Rat race…

I had never well and truly understood the meaning of  the term rat race till a short while ago. We are constantly competing with one another and fiercely trying to out do the other no matter what activity we are partaking in. When I was in school I never worried about topping my class, I was happy with keeping my head over water and passing my exams. I did not want to relinquish the joy of spending time with friends and having have to give up my play time in the evenings. Time out was more important than time in. Tenth standard board exams became a reality a few months before the actual event, until then it remained a mirage hovering over the hot desert sands. I burnt the midnight oil without aiming for a set percentage. In fact, I studied hard just to pass so that I could join college where the gates were left open the entire time unlike school. The passion to spread the wings overrode everything else.

There is a difference between competition and rat race. Competition is healthy, rat race is not. Competition gets us ahead whilst we maintain our sanity, rat race doesn’t. School going children are burdened with more and more responsibilities and their shoulders sag with the weight of an ever-growing school bag. They do not want to keep their heads over water, they want to walk on it. They push themselves to do the impossible and failures are not in their dictionary. I am astounded by the attitude with which they face the world today and I wonder why were we a different breed when we went to school. Watching children on TV today especially on reality shows continues to stun me. When I was growing up I barely saw children my age perform the dances and moves that they do now on TV. Two decades ago doordarshan programs were so enjoyable and provided us the highest form of entertainment.I lapped up Giant Robot, Famous Five, Vikram or Bethaab with an army of playmates while moms used to make that orange drink rasna which no one even hears of now. We would dance too, not on television but on the terraces of our homes when it rained. We would compete too in school not out of peer pressure but for the joy of bagging a bag of chocolates that we could share with each other. We got certificates for our victories and we never though them to be important as much as our parents did, the chocolates were more valuable. Children today are rewarded cash prizes up to twenty-five lakhs and even real estate for winning reality shows. No complaints about the prize  money, but the road to get the booty is a troubled one. Most children forget to live their lives as children and grow up ahead of time. They embrace rat race or must I say, they are forced to embrace it.

Failures are not acceptable to this society and most of us do what we do because of peer pressure. We live in a materialistic world and filling our coffers over rides everything else. Our grandfathers were content with the same car that they drove for twenty years, they may not have heard of something called upgrading, a term we loosely use now. We want to upgrade our mobile phones every few months. Just when we are getting used to the iPhone we have upgraded from 3G to 3GS. Very soon there will be HTC and we will wait to clutch it like little kids clutching on to candy floss. We change our cars every couple of years not really because we have prioritized fuel efficiency or we intend to go green but because we are in a rat race with the next door rich, fat neighbor who has never walked more than ten steps a day. We tend to accumulate things to be ahead in the biggest race of our lives. People are embarrassed to drive budget cars, people are embarrassed to be seen in mundane places or have ordinary friends. People are embarrassed for the wrong reasons. Naturally kids are ashamed not to own a play station console as much as their Daddy is anguished for not driving the car of his dreams. We are judged by the company we keep and the cars we drive. If we choose to get lost in this race, we become scrawny, wet rats rapidly loosing our sleep and energy worrying about the next door cat. I am happier to be a cat that lives life on its own terms than a rat that runs behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin with other scrawny rats.

With the mounting pressure on children and teenagers, the number of teen suicides are on the rise. Adults tend to cope with the rat race by abusing their health. Stress levels are being pulverized with addictions to narcotics and alcohol. Not many are able to break away from the vicious rat race. My grand father was a Doctor who believed in serving others to the best of his ability. During his life he treated many patients who could not afford a monetary payment. He did not differentiate between those who coud afford him and those who could not. He would graciously accept home-grown vegetables and fruits as a fee for his service. When he passed away, his funeral was attended by more unknowns than the knowns.He remained lesser known in his fraternity but widely known beyond it.There is immense joy in competing with oneself and with the larger world for the right reasons. There is no substitute for hard work in a burgeoning population that is bursting at the seams of this superfluous nation. A winner is not one who finishes first but one who has won over his own deficiencies and catches what life throws at him every day, every minute, every nanosecond.

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34 Responses to “Rat race…”

  1. parmaatma Says:

    Sharmila,

    Was very touched by the subject.

    Consumerism is the order today in most sections of the society even among teenagers.

    Back in the ’70s we competed too. We were three brothers and a sister. Each one tried to better the next…. each one of us excelled in whatever we chose to learn… being good was not considered enough.

    It was only about being the best at whatever we did… never about the neighbourhood or relatives…. never about social standing or buying power.

    After graduation, my elder brother packed up his bag one day, and decided to go to Simla to work for a German Pharma company. Mother was not sure it was a good decision, but dad said, “if he is useful, he will succeed. Let him go.”

    12 years later I left for the middle east and said the same thing, “If I am useful, I will succeed.”

    In other words, that was the only measure of success. Being useful.

    Competition was simply a sort-of improvement – doing something better… …better than anyone else!

    • Sudhir – Thanks for sharing this with us.Are you happy being useful or was it just a passing phase? Do you live on your own terms and measure success in a diff way?

      • parmaatma Says:

        Sharmila,

        I was a fierce competitor from 1986 to 2003 – like an unstoppable fountainhead of innovations. I was structural designer in ’86. Have designed hydel power stations for the PWD in Ladakh and Leh on the chinese border; this followed by the drinking water treatment and supply network for the Gulmarg cantoment (designed for -30 deg C ambient); then an Effluent treatment units in Pune Cantonment. These were all for the Indian army. Then I moved to Mumbai. Designed 12 to 18 storeyed buildings in Andheri, Jogesewari, Goregaon for MHADA. All the buildings are standing on deep sea water piles designed by yours truly.

        Now, you bet the competition was tough. My colleagues would give up there family jewels to be given the opportunity to design them. I got most of the assigmnents because I changed some fundamentals to suit the latest technologies available.

        If you ask me to measure my success, I would say, I am proud that in those days and in those conditions I stood up to the challenge and delivered my best.

        Ask me today, I will say, I can do better than I did then!

        🙂

      • Wow. awesome Sudhir. If you feel you could have bettered yourself , the benchmark you have set is one of a kind.

      • parmaatma Says:

        Sharmila,

        I moved to the Middle East in 1991. The pattern didn’t change much till 1995. The same ruthlessness, the same flamboyance continued.

        I did not scorn or laugh at people. But I was simply dismissive.

        This was good journey till I got married in 1995. A catastrophic tornado seemed to rip my world apart. I gathered the pieces around 1999-2000. It took me about 3 years from there to recover.

        And then the journey began all over again. This time with more caution and less altruism.

        Success still comes from the same means – i.e. from intense austerity and procedure – but it doesn’t feel like competition anymore.

        Both success and failures have become a standard for benchmarking nowadays. They are not milestones as they were during the youthful season.

        I am closer to 50 now than 40. So I suppose it is alright to improve!

        🙂

      • Thanks for sharing this Sudhir. You appear the type who cannot be bogged down by life’s vagaries. infact, you come across as a person with the mettle to face the ravages of any calamity, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes. The reason you do not think there is competition is because you have achieved a lot more than most. You appear to be your own competitor.

      • parmaatma Says:

        Sharmila,

        Now, this has just inspired a post on my own blog.

        Thank you. 🙂

      • I am glad this post inspires a few..:)

  2. Anand khare Says:

    In good old days ethics and moral values were respected.Now only money is respected.Principled men are ridiculed by their own family members and the society.Riches( may be thieves of first order) are respected by everyone.

    Medical students paying 25 lakhs to enter in course.How they can think of treating someone free?Same is the story of most of the government servants.They need to run this rat race to recover investments.

    Anand

    er.How they can think of

    • Anand – I agree. People with values are laughed at. Donations are hefty and hence people in srvice reap it back from hapless patients. But, if you were a Doctor, would you follow the same path as the rest of the world? My point is, we need to take a stand and do what is right as per our own terms.

  3. Sharmila,

    These kids in the reality shows are the highly visible outgrowth of a certain stratum of society. You have described the phenotype very well – biggest car, newest phone and game system or anything else the fat neighbor may possess.

    Highly visible, but there are others, too. I refuse to believe that any country on this earth has only good or only evil inhabitants, and the same differentiation applies to attitudes towards achieving goals in life.

    There are still children who delight in learning for the sake of learning and well-to-do parents who happily drive their 12 year old cars. Not as many as there used to be – I agree with that. As a whole, our society is certainly going down a dangerous and regrettable path.

    But there are islands of sanity left and people who actively seek them out – let’s hope they do not turn into an endangered species.

    • parmaatma Says:

      Renate,

      I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you.

      With global networks, internet has become a noisy jungle. Not only rats, but every type of creaure makes its own shelter. There are screeching insects, night-vision hunters, hi-fi sonographer bats, black beetles, slippery snakes et al.

      For humans, Ayn Rand wrote a very deep, insightful article in her newsletter in 1972. She titled it, ‘The Age of Envy’. She was ofcourse too philosophical about it.

      I would call it the Age of the Dummies. These dummies dig into warm volcanic craters and breed colonies of their types, till one fine day the volcano erupts!

      Do you think we should find someone to blame? How about God?

      🙂

    • Renate – Great point. There are a few islands left in this world which manage to stay afloat. These islands need to be admired and also imitated so that they do not become endangered. A lot of responsibilty lies on the parent who needs to lead by example.

  4. Aishwarya Says:

    Jealousy, comparing, and competition has always existed. Our ancestors probably compared their lands and its produce; we compare gadgets!

    I beleive there are two reasons for this rat race: one would be the rising cost of living and the other, technology. We can’t put a stop to either. One simple rule would be not to compete where its unnecessary. Buy a car just to get to a place. Get a phone just to make/receive calls. Put your child in a school where he/she would be happy. And listen to the kids when they express a wish. Reality shows should be restricted to children >12 who participate at their own will, not for tiny tots forced in. Thank God for the grading system, most get A’s and aren’t fighting over half a mark! Unlike my time, when I cried and cried and didnt eat for 2 days because I had scored less in Chemistry. How less?? 99/100. I had missed a fill-in-the-blank!:P Such was the pressure.

    Prioritize. If I watch youngsters drive in a Porsche and then see a happy young couple with a giggling kid on a rundown scooter – I would feel envious of the latter.:)

    Beautiful post, Sharmila.

    • Aish – Thanks for your wonderful comment as always.The other thing that is taking society by storm is the concept of international schools in India. These schools are expensive and probably provide extra activities which are not available in ordinary svhools. Our generation never went to international schools and we turned out ok. I think grading system is good but I do not agree with abolishing board exams.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Sharmila – Thank you.:) And I couldn’t agree more about the fancy schools! Assessments & exams are good – what parents, teachers, and students need to adopt is a healthy approach to the same. We also need noble men like your grandfather to guide us – to help us find happiness in the selfless act of giving and in the simple pleasures of life.

      • Thanks Aish. Being a Doctor yourself I am sure you understand his intentions fully.

  5. Anand Khare Says:

    You are correct. We need to take a stand. Better I be the change I would like to see. I promise I will try.

    My father himself a doctor perhaps worked like your grandfather. Looking at the conditions he worked, I decided not to become a doctor ever. Now, I repent my decision. He was right. He was following correct path. He showed us correct path.

    It is nice to be in company of Sudhir,Renate,Aishwarya and you. I am learning a lot.

    By the way, did you see that Subodh Bagchi’s write up on corporate governance? It has some relevance here.

    Anand

    • Anand – thank you for forwarding me the text. I shall read it now. Your grandfather followed a course he believed in. Everybody is destined to follow their own chosen paths, it just needs to be followed with the right values.

    • thanks for this . I am sharing it with all here –

      This speech was delivered to the Class of 2006 at the IIM, Bangalore on
      defining success by Subroto Bagchi CEO MindTree.

      I was the last child of a small-time government servant, in a family of
      five brothers. My earliest memory of my father is as that of a District
      Employment Officer in Koraput, Orissa. It was, and remains as back of beyond as
      you can imagine. There was no electricity; no primary school nearby and water
      did not flow out of a tap. As a result, I did not go to school until the age of
      eight; I was home-schooled. My father used to get transferred every year. The
      family belongings fit into the back of a jeep – so the family moved from place
      to place and without any trouble, my Mother would set up an establishment and
      get us going.
      Raised by a widow who had come as a refugee from the then East Bengal,
      she was a matriculate when she married my Father.

      My parents set the foundation of my life and the value system, which
      makes me what I am today and largely, defines what success means to me today.

      As District Employment Officer, my father was given a jeep by the
      government. There was no garage in the Office, so the jeep was parked in our
      house. My father refused to use it to commute to the office. He told us that the
      jeep is an expensive resource given by the
      government- he reiterated to us that it was not “his jeep” but the government’s
      jeep. Insisting that he would use it only to tour the interiors, he would walk
      to his office on normal days.. He also made sure that we never sat in the
      government jeep – we could sit in it only when it was stationary.

      That was our early childhood lesson in governance – a lesson that
      corporate managers learn the hard way, some never do.

      The driver of the jeep was treated with respect due to any other member
      of my Father’s office. As small children, we were taught not to call him by his
      name. We had to use the suffix ‘dada’ whenever we were to refer to him in public
      or private. When I grew up to own a car and a driver by the name of Raju was
      appointed – I repeated the lesson to my two small daughters. They have, as a
      result, grown up to call Raju, ‘Raju Uncle’ – very different from many of their
      friends who refer to their family driver, as ‘my driver’. When I hear that term
      from a school- or college-going person, I cringe.

      To me, the lesson was significant – you treat small people with more
      respect than how you treat big people. It is more important to respect your
      subordinates than your superiors.

      Our day used to start with the family huddling around my Mother’s chulha
      – an earthen fire place she would build at each place of posting where she would
      cook for the family. There was neither gas, nor electrical stoves.The morning
      routine started with tea. As the brew was served, Father would ask us to read
      aloud the editorial page of The Statesman’s ‘muffosil’ edition – delivered one
      day late. We did not understand much of what we were reading. But the ritual was
      meant for us to know that the world was larger than Koraput district and the
      English I speak today, despite having studied in an Oriya medium school, has to
      do with that routine. After reading the newspaper aloud, we were told to fold it
      neatly. Father taught us a simple lesson.

      He used to say, “You should leave your newspaper and your toilet, the
      way you expect to find it”. That lesson was about showing consideration to
      others. Business begins and ends with that simple precept.

      Being small children, we were always enamored with advertisements in the
      newspaper for transistor radios – we did not have one. We saw other people
      having radios in their homes and each time there was an advertisement of
      Philips, Murphy or Bush radios, we would ask Father when we could get one. Each
      time, my Father would reply that we did not need one because he already had five
      radios – alluding to his five sons.

      We also did not have a house of our own and would occasionally ask
      Father as to when, like others, we would live in our own house. He would give a
      similar reply,” We do not need a house of our own. I already own five houses”.
      His replies did not gladden our hearts in that instant.

      Nonetheless, we learnt that it is important not to measure personal
      success and sense of well being through material possessions.

      Government houses seldom came with fences. Mother and I collected twigs
      and built a small fence. After lunch, my Mother would never sleep. She would
      take her kitchen utensils and with those she and I would dig the rocky, white
      ant infested surrounding. We planted flowering bushes. The white ants destroyed
      them. My mother brought ash from her chulha and mixed it in the earth and we
      planted the seedlings all over again. This time, they bloomed. At that time, my
      father’s transfer order came. A few neighbors told my mother why she was taking
      so much pain to beautify a government house, why she was planting seeds that
      would only benefit the next occupant. My mother replied that it did not matter
      to her that she would not see the flowers in full bloom. She said, “I have to
      create a bloom in a desert and whenever I am given a new place, I must leave it
      more beautiful than what I had inherited”.

      That was my first lesson in success. It is not about what you create for
      yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.

      My mother began and galvanized the nation in to patriotic fervor. Other
      than reading out the newspaper to my mother, I had no clue about how I could be
      part of the action. So, after reading her the newspaper, every day I would land
      up near the University’s water tank, which served the community. I would spend
      hours under it, imagining that there could be spies who would come to poison the
      water and I had to watch for them. I would daydream about catching one and how
      the next day, I would be featured in the newspaper. Unfortunately for me, the
      spies at war ignored the sleepy town of Bhubaneswar and I never got a chance to
      catch one in action.. Yet, that act unlocked my imagination.

      Imagination is everything. If we can imagine a future, we can create it,
      if we can create that future, others will live in it. That is the essence of
      success.

      Over the next few years, my mother’s eyesight dimmed but in me she
      created a larger vision, a vision with which I continue to see the world and, I
      sense, through my eyes, she was seeing too. As the next few years unfolded, her
      vision deteriorated and she was operated for cataract. I remember, when she
      returned after her operation and she saw my face clearly for the first time, she
      was astonished. She said, “Oh my God, I did not know you were so fair”.. I
      remain mighty pleased with that adulation even till date. Within weeks of
      getting her sight back, she developed a corneal ulcer and, overnight, became
      blind in both eyes. That was 1969. She died in 2002. In all those 32 years of
      living with blindness, she never complained about her fate even once. Curious to
      know what she saw with blind eyes, I asked her once if she sees darkness. She
      replied, “No, I do not see darkness. I only see light even with my eyes closed”.

      Until she was eighty years of age, she did her morning yoga everyday,
      swept her own room and washed her own clothes.

      To me, success is about the sense of independence; it is about not
      seeing the world but seeing the light.

      Over the many intervening years, I grew up, studied, joined the industry
      and began to carve my life’s own journey. I began my life as a clerk in a
      government office, went on to become a Management Trainee with the DCM group and
      eventually found my life’s calling with the IT industry when fourth generation
      computers came to India in 1981.. Life took me places – I worked with
      outstanding people, challenging assignments and traveled all over the world.

      In 1992, while I was posted in the US, I learnt that my father, living a
      retired life with my eldest brother, had suffered a third degree burn injury and
      was admitted in the Safderjung Hospital in Delhi.
      I flew back to attend to him – he remained for a few days in critical stage,
      bandaged from neck to toe.

      The Safderjung Hospital is a cockroach infested, dirty, inhuman place.
      The overworked, under-resourced sisters in the burn ward are both victims and
      perpetrators of dehumanized life at its worst. One morning, while attending to
      my Father, I realized that the blood bottle was empty and fearing that air would
      go into his vein, I asked the attending nurse to change it. She bluntly told me
      to do it myself. In that horrible theater of death, I was in pain and
      frustration and anger. Finally when she relented and came, my Father opened his
      eyes and murmured to her, “Why have you not gone home yet?” Here was a man on
      his deathbed but more concerned about the overworked nurse than his own state. I
      was stunned at his stoic self.

      There I learnt that there is no limit to how concerned you can be for
      another human being and what the limit of inclusion is you can create.

      My father died the next day. He was a man whose success was defined by
      his principles, his frugality, his universalism and his sense of inclusion.

      Above all, he taught me that success is your ability to rise above your
      discomfort, whatever may be your current state. You can, if you want, raise your
      consciousness above your immediate surroundings.
      Success is not about building material comforts – the transistor that he never
      could buy or the house that he never owned. His success was about the legacy he
      left, the memetic continuity of his ideals that grew beyond the smallness of a
      ill-paid, unrecognized government servant’s world..

      My father was a fervent believer in the British Raj. He sincerely
      doubted the capability of the post-independence Indian political parties to
      govern the country. To him, the lowering of the Union Jack was a sad event. My
      Mother was the exact opposite. When Subhash Bose quit the Indian National
      Congress and came to Dacca, my mother, then a schoolgirl, garlanded him. She
      learnt to spin khadi and joined an underground movement that trained her in
      using daggers and swords. Consequently, our household saw diversity in the
      political outlook of the two. On major issues concerning the world, the Old Man
      and the Old Lady had differing opinions.

      In them, we learnt the power of disagreements, of dialogue and the
      essence of living with diversity in thinking.

      Success is not about the ability to create a definitive dogmatic end
      state; it is about the unfolding of thought processes, of dialogue and
      continuum.

      Two years back, at the age of eighty-two, Mother had a paralytic stroke
      and was lying in a government hospital in Bhubaneswar. I flew down from the US
      where I was serving my second stint, to see her. I spent two weeks with her in
      the hospital as she remained in a paralytic state. She was neither getting
      better nor moving on. Eventually I had to return to work. While leaving her
      behind, I kissed her face. In that paralytic state and a garbled voice, she
      said,

      “Why are you kissing me, go kiss the world.” Her river was nearing its
      journey, at the confluence of life and death, this woman who came to India as a
      refugee, raised by a widowed Mother, no more educated than high school, married
      to an anonymous government servant whose last salary was Rupees Three Hundred,
      robbed of her eyesight by fate and crowned by adversity was telling me to go and
      kiss the world!

      Success to me is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the
      immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to small
      people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to a larger
      world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving back more to
      life than you take out of it.
      It is about creating extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.

      Thank you very much; I wish you good luck and God’s speed. Go!
      kiss the world.

      True power is geting others to smile!

  6. Sorry to join in so late yet again. I hope this does not disqualify me from commenting about races. But seriously, this endless, self-defeating and pointless pursuit after economic prosperity and a higher standard of living has robbed us of the simple joys of life. We often spend long hours at the workplace doing stressful jobs, when we are home or commuting, our desperation to be in the loop and to stay connected keeps us glued to our Probook, Vostro or Blackberry. We don’t have any time for our families; we don’t have time for friends and we don’t have time even for our own selves. We are deliberately exposing ourselves to lifestyle related diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and renal problems. The saddest and most unfortunate part is – we are pushing our kids also into this mad race. It is indeed time to stop and reflect.

    “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat” – Lily Tomlin

    • Melwyn – Cannot disqualify you, it is not abt who comes and comments first here, albeit it is a bit like that on AB’s blog to increase the chance of getting a reply. Its good we are on AB’s blog and here, that way we have time for ourselves too!..Thanks for the apt quote, I have tweeted it. Love the quote.

  7. Even after having born with a silver spoon,still we need it to be adorned by something more valuable…..

    • Oh ya,at last Rahul is married ONCE MORE!!!!!!!Will you not wish the couple a happy life 😛

    • True Salman. How did your test go?

      • Oh you read that comment of mine there.Well,the paper was good enough.Some difficulty in the reading section only.I felt that one hour wasn’t enough for answering three passages…I missed two or three questions in the last one…other than that it was very good…results to be announced on the 13th day from exam.But to my amazement it was conducted in the Pakistan International School here at Jeddah inspite of the interview being in the British council itself.

        Thankful to you for having asked me 🙂

      • did you reply somewhere

  8. Sharmila, a very thought-provoking post. Today, marketing hype and a high-comsumption lifestyle seem to go hand in hand. It’s a good feeling to be content with life and not be materialistic. Now if only everyone saw it that way, the world would be a much happier place.

  9. parmaatma Says:

    While we are on rat race watch the lawmakers shaming democracy in the parliament.

    A law has just been passed in the House of Lords (The Rajya Sabha) declaring a person eligible to represent people and become a lawmaker on the basis of gender. You are accepted as a “Democractic” leader only if you are a 25% woman and 75% man!

    Jokers!

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