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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, November 13, 2010

That sinking feeling

To be human is to be disappointed – and vice versa

So, it is official. President Barack Obama is a disappointment. He is a disappointment to those who believed in his message of change and turned out in droves to vote him into the White House. He is a disappointment to the Democratic Party which has lost its dominance of the US House of Representatives under his watch. He is a disappointment to Rajiv Pratap Rudy who wanted him to denounce Pakistan as a terrorist state from the terrace of the Taj Mahal Hotel. He is a disappointment to those Indian media commentators who would have liked him to order a nuclear strike against Waziristan during his Indian visit. And he is certainly a disappointment to all those school kids who now know that Obama can’t dance, sala (unlike his wife Michelle – Oh Yes, She Can!).

I guess, that’s the thing about being built up into some kind of demi-God. No matter what you do afterwards, no matter how you behave, no matter what you say, you will always be a bit of a disappointment. Try as hard as you like. But you will never be able to measure up to the picture that people have built up of you in their heads.

That said, I have to admit that I was distinctly underwhelmed by the Barack Obama we saw in India. Maybe it was the drubbing he received in the recent US by-elections, maybe it was jet lag after a long trans-Atlantic flight, but the American President seemed curiously unengaged, even distracted, during his sojourn in India. There wasn’t any of the eloquence that we have come to expect from him; his address at the memorial to the 26/11 victims was rather pedestrian by his standards. There was none of that razor-sharp wit and blazing intelligence in evidence; in fact, he waffled quite embarrassingly when asked the P (yes, that would be Pakistan) question by a Mumbai student.

But why blame poor Obama alone when disappointment is really endemic to life; a part, if you will, of the human condition. From the time you are old enough to identify an emotion for what it is, to the time you die, disappointment is destined to be a regular feature of your life. In fact, if you ask me, to be human is to be disappointed – and vice versa.

It all begins in early childhood, when you start to realise with dawning horror that the entire world does not revolve around you. The epiphany could strike when a cousin comes visiting and gets far more attention from your grandmother than you. Or when the arrival of a younger sibling means that you are no longer the centre of your parents’ universe. Or even at your first day at school, when the teacher praises the girl sitting next to you, while ignoring you entirely.

As a child, you look on the world with a certain innocence, even insouciance. Everything seems possible; all things appear well within your grasp if you would only reach out for them. But as you grow up and the realities of the world intrude, the realm of the impossible grows bigger and bigger. And from then on, you seem to be whizzing downhill at an ever-increasing speed as the disappointments pile up hard and fast.

There’s the moment when you finally come to terms with the fact that you are not going to grow up into a bona fide beauty like your mom. When you realise that with the best will in the world – and many, many hours of back-breaking practise – you will never become another Sachin Tendulkar on the cricket field. And that no matter how much you wish for it, however hard you pray, that boy/girl down the street is never going to take much notice of you.

Once you have got over the disappointment of realising that you really are not as special as you were led to believe by your parents, life kicks in with its own set of special let-downs. You can’t get into the college of your choice though you topped your school in the board exams. You will never be able to fulfil your dream of being a neurosurgeon or nuclear physicist. You can’t even get an interview – let alone a job – at the company you always wanted to work for. Your boss doesn’t appreciate you; that raise is simply not good enough; and no, you’re not going to make it to the board after all.

It doesn’t get much better in your personal life either. Your girlfriend isn’t the supermodel you dreamt of when you were an adolescent boy (and the boyfriend isn’t quite the Greek God, for that matter). Your spouse simply doesn’t understand you as well as that charming co-worker in the next office. Your kids aren’t budding geniuses who will fulfil all the dreams that died young in your case.

But worst of all, is the sense of being disappointed with your own self, the feeling that you have failed to achieve your full potential. There’s nothing worse than the disappointment that ensues from knowing that you have made mistakes along the way. And that there is no one to blame but yourself for the way your life has turned out.

Well at least, that’s how ordinary folk like you and me feel about themselves. But I can’t help but wonder if the rich, the famous, the powerful, also feel the same way.

What do you think? Is Obama as disappointed in himself as the rest of the world seems to be?


Santhosh P said...

First, great article.

Now, unlike you and me who never got that supermodel G/B.F, who failed to get the attention of even the squirrel next door, I say Obama got many reasons to feel good about himself. Few that comes to my mind now are

1. He is called the most powerful man on earth, even though we all know that is the Great Khali
2. He is considered the first black president even though the entire world knows he isn't all that black
3. He managed to become the POTUS just by beating around the 'bush'
4. He got a wife taller than him, who has also proven that she can dance far better than him(What more can a man ask for??)
5. He is the only man whom Christians think is a Christian and Muslims think is a Muslim (and the antagonists among both the vice versa)

..I can go on.. the point is, I see no reason for him to be disappointed. If it's about losing those recent elections, thats how mob is as you mentioned, they will change next time around..

Anonymous said...

Obama was a disappointment to India because of his partisan attitude and bluntness unexpected from the Head of a State. Even before his arrival in India he made statement about outsourcing and UNSC seat for India as difficult and complicated issues which was undiplomatic. Even at home he is a disppointment for making promises which he did not fulfil. Rhetorics and Oratory works for short periods.

nellayappan said...

An article every teacher, parent and children must read. You have depicted the realities of today’s life in a wonderful way. “Disappointment is destined to be a regular feature of your life”. The biggest challenge a teacher or a parent faces today is preparing the minds of innocent children to accept and adapt to the ‘kicks of life with its own set of special let-downs’.
Being a teacher and parent, I feel that we must help our children understand this aspect of life from the childhood. I think one of the causes for the rise in the number of failed marriages is people’s failure to accept the truth that ‘to be human is to be disappointed – and vice versa’

optandon said...

It is a natural instinct or feeling to get disappointed when our aspirations are not fulfilled.Now one has to condition his mind and emotions not to carry it forward but to treat as a short term incident and move forward.

XTerminator said...

Firstly,that was a decent attempt to impress your ideas upon a commoner like myself,but unfortunately it has failed.

Obama might have failed politically.He might not have delivered exactly upon his promises,but atleast he instilled a sense of belief among his countrymen.Atleast he has a persona worth liking or criticising,unlike our inert and so-called-respectable Prime Minister.Atleast he does not have a criminal record in his name,unlike our so-called President Mrs.Pratibha Patil.If you found Obama's attitude to be disappointing,the above-mentioned parties are a complete disgrace,and we Indians should be ashamed of them.Are we?

As regards to the other thoughts,this grabbed my attention:

"When you realise that with the best will in the world – and many, many hours of back-breaking practise – you will never become another Sachin Tendulkar on the cricket field."

Haha,cannot get more pessimistic than this,can it? I wouldnt want to be the kid who was upbeat,8 am in the morning,about to take his cricket kit to the ground for some hardcore cricket practice,and who unfortunately happens to read your article,some way or the other.Needless to say,he will lose hope and may never ever have the same determination of being a successful cricketer.who knows?

Ofcourse not everybody can be as successful as Tendulkar.But,should they stop trying just to avoid 'disappointment'?

We may as well scrap the upbeat "India Rising" sentiment if everybody started believing/acting as per your thoughts.

As for Obama,he doesnt care about the Indians and their view about him as long as the government is US's watchdog and keeps signing those multi-billion dollar deals.

Dr. Anurag Ayachit said...

interesting article!!

but i do see things a bit differently ... if you take what all you've said as mere observations - i guess most of it is true, a fact that we better accept than ignore. but somehow, i feel that merely stating the obvious does not nothing more than venting one's frustrations.

we, as people, need to dissect the causes and come to positive conclusions - find the way out. on one hand, to keep our dreams & aspirations reasonable and on the other, to work positively and with full sincerity towards achieving them.

fact remains, that we hide behind our disappointments and do not give 100% effort in all that we do. coz when you do give your 100%, believe me, even the defeats seem sweet - and the disappointments pale in comparison.

having not touched on those aspects of "real life", your article becomes more discouraging ... than disappointing!

regards ...

Asha Tampa said...

Hi Seema, this is my first visit to your blog - thought provoking article! If I were having a bad day, I would've agreed with you 100% and slumped back in my chair after giving up on whatever I was doing.

While what you wrote was reality, no doubt, you should've also written about how, disappointments notwithstanding, we can always rise above our failures and try again.

Not everyone can be a Tendulkar, but Sehwag and Dhoni did come on the scene after him; while Barack Obama might not be the most successful President ever, he is still one among a handful of people to have held America's highest honor; and while all of us have faced disappointments ever since we were children, I am very sure that we choose to remember the happy times, like all those times when our grandmother fussed over us, rather than that one single time when cousin was in town.

While disappointments are a part and parcel of life, hope is there too. It really depends on us whether we want to see the glass half-empty or half-full.

imran said...

Seema Ji,
After a long time I have found a genuinely honest , down to earth article! You talk from the heart.
Please keep writing such heart warming realistic pieces.

All the best and regards
Imran Mushtaque

Anonymous said...

I first read this article in Brunch(a year ago) and liked it so much that I was still looking for it when I visited your blog.. :)