Fame, of whom, by whom, for whom?
What started as the sad end of a young, promising actor, gradually built up as a media frenzy wherein the person departed was turned into an analytical object and as many versions have been created of his life as the fancy of the analyzer allowed. The truth that emerged out of this hectic media coverage, that has not yet abated, like the calmness at the axis of a storm, is that a person’s life does not have an unequivocal meaning. There are as many stories as there are people telling them. And they are telling these stories because people are listening. But why are people listening? Are they distracting themselves from their own multiple stories?
We find a myriad of biographies written and there are even autobiographies in case of famous people. I had the privilege of assisting Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in writing “Wings of Fire.” Twenty-one years after it was published, it sells in large numbers, purely because both Dr. Kalam and his story are liked by many people, most of whom had never met him. But why do they like him? They like in him what they themselves wish to be – a celebrity, in spite of his humble background, his average academic record, and a simple, no-frill lifestyle that makes him famous and the hero of millions of ordinary people.
There is a marvellous book, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Jung (1875-1961), wherein he wrote about the “self-story” – about what his life meant to him, sharing a privileged insider version of the life to help others to understand their lives better. The point Jung makes in his book is that there is no ultimately privileged point of view in any life. Each person lives circulating stories that stand in a dialectical relationship with each other, demanding continual revision, as if different actors are playing the same role in a drama, and different singers, rendering the same song in their own styles.
However, there are some “facts” which belong to the deceased – indisputable existential life facts, deeds and dates about which there is consensus, and artefacts – mementos and possessions. People have created institutions that lasted much beyond their lives and their personal values have become the hallmarks. In stark contrast, we now have various chat apps, social media posts, light-hearted musings, and carefree exchanges that become “truths and facts” after our bodily death. There are no more footprints on the sands of time; there are “records” of every careless word you utter, a picture you click, and a joke you crack.
Be aware that an average person is watching over three hours of television each day. We have indeed become a “time pass” society, watching others. Play-acting has become a living for us, and we are selling our attention for free. We are expected to stick around, glued to the same television channel, irrespective of the number of commercial breaks. It is time to introspect how far you are willing to go, diluting your own personal and inter-personal life for these shows.
In our super-competitive modern life, the ladder of success is hard to climb. For every person who makes it into public celebrity and culture-hero status, hundreds, if not thousands of others of equal merit and ability go unrecognized and suffer the agony of defeat in the winner/loser creed of modernity. The success and publicity market devalue the accomplishments of the unrecognized; their genius goes largely unacknowledged. In every scientific laboratory, there are people doing high value work that is “not in sync” with the powers in control of their times. They need affirmation, encouragement and energy to continue with their work, which may even bring them immortalization.
All of us are “luminaries,” carrying a speck of the immortal soul. It is the degree of muck that covers it, sometimes due to circumstances, but mostly due to carelessness about not cleaning it, and almost always by the willingness to live with it. The drama of this world is a crowded show – there are no pantomimes and monologues – each one of us carries circles of our existential cast of characters: the people whom we encounter in our lives and with whom we establish a lasting and meaningful personal relationship. If these circles are not harmonious, we are not only wasting our time but are also carrying the ignominy of show-spoilers.
We are living in an age of upheaval – what was normal when 2020 started, is unlikely and remote in the future and by the time 2021 comes, we will be living in an altogether different world. Don’t resign yourself to the fate of living in a flux. Be not some virtual ghost but the author of your life story. Include in the story, real people around you, family and co-workers. The members of the existential life-community living in genuine reciprocity do share a fate together and are meant to better each other’s lives. Be the star in the eyes of the people around you, the flame in their hearts, and remove the muck so that your soul can shine through.
You are complete, full, and gloriously gifted already. Know yourself, put your act together, and perform without the fear of someone else’s disapproval. The world is designed to bow before those who dare to rise. Know yourself as a superstar in your own ensemble, an irreplaceable, valuable person, best suited to “perform” the role that has come your way. There is no life that cannot hold a work of art, worthy of appreciation. Once, travelling in a train, I met an old man, who sang a song so soulfully that tears rolled out of every eye in the compartment. People paid him generously. Life, for this person, had obviously not turned out well for his talent, means, and circumstances, and yet, he articulated and preserved his gift and was displaying and celebrating it.
So, arise, awake and claim your own fame!
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