Our Prisons

Patrizia Cavalli : Now that the time seems all mine

Now that time seems all mine

and no one calls me for lunch or dinner

now that I can stay to watch

how a cloud loosens and loses its color

how the cat walks on a roof

in the immense luxury of a prowl, now

that what waits for me every day

is the unlimited length of a night

where there is no call and no longer a reason

to undress in a hurry to rest inside

the blinding sweetness of a body that waits for me,

now that morning no longer has a beginning

and silently leaves me to my plans,

to all the cadences of my voice, now

suddenly I would like prison.

                 Translated from Italian by Judith Raumel

 Indian philosophy has always maintained that we are prisoners: Prisoners of greed, joy, sorrow, jealousy and myriad other emotions. Shacked by family life, our titles, our false dignity, our sense of importance we plod on trying to make some sense of this absurdity called life. Indian philosophy extorts us to break these shackles and free ourselves to attain immortality and eternal bliss. ‘Moksha’ or freedom is a concept which is ingrained in all of us. Yet, all we want is a prison.

In what is generally agreed upon as one of the greatest chapters in World Literature, “The Grand Inquisitor” from ‘Brothers Karamazov’, Dostoyevsky through the Grand Inquisitor talks about freedom. In this segment, Christ comes down to the earth and witnesses the burning of people at the stake for being heretics. The Grand Inquisitor sees Christ and starts a dialog with him. The crux of the dialog is this: Chirst had promised people freedom. He has given them the right to chose but people do not want freedom. They want to follow. In other words, they want to be shackled and led. My apologies for reducing that great chapter to a few lines but the crux of the problem remains the same. Not everyone longs for freedom. We want to be constrained. We want our prisons.

Let us take our professional life. When I left a leading MNC and started on my own, an elderly gentleman who runs a Manpower Consultancy told me, “One of the biggest shocks people will receive when they start on their own is irrelevance.  They will feel that what they do is not relevant to anyone. They have no importance whatsoever and people can get along without their help. If you are in a company and even if you are in a very lowly post, someone in the company needs you. There is some relevance to what you are doing as far as the company is concerned.  When you start on your own, there is no one who bothers about you. You are not relevant to them. This is the most discouraging part when you start on your own. You need to build that relevance.” True words indeed.

We look at our job to provide us multiple things: a sense of security as far as money is concerned, a purpose, standing in society and an assured future for our kids. Along with job come titles, which in turn give us a certain standing in the society and which in turn gives us an optimistic view of our future.  Inspite of all the temple visits that we do, the lecture from the gurus that we listen to and the general philosophical discussions that we have, the truth is that we do not want to give up any of these things that we have obtained after a long fight. We need them more and more as we grow old and we feel that these past achievements will be the security blanket against the indignity of old age.

Closely linked to the prison of employment is the family prison. The institution of family is the most complex institution that human being has ever devised. The effect of family on a human being is a result of multiple strands of emotions each pulling in a different direction. The net result of this vector cross product on a individual can never be predicted. On one hand, family can encourage be encouraging, protective and provide the launch pad for a person to soar. One the other hand, family can be overbearing, suffocating and very limiting to a person’s ambition. Some of the very good short stories in Tamil that I have read deal with different aspects of the family:  Jeyakanthan’s “Aadum Naarkaligal Aaduginrana” and La.Sa.Ra’s “Paarkadal” are examples.

Late teens and early twenties is when the restrictive nature of family is felt the most. This is the age when people rebel, when they want to move out, go out and ‘discover themselves’.  In the modern age, this does happen often because you get a chance to move out of your house by getting a job in a different place. Yet, as each one progresses through life, slowly they get back into the family fold. There is story by Jeyamohan, where he writes about a trained elephant which escapes into the jungle. In the jungle it sees a trap laid by a hunter and returns back to its handler realizing that it cannot survive with the help of its owner. The same happens to many of us. Once we encounter the world without the protection of the family we come to realize our own vulnerability. Added to it comes the understanding on what our parents would have faced to bring us up. All this pull us back into the family fold again.

‘Discovering themselves’ to many people turns out to be a journey of discovering the right person whom they want to share their life with!! (Ofcourse this is a generalization but for majority of people this may turn out to be true is what I conclude from anecdotal evidence. ) This person for a while becomes the focus of your life and the driving force of your life. The intensity of love is a prison that we build ourselves. In case of a family, the prison already exists. In case of love, it is our doing. We want someone to love us, someone to care for us. We want someone to love and someone whom we can take care of. Nothing is more heart breaking than a failure in love. (You just need to read some poetry to understand this.)

This poem talks about the shackles of love and about breaking free. Now that the poet is free, she can do what she wants. Yet there is a feeling of incompleteness due to this freedom. As the poet finally says, she is more happy being in a prison. It is the same with all of us. We need our own prisons. We cannot face the world and life as a completely free person. We need the protective walls of various prisons. To break these walls and walk free takes a lot of courage, determination and a very deep understanding of life which only the great gnanis possess.  Ordinary mortals like us end up praying to God to give us enough bricks so that we can build a prison of our choice.

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