Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Death of an idealist
The other day we went home to see one of our neighbours forlornly sitting outside waiting for her family to come back to let her inside the house.
I do not know much about her – just the occasional smile in the foyer or elevator. She always appears to me like the archetype for the old socialist-journalist-rebel-evangelists – replete with loose male checked shirts and baggy ill-fitting trousers - right upto spectacles strung around the neck (the sort they used to depict in old arty movies).
S had told me once that he thought she and her husband were separated- which might be the case. At any rate it seems a strange sort of marriage – months pass before we see her interspersed with periods where she resides perfectly amicably with the family- albeit like a guest. Her school going children always have this slightly woebegone expression which lonely people wear- suffice to say it’s not your ordinary Mr and Mrs Kulkarni next-door-neighbour.
Anyways coming back to what I was saying - I invited her in till such time her family returned – the first time I ever spoke to her. She came in – after the initial warm up period she opened up. Turned out to be an exceedingly garrulous and opinionated person with ideas and views on pretty much everything – from the state of the building, to the proper way of collecting money for festivals, to disaster management, to the fact that she was going abroad for a year to study and had brought a flat in the building for an obscene amount of money on for no reason but sentiment (because the old owner who she idolized had died). Underlying the whole conversation was a core of absolute utter idealism such as one sees but rarely in today’s cynical age. This accompanied by the complete myopia of idealism - so caught up in the ideas and the thoughts of a better world that practicalities completely pass them by.
She stayed for almost two hours – kept on getting up to leave and would suddenly launch on to another pet peeve and continue for the next twenty minutes (I have to admit that after a long day at work, it was exceedingly taxing for both of us to politely listen - when all we actually wanted to do was eat dinner and unwind). After she finally went, the impression she left us with was someone who was completely passionate about the causes ( and people) she supported, verging on being eccentric, with few regards for social niceties and with a strong (if unexpected streak) of social snobbery.
So that was that we thought. But the next day another neighbour dropped by in the morning for some building work. She also sat down to talk and in the middle of her conversation emphatically said that the other lady was stark staring insane. A discomfited S, who was the recipient of this disclosure called me up to say that he felt like someone had told him that he had met a ghost the previous night. We discussed it for a while and wrote off the other lady (who had made this remark) as probably being a spiteful, vindictive neighbour.
A couple of days later – S happened to be talking to the idealist’s husband – he ALSO referred to his wife and accompanied it by tapping his head indicating that there was indeed some problem. (Which in retrospect was completely unforgivable of him – you don’t mockingly refer to your wife like that in front of a passing acquaintance)
We don’t know whether she indeed has disassociated herself from reality – or whether tragically, we live in a society where anyone who is an idealist is written off as insane.
If one thinks about it, the social crusades to change the world, passionate commitment to an ideology, getting fired up in the name of something – I wonder why we don’t see that anymore. Social consciousness if it exists – appears to be a more tepid version. Popular culture, television – one sees mobs yes, but they don’t’ seem to be mobs who want to make the world a better place (the opposite of that if at all).
The people who don’t crave for money and its trappings, or fame or power – how easy it is to write them off at best as anachronisms, misfits in a consumerist world or even people who have lost touch with reality- like our neighbour.
I look at myself – ten years I could call myself an idealist. I did have dreams of a better world. I did have a strong social consciousness. I did not worry about how and where money came from and went to. And I look at the change in myself and wonder. And I look at the change in the people around me and wonder some more.
I wonder whether collective idealism has finally been beaten out of us.