In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a king punished to roll a big boulder up a hill. He puts so much effort to roll the boulder up the hill, but as soon as it reaches the top, it rolls down to the bottom of the hill. And the king has to roll it up to the top of the hill only to see it rolling down to the base of the hill. The whole rolling up and rolling down process starts all over and goes on. For eternity. How monotonous can a task get! How futile an effort! What a waste of energy! And where is the charm in such an existence?
Today all of us are engaged in a Sisyphus-like task and just like him we take so much pride in doing that. Every day, we go to office. We start our computer and log on. We browse the Internet and update what’s happening at home or on the way on facebook walls. The more we update it, the more it needs to be updated. I won’t be surprised if slowly people start updating what’s going on in their bathroom onto their facebook walls.
And then we all sit down and start complaining of hundred and one things. We complain and condemn unfair laws. We are cowards, afraid of our voices. We write nasty complaints targeted at an individual or organization on online forums. We borrow others’ opinions and express as our won with pride of having launched a rocket in the sky. And a few would agree. Others would attack and curse the anonymous complainant. Everyone has different things to say about the same thing; except that it essentially means the same thing but said in hundred different ways.
We talk of how tall someone is or how short others are. We gossip who has worn what at some elaborate weddings. We complain about our jobs and we complain about our bosses, good or bad. We talk of how in inefficient our colleagues are (hinting how good we are) and start gossiping about politicians. We talk of businessmen and pass our readymade comments on our celebrity figures. Some say we don’t have any such figures in Bhutan. We have only our mighty egos to be blamed. At the end of the day we have nothing much to talk about. At meetings and congregations, we say so many things and don’t even mean quarter of it.
Our conversations are scripted and we are certain of what is coming next.
“How are you doing?”
“I am doing fine, thank you!”
“How is your family?”
“My family is doing well, thank you!”
“How is your work?”
“My work is going fine, thank you!”
And sometimes the order is reversed whereby the one who asks questions now becomes the one to answer them later. “Oh so you are going home?” we ask, meeting someone on his way home. “So, you are going to the hospital?”we ask on meeting someone on the way to the hospital. “You are eating your lunch now?” is our question on seeing someone eating his lunch. The list goes on. And last week I was having a haircut at a barber’s when one of my friends spotted me. “You are cutting your hair?” was what I got.
For the first time in years I realized my body was calling in for some exercise and heeding that call, I went on a late Sunday morning walk. It turned out to be more than a walk. It made me think of deeper thoughts. So, as I am walking on this long stretch of footpath that never seems to end, I meet a man, who carries an umbrella in his hand. I am told that’s his only prized possession. And he as walks, he talks to himself. For a while I mistake him for talking on his mobile phone. Now and then he laughs aloud, but abruptly his mood goes solemn. He continues talking and soon finds reasons for laughter. I tell myself, this no ordinary man.
In the next moment, he walks closer to a rivulet. He immerses his legs and slowly wades through the water. Reaching the other side, he talks to himself for a while and starts crossing the water again. I watch him with curiosity and disbelief as he crosses the river many times. Crossing the water back and forth multiple times gives him so much joy or at least relieves him of unspoken concerns or so I suppose. He talks and communicates with the unseen, beyond normal human perception. I see him as a man who has crossed our level of existence.
In our pursuit of materialism, human web of connection is weakening. We are dissociating from ‘others’. We don’t know who lives in the next door flat, but we try to add as much friends on facebook. And there is no consolation and solace whatsoever. We believe less and less in the power of prayer and many are condemned as superstitious. On the other hand we whole heartedly take pride in “Who has viewed your profile” or who has liked our facebook status. And this is where we are now!
P.S: This piece was published in Bhutan Times May 8, 2011 edition.