“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Lotus-eater

    P and I were casually talking about some of her relatives; this couple who are quite close to us and are absolutely great people to be with - both in their late fifties, their daughters, professionals, happily married and settled. The one word that comes to my mind to describe them is - elegant. The couple has this aura of gentle charm of true-blue aristocrats, has easy-going manners. They put you at ease straight away - that is one real quality of goodness in people. Right from the time of our marriage 22 years ago, I had liked this couple very much; though never keen on socializing, I was always happy to spend time with them. Both were professional bankers; both took VRS ( Voluntary retirement) when they found the stress of their jobs too much to handle and now lived quietly, content, spending time among their place in Kochi, and the daughters' in the US and elsewhere.

   Contemplating on VRS myself, I said - ' Look at Chettan - he is happily spending his life, reading and travelling and just being himself'. P replied - ' Oh yeah, he was always a 'Sukhimaan'. I would translate the word Sukhimaan to Lotus-eater. My Malayalee readers might help me with a better word.

   It reminded me of the old joke about the 'Development/ progress' - obsessed American meeting the Indian farmer, relaxing beneath a tree, playing a flute and enjoying the breeze. Don't you want development, the American asks, we will give you money to buy cows. Interested, the Indian farmer asked - Good, what then? 'You can make more money and then you will be able to have your own farm'. Wow, this is great! What then? 'You can make more money and buy cars and build big houses'. Awesome, says the farmer, sitting up, tell me more. 'And then', said the American, 'you will have so much money that you can relax and live happily ever after'. The Indian farmer leant back and took up the flute. He smied and said - Thats exactly what I am doing now.

   There is a short story by Maugham, 'The Lotus Eater'.  The protagonist in the story is a banker!  Maugham, like Hemingway and Shute, shaped my interest in English literature. 

   But more than the word Sukhimaan, P's intonation was loaded with meaning - it was an accusation. That stung me. I asked her what is wrong with being a sukhimaan. We are not talking about laziness, of indolence, but of someone in his mid-fifties deciding to take it easy. He opted out of the rat race, of the stress that was affecting his physical and mental health - he just retired. He might be making less money, he may not have a 'status' now, no authority, no influence, no domination, no pomp and postion. But he is happy. Is it a crime not having to struggle, not to suffer, not to take up huge responsibilities, not to be stressed? What is the purpose, the ultimate goal of our lives, the very meaning of existence, if it is not the pursuit of happiness? Why do we envy those who have stopped pursuing happiness and have realised that happiness is not a goal at the farthest end of horizon but is right here, at this moment?

  'Moreover', I told P - 'take that barb out of your mouth.'

********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 22-07-2012


  1. Those set of people are; I would say bold and courageous to step out of the rat race. They choose to not blindly follow others and take it easy. One needs guts to take such a decision. Think about it. If I had to choose it; though few years later; I think I would still dread

  2. The cliched observation of P, is perhaps misplaced.

    Why? Because the couple in question opted out of the scramble after ensuring what they had to do. As you mentioned their children are well settled and with no other agonising questions to bother they opted for the wisest of things, "to live"!

    If one can do best what one loves to do , and if that would not hamper another well it is then good to be basking in the envious glare of others who run the rat race incessantly.

  3. It so happened that I started reading this post from the end. As I read "He might be making less money, he may not have a 'status' now, no authority, no influence, no domination, no pomp and postion. But he is happy. Is it a crime not having to struggle, not to suffer, not to take up huge responsibilities, not to be stressed?" I nearly thought I was the subject of the discussion. I opted for VRS from a bank in 2001 when I had over six years to go. The whole world called me mad to exit the bank at that stage in my career, but I have never felt a tinge of regret, for that one decision helped me live life to the full, doing things I enjoy.

  4. @Wodehouse: Sir, you endorse my wish! It is those unfortunate who have no interest in life other than their profession find themselves in a ditch on retirement. The only snag is income, though the pension money is a solace. But activity - I think I won't have enough time to do the things I would want to do! Thanks a lot! :-)


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