Archive for January, 2007

What I want from Life

Some books just stay with you; the words just come out of the paper and hover around you; make you feel that perhaps given a choice, this is exactly what you would have written.

‘Select’ is a book-lover’s eden. Located ironically, in a quiet street corner, off Brigade road, you could just get lost in the books there for years. I will not engage in futile attempts to describe their collection. Some of the best books that I have read in the past couple of years have been purchased there. It is a sort of place, where the book will find you (and not the other way round). Just being there is a wonderful experience.

I tend to overbuy at Select, and consequently, I ‘re-discovered’ this book, lying in my shelf last weekend. It is titled- ‘What I want from Life’, a collection of essays about what 15 prominent theater personalities from the 1930’s wanted from Life.

Initially, I tried to think about what I was thinking when I got this book! Why the hell should I care about what 15 people want from life, and that too from theater personalities, who would use such opportunities only for their benefit.

But, how mistaken was I?
I felt the need to post about the book, where other more important things in my life has not inspired me to do so![1]

The first essay is not that inspiring, for it is titled- ‘I want nothing’, but the author presents it such a beautiful way, of the aim of life to be try to grow to a position where you get to Do nothing. Gracie Fields, then just shows how seemingly easy other peoples jobs look from where we look, and how you continue to grow and expand in your quest to get to the ‘Do nothing’ job, along the way doing lots of things that makes you happy.

The next essay by Sir Cederic Hardwicke is about Man’s ability that separates him from other animals- that to change things around him.


..The whole history of civilization is a study in leaps and pauses. For a year, ten years, a century, mankind will stand still, content to do as father and grandfather did. Then something will ferment in the soul of the race, a great reformer or pioneer or prophet will arise, and all the little reformers will do their bit towards pushing along to the next stage in our development.

I want to be one of these reformers. I am content to make a virtue of necessity and modestly disclaim to be a great reformer; I am resigned to being one of the myriad little ones; but I propose to be a very good little one…

It may not fall to many of us to find a state of affairs to which our peculiar talents may be applied with spectacular results; but spectacle is not the main or even a very important aspect of the most successful efforts…

Dame Sybil Thorndike, then writes about how the whole world is one single family, and beautifully draws similarities between the secrets of a successful family and a peaceful world. Fay Compton, writes about Cruelty, specially to animals.

Seymour Hicks writes one of the best essays, when (s)he(?) writes about ‘Naturalness’, of how we are living a world where we are everybody except ourselves.

…No, what we have to do is to tend in the direction of simplification; to stop wearing paten leather that lets in the wet. Let the bank clerk be a bank clerk, a cricketer be a cricketer and not a journalist, the advertisement be an advertisement and not disguise itself as ”Home Hint”.

Let’s all gradually start afresh, level, genuine, honest and authentic; and for God’s sake let’s try to remember that, old school tie or no old school tie, we shall all smell alike in our coffins.

Gertrude Lawrence writes about ‘remembering’ the past, not only to reflect back on happier times, but more importantly to get your sense of proportion right, during the not so good times.

Paul Robeson, writes about finding out about our roots, and learning to be ‘proud’ about it and preserve it and the fallacy of mimicing the others (he being a negro, it is a brilliant piece, set in 1930’s segregrated america).

Merle Oberon talks about the need for romance and adventure in life (romance has its roots in latin romanice, meaning ‘in the vulgar tongue’).

Charles Bickford, gets to within an inch of what I would probably have written, when he writes- ‘I want to find out’. In his words

Philosophers tell us that the chief end of man is Happiness, and consequently his chief activity is the pursuit of happiness…

… That goes for the child in the crib. He wants to feed and sleep as well, but these are mere bodily function. The main activity of his mind is the pursuit of happiness and the thing that’s going to make him happy is just finding out…
…Most people lose this itch to find out as soon as they grow up; some even before. They are willing to believe what they are told- and I will admit it is easier at that; but somehow that does not satisy me. I want to know; and I want to find out for myself- to smack at life to see if it will smack back. If it is bitter of nubbly, I want to know that too…

…All knowledge is man’s for the asking, and I want it. I am not content to look at the sky and think-‘Those are stars’. I want to know their names, and who put them there and what makes them shine. When a fellow called Einstein hatches a theory of relativity, nine hundred and ninety-nine men will say -“great guy, this Einstein” and sink another stein of beer. The odd one wants to know what it is all about. Guess I am odd….

Bickford ends his essay perfectly, when he quotes Keats

It’s like a book, I think, this bloomin’ world
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you’re readin’ done,
An’ turn another – likely not so good;
But what you’re after is to turn them all.

[1] Like getting a job, MarketRx, 27th December 2006, 1615 hours.