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As a child I lived in a small industrial town located in some remote corner of Orissa. It was an unhappening place with people owning a lot of money and not enough avenues to spend or invest. The best use of their money was in market buying lot of jwelleries and dresses and small parties and long drives to Bhubaneswar (then the only “big town” of Orissa). I remember my parents’ had a deliberate disgust for this lifestyle of the industrial town. Mom stayed away from kitty parties (where women discuss each others’ sarees and husbands) , dad from gossiping-colleagues and flatter-in-need bosses and concentrated on their profession completely. We too were isolated from the general crowd of club-going, over-spoilt kids and were asked to stay at home, indulge in private fantasies, develop hobbies, spend time with a handful of relatives, but most importantly study…

Yes, the isolation that my family chose for itself literally made a self-centered, peevish, nerd out of me. But my parents were human too, they had one particular weakness…they entered into the “competition” of that small town through us. In short, their entire life was spent in proving to that community that their kids were better off in studies than others. Mom would spend hours with us, doing household chores, helping in homeworks, teaching me Indian history, asking Geography questions, hitting me when maths sums or chemical equations went wrong and giving a warm hug when I scored highest in some subjects. Dad would tip-toe into the house during exams, not disturbing our flow of question-answer schedules, open his files and sit quitely until we finished the revisions at nth point of night. Mom would not serve dinner to the entire family until we properly finished our studies. Sometimes at 1 am we would be served chilled upma, or cold chapatis and sabji and then we would be given a joy ride in the old Lambi (lambretta scooter) in order to relax after the taxing sessions. They hardly spent time talking to each other, their entire time went in making us “academically good” in that place, so much so that now when we have left the town they hardly have any topic to discuss between themselves.

But unfortunately, the competitions in those towns are fought on a different level. There is not only a war regarding “whose kid scores what percentage” but there’s also a war regarding “whose kid is in which engineering college/medical college just after 10+2” and then “whose daughter/son is married to which wonderful eligible single in town”. When I chose literature as majors after my second year, the entire community behaved as if they had won the competition. Some of my father’s colleagues came and told him sadly, “she was not that bad a student but poor girl she has ruined her life…sometimes parents should decide for their childrens’ welfare…you should have given a fat donation and put her into some Engineering college” . Then when I did well and chose research as my field, ladies came and sympathized with mom, “when girls are getting married she goes to do research…any break ups kya? how are you going to choose a “Suitable Boy” (remember Vikram Seth) for her…she will not come home to be seen by any grooms family.” Poor mom-dad! They felt, they had failed in every competition towards the end of their service tenure for I didnot come under the ambit of any of the “common success equations” which their community understands…

Competition becomes so much a part of nuclear families in industrial town, that it almost gets into your blood. From studies to jobs to boy/girl friends to marriage (“suitable boy”), everything becomes a competition and you have to be quick — very quick to grab things. I remember calling up a long-lost friend from school a few years’ back thinking she’ll be happy to speak to me — but no she thought I had called up to request her to forward my resume for a job in the MNC that she works in. She responded with a tight-lipped “hello” and hung up even before I could ask her about her life in general. For a moment I thought I had failed in the competition called life, had to pay the price of choosing “the untrodden path”, but then a moment later hardened up for some new utopian destination.

I tend to retailiate more severely these days, have become more impatient with people or with what I think is “unprofessional” or “not-of-business” behaviour. Sometimes parents say am being harsh and too ambitious, but that’s what they and the society has made of me– the grammar in life’s workshop being “everything’s fair in love and war” and now it’s an open war dear

I stop here…almost 1.30 am. I am reminded of that famous soliloquy from Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It , called “Seven Stages of A Man’s Life”…you can also rephrase it as “Seven Stages of A Woman’s Life”, where he famously states that “all world’s a stage…” and describes the seven different stages of human beings from childhood to death:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” โ€” Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

Mr. Shakespeare (there are recent debates that it might be Ms. Shakespeare ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) knew the grammar of competition in the 16th century much better and more philosophically than many of us know today. Even while coming from an elementary grammar school, he left far behind the great “University Wits” (a school of dramatists who dominated the literary scenario of the time) in the competition of producing world class plays. Closer to home, the Sanskrit poetic genius Kalidasa competed with none other than his wife Vidyottamma, to write immortal epics like Abhigyanasakuntalam, Meghadootam, Kumarsambhavam and so on, which became landamarks of Sanskrit literature.

There are many other instances to substantiate the point that competition has both a positive and a negative angle, but it might suffice to say that what you make of it is your own choice and prerogative…get destroyed by it or destroy the competing factors…Choose wisely!

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