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(Published in Khaleej Times dated 29 May, 2023)

A few days ago, a friend of mine sought a suggestion from me about writing a book on Confucious explaining the Chinese sage’s philosophy to Gen Z. I didn’t ask why Gen Z alone when every one of us across all age groups could use some Confucianism in these times of utter confusion, but I offered him some practical advice – break it down and make it bitesize. I said it considering not just the profound nature of the subject and my friend’s intellectual powers, but the fact that no one has the time or proclivity to consume big chunks of knowledge anymore.

Folks need fast knowledge and faster results now. 5 habits to keep or kick; 7 cool tips; 8 best methods; 10 easy ways – the list offering quick-fixes for problems and predicaments of every sort is endless and it makes me cynical. What a cakewalk life has become now with advice and solutions available on a scroll on anything from difficult pregnancies to losing excess weight to making a windfall gain to handling toxic people in life! Given this, we should not be cribbing anymore about the intricacies of life and its intransigence, for help is literally at hand. Pick up the phone and find new ways to set things across the board right.

I am tempted to go gung-ho at the manner in which the internet has become a digital version of the philosopher’s stone, ready to remedy every conceivable problem in life with a few steps, but I balk at the thought of how it dilutes life and takes an offhanded approach to its many details. I am divided in my opinion about this. I am unable to decide if we must applaud the deft ways in which we decipher life now or worry that we are beginning to oversimplify things that need more serious consideration and study than what we are offering and receiving on the internet.

The digital world has revlutionised the way we disseminate and consume information, but at the same time it has also distorted our view of things. Most of what is ladled out to us is driven by marketing needs to catch audience attention and I do not deny that the changing dynamics of modern, technology-propelled business makes generalization of universal problems inevitable. As employees and entrepreneurs, we all have something to sell; we all have to find buyers for it; we all know how consumers’ attention spans are shrinking, and we need to act expeditiously to grab their eyeballs. These are part of our survival blueprint.

On the other side, as common people, we are all grappling with sundry problems each day and are looking for quick resolution. So, if someone proffers instant antidotes to all our daily dilemmas, we lap it up without questioning what it does to our knowledge base and mind space.

Having said that, the pace at which we are being steamrolled by instant remedies these days makes me think that it is time for us to take stock of its pros and cons. When someone offers to teach us something that took them 10 years to learn in only 3 minutes, it is time for us to pause and think about what’s on the platter.

Are the on-the-spot answers to our predicaments making us suckers for ineffective solutions and superficial knowledge? How much of the online content should we consume and with what seriousness? Is the knowledge that is lavished on us in little sachets across the internet giving us an overdose of information and clogging our brains? Or is it truly leading us to new revelations and deeper understanding of life concepts?

Content creators are working overtime to bail us out of our issues, and we are grateful to them for it. Their ‘tips and steps’ help us identify our problems, determine our dilemmas; simplify hard concepts; provide impetus and offer guidelines, all in a jiffy. But they have also whetted our appetite for instant gratification. We fail to realise that the dearth of details in the bonsai methods of problem-solving makes them incapable of offering sustainable solutions. Moreover, all that they say may not be accurate or equally apply to everyone.

The way things are progressing (or regressing, depending on how we look at it), it won’t be long before we start popping energy pills instead of eating meals. One may argue that it is a viable option to preclude long cooking and eating processes and would save time in a world of hustles. But then again, there is a difference between a capsule and a full course meal. One settles our hunger, the other satiates our stomach and soul. Which one would we prefer?

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Updated: Jun 23, 2023

I am going to call the protagonist of this story ‘Bubbly’.

She looked like a Gen Z kid. Full of mirth and zest, she traipsed around the restaurant where live music played old Hindi songs, from soulful Kishore and Rafi to Shammi Kapoor ditties that had many of us grooving. Her thick curly hair was tied up in a half ponytail and it fountained down her shoulders and slender neck. Her distressed jeans seemed like a symbol of the carefree persona she revealed through her easy demeanour, loud laughter and chatter with guests around her table. For a while, I took her to be part of a bigger family that were seated adjacent to her table. But she was not. She was there with a man, presumably the love of her life.

The evening slowly morphed into a state of sedate calmness with all the peppy numbers drowning out, and the slow melodies wafting in from the live orchestra. Bubbly, by now, had had one too many and was laughing louder than the prescribed decibels. With each pint, she seemed to levitate and float like an ‘apoopanthaadi’ (Milkweed), with her hair flailing in the air and her singing joyfully out-of-sync with the singer on stage. If angels were drunk, they might look like this.

‘She is drunk to the hilt,’ said our friend with a grin. She indeed was.

In her woozy state, she went to the table next to hers, hugged the guests there as if they were her closest relatives, chatted with them in a brew-washed voice and took an old man seemingly in his early eighties for a dance. She twirled holding his hand, swayed with him, even as his wife sat and watched. In the dim light, it wasn’t clear if she was amused, but the rest of the family thoroughly were. They cheered them on as Bubbly brought back youthful spring to his feet, and she gave him a hug before leading him back to his seat.

‘Let’s go. We have a flight to catch,’ I heard the man who was with her say over the music. But Bubbly would have none of it. She was on a song (and dance) as she moved to another table, held a toddler and took a few baby dance steps with her and her mother.

The man went after her as she continued to remain lost in the lightness of her being, exhorting her to leave.

‘We have an early morning flight to catch, baby, come let’s go,’ he said, with the utmost tenderness only a man besotted with love is capable of saying. He was close to pleading, but Bubbly couldn’t care less. She didn’t want to leave. It seemed as if she wanted to spend the rest of her life wallowing in the sobered night air inside the restaurant.

People who are tippled beyond recognition make curious spectacles; some even become a nuisance, but to me Bubbly represented a free spirit claiming her space in the world. She did what came to her naturally.

‘We are going to miss the flight for sure,’ the man said, turning around to us, knowing full well that the few eyes that remained in the restaurant at that late hour were fully on his woman. I wondered if he was helpless or frustrated, but he was evidently a patient human being. Given a choice, he might have let her gallivant till the wee hours, but the morning flight prompted him to wrench her out her ecstatic bearing.

The morning flight, in the end, became the nemesis of her boundless joy.

Irked by his constant urging, at some point she lost it. The bubbles burst, the fizz flowed over as tears, and she began to give out a typical tantrum cry. The man looked on helplessly as she stomped out of the restaurant bawling, ‘you are a bad man, you are a bad man’.

As we settled our bill and walked out, we saw her slumped on the floor in the corridor. The man was trying to get her to her feet, but she sat cemented firmly, thrashing her arms at him.

‘Is she OK?’ I asked the man and leaned over to take Bubbly’s hand in mine. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to accomplish, but I had an impulsive urge to reach out to her and give her a word of solace.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked, to which she said, ‘No, I am not. And he is a very bad boy. He made me cry and now he wants to drag me away from here. He is a bad boy’.

‘Yes, he is,’ I said to placate her, at the same time nodding at the man to mean, ‘it’s OK’.

‘No, he is not. He is not a bad boy. He is my husband. I love him very much. But he made me cry. I hate him,’ she said and I smiled at the dichotomy.

I was still on my knees, uttering, ‘it’s OK, it’s OK’ for want of better words to say.

The man bent to help her get up, and before I could realise it, she had got up, freed herself from his grip and uttered obscenities at him.

Bubbly’s husband looked scandalized. ‘I am so sorry about her language. Please forgive her. In fact, she just lost her mother, and she is traumatized. She hasn’t been able to come to terms with it. I am so sorry,’ he said.

My shoulders drooped at those words as I looked at Bubbly struggling to cope with a pain that was tearing her asunder inside even as she fluttered like a butterfly in the restaurant. The grief ripped the seams at a point, and she took the liberty to purge all that she had cleverly hidden till then.

It was probably the drink that gave her the freedom to rinse the veneer of happiness. Or was it just the weight of her sorrow she could no longer bear that made her freak out and risk her reputation?

I wished I had whatever it was that allowed her to bare her heart without having to feign normalcy and gave her tears a license to flow unhindered when they needed them to. I wish we all had the courage to whoop it out when the heart is aching sore, to give our secret sorrows a voice when they are muffled by norms of decency, and just not lie to the world that all is well, when it is actually not.

Bubbly’s undue effervescence wasn’t artificial. She had breached all boundaries of restraint then. Neither were her spasmodic sobs fake. They were expressions of a festering wound, or perhaps a disguised call for help that she wanted the world to hear.

I have been through moments of intense distress when I wanted shriek so loud that the world would stop in its tracks. We all have borne it at different points in life. But we have muzzled our emotions in the name of pride and propriety. We have drenched our pillows with many a secret tear; we have felt the weight of unspoken woes pressed against our chest. But unlike Bubbly, we masked them all. Unlike her, we did not laugh hard enough; we did not cry loud enough. We wore greasepaints on our face. We play-acted our lives.

We have all been serene oceans with buried storms, and silent skies with muffled thunders. All for the sake of a judging world.

Masqueraders all. The world and we.

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