Day before yesterday, I went to a marriage in Chittoor, a place some 150 km from Chennai. That was the first time I realized how corrupted we got because of this cosmopolitan culture. I didn’t get a direct bus to Chittoor, I took one to Vellore and shifted from there. It was a regular bus. The seats were not at all comfortable in either of the buses and I had a nice back ache. Then the marriage. There is no question that the accommodation provided is in one of the best hotels of the town and is top notch according to the local standards, but I am divided. It’s not that Chittoor is a small place; it has got a population more than 1.5 lakh, much higher than any city in Europe except, may be, 30 or 40. Those who invited, spared no effort or money to make the marriage worth remembering. The return journey was equally tiresome. Looking at all this, sometimes I feel, the problem is not with the facilities I was provided, but it’s with the outlook of life and the material comforts within which we living. We cannot reconcile with anything lesser. We have set a benchmark for ourselves and are vainly trying to find it everywhere, losing out all those simple pleasures in life.
To put it in a simpler perspective, a similar hotel would have been a luxury some twenty years before, in my childhood. There is no change in the bus journeys from the days twenty years before. I don’t dare to have those guilty pleasures any more – puffs in a road side bakery, small samosas, roasted corn cobs and the likes. Forget that, I don’t even drink tap water anywhere. Whatever I buy outside, I look at the expiry date. Any doctor, I will check his credentials. Any slums enroute, I tend to avoid. Life in a village is going to be miserable. Just a few days before, I had a coffee in a small road side stall. There was a mosquito in the glass and the shopkeeper simply removed it and passed the glass back to me. I decided not to go to that place anymore.
We played and spent our childhood in the dirt and in all sorts of areas with no distinction for class or finesse. We played with everyone, even if our parents asked us to maintain a level of stature. Those small pleasures, the ones which I avoid religiously today were the luxuries we had. There was a lookout for cleanliness, but it was not as if we shouldn’t see a single speck of dirt. We were happy, we were comfortable and we were healthy.
What just went wrong? Is it because of the social stature we acquired due to our income? Is it because of the perceived class difference due to our immaculate dressing for office? Is it the contempt for money – we have more than what we want and we will throw them on luxuries? Is this because of the clear cut class difference we perceive when we are on our way out? I go to a shopping mall to pass some time. I have a coffee there – 150 rupees, I have a meal there – 500 rupees. I am not going to get that level of cleanliness anywhere else, that easily. When I go to a smaller place, am I subconsciously looking at the price and cleanliness? And because I don’t find it up to my standards, am I avoiding it? As time progresses, am I setting my benchmark a bit higher? The difference on my health is clearly visible. The first trip to London, I didn’t fall ill due to change of climate. But the second time, I fell ill, not once, but three times. This sensitivity, which we cannot control, is slowly but surely drifting us towards a life from which, once we are wrenched apart, we won’t be in a position to understand the world all around us. But, the real question is, is these quality benchmarks and material comforts making us happy? Can money ever substitute the simple joys of life?