“The Open Sky Paradox”

A fortnight back, I woke at 3 in the morning. On a sand dune in Bikaner. For a change, it was not the whirring fan and gray ceiling of my room that I saw. It was an old love instead. The open sky, black satin with shimmering sequins, that stretched endlessly. The last time it was that way, it had inspired my first blog!

The sky does a lot of things to us. Other than showing us our insignificant place in the great scheme of things, it is an infinite source of hope and calm. I do not know why this is so, but that is why we always look to the ‘heavens’ in times of despair.

Only last evening, my 3 companions and I had been bitterly disappointed by..mmm… how the desert looked. It was not the romantic rolling, swirling dunes of reddish sand marked by wind with camel caravans silhouetted against the sun. To put it mildly, it didn’t look like what the desert looked on TV. Or in the “English Patient”. It was more an endless stretch of sandy scrub with un-duny sand dunes here and there. To the non-discerning eye, not very different from what you get in dry areas near the coast of Tamil Nadu and Orissa (But then, why will it look different, if as science tells us, this area was all once a sea?). Our guide desperately tried telling us that the rain gods had been too kind this year, with upto 15 days of continuous rain. This had led to scruffy shrubs popping up everywhere, even on the dunes and trees looking rather leafy. Melons and other creepers seemed to be flourishing. Rather unbecoming of a desert. Apparently some of the local crops which are not very used to rain had been adversely affected! Much of our disappointment also stemmed from the fact that by the time we trekked up on camels,it was mostly dark. Whatever they show you on TV, trust me, riding a camel for an hour and a half, is not very romantic. One can hardly romance anything when in constant danger of falling over the creature’s head or tail.

However, a superb fire-cooked meal and a serene nap later, with a lovely view getting clearer, I was at peace. We really were in the desert, sleeping on a sand dune under the open sky. The powers of suggestion of the human mind are incredible 😉 A peaceful mind leads to clear thinking and it got me wondering on something we were discussing the previous evening.

A great number of India’s ‘teeming masses’ are those who are poor beyond what most of us cannot imagine. They sleep in the open facing the vagaries of nature. A lot of their lives are spent, not to mention ostensibly the government’s & NGOs’ & activists, towards having a stable existence. The core sign of this stability being a roof over their heads. And yet, what exactly does a good percentage of people who are assured of a roof and more, increasingly do? They go off on holidays where they take great pleasure in sleeping rough in the open, in the most  unlikely of places! They pay a reasonable price for it  to boot.  Just like me.

This peculiar ‘cycle’ is prevalent in other things we do as well, if we look closely. Trade was built initially on barter of hand-made objects built to the convenience of the person needing it. Then we got civilized and started mass producing things. Civilization moved on though. Leading us to the latest fad. Custom built cars and what not. And they cost much more too.

From coarse grain meals that the ‘poor’ eat, we progressed to fine grains, atta and maida. Yet, those with enough money to spare now eat ‘whole grain cereal’, ‘multi-grain bread’, bajre ka roti etc etc. “Brown sugar” at Barista anyone? Khadi clothes and jute bags…just keep your eyes open and things just keep popping up.

I don’t really have an explanation for all this, other than the fact that it raises another question. What do we really want?? Curiously, I find it reflected in one of those useless theories they teach us in management – ‘Maslow’s Pyramid’ or some such thing.  It starts with the human quest for basic needs and ends with him attaining self actualisation (‘nirvana’?) after going through all the transformations necessary for marketing management to be a subject on its own. A similar parallel may also be drawn to the four stages of life as defined in the Hindu scriptures. Inevitably, even kings are advised to undergo “vanaprastham” to finish with.

On simplified terms, it turns out you end up with what you started out with and are mighty happy about it. Should this be treated as reason enough to abandon all efforts for generating “sustainable livelihoods” & “emancipating the deprived classes”? Maybe we should, if only just to spite our Arundhati Roys. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry a lot about a holocaust or a big war or climate change. We just might enjoy the aftermath and save ourselves!

I do not know what exactly a ‘paradox’ means, but surely this is one and I named it after the muse.