Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Last week I met a friend, Christian, known to me for nearly thirty years. Since I was meeting him for the first time this year, I wished him Happy New Year, and the first thing he told me after the greetings was: ‘I wasn’t here, I had gone to England. For the first time after six years the whole family was together!’, beaming with happiness as he told me so. And almost in the same breath he added, ‘what to do, this is the way it is now.
I can’t go there for good, and they can’t come here either. As long as all of us are OK, it’s all right.’
His two daughters had schooled with my son, and they had proceeded to England in due course to study, nearly 15 years ago. Mum had left her job to be with them, and Dad had had to stay back to work so as to pay for the house and service other debts at the same time as, of course, supporting the children.
Far from resigning himself to the situation, Christian had accepted the reality of the times that had changed – for ever, in the sense that even if they were to be together again, it would not be the same. And, from a larger perspective, there is no going back on this pattern of family and societal transformation that cuts across all communities. And probably not only in Mauritius.
It is standard talk in management courses to say that change is the only constant, and that one must learn how to manage change. Others have said it in other ways: the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, for example, said that you never step in the same river twice. What has happened – has changed! – is that nowadays (meaning over the past couple of decades perhaps) the pace of change has become so rapid as to be almost dramatic in many respects. And unless I am wrong I would think that it is technology that is responsible for this. Think i-phone and such gadgets: before you are used to a new model the next one is already upon you!
To come back to the human situation, many people and families find themselves in the same boat as Christian and his family. Some have difficulty adjusting and pine for the olden days to come back, while knowing jolly well that they cannot and will not ever.
Others resign themselves and accept their ‘fate’ with some bitterness or regret. But many more, I would think, take their new situation in their stride, and adopt a more pragmatic attitude, which is no doubt helped by the advent of more technology – innovations and solutions that enable them to keep in touch in real time with the near and dear who are away.
Skype, SMS, email and the various social networks have made life for those who find themselves alone much more at ease than used to be the case earlier. Of course one has to learn and become familiar with the newer means of communication, which can be somewhat forbidding at first, but eventually one does get round to it.
When my son went away to university, after a couple of days, a close family friend called me and said there is an email for you which I have printed out, and a second one came after another day. I felt a bit J, wondering why is this guy not sending the mails directly to me rather! And then, stupid as I was and still under the weight of the emotions of parting, I realized that the reason was almost absurdly simple: my son knew that I did not know how to access email!
I had found the whole thing so forbidding that I had shied away from learning and, the truth be told, he used to be so busy with the desktop that there was hardly any time to give attention to my learning needs. Besides, we had never anticipated that he would some day leave at such short notice and that I would not have had time to get familiar with electronic mail.
But our children are smarter than we think. For, yet another day after the second email, I received a call from his best friend who had not yet gone for studies, telling me that he had got a message from my son to come over and show me how to use email! Why, I could hardly even use the keyboard then. Now I do, fairly adroitly, having progressed from using only one finger!
Nowadays, when we go to meet the children of relatives or friends who are leaving for studies abroad, it is common to ask ‘when is s/he coming for holidays?’ And more likely than not, it will be every year, at least once. And if they go to nearer countries, such as South Africa, it would be even more frequently.
For those of my generation who went away, it was taken for granted that it’s only at the completion of studies that the guy would come back – changed, of course! And if one went to study medicine, then one could expect to see a balding chap with at times a too serious facies!
It was, as we used to joke sometimes, like Sri Rama going for banwas – banished to the forest for several years (14 in the case of Sri Rama). Except that He came back in triumph to occupy a throne, but for us common mortals it was a new chapter of a fresh struggle and another start in life.
For the same reason of facility of communication and better economic status which allows accessibility to air travel, going away is now not as traumatic as it used to be – or as dramatic, because travelling overseas has become so commonplace. It did not use to be like this. Three busloads of well-wishers went to bid a tearful farewell to a classmate of mine who was leaving for India in 1964. Years later when we meet among common friends, we still joke about this.
In a way, the olden times they are there to stay – as memories embedded deep within. They are the stuff of our existence, because they are grist to the mill of our joys and sorrows, a rich and ever present source of experiences to draw upon, talk about, share, feel good about, feel sad too at times – although, as we mature into old age, the edge of sadness is blunted by the realization that this is the way things are and will ever be.
As my revered guru Pujya Swami Dayananda of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam says, the only sane way to live one’s life is to understand it objectively and once we do this, then we not only accept change, but even welcome it, knowing that it takes place in the matrix of the changeless that we truly are…
* Published in print edition on 20 January 2012