Watching the journey of JJ aka Jordan in the film ‘Rockstar’ last night ignited my deepest fears about the inability or sheer difficulty of ever following our passions on our lives. It seemed to me that every one of us—and certainly me—have to choose between being nobody and everybody and the ‘somebody’ we want to be. In our early years, our talents and passions are fired up by parents, an inspirational uncle or aunt, a visiting guest and sustained through classes, exposure in school and college and many other avenues of interaction. As we grow older, we struggle to find security, balance and peace in our lives, often sacrificing those very elemental passionate needs that drive us as people.
Of course, there are many of us who are, unfortunately, not clearly able to identify these passions and talents early enough or ever, to do anything about it. But for those of us who have a set of passions to pursue, we fall into this oxymoronic, unachievable trap of having to choose between a life of perceived certainty and the life of an ‘artist’, and I mean this in the spirit of the term rather than the activities it denotes in our common understanding.
In Rockstar, JJ is told by his mentor that artists are made only when they experience deprivation, tragedy and angst; that the true artistic voice emerges from the mire of pain. True or not, to choose to pursue interests that are different from the mainstream professions that our parents, teachers and society at large perceive to be remunerative in a financial sort of way, is an act of great courage. And not just whole-heartedly. How many of us are able to squeeze out some quality time from our busy schedules to pursue these interests even as serious hobbies?
I have been tormented by these questions for years now. Growing up learning Hindustani classical vocal music consistently and all manner of dance forms intermittently, I gave up pursuing music seriously after school, buying my own excuse of ‘lack of time’ . After I married, I made several attempts at going back to singing and I have no one but myself to blame for the failures. The price I paid was dear. I found myself crying with despair at concerts I attended and even the music plugged into my ear was flavoured by the bitterness. I stopped listening, leave along singing and the ‘ras’ seeped out of my life, slowly, inexorably. I gave myself up to bringing up my kids, pursing a career of sorts.
And then, a crisis point in my so-called career, forced me to accept the truth I had known and denied for so long. By giving up on music, dance and the arts I loved, I was giving up on myself. I have started singing again, and I don’t know where this journey will take me.
All the more for these experiences, I admire deeply those who are able to make that choice and go down the path ridden with uncertainties to pursue what they love. And I do believe that it is a society that encourages individuals to pursue their talents that delivers and reaps the rewards of excellence. Again, I mean this across the board and science, liberal arts, finance, business, entrepreneurship, social services and other avenues are as much a part of this discussion as the classical and applied arts. I have seen in my own parents’ lives, how their passion for humanity drove them to be not just doctors, but good friends, excellent human beings, people who empathize, feel and they could project that feeling, training and talent to produce excellent scientific research.
Then there’s the question of motivation. For many passionate people, its fame that drives them. While fame is certainly a good measure of public appreciation, many of us seek an inner fulfillment, a sense of being able to meet the demands of our destiny, of doing what we are meant to do, being what we want to be.
Given that pursuit of passion and talent nurtures excellence, there are a few things we need to do to create an enabling environment to draw more individuals to follow their true calling. Exposing children and youth to a variety of stimuli is a moral duty for all of us who come into contact with the young. We read every other day how a photographer was drawn to his art when his grandfather handed him his first camera at a young age. Many artists and scientists are second or third generation practitioners in families since they grow up in a guru-shishya kind of mode, absorbing techniques and attitudes very young.
The other aspect, and one that many are vociferously being forth (I heard it from Kiran Rao at the Goa Thinkfest, I read it in Mita Vashisht’s recent interview in The Hindu, and many others), is the need for widely accessible public spaces and forums that expose the public to what other people are doing, thinking, researching. Spaces for the arts—theatre, fine art, photography, music, dance, film—are essential in our cities because the arts (and any exposure, really) help us analyze, debate and introspect in a subtle way, helping us eventually to arrive at our own unique world view, find our space in the events unfolding around us, shaping our identity, in turn feeding self-confidence.
As our local newspapers fill with events calendars heralding the winter (in Delhi, this is becoming quite a phenomenon, the sheer multitude of cultural events), I’m hoping to find the courage to find my own expression, my own voice, and the determination to pursue it, make something of it, not just for fame, but because I owe it to myself to try and be who I truly am and perhaps, in the process, achieve my potential.