These days, I am vacationing in Dhaka. One of the great pleasures of coming back to one's roots is that one can reconnect with childhood friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, these friendship revivals provide an opportunity to appreciate the subtle differences between seasonal friends and those who are always there for you!
Today's column is not, however, about friendship. It is a well-thought out response to a casual comment made by a friend whom I met after a considerable gap. He said, half in jest: "I like reading your columns, but wish you would sometimes write about us ordinary mortals!" My initial reaction was a defensive one. "What can I say about you guys that would make an interesting story?" I blurted out. No sooner had I uttered the words, I realised my mistake.
As a writer, it's crucial to receive feedback and, more importantly, to listen to the sentiments of the readers. On reflection, I could see his point. One tends to focus on the Steve Jobs' and Whitney Houstons since their charmed lives offer interesting fodder for a good write-up. But it's more challenging to write about the girl next door or just you and me! People, caught up in mundane chores like waking up each morning to head for jobs, struggling with office routine, and retreating home after a hard day to find solace and comfort with their families. In short, there is nothing glitzy about a mediocre existence. It's all so predictable, isn't it? Not the stuff that stories are made of! Yet, we, the ordinary people, constitute the majority of the world's population.
So, today's column is dedicated to us average folks. I realise that we are not all the same -- we have different needs and aspirations, and diverse lifestyles. It's also true that many of us do not possess the creative genius to leave our footprints on the earth. But there is a common thread running through the lives of ordinary individuals and the gifted and talented. We all love, we empathise, we are happy when we succeed and disappointed when we fail. Sometimes we are overcome with negative emotions like hatred, jealousy and anger, and we are capable of causing harm to our fellow beings. Bottom-line? Like the creative and outstanding we, the mediocre, are also humane and human.
Most of us may not reach the pinnacle of glory but we are the ones who appreciate great works of art. We sit in the audience for hours and listen to geniuses creating beautiful music. We read books that the lofty and inspired write and pronounce subjective assessments on their quality. We provide inspiration for creativity. In many ways we ordinary folks are indispensable. Without our adulation and critique, the extraordinary contributions of talented people would remain unnoticed and unappreciated.
Let's also admit that there is a strange comfort in anonymity. Sometimes it can be a blessing to be a part of the melting pot rather than a cherry tomato in a salad bowl! It provides us with a degree of privacy that shields us from the vulnerability experienced by celebrities. We are not required to play a role for the public eye. We are free to "be" who we really are.
However, once in a while we do experience those low moments. Moments when we wonder what it is like to possess extraordinary talent that can shake the world. What does it take to create a perfect piece of art or unearth a scientific discovery that can change the course of civilisation? We suffer pangs of longing for the attributes that guarantee outstanding ability. And, we go through introspection, seeking an answer to the enigmatic question: why were we not gifted with the talent of a Mozart or a Tagore?
Thankfully mediocrity also comes with a large dose of resilience. The average man does not break easily and is capable of accepting his mundane destiny! Despite our doubts and failings we are able to partake of the beautiful creations of those on the other side -- the masterminds beyond the boundaries of common reach. We can also emulate and implement many of the lessons they impart.
Yes, we may be immersed in mediocrity, but there are times when, like T. S. Eliot's Prufrock, we, too, wonder:
"And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question."
In all probability, we will never know!