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?