Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/22/15 10:46 AM

Feature: Only Rats Race!

Only rats race!

Actually, Ruskin Bond put it best. His Love Among the Bookshelves yields this nugget: “…I have mentioned my antipathy to running races. Why bother to come first when, with less effort, you can come in last and be none the worse for it? There is no law against coming in last.”

Everyone knows everything about the race. It’s the race to win top rupee, to become numero uno in your field, to own the biggest private jet/car/mansion, and so on and on. Actually, it’s the race one can never win.

For way too long, we have put ourselves in autopilot mode when it comes to doing the done things. Oftentimes, this ‘done thing’ holds a whole host of good and not-so-good activities under its capacious umbrella: landing a good job via merit, landing a good job on recommendation, jogging frantically to stay in the top slot, making large and small compromises in life, slogging in a soulless manner to bring the bread, butter, and if your tastes run to that, bacon, home. It’s basically about being always in motion.

The race also dictates that making it is as vital as breathing. Success is not measured on our terms, but the world’s. And of course, the world is constantly changing those terms, and indeed, the timeframe of those terms. Which is why a breed of wannabe Supermen and Superwomen come up, juggling a million things with dexterity …and we never hear of those who let those balls fall, do we?

Also, everything is scaled up. You can’t simply jog, you have to do an Ironman. You can’t set up a start-up, you have to sell it to a tech mogul for zillions. You  can’t start a coffee shop, it’s got to be mentioned in the local version of a Michelin Guide. And you can’t write just a book, it has to feature in some longlist or shortlist, and you have to be part of at least two panels at every litfest from Rohtak to Rameshwaram.

Running forward?
The goals have been pre-set, and we have to go for them. The choices have become harder. Sycophancy, putting up with humiliation, harassment, nepotism, all become part of the turf. And after a while, these things cease to matter, or if they do, they matter less. The soul hardens, the mind starts to ignore the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Some call this a pragmatic approach to life; others rue the chipping away of something intangible yet priceless inside them.

Who are those ‘others’? They are people who pause, take a deep breath and make a calculated decision. The decision involves stepping back, stepping off, stepping down. Moving away from the bottlenecks of life, physically, mentally, emotionally, economically. Deliberately downscaling one’s life so as to live better.

They have it hard, those people. The moment someone announces that they are cutting themselves some slack, friends and family give them dubious looks, employers and colleagues become downright dismissive. Failure is not an option simply because many think this is the face of failure. Or folly. It is seen as throwing away potential for just being happy, and never mind the irony in that sentence.

But these people, they go ahead. They are stout of mind, they embrace their nervousness, acknowledge and accept it before facing it down. They draw up a back-up plan, get a clear, unsentimental perspective on their future.

Initially they fake confidence till it becomes real. And yes, they listen to that inner voice that told them to back away from the millstone in the first place. Because they know that sometimes, work is just work, nothing more, nothing less.
The working blueprint

Management consultant, investor, columnist Mohit Satyanand calls himself a part-time mountain dweller and a full-time maverick, and is quite the poster boy of downscalers. Listen to him tell it the way it is. “Life is too short for a full-time job; too short and too precious. There are lakes to swim and hills to climb, sunlit valleys of green and gold, forests rich in dew and shadows. There’s music to be savoured and books to flood your mind. Time unwatched is its own treasure, life is a celebration.

“We are born to health, most of us; we are born to opportunity, and we are born in times of unprecedented material abundance. The pallette of technology, wealth and openness is vast, and allows us to craft a life uniquely our own.

“Recently, I was at IIM Ahmedabad, briefing a group of students about a property rights project. When we were done, they took me to chai and asked me about my life in the mountains, my life in theatre. One said to me: ‘I can also say that I want to go and live in the mountains. But who will let me?’

“Remember this,” I told him, “You need no one’s permission to be yourself.”

Madhumita Mitra, a lawyer who has joined the growing list of downscalers, says, “For me, it was all about timing. I had already decided where I wanted to live the quiet life. The ‘when’ was a tough call because of finances.

“The move meant economic downsizing, so I needed a nest egg. What I was walking away from was becoming Partner in the law firm I worked at. Then, out came the naysayers, saying my remote fastness was too isolated, asking why I wanted to leave a good job and one that paid well, besides. But I was fed up of the rat race, of city traffic, of superficial social interaction, and all that.

“What would I tell others wanting to downscale? Give it a lot of thought. Be mentally ready. Trim your life. Learn to live with yourself. Give that kind of life a try for some months before taking the final plunge. It’s not an easy life, but it is a wonderful life.”

Filmmaker-turned-farmer-turned author of  The Third Curve – The End of Growth, Mansoor H Khan, has his own take. “It was an awakening from within. I felt my life was pointless when I was in the city because nothing about the city excites me.

“All the straight lines, crowds and the mad pace to nowhere… so, taking that call was easy, almost automatic, though making it happen was a different story. It took me four films and 23 years of my life to make it happen! And the right life partner, because if she was not tuned to the same idea, then it could not have worked. When I did it, I felt I was getting another lease on life.

“I do worry about going bankrupt, doing what I am doing; that is a valid fear. This kind of life, though, it is not so much about downsizing as not chasing numbers forever. That is a self-defeating game. The earth is finite, only we believe otherwise, with our crazy notion of compounding time-value of money. We have premised our complete economic, industrial and financial system on it. But growth is over and we need to realise it. The arrow of enquiry has to point inwards.”

Almost everyone who is done with the daily grind have realised that they have upgraded the quality of their lives. For them, the quest to be happy — or happier still — has yielded fruit. It’s doing what you want, and what’s more, being successful at it too but on your terms, not the world’s. And, of course, winning is everything: winning a sense of contentment!

Is there one mantra for those aspiring to this kind of life? Well, many a downscaler holds fast to this belief: I do not aspire to run the world, I’m happy doing what I am doing.

This was the Sunday supplement lead in DECCAN HERALD of 22 Feb 2015.

Related Links:

Feature: On Downscaling


downscalingFeatureFeaturesGetting out of the rat racepressuresstress of life

Sheila Kumar • February 22, 2015

Previous Post

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *