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Sparks and embers of life

My native cultural milieu has this unsettling term: in life you have to “settle down”. The first step involves selling yourself into this indentured slavery called a job.

Secondly, marrying someone acceptable to society, your family, the neighbours, the grocer and the nice mailman, and of course the dog. Thirdly, before you realise the con being perpetuated on you, having a child and locking yourselves into the earn-pay-earn-some-more hamster wheel. It ends with you old and tired and spending money you don’t have on your non-existent health.

But hey, you suddenly have your grandchildren squirming on your knees (forget for a minute that they’ll be anywhere else but there), society and all the other grandpas say what an outstanding member of society you are, and you sit there too deaf to hear it. By then you have invested so much in the system that you cheerfully plan the same fate for those uncomfortably twisting grandkids perched on your wobbly knees.

Why is family life so highly regarded? Arguments for not leaving your “genetic legacy” on this planet are many. But forget the burgeoning human population, the miseries of pushing little humans out of even littler openings, and the brouhaha of child-rearing. All of them can be argued against rationally and are often argued against emotionally. Let’s ask ourselves this: what’s the purpose of a family? Humans, excluding the weird misanthropes, are social creatures.

And, like that child begging us to not leave her alone in the dark with the imaginary monsters under the bed, we too seek to have someone with us as we face the world and, maybe, the denizens of the dark places in our own head. Love is what makes us human.

To be held foremost in another person’s affection, to have someone think of you, to love you (at times even more than you love yourself) is rare, special and something that has given rise to much poetry and even more heartache. Love doesn’t really need papers or social conventions to sanction and acknowledge it, but if marriage is what does it for you, by all means pursue it and “settle down”. If that’s what makes one happy and gives meaning to one’s life, good for you!

That is reason enough and a happy life to you. But, reasons of social convention, familial pressure or the misplaced idea that your progeny will help in your old age are never good reasons to have a family of your own.

Fundamentally we are alone. Life is a series of transient interactions with others, some of such depth and meaning as to give the illusion of being eternal or permanent. Nothing is permanent. Your family, your progeny, all your sons and daughters, may be with you till the end. But it is you and you alone who’ll rage and fight the coming long night. If love and life before this makes you happy, cherish it, treasure it and know that temporary though it is, all that’s fleeting is not fool’s gold.

Sparks flare and soon die, but in the interim, burn incandescent.

shrihari.sankar@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 4:05:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/sparks-and-embers-of-life/article7471418.ece

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