Walking down the other track

Shiv Sethi

IN Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, the interlocutor is confronted with two roads leading to different directions and he is to make a choice of traversing on one of them. After some cogitation, he decides to take the road less travelled. His decision to take the unbeaten track makes all the difference. Like the interlocutor in the poem, all of us find ourselves placed in a situation where we have to choose a particular course of life and bid adieu to the other. I too was confronted with the scenario after completing my bachelors degree in humanities.

After taking some expert advice, I took a path that I liked and as a result of that, my entire life changed. Repudiating the suggestions of my parents and friends, I decided to take a course in English literature because I was enamoured with the job of a college professor.

My dream is today a reality, but the world of literature took me by storm and made me a social misfit, a renegade and a complete iconoclast in the worldly sense.

The world of Dr Faustus shattered my religious belief followed by the damage done by Thomas Hardy. I was born and brought up in a hardcore religious family, but Hardy’s pessimism which is basically couched in realism turned a conformed theist into a branded atheist. I had begun to challenge dogmas and the practice of frequenting temples halted altogether. Engrossed in books, I could no more see the world with the same glasses. It was a lifelong transition that made me a social misfit. Intellectuals like Kafka and Camus replaced Shiva and Rama. TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ had become my Bible and I was convinced of the fact that we are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men.

William Golding’s ‘The Lord of the Flies’ reformatted my old belief system. Now I could better see the inherent evil in human beings. Philosophers like Hobbes, Lock and Rousseau gave credence to my new belief system; my opinions about human nature were loud and clear. The raison de etre of my life was no more the cushy job of a college professor. But this is a world where you have to rustle up means for your survival.

But my social life was no more the same, neither was I. My parents wanted me to walk down the aisle with a girl of their choice and settle in life. Literature had actually unsettled me within. I was not ready to follow the beaten track.

Once again, the same situation sprang up and I was confronted by two drastically divergent roads. Having rejected parental pressure, I took the unbeaten track and said a strict no to all matrimonial proposals. Today, almost 15 years have rolled by but I am not back on the track, the worldly track. Leading the life of a confirmed bachelor, who has now advanced in so many years that there are almost no matrimonial calls, I am spending my time these days with Saddat Hassan Manto (an icon of Urdu literature). It is the life of a kind you will definitely not aspire for your child. But I am fully settled with this unsettled style of life.

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