By Sonya Rehman
I think our generation’s lost the plot. Let me explain. For the past 2-3 years, I’ve been noticing far too many friends of mine seeming increasingly dissatisfied with their lives. Even though many wouldn’t (and won’t) admit to their lack of contentment, it was and has been evident for a while. It’s all over their faces, their expressions, their gait, their energy. Sapped, blah-ed out. Numb. Bored. No excitement nor passion.
Many are married, some with beautiful babies and children, others single and complete workaholics. With or without spouse/offspring, there’s this vacant, ‘lostness’ about them. Myself included. This debilitating resignation. This monotonous, ingrained sense of ‘duty’ – make a living, look after the kids, pay the bills, eat, sleep, shit, and then, eventually, die. On an emotional level, and then of course, on a physical level; shut down. Close up. Lock the doors. Wind down. Button up. Kill the libido. And drift along, sluggishly, unconscious and not really ‘seeing’ potential and hope in anything.
Zombies. Masochists. Sadists. The pain’s too great you see. The pain of an inherent lack of purpose. The pain of not doing what it took, years before – defying the odds, putting up a fight. A real fight. A fight of purpose, pure intention. A fight driven by endearing innocence. A fight driven by love. A fight driven by something greater than you and I, us. Larger than life itself. Why? Because you can, you could. But you didn’t and you won’t. You can’t. It’s final.
The deal has been sealed – it was sealed years before, when time slipped away and duty got the better of you. Duty. Routine. It bogged you down. Didn’t it? With the weight of the world on your shoulders, and this unbelievable sense of guilt – must, must be of service to loved ones, to the family…the family. Can’t be selfish. Can’t, just can’t. So you put your needs on the backburner. And you hurry. Frittering away the hours, the weeks, the months, not being consistently conscious of ‘you’ – this being, this amazing, singular entity. Who can do so much! Change so much! Be happy! With purpose!
But you’re not of service to yourself or those within your societal nucleus. You’re of disservice. Because you’re living a half life. And that’s when, mid-way through your 20s, you think, bloudy hell, I’ve burnt out. I’m nursing a quarter-life-crisis. No, that isn’t a fashionable, existential, gut-wrenching realization. It isn’t. It can’t be. Because you feel it. In your skin, in your bones. The numbness runs deep. Flowing; this undercurrent of spiritual doom. If you’re lucky, you realize its potency before it’s too late.
But, like tar, if it goes by unnoticed, it builds and builds and builds. This massive, black, angry reservoir of guilt, pain, much too much privilege, a lack of vision, goals, dreams.
The innocence – where did it go? When did life begin to ‘feel’ this way, this strange, tedious existence, who took your innocence, who took mine, who did this to us? And why?
The great American novelist, David Foster Wallace, wrote about this very ‘lostness’ in his works. In an interview with Salon (in 1996), Wallace spoke about his novel, ‘Infinite Jest’ – which bases itself on depression, consumerism, addiction and of course, this lingering lostness. In the interview, the author at one point had stated:
“The sadness that the book is about, and that I was going through, was a real American type of sadness. I was white, upper-middle-class, obscenely well-educated, had had way more career success than I could have legitimately hoped for and was sort of adrift. A lot of my friends were the same way. Some of them were deeply into drugs, others were unbelievable workaholics. Some were going to singles bars every night. You could see it played out in 20 different ways, but it’s the same thing.”
“I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values.”
Spirituality and values. Wallace was right. But if one is self aware enough and has a backbone, guiding and steering oneself back into place can be done. But what if your environment isn’t conducive enough? What if, what if no one wants you to change? What if your psychological, characteristic conditioning is far too lodged into place that it seems impossible to self liberate oneself?
I love Lahore. Make no mistake. I love the soil. I love the people. I’m infatuated with this city’s hidden treasures, hidden stories, the way this oddball of a city keeps managing to keep itself adrift. But I do know that society, that culture, so to speak, is ruined. Or on the verge of complete obliteration. It’s happening. The corruption on both a micro and macro level is swelling by the hour, like this massive pit of shit – the ganda nala – where the ills of this soil merges and consummates, multiplying into this walking, talking entity, the defecation seeping into businesses, ways of life, even simple conversations over ridiculously expensive, imported coffee.
This lostness has us all by the jugular. It’s in the mother-in-law, whose rear grows an inch wider by the year; bitching out her daughter-in-law at kitty parties, it’s in the well-educated, foreign returned young men and women who come ‘home’ with dreams of setting things right, but can’t – because they didn’t realize what a battle it’d be and then resume to getting locked into 9-5 jobs, sucking their thumbs because “nothing will ever change.” It’s in the young girl who gets married – on her family’s insistence – to a man she’ll never truly love, and who will never truly love her, ‘see’ her, know and understand that she likes having her hand held, that she hates eggs, and likes the texture of the baby fern growing in her garden patch. It’s in the young man, who gave up his dreams and the woman he loved for family – the ultimate sacrifice. But he didn’t sacrifice his love, he sacrificed himself. He bled away his dreams and let a hardened resignation take root where his warm, joyful heart once pumped in his gregarious chest. It’s in the Lahori bachelor who is way past his 20s, in his mid-30s, and who still remains stubborn, remains unrelenting, screaming; I don’t want to grow up Mummy. And so he stays a little boy, in his beautiful, well-kept body, his crisp Polo shirts, chasing after the next high – the sexy mess – like there’s no tomorrow.
It’s in the water. It’s in the air. It’s in your eyes and mine. It’s our maddening self-focus. Our complete stubbornness to slice at this self-made, quivering, shimmering, stunning, bubble – to come out, gasping, to confront reality, to take a stab at living and loving in innocence. But that takes too much, doesn’t it? It takes too much. This lostness, this lostness, it takes too much courage to be done away with. And so we continue to dance to a song without a tune, and we continue to fulfill our roles like bland characters without backbones, without hearts. We did away with our spirit, the unrelenting human spirit.
We let it go, our fingers slid away from the chord, and we sacrificed ourselves to what we were told; how life ‘should’ be lived. When all we really wanted to do was to live a life of love and purpose.