Some time back, I was asked what age I would like to be born in, if I could choose. I picked the Renaissance, or India around the 1940s if I were to be bound by geographical limitations.
Yes, I’m the incurable romantic. My choices would have told you that. People like me, who some mistake to be naïve, tend to be swayed by quaint traits and things like “courage”, “chivalry”, “love” and “honour” more than others are. Such people are few to begin with in the first place, and convert rapidly as they hit their 20s and go beyond.
Which is a good thing, for it won’t do at all to have a world full of romantics tripping over each other, especially as we balance grocery bags up the apartment stairs, or walk on super high heels to get strangers to pick up our tabs. (And yet they often don’t, these strangers!)
And while the world goes round in its rigmarole, the closest we get to any amount of greatness is when we manage to find some time to talk to our grandparents or other elders who have fought a war or survived a communal riot, or talk to the odd friend that chose to stay away from the lure of corporate jobs to work full time with a non-profit organization.
Only the truth is, we don’t “manage to find time”, we deign to. We are busy, you see; mostly working away at jobs that we don't even like.
So, we definitely don’t want more complications in our lives: having to decide what to wear to work or where to get lunch every day is annoying enough. And yes, we will sympathize and be sufficiently respectful when we meet “great men and women”, but that’s all we can do, thank you very much. Truly speaking, by the time the work day ends, we are so drained we can’t even find it in us to click on a link and make a donation towards a worthy cause. Where is the time?
We don’t want goodness; we will not even strive for it, not even give it a tiny shot. Greatness? What is that?
We will not teach our children the importance of being good and doing right by others. We are happy to not interfere, because if no one else is making an issue out of it, why should I? We will not help, love, be friends, just because we can. And honestly, why should we? Have you seen what happens to those that do that kind of stuff? They get passed over for promotions, cheated by friends and are made fun of behind their backs.
Why? Because everyone knows we can’t be good in this day and age. We have to earn money, be petty and manipulative, play power games and generally be dissatisfied in life because at the end of the day, we don’t have one thing that we are genuinely proud of to show. What, didn't you go to college? These just aren't the times!
No, giving away your bus seat to the older woman does not count. Plus, do we do that regularly out of habit or only when we know we’ll get off in a couple of minutes and don’t care anyway?
But you see, it isn't the times, it is us. While we were busy window shopping or planning our next vacations or debating between the sparkling or still, a young girl of 14 was shot in the head for fighting for her and her friends’ rights to go to school.
She was 11 when the Taliban decided to stop girls in her locality from going to school. Instead of blaming the times and "adjusting" to her new fate, she wrote a blog for the BBC speaking about her life under the new regime, and was eventually shot at as she was returning home after a taking a test.
That happened this week, in these very times, which are not supposed to be meant to produce great or brave men and women.
In another instance, a fragile woman fought for a shot to bring in Democracy in her country, living under house arrest for 15 long years before she could walk freely. That change happened. The Arab Spring also happened.
And for every story we get to know about, there are many others that we don’t, shining examples of doing good in our own neighbourhood or among our friends, who we write off as “idealists”.
Know what? Standing for some ideals isn't that bad a thing. Not everyone can be a Suu Kyi, nor do we even need to be. But I can bet you anything you want (and I have) that none of us are too busy to make a little more effort, be a little more passionate, concerned, involved.
Do we really need to?
That is not for me to answer, for remember, I’m the romantic that still believes in rights and wrongs.
And listens to ghazals and reads shayari with alarming levels of interest.
“Kaise aakash mein suraag nahi ho sakta,
Ek paththar toh tabiyat se uchchalo yaron.”
(Roughly: You say the skies won't part, but have you tried hard enough?)