A few months ago, I chanced upon a blog written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman whose books like A Man Called Ove and Bear Town set author goals for writers all over. The blog titled ‘Something about the Anxiety’ enumerated the author’s own battles with hopelessness and depression despite his being on the New York Times Bestseller List numerous times.
Around the same time, I also heard about the sudden and untimely demise of an Indian TV actor, discernibly in great nick both in terms of career and health, and then more recently, of yet another Indian film star, Puneeth Rajkumar. The two Indian celebrities had succumbed to heart diseases that were allegedly caused by the scourge of our times, ‘stress’.
As I followed the stories of the three men above, and of a few others who were cruising the firmament of fame, I traced a common thread in their glossy lives. They were successful, wealthy, celebrated, but they all were likely under duress, implicit and obscure, that comes unbidden with such luminous living. Backman described it explicitly in his blog as ‘the pressure and expectations of everything around this…career thing…’
Not all of us are destined to super success and stardom, but let us be honest, none of us would grudge some fame; none of us would pass up an opportunity to grab a slice of glory we believe we deserve. Even in our most meagre practices, our objective is to garner attention. Why else do we wander in the hinterlands of social media for hours on end, secretly waiting for the number of likes and loves to climb? Why else do we make concerted efforts to advertise our exploits, both big and small?
The craving for fame is inherent in a vast majority of people. We only need to closely watch our intentions to realize that the biggest motivation for all our endeavours is to be a celebrated entity one day in one or all continents. I don’t challenge our right to hog the limelight for the right reasons or scoff at tall ambitions, but I have become increasingly aware of the price people have had to pay to attain and maintain celebrityhood. I scratched the shimmering surface to decipher the perils of being renowned and made some profound conclusions.
Whether in the higher echelons or in our regular realms, public acclaim builds a unique self-image in us. It forces us to make small tectonic shifts in our manner and method, and we begin to project a version of us that fits and feeds the popular impression. In time, we become estranged to the real person that we once had been, and the pressure to be someone that we originally aren’t becomes a bondage.
We become names to reckon with, with attributes and ornaments thrust upon us. We have obligations to fulfil — to meet other people’s expectations of us and to constantly seek their appreciation because slowly we have deified ourselves with their worship; the chimerical love of strangers has become indispensable to our existence, and before we know it, we have submitted ourselves to their whims. We have lost our freedom to be ourselves and what ensues is mental pressure of the most excruciating kind. It is a frightening prospect that I shudder to even picture in my head casually.
Fame is a double-edged sword. It spurs us to excel ourselves and it makes us stooges to others. Is there then an equitable outcome to our ardent enterprises, one that allows us to accomplish but at the same does not rob us of our essential selves? How do we progress in our path without the fear of pledging ourselves to other people’s outlooks?
The answer might sound banal and formulaic, but it is legitimate. Let not the objective of our lives be to top the charts alone. Let not our passions be driven by the expectations of outsiders. What we want to accomplish must remain within the purview of our essential needs. We must reserve the power and courage to call the shots in our lives.
The simplest way I have found to do it is by asking myself every morning what activity or occupation I am going to indulge in that day in the larger context of my life, and more importantly why I want to do it. I make sure that the answer to it remains ‘to have enough means for a peaceful, hale and hearty subsistence’.
Any reward that comes without having to compromise on this prerequisite to life is welcome. Anything that will purloin it is utterly futile.