Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Moral of the 'Story so far'
Part 1
-Mystery and meaning-

Try to read your life so far. Try to see your life so far as an open book in your mind's eye. Do you see the book of your life as a single epic, or is it more like an assortment of short stories with some characters appearing in all of them? Does every story in your book have a moral? Are you the protagonist, a participant, simply a narrator or all of these? Most importantly are you the sole author? Are you the author at all, or are you simply turning new leaves in a book of mysterious origin happening to bear your name? Is the life that you are reading now, one that you yourself scripted, or is it an ongoing play happening to have you on the cast for a while?

Has this exercise in imagination now prepared you to write your autobiography? That is an unfair question, for choosing what is worthwhile to include in a daily diary itself is hard enough, let alone knowing after a brief reverie what was truly significant in an entire lifetime. Writing an autobiography is not merely an extended exercise of recalling and retelling personal events. It is not just the summary of the experience of one person, since you were a different person during each experience. The prattle of the child you were, the bluster of the youth you were and the assured convictions of the wise man you may now see yourself as; all compete uproariously to dictate the narrative. You must hear out the versions of all the different persons you have been over the years. It is almost as if you are a detective at a crime scene piecing together a version of the event from a dozen eyewitness accounts from the incidental kid, the casual youngster or the alert passer-by. Or you are like a general who must decide on a single course of action based on reports from a troop of scouts who vary in their training and daring. Or you are like the director of a research laboratory who must referee results from several young researchers differing widely in acumen and application, before you declare your conclusions. Your vision of yourself and the description of your life will depend on whether you view your life as an urgent mystery, an ongoing battle or as a quest for meaning.

Great autobiographies the world over seem to be products of such a line of inquiry. To Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian nation; life was a series of urgent mysteries of ethical choices, an ongoing battle against inner weaknesses and a quest for the Truth which to him is indistinguishable from God. To the Dalai Lama, a modern-day apostle of non-violence; life begins as a mystery of his own identity as living god or leader of men, an endless battle against tyranny and a quest for freedom in exile, peace in a troubled world. To Helen Keller, the classic example of triumph of the human spirit; the world itself was a shrouded silent mystery and life was a battle against deprivation, which stirred in her the quest for an 'understanding which bringeth peace'. To Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, India's former scientist-president, intellectual life began by childlike wonder at the mysteries of flight in the sky, progressed through student and scientist life battling against financial, bureaucratic and institutional constraints; and inspired a quest for the development of India into a superpower - a vision that inspires a generation of young Indians today.

Longfellow says "Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time." While all the inspiration from the life histories of great men and women may not be enough to help us make history ourselves; it can in the least help us tell the sublime from the ridiculous in our own personal histories. Rather than asking self-pitying, self-defeating questions like "Why did this event have to happen at all?" or "Why me?" during retrospection; we may learn a lot more about our lives and ourselves by instead asking the questions, "What do I always find most mysterious?" and "What is it that gives the things I value the most their meaning?" Rather than mulling on our peculiarities and musing over our precariousness and predicaments, we will learn to read and write our lives better if we always remain aware of the mystery and eager for the meaning.

NEXT: Part 2: 

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