Solitude.

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. ~Henry David Thoreau, “Solitude,” Walden, 1854

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now.

These two quotations sum up the thrust of my post.

My definition of loneliness is being uncomfortable when alone and, of solitude as being content and happy with oneself when alone.

I am never lonely. For some strange reason, reading books, listening to music, surfing the web etc when alone, are not considered to be truly living in solitude, by some of my friends who think that true solitude is to be completely isolated with nothing but nature to keep one company, like Thoreau experienced in Walden. I tell them that he had books to keep him company and I have the modern conveniences to do so. I add that with modern methods of communication, one can choose to be in company or not and that is precisely what solitude enables one to do.

The question then arises as to what one does if one prefers a life of solitude but is married. I was married for forty years, and still maintained that I could enjoy my solitude, or periods of it, despite my marriage, as did my late wife. This quotation says it so completely that no further elaboration is necessary. “In a soulmate we find not company but a completed solitude.” ~Robert Brault

Practically speaking, I enjoy my solitude most when I am meditating in the early mornings, solving crossword puzzles and reading books. I enjoy the banter and the company of my blog world as well as my real world, but there is only so much that I can take of that. After some time, I tire of such activity and prefer to return to my solitude. So much so, that a number of my friends now strongly believe that I am heading towards being a recluse. That does not bother me as much as it seems to bother them! To them I say that they are not worried that I will become a recluse as much as they worry that with my absence, they are afraid of being lonely! Neat, is it not?

How about you dear reader? Do you prefer solitude or are you afraid of loneliness?

Boredom.

Recently, I had an occasion to comment on a blog on the subject of boredom and I mentioned that the word itself did not exist in any Indian language and that the concept is alien and one that has been imported along with western life styles and values. This was a passing remark but subsequently, I did some research and also got my sister Padmini to, so that my observation could either be validated or negated. She is the more capable of the two to undertake such research and I am not surprised with her findings. I reproduce her mail to me as a guest post.

BOREDOM

“I am bored!” is a statement that is the nightmare of any mom with kids running around at home, especially during holidays. Why kids? The word boredom is trotted out with regularity by everybody with time on their hands or heads.

Strangely enough the word bore/boring has found its way into Indian languages. When I searched for equivalent words in Tamil and Hindi I got only words close to it, not an exact translation as it were. The word has been Indianised and is used in the languages as ‘bore’.

Why is this word not available in Indian languages? As an aside we do not have a word for ‘widower’ as well. More about this in another blog! The concept of boredom is itself an anachronism. Boredom arises from loneliness. India has a population of 1.1 billion. It is an open society, where people interact freely with family, neighbours and even strangers whom they meet casually in a public place. In this milieu, if you are lonely and getting bored, that is a matter of concern.

From a woman’s point of view in India a woman never had time—I am talking about the middle and working class women. After a day’s activity at home they would meet in the temple and apart from sending applications to the Almighty to send solutions for their problems they would exchange news, views and gossip, why even eligible alliances for prospective marriages! It was a strong support system and is still valid in neighbourhood temples in cities, towns and villages even today.

The men too had a busy schedule and interacting with neighbours and the village people was an on going project all the time. The men would meet in the evening under a tree in the village centre, where a platform was built and accommodated the elders. The daily news was read out and discussed, village problems were thrashed out and solutions found. Religious discourses, music and dance, dramas and the telling of the old stories was entertainment. Everybody went home early to bed and early to rise as there was only light from tapers and oil lamps. The day was busy with farming, religious rituals, commerce and earning a living.

With the advent of electricity the radio brought in the outside world. Movies mostly ‘Touring Talkies’ that brought films to tents in larger villages and towns was a big attraction. The TV has brought multiple families with myriad problems to watch and experience like mirrors in soaps in all languages that keeps people glued at prime time. The survival of the fittest keeps every kid glued to their books and projects and chasing grades.

The only term that came into being was ‘Time Pass’ and there were many activities for this. Is boredom then an alien modern concept that has now been patched onto the Indian psyche? Maybe as teenage angst, a view of a woman’s daily life as drudgery, a time to sit and reflect and be comfortable with yourself and your thoughts has been superimposed with the notion that all this causes boredom.

Frankly I have never felt bored—even when I had to sit in the car waiting for somebody, I would find the world outside through glass windows interesting and amusing as well. However this is an Indian pastime as cars are parked on roads full of people, trade and activity. Maybe I would be bored if I was sitting in a humongous car park looking at other models of automobiles. But even then there you have music to keep you company! In my visits abroad too I have found life fascinating in the trains, in the shops, streets and museums.

Boredom is for those who invite it to the exclusion of all other alternatives. What is your take?

Senior Citizen Story II

My friend Anand and I had to change our bench from the usual one where we sit every evening at the joggers’ park due to a sudden downpour. We shifted to a bench under some trees. This bench was already occupied by an infrequent visitor, who we had seen at the park but had not met and made friends with.

The rain gave us an opportunity to make friends with this stranger and it turned out to be an illuminating meeting.

Our new friend is now 81. He is a Sindhi who came to Jaipur from Hyderabad, Sindh, in 1947 after India and Pakistan became two countries. His father started a small business in 1948 and our friend made it grow and flourish. A typical story of many such refugees who had to leave their homes in what is now Pakistan and move to India.

He is blessed with two sons neither of who stays with him at Jaipur. He is a widower and lives all alone in a palatial home in Jaipur and having sold off his business to retire, spends his time shuttling between Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Pune. His two sons live in these two cities.

The illuminating story that we heard was the sad change in his life style. Neither of his daughters in law is able to provide the kind of food that he was used to getting when his wife was alive. Moreover, his attempts at training the servants in both households have not been taken well by the daughters in law who fear that the help may leave if he does not handle them properly!

Our new friend’s loneliness and sense of rejection by his family came out loud and clear and broke our heart. There was little that we could do other than to invite him to join us whenever we were at the park and if he would like to visit us at our homes.

Such stories are very common among widows. This is the first time that either Anand or I had come across the same story from a man. Just goes to show that one has to be very lucky to be a Senior Citizen and be happy among friends and family.