Friday, March 9, 2012

are you listening

It was some important day in the college calendar. Some guest speaker had been invited to address the faculty and the students in the auditorium. I had joined the faculty the year before, and was already drawing attention as a dashing teacher. I was 27, full of assumptions about myself, quick with a comment for everything, and expected people to pay attention to what I said.

I listened to the talk for first five minutes. At the end of the seventh I was looking around to discover if anyone else was listening. By the tenth I had looked at my watch three times, and yawned once. In twenty minutes I was thoroughly bored, and was telling myself, it was awful to sit through such an insipid talk. I wanted to exchange some my favourite quips with my neighbour. But he was sold out to the speaker, as if it was the greatest day in his life. I was disgusted. I tried to catch a word or a phrase from the talk only to convince myself that this should be the last talk in his life.

The one hour talk took ages to end, and before thanks were fully said I jumped to my feet with a loud sigh of relief. My neighbour looked at me with a smile, and said, “The talk was wonderful, wasn’t it?” I retorted, “It almost killed me with appreciation”.

We had a small black scroll hanging in our staff room. We had made a habit of writing everyday on it some quote from some famous person. Usually the first thing I do on entering the staff room everyday is to go the scroll, read the quote, and make a comment. The next day I found scribbled on it, “Don’t say yes, or no to anything; yes attaches you, no repulses you. They don’t lead you to truth. Take from both whatever promotes your search for truth”. The source was mentioned as ‘Be a Man, My Son’.

I was confused. I knew a famous poem of Rudyard Kipling that ends with those words. But the quotation was not from the poem! The words, though, caught my imagination. Next day I found another quotation scribbled on the scroll from the same source: “Growing up is automatic, but maturing is a matter of choice”. I could take it no more. I found out that the colleague who was my neighbour during the talk had done this. I saw him a little later in the day, and asked him about the ghostly source. He simply said, that was the topic of the talk which the other day bored me to death. He was quoting from the talk. He waited for my unfailing habit of making a comment. When it was not forthcoming, he said, “Listening is half the wisdom”.

It was a great eye-opener for my arrogant youth. I was bored because I was not listening.

We get bored when we refuse to listen to sounds that abound around us. Life speaks to us through many voices. The tweeting little bird on a tree across our window sill, the whish-whish of the passing breeze, the pattering raindrops on the cloudy asphalt, the humming of someone in the bathroom under shower, a haunting Lata or Jagajit ringing the mobile, rolling voices of kids playing next door- a million anonymous sounds help us to mature into noticing the composition of life around us. We can’t hear them because we hear only what we choose, and the poverty of what we choose easily bores us. Someone inside us wants to hear all the voices of life endless, and explore the infinite ways our living can be enriched, while we bore ourselves to death in our utter poverty. We are afraid to explore, afraid of fresh frontiers, scared of the sights and sounds our ‘programming’ can not handle. We have lost our freedom before seeking it. And naturally, in bondage to ourselves, we break.

Boredom is a sign of our slavery to our programming, our surrender to inputs filtered through a rigid mind. When we fail to see beyond what we see, hear more than what we hear we are bored. Pundits of economics tell us that ‘insatiable desires’ of man are a key to economic growth. Moral philosophers tell us that these desires are responsible for all our sorrows. Vedantists are of the view that man’s craving for unlimited happiness is a pointer towards his own limitless Self. Life is a metaphor for non-linear growth. When we stifle it, life rebels with boredom.

In my teens I loved to chant the Mugle Azam thriller ‘pyar kiya to darna kya’. Later when I heard the Subhalakshmi classic ‘mere to giridhar gopal’, I cried. One day when I came home after a couple of days from a tour, my 4 year daughter came running, jumped on me and said just one word, ‘papa’, I again cried, and suddenly understood the two songs as I never did till then. I travelled between my teens, and my thirties, and the whole stretch of time lighted up with a new wisdom. The mundane and the sublime lost their borders.

Over the years since I woke up to the need of listening, I have learnt that life is a beautiful gift provided we don’t ration out its abilities.

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