Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Well Beloved

One of the favorite questions that grown-ups like asking kids is what they will become when they grow up. At the age of eight or nine I was fairly sure of it. I wanted to be a detective, teacher, singer, IAS officer, prime minister, doctor, and secretly, a movie star! And I wanted to be all of them. The only thing that would change about the list would be the order, without any deletions. I remember that the grown-ups would laugh or smile, endeared.

Eighteen years have since passed and I realize that not much has changed. There still seems to be a list that I am following, though not by design. With the exception that it’s not the same list (well, except the movie star bit!). And that the grown-ups do not seem to be as amused about it as they used to be. I don’t blame them. I am not very amused either.

We live in a world that values specialists above generalists, a value passed down through proverbs like “jack of all trades, master of none”, a value that perhaps derives from its parent values of loyalty above fickleness, of focus above diversion. Words like “expert” and “master” have implicit in them a sense of respect. And while we have begun to beat the trumpet of multi-disciplinary with greater vigor than ever before, it still means, for all practical purposes, a gathering of the experts.

It isn’t to say that this is all bad. Just that this is how things largely stand. Perhaps this system has, indeed, evolved to be an optimized one, and people like me just got stuck-up somewhere in the evolutionary process. People who want to grow their crops and make their tools instead of devoting their energies to being great farmers and trading with other great metal-smiths. Perhaps this behavior is not economically rational. And if economic rationality is what that matters, it brings me to its anti-matter - Love.

Love means different things to different people. It is, after all, a word with a set of complex and abstract signified. Whatever it means or signifies, it is an idea that we obsess about, an idea (or a set of ideas) that is universally felt, across time, space and cultures. And I now realize, that like many, many others, I too have been driven by my quest for love or the idea of it. Only that the quest did not ever stop at the boundary between the personal and the professional, between home and work.

As I sat through a seminar on Typography, watching people speak of fonts, letter forms and italics as if they spoke of their beloveds, I felt a sense of envy. Not because most of them were revered specialists or masters of typography, but because they had felt love. A love so strong and loyal that some of them had spent their entire lives being married to their a,b,c,d’s. And here I was, with many an affair, but none that lasted. Which made me wonder, is choosing a profession like arranged marriage? You choose first, based on a set of limited information and then grow to like it, love it, despite the compromises and imperfections? Or for that matter like any marriage, even love, where to fall in love is easy but to remain in love requires some work? In either case, it seemed like I was the 21st century Casanova. But to be fair to myself (and to Casanova as well), I have, on occasions felt love, if only momentarily. Like the protagonist of Thomas Hardy’s “The Well Beloved”, where his perfect lady love, his “well-beloved”, is but an image in his mind, whom he sees in all the women that he has an affair with, if only ephemerally, I too have an idea of what it is and I do see it in whatever I do. Only that, like a ghost, it possesses my profession for a while and then goes poof! Either the idea of a soul-mate is overrated or I am just a lustful wanderer.

And yet, despite all warnings and advice to “settle down”, like the archetypal “Fool”, I take the leap of faith, over and over again. Maybe there isn’t one size that fits all and one formula that suits all. Maybe the wise man’s path to happiness is in knowing and reason and the fool’s path to happiness is in not knowing and passion. Or maybe they are both equally unhappy paths that one must tread. Then again, happiness and unhappiness are as elusive ideas as love!

On the brighter side, my current relationship with design management does allow me to flirt with other disciplines of knowledge as well. So maybe I’m still a fledgling in the art of love, but am definitely getting better in the art of flirting! And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun!


Karthik said...

I want to be an observer! and be paid for it.

the who said...

Karthik - Become a design researcher :)

jai said...

@ the who - watch what you rub off on others
@ karthik - 'sup ma nigah!!!