently, my needs to get excited and wonder are always kept at minimum. What I think about myself is that nothing defines me other than my work. If I am not writing, then I am like any other biological being, who eats, shits, sleeps, wakes up and does things for surviving. But my writing does not become great if I wear a good shirt, an expensive watch, a few gold rings or eat a good meal. I do not say that these things help people to enhance their image and self confidence. They do. But for me, my existence as an intelligent and creative human being is not defined by anything extraneous to my creative efforts. The rest is useless additions that only help other people to admire me. If I am not admiring anyone or anything, it would hypocrisy is I am letting others to admire me.
I believe, as an intelligent and creative human being like many of you, that money and any such desire is important only up to certain practical planes. Having a lot of money does not make me a good writer or a good curator. I can buy name with the money but the problem is that the moment my buying capacity diminishes my name too wanes. Let me use the analogy of food. Life is a buffet, beautifully arranged and rich in varieties. You are allowed to eat as much as you can. But you can eat only as much as you could. If you take one morsel more, you are going to throw up. When I travel on my job, I am allowed to eat anything that I want because the companies or persons who have employed me for the job are going to pay for it. But only because it is free how much am I going to eat? I cannot eat things that would eventually make me sick and render me useless. Same is applicable in the case of general life. You cannot enjoy the buffet called life; you have to choose carefully and fill in your plate as much as you want and enjoy every bit of it. But let me tell you, life is absolutely free; it does not come with a price tag. Only assurance in life is physical death. All what comes with a price tag is a product that enhances desire. If you understand your desire, the way you understand your hunger, your money problem is taken care of. It does not need any meditative practice or yoga session.
While walking along the lake side today morning, I saw a woman sitting in meditative posture. I saw a mobile phone and clutch kept next to her. Two thoughts came to my mind when I saw her; one, she is pretending to be meditative. Two, if she is really meditating, she cannot keep her phone and wallet like that. A person who goes to meditate cannot take valuable things along with them. A person who has left every valuable behind only could be really meditative. The very thought of losing a wallet and a phone could prevent her from getting lost in the meditation. What I felt at that moment was to call out and say that, hey someone is taking your phone away. She would have jumped up and run. But I did not do that. Instead, I thought of a Mulla Naseeruddin story. A person was sitting and wailing and saying that he was a fakir who has left the worldly possessions. He also was wailing that he does not need anything but just food. Mulla saw a small bundle of coins under the beggar’s feet. He picked it up and started running. The fakir left his pious demeanour and started running behind Mulla demanding his coins. Most of the meditating people are like that. Tell them there is a thief is around there meditation will stop. In real meditation you do not have anything to lose but yourself.