Is Winning everything? Pop Philosophy

Let me set the context for this rant, which draws from my personal experiences over the years. Also, since this is my blog, I am correct ( arguments in the comments are invited). Also, so as to not offend any person I know (and who reads this blog by-chance), I am going to use character names from the book “English, August”, which I just finished and absolutely loved and recommend. It is a story about a lost youngster, who does not know what he wants, but realizes the job that he has is something he does not want… (when I find the absolute need to introduce an character)

Anyway, its almost summer here, and we play cricket in the evening by the base-ball grounds. And, we have a motley collection of junta who come in to play and have fun, after (for many of them), a long and probably frustrating day of research, and for some, the first outing into the day after a long day of sleep! So, around 15-20 of us get together to play ball each evening, and as it happens with every group, there are some good players, some pretentious players (like me, who cannot get bat on ball properly nor can bowl a string of 6 legal good deliveries without being hit to the boundary), some players who are mediocore, and some players who are not good, but come there for fun. Thrown into this mix of players, are some guys who desperately want to win, and sometimes go to absurd lengths, which often includes things we did as kids, arguing for every decision, making the not-so-good players feel unwanted by not giving them a bat or ball, and sending them to obscure field locations. As a principle, I am opposed to it, for me, it is about having fun, and I don’t have fun if I see that there is some guys who feel unwanted in the ground.

It is fun, dissecting the match later in the evening, talking about the great cover drive you played, or the absolute unplayable yorker that someone else sent. But, I don’t want to lose sleep over lost matches, nor shout at non-performing non-players. Even when playing, I find some players being super-competitive, which is definitely good, but if you are really good, you don’t have to torment the guy who can hardly bat by bowling your best deliveries to him, because that puts the other team down on the run-rate. He will be happy, given his standards, to hit a few singles and give the bat to the better players. The same goes for the bowling.

You do play to win, otherwise there is no point in playing. But there has to be an inclusiveness and a spirit for having fun. Winning could just happen, but the process of winning, should be fun, not only to you, but to everyone participating in the game.

Over-competitiveness, the ‘I-just-have-to-win’ attitude, frankly, puts me off…

I strongly believe, that we are the sum-total of our experiences. Hindsight is supposed to be 20-20, and looking back, I am happy for lots of things that have happened to me, because of which, I am in it to enjoy it now-a-days, and not to win it.

I have been really lucky all my life. Really.

It is a world for the winners only. The cool guy is the great musician, the God level guitar player, the great batsman, the super forward with a golden foot. The role-models are the toppers, the first rank is coveted, second rank is no good,  the IIM converts, JEE crackers. Success is never relative. Your next-door-neighbour’s first cousin, who landed a 20 L p.a. job is the bar. Whatever you do, is not good compared to him.

I am none of these. I have always considered myself to be ‘mediocore’ (no humility here).

Our school had this tradition of writing the names of the top-10 rankers on the board on the report-card day.  Amma had promised me a gift (a set of water-colours, if I remember correctly), if my name appeared on the board on the report-card day. I would spend my days, with that goal in mind. But on the report-card day, the story would be the same. I would come really close sometimes, and get the 11th rank, and sometimes, I will end up 16th, and a few times, I would end up leading the class from the behind, and like Force-India cars, finish the list up, with 20th and 22nd ranks. I would be dissapointed, Amma would be too, but she would be the first to encourage the hard work that I put in. Although, she would not buy me the water-colour, I would get some gift or the other.  Vidya, was similar too, and a little weaker than I. Appa and amma, would never take the result days to heart, and it was their encouragement, that we yearned for most.

We were dreamy kids, lost in our old dreamy utopian worlds, and we studied hard, but never chased marks and ranks. Sure, amma had lost some bragging rights with other aunties, whose kids topped the mark-sheet, but she was always there to encourage us, motivate us to try harder the next time, not to lose spirit. Thinking, back, that freedom given to us, to continue living in our dream-worlds, has been the genious touch of parenting, that has got both me and Vidya to where we are, more content than happy with our successes, and less heart-broken than others with failures.

On a warm August afternoon, the 9th standard report cards were distributed, and for the first time ever, the rank column on my report card read 3rd. I was overjoyed, but there was no name on the board. The new principal discontinued the tradition. On a hotter May afternoon in Chennai, Vidya, stood among the top students in her school in her 12th boards, and won a scholarship to a free education.

It was the sweet taste of victory, but the process of getting there, had given us a different experience, which has helped us still remain contented and happy, when marks have not stuck to our results later.

“Mandy” (obviously name changed), is a charachter from school days. He was this exeptionally talented student, with the Midas touch. His mother had never seen him come second. And, the one time, this other dude, a quiet boy, actually beat him to the finish line (1st rank), and Mandy’s mother bawled all over school, and the dude’s mother actually asked the teacher to add 1/2 a mark to Mandy so that he could be the joint topper.  Years later, when the Midas touch magic was over, and Mandy found out that he is one among many other similarly talented people, his dissapointment of not making it to the top, has lost him many friends.  “Mohan” is another such guy. He has always been the topper. Exceptional record everywhere he has studied. As time passes, and the degree gets more complicated, his efforts have doubled and trebled, to get that top marks. But, I think, in the process, the fun of learning is lost, atleast in my opinion.

First semester memories in IIT are similar for me. I lost the pleasure of learning, struggled with concepts to get the top rank. Similarly, 11th and 12th, in the hope of a good JEE rank, I tried to become the perfectionist, tried to get every answer correct (and you had to, the margin of error in that exam is really small), and in the process of going towards the goal, I lost the fun of it…studying was no longer fun, it was a pain, it was an torment. The results were in front of me. Now, I try to enjoy the learning. I spend the days before an  exam relaxing, and watching movies (Appa really wants us to do that). And, after the grades are out, I am content in the knowledge that I gained some knowledge. The ‘AA’, if I get it, is accidental, and that much more sweeter then.

“Shankar” has always tried to extrapolate his life. His parents, cousins, social circle, have been the definition of success for him. Everything that he does, he puts it in perspective with his “ideal” of success. And in the process, once again, I think, he is missing out the fun of the tinier details of life.

Under-graduate days in Bangalore, I spent a lot of time toying with the “ideal” dream. But, somewhere along the race, I realized that losing sleep over “ideal” was hardly ideal. I spent a lot of days sulking, feeling sorry and pathetic for myself and lost. It took some time to get over it, but now, I try to be cheerful and hopeful, over things that really have not gone my way.

For many, it is winning. It is crossing the finish line before everyone else. I guess, its in their DNA. These may be the types of people who change the world.

For me, it is slowly walking across the finish line, breathing in every inch of scenery along the way. I have been really really lucky, that I have been in places where these “winners” reside, but I guess (atleast I hope that this would be the case) that I would still have been contented otherwise.  Still, I hope to remain lucky!

And, I am sure, a different 25 years on the planet, would have meant, I would have written post like ” I hate losers!” or “Some people are just plain lucky, they know to be there in the right place at the right time” or “Nature is against me” or “Really, dude! Look at me, and learn to be a God”…

I shall leave you with this song, which captures the story of the “The Guide” so perfectly, that I have been listening to it on the loop….Hmm…have to put that on my list of to be read again but only after “A suitable boy” 🙂

  1. #1 by Ankur Gupta on May 12, 2009 - 1:20 am

    Don’t bowl easy deliveries to a batsmen just to cheer him up. You keep doing that and then one day someone else comes and bowls him a proper one. All agreed to, there is a part of fun in seeing yourself be able to hit a ball today that you weren’t able to the day before.

    And, I had a similar board too on which I was never able to put my name.

    • #2 by Kaushik on May 12, 2009 - 1:28 am

      nah! not to cheer him up….but then do you like to watch India/Australia play Bangladesh? It will be better learning for them if they play weaker teams….

      “You keep doing that and then one day someone else comes and bowls him a proper one. All agreed to, there is a part of fun in seeing yourself be able to hit a ball today that you weren’t able to the day before.”….whats wrong with that…you have helped a weak guy improve…ain’t that good?

      “And, I had a similar board too on which I was never able to put my name.” : And I believe you

  2. #3 by ammalu on May 12, 2009 - 3:44 pm

    that sounded like my story 😛 .. while in college one of my juniors, at a time when nothing was working out for her told me “the world only wants the cream” and that is so true, but lucky are those who figures out they do not have to deliver what the world wants rite.

  3. #4 by andyuncut on May 12, 2009 - 5:21 pm

    Winning (in cricket) is important. Two teams not giving an inch to each other, that is when the game becomes enjoyable. The entire problem (to me) starts when some people start adopting unfair means. It pisses me off to no end.

    • #5 by Kaushik on May 12, 2009 - 5:31 pm

      ya! I never said winning is not important….but there is some context in which we are playing…there is an chinese guy interested in the game, and he hardly knows how to bat….getting your best bowler bowl six super-good deliveries to him is no fun for me…I would rather bowl an easy ball to him and test myself against a better batsman…

      I am competitive given my abilities…but IMO, the summer evening games are for fun, and has to be inclusive to all…and get into bitter fights for nothing….

      and fighting needlessly is as good as unfair means for me…

      • #6 by andyuncut on May 12, 2009 - 6:31 pm

        Ya. But you just can’t help it. For some strange reason, Indian expatriates do not treat cricket the way it should be treated. Far away from their home, cricket brings out their most competitive instincts. Instead of using it as an excuse for a nice hang-out with friends, it becomes a matter of proving themselves. You don’t want to go down to your room mate who refused to cook the whole of last week or your teammate whom you have always disliked or even that haughty guy who still hasn’t spoken to you.

        It is really funny : ) We had the same problem when I was in Montevideo, all the 30 odd Indians used to stay in the same locality and we were like a family, always tending to each other. But the weekend cricket used to bring out all the hidden emotions in everyone. No1 will give an inch!! And once their was a match between the AmEx guys and the Ameriprise guys (two of the major accounts there), it reached boiling point. Thankfully better sense prevailed among some people , the match was stopped in between and was never replayed again.

        Not sure but once abroad, Indians start seeing cricket as a thing in which they are second to none. It is their thing. I think the same group of people will not even play want to play cricket at the first place if they happen to be in India instead.

  4. #7 by Anjana on May 15, 2009 - 2:06 pm

    very well written, Kaushik.

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