Before there were malls there were shopping centers. There still are, in suburbs and in small towns. From the very specific ‘Ladiej Delicates’ to very broad ‘Fancy Items’ the sporadic shops in these shopping centers cover everything Finance Ministers promise but never deliver.
The opening and shutting down of these small businesses is the real story of our economy and fickle fashion sense. Jeans become shorter and longer, Pani Puri stalls start selling waffles but the one shop that never shuts down is that of the Astrologer. Recession only results in higher footfall. In a country where Vastu consultants are paid more than architects, it is not surprising. What is to be noted is not the apparent regression but the fact that people are looking for answers, everyone is. Some turn to philosophy, some turn to gemstones, many turn to drugs — there is one for every SEC.
Somehow; life in all its colors and possibilities is strangely dissatisfying. Perhaps it is the immensity of it all that is overwhelming. We try everyday to fit the latest turmoil into our ongoing narrative. The autobiography you update in your head before going to sleep. On different days its tone alternates between commencement speech and suicide note. With every passing year, the story gets weirder. You patch it up with faith, false hope and science fiction. Eventually, it will fall apart, it is only a question of when.
And when it does there is no background music to give it context. The world goes on like it always has, only your narrative collapses. The background music is indifference. That is when you realize your worldview with all its beliefs, dreams and fears is exclusively your own, not even your most intimate partners share it. One may argue that existential dread is an affliction of the rich and privileged. But the truth is it is universal and inevitable. Many people just don’t have the vocabulary and social structures to express it.
The world is so complex almost any pattern you throw at it seems to fit from at least one point of view, be it star signs or Illuminati. Yet, no one could have predicted how this year turned out, even the most outrageous pandemic conspiracy theories are failing to keep up with reality. And the reality is that life on earth has started, survived and evolved in the most random of circumstances. An event so rare it almost warrants religious interpretation. If that helps you sleep at night, it is fair.
But even a vaguely spiritual view of the world necessarily infuses a sense of purpose in all actions and affixes motives even when there are none. The resulting narratives paint the world in black and white, good and evil, up and down, then and now, us and them — which only perpetuates conflict. Even most of our acts of charity come from a place of superiority, ulterior motives and ritual.
In business and personal life, a huge amount of effort goes into prediction and forecasting. But in our movies we like suspense. We want adventure without risk, indulgence without consequence and love without liability. Which is why the stupidest movies sell the most. The only place we actively look for spoilers is in our own stories despite knowing both lasting joy and sadness have almost always arrived unannounced.
If one looks back at his/her life, the academic, professional and personal decisions that have led to your current state have been the result of countless factors. From your family background to the TV shows you grew up watching to how bad the traffic was on your way to an important interview. What you call a life is a small island of seeming stability in a sea of entropy. It is tempting to give it all up to fate, a grand design, kneel down and pray. But can any religion or worldview justify the destruction we have unleashed on the planet and each other. The unimaginable torture billions of animals experience every day in our food, dairy and other industries so that you and I can read and write this blog?
Accepting the randomness of the universe and our place in it may seem terrifying at first. But it is the only sure way to feel lasting empathy for yourself and for others. When you accept that those better off than you may not be there by choice nor design and those less fortunate do not necessarily deserve their suffering. That good fortune is as incidental as misfortune is unjust. That; is the beginning of true kindness. Everything prior was just business.