Back in the 70s and 80s, our parents just had one thing on their minds. Securing a decent job. What that job entailed always came a distant second. First, it was job security. Because much like our parents, our country too was finding its feet in the new world order. Job creation was slow and very sarkari. People were underpaid. Patience took precedence over passion. Economics took precedence over passion. Raising your family took precedence over passion. You grabbed with both hands whatever you got. You took up a bank job even if you hated math all your life. You took up a sales job even if you hated people. You worked in a factory even if you dreaded science. You took up a teaching job despite hating kids. And you essentially toiled away in a job that you hated all your life. If you didn’t get along with your manager, you waited 30 years for your manager to retire. That was the only solution; quitting simply wasn’t.
People didn’t follow dreams back then, they just followed pay checks. And even those little dreams were rationed. You dreamt of owning a two-wheeler, sending your kids to a good school, having a gala meal on Sundays and locking on an HMT watch on your wrist every morning. You made enough only to dream of these little things. The system was rigged in such a way that you had to work damn hard to exist. Not live, but just exist. There was no place to showcase your ‘other’ talents while you existed. There was no YouTube. There was no Facebook. There was no Anu Mallik giving you a break in Indian Idol. No matter how good you were, you could never go viral. There was just one place where you showcased your talent: society get-togethers.
If you were a talented singer, the only time your talent was on exhibit was during antakshari. That was the only time your talent could make itself heard while taking prabu ka naam. You built a loyal fan following that included all of 15 people in the party. And that fan following gave you enough joy to help you forget existing for a few minutes.
You had to wait for one whole year for the visarjan to showcase your dancing to the world. You competed for limelight with kids and drunk dudes. If you still managed to stand out, then you landed dancing gigs during other society functions. If you made jokes, you just made people laugh. That’s as basic and beautiful it would ever get. You didn’t land an Amazon special. You just made a bunch of people laugh and your art form would not get you branded as a stand-up comic, instead they would call you “full of life”. If fashion designing was your calling, you could find it only while designing clothes for your kid’s fancy dress competition. Pots, bottles, plates and trays served as canvases for artists. And your art exhibition was when guests visited home. But the ones who had the shittiest deal were those who loved writing. Their only outlet was writing letters to friends and family. Their finely crafted words laced with effortless wit that took quintals of effort had just an audience of one. The literature they painfully and lovingly produced would die with just one person, hidden from the rest of the world for posterity. And yet, they derived joy out of it. Maybe that’s true love for craft.
Come to think of it, we are actually the first generation of middle class Indians to be able to follow our passion and talent. To be able to fend work for ourselves based on our interest. Pick a college and a course based on our passion. We lucked out big time thanks to the generations before us who chose not follow their passion. This is what makes the likes of Dinchak Pooja, Baba Sehgal, Venu Mallesh and Taher Shah role model material for me. They followed their calling, passion and talent without any inhibitions. They did it just because they could. Unlike so many of us who don’t exploit this privilege that has been thrust upon us. Generations before us have worked their butts off to ensure this much for us. I just hope we don’t squander it away by being cynical and judgemental of our own abilities; instead we go out there with our talent to create things that can outlive all of us.