Island of Plenty in the Lake of Despair

We live in a world of opportunity. There is a new addition to the already-long list of the ‘objects of desire’ almost every single day. The gadgets and utilities that we take for granted are not even a decade old and yet, the most frequently heard word is about the ‘new’ gadget on the block.

The golden age of communication is upon us, and there are multiple methods to keep the conversation going. We are connected like never before, have instant communication possibilities with just anyone we wish to speak with, we can share pictures, music, videos and anything else that makes us forget the distance between us and our loved ones. The rage of text messaging in the early years of the decade gave way to social networking sites and now the multi-communication modalities in a single gadget makes making us, perhaps, the most connected and communicating of all species on this earth.

The tale unfolds a little more, and what have we here? The markets are flooded with the ‘latest’, the razzle-dazzle of malls make the most reluctant of us take a look, just for the sake of it and then the world opens up to us, through the wares that are everywhere. The temptation is augmented by the various promotions during the festivals, which are a-plenty and then the discounts and the bargains during the non-festival festive seasons.

The rich and the famous are now not the only ones who fly abroad for their holidays, but as the economy opened up, the physical world also got a little smaller. The business and pleasure trips increased and so did the snob value of certain jobs and careers.

Over the past one decade or so, the availability of entertainment and the choices have multiplied as have the methods. The audio-visual media canvas has expanded simultaneously, and contrary to conservative thought, that some media may disappear, there is place for everything to co-exist.

This expansion now includes the better availability of everything that satisfies a person’s need and there’s plenty left over for other desires to be fulfilled, whether or not they are serving a purpose- be it food, well-being, companionship and health.

To quote Wordsworth, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young, was very heaven” (Prelude, 1805), so, in that sense, these are truly, the best of times to live in.

This is the best life, in the lap of plenty. So, there ought to be happiness all around. Yet that does not seem to be the case. Simply put, the other side of the door has some disturbing realities knocking at it. Findings of research undertaken in different places around the world suggest otherwise.

Significantly, the surveyed countries are the economically better off ones in Europe and the United States. While the news is disturbing, it is definitely not surprising. One may not have had a definitive survey in this country, but the symptoms of the malaise are all around for us to see.

The stress to earn more to keep up with the Joshis is higher, so most middle class families have both spouses working. The children are fewer and therefore lonelier, the families are going from joint to nuclear to atomic, and as a consequence, the elderly are often also left alone, their lives rarely intertwining with the those of their children, the dependence on paid help on the rise, and as a consequence of it all, a lingering sense of being alone, by choice or by force.

The paradox of being isolated despite having many means to connect is a reality today. The storm of consumerism has taken charge of us and joy, however fleeting, is found more in things than in people. The older people have no time, and the younger ones, no desire to have too many real connections as opposed to the virtual ones.

The surface may look very calm, but the ripples on the inside find resonance in the strangest and the oddest of places. The need for school and college counselors (a term unheard of twenty years ago), guidance specialists, special educators, motivators, and psychiatrists is growing.

Where does this road go? The signs are hazy, the route fuzzy and the map? It is lost. The brave new world is crying hoarse about the inevitability of change and the need to adapt to a new and persistent reality. The downside is a life that is swathed in comfort and gift-wrapped in forced solitude. The need to share and connect is the most basic of human needs. The community is no longer able to provide that in the way it used to a even few decades ago.

The resultant void needs filling up. The alternatives are some but they are square plugs in round holes. In the sanitized world of Cyberia, millions of people ‘log-on’ to their virtual communities and exchange information in multimedia format. The chat becomes a substitute for the spoken word, and millions of thoughts are exchanged without a sound.

The best face is put forward and mostly polite words exchanged. The graphics say ‘smiley’s and ‘hearts’ even when the heart is perhaps crying for attention. It is easy to forge ties and then soon after, break up. The life of relationships is also going in the direction of gadgets-outdated in a few months, therefore updated accordingly.
Once in a while, someone speaks of feelings in a candid way, someone disappears and is not even noticed in the cacophony of the babble that surrounds us, someone loses their grip over sanity, someone dies and is gone forever, and yet the world goes on, as if nothing mattered but the going ahead…

Where did we come from, we do not know. Where we are going we have never been able to guess, but what are we doing now? Living in the present or lost in the maze, of more and more in the persistent race.
Peace and contentment are not impossible, but they cannot be the medicine for an ailment after it has forged deep roots into the system. The emptiness cannot be tackled after it becomes a void. The need to reconnect with our own selves and with those who are our support systems is more urgent than that joke which need never be forwarded.
The dust on the shelf can stay;
because the child will go away one day..
The embrace cannot be postponed,
For there may just be a photograph
left for you to hold..

Deepa Bhalerao

A graduate of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, the author has worked in the area of community health, women’s issues and child rights over the last fifteen years. She is freelancing in the area of social development and also teaches a post-graduate course in a women’s university in Mumbai. Her hobbies include traveling, walking, reading, and teaching French to school and college students. She also writes poetry once in a while.