Friday, 17 April 2015

The Swan and The Fireman

[Note: This was originally written for a western audience. Hence the explanations for some well known Indian words. Still, it may make for some enjoyable reading]

We in the East have a word, Ananda, which roughly translates as Contentment or Freedom from Neediness. The word describes, not the kind of contentment that one may have after a sumptuous meal, but rather, the mellow afterglow that one experiences post a session of perfect lovemaking and a good night’s sleep. However, Ananda is not contingent on any external event like sex, because it is deeply within.

To an Eastern mind, it is relatively easy to understand that while success and wealth gives happiness, it also gives one an appetite for even greater success and wealth, rather than the psychological means to enjoy what one has attained. To be content, one has to cease all striving, at least internally.

A lot of successful people are described as being like swans, “calm at the surface, but furiously paddling underneath”. A person who enjoys Ananda would turn this metaphor on its head. He may be likened to a ideal firefighter in action: working strenuously, covered in soot and sweat, barking instructions, mentally projecting worst-case scanarios and weighing the possible cost of every action, every step… And yet, deep down inside, he is calm, resigned, indifferent to consequences.

Without meaning to make too much of this Eastern Mind vs. Western Mind thing (I’m only using these stereotypes to make a point, and not score points), consider the generalization that the Western Mind appreciates the Swan model of life better than the Fireman model. Which is why, in Hollywood movies, men dress up in impeccable suits, ties and glares, even when they know they’re on the way to a life-or-death fight where a coat would normally prove fatal by hampering arm mobility. Action women do likewise by dressing up in stilettos and tight pants, and wear their hair loose instead of tying them into a manageable ponytail or bun.

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