R. Clement Ilango IAS
Nothing in recent days has given me more unhappiness than my inability to attend the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of my batch of the IAS. Unavoidable commitments elsewhere are the unfortunate reason for this. In spirits I shall be with you, friends, and I wish the celebrations all success.
Fifty years ago, on a sunny salubrious morning when the sky resembled a spread of blue satin, I entered the precincts of the Academy – head high and chest distended with pride. Many probationers had already arrived. Everyone was smiling and at his polite best and had a sparkle in his eyes. The future looked awesome and nobody was going to stop our juggernaut. Ah, early twenties… That was when we were brimming not just with hormonal outbursts (sounds familiar?) but with Utopian ideals. On that day in June we had landed, as it were, on the Garden of Eden. Cupid did not lose much time to strike some of us and leave them with a burning forehead and a parching tongue. Some decided to stretch their romance eventually to the ritual of matrimony. Some others sighed like a furnace and suffered in silence over potential spouses but did not move forward. Some decided to leave nuptials to the wisdom of their parents. The name of the game, though, was unlimited, almost hedonistic, fun. Weekend picnics, hiking, billiards, bridge and booze (May god bless Bhai Dyan Singh and Barrett) were all an integral part of what closely aped an orgiastic experience!! Some of us were keen types. Some others even went on a pilgrimage to Rishikesh and Hardwar. On a bright clear day, we spotted peaks of the Himalayas from our lounge and wondered if gods lived there. We interacted with kindhearted, witty, erudite professors like Pathak, T.C. Kapoor and D.C. Tewari and with the scholarly T.N. Chaturvedi – to name just a few. We still remember Nawal Singh and his beasts. And who can forget the resourceful Hari who could even get us the moon had we wanted it!
We left the Academy after almost a yearlong ‘playing holiday ‘ and plunged into the rough and tumble of district administration. The prose of government work knocked out the poetry of Mussoorie. The garden paradise, the Queen of the Hills, was soon a distant memory. Unsuspecting Adams and Eves were now let loose on a wide world that was mostly uncharted territory. Most of us cultivated matrimony soon thereafter. For some of us marriage turned out to be a contest of endurance. For others it was an alliance of bliss. Our kids did not do us proud in all cases – some were high achievers, some were losers, some loved and some were ungrateful. Spouses of our kids did not in all cases turn out good: we had battles royal with their parents too. Good health eluded and is continuing to elude some of us. Some are on mood-altering and a whole lot of other medications. Some are slipping into dementia. The Grim Reaper has already taken away almost one fourth of us through illnesses and even bizarre accidents. We went through times of other calamity and distress when our fragile tickers broke into shreds and we felt desiccated and decimated.
We did, however, have our moments too of bliss and unsullied happiness. There were occasions when we laughed till our sides ached and tears of joy coursed down our cheeks. We received accolades and awards for good work. Some of us, allowing creative juices to flow, penned poetry, essays, biography, learned articles and novels. One of us even wrote a knowledgeable book of recipes for biryani. Some ventured into photography and politics. A few held key positions and competently handled assignments within and outside the country. Full of enthusiasm and full-blooded vitality we held our own against unscrupulous politicians and rebelled against unreasonable superiors. More importantly we helped people in distress and brought smile into their faces. We did many good things of which we are still proud.
Ah, the curtains are slowly coming down and will soon touch the floor. The lights will dim, the drama will end and soon the theatre will be empty. The candle of our lives has started burning low in the socket. Our three score and ten years plus are telling us that what really matters now is not how much money we made, what kind of jobs we had, how many countries we visited but peace, calm and joy. We are now enjoying the gift of old age – serenity. There are now no regrets, no apologies and no excuses. The telephones are quieter now and visitors few and far between. We now have three stances open to us: leaving everything to blind fate or, abandoning all reason, reposing our faith in an invisible God and patiently awaiting our extinction or being courageously defiant telling ourselves that if life is tough, we are tougher. We choose one stance or the other or more than one at the same time depending on the nature of our unhappiness. Life may not have been fair to some of us but we know that the best revenge against life is to live well. There is no point any more in doing anything that does not make us happy. Thanks to technology we are friends with a large number of people at least ‘ on line. We are able to see our near and dear ones on Skype.!! That bloke called Socrates said “an unpeopled life is not worth living “. For once the opinion of others has ceased to matter – isn’t that true enlightenment, authentic nirvana? There are among us those who lost their spouses. They are alone but not necessarily lonely. Some friends have to cope with frightful health issues. Some are living with disability. We know we cannot change our circumstances but have the freedom to decide as to how we react to them. Nobody can snatch that freedom away. As they were being led to the gas chamber, some inmates of the notorious concentration camp in Auschwitz in Poland were wailing but some others were singing and laughing. We can still smell the roses and blow the candles. We can still enjoy listening to the mellifluous voice of Lata Mangeshkar, playing golf and reading Shakespeare and savor the incredible taste of Alphonso mangoes. We are not going to focus too much on the finish line but continue to enjoy the race – whatever is left of it! Our life can end as a grand opera on a high note of fulfilment and joy – it is up to us to make sure it does!