30 Dec 2018 19:15 IST

Live your dream and not someone else’s

Do what you love and you will automatically love what you do

When I was completing school in Calcutta and getting ready for college, I didn’t have a clue as to what I should study. I needed an undergraduate degree to get a job but deciding on what I should study was the dilemma.

My heart was set on cinema — I was in love with the works of directors such as Jean Renoir, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. But I was the only child and my parents did not want me to leave Calcutta. And my erudite uncle advised my parents against such foolishness. Another uncle chipped in as well.

I wasn’t too bright and though I got First Division in my higher secondary examinations, I was never academically inclined. Creative pursuits, such as writing, film making, theatre, photography and painting, interested me the most. However, my uncles admonished me, saying, “That’s a hobby, it’s not a career.”

So, I found myself studying commerce at St Xavier’s College in Calcutta. I had always been a ‘Xavierian’ so the move from school to college was seamless. I didn’t do particularly well in college, though I managed to get through. My family and I knew I would make the worst accountant!

Those were the horrific years when life in Calcutta was all about the Naxalite violence, which daily saw killings, police reprisals, and closure of schools and offices. An air of uncertainty enveloped all our conversations and our world view. All of us lost a year as exams were disrupted and Calcutta University faced regular interruptions.

Throw aside pressures

Even today, many are forced by their families and peers to study subjects they aren’t interested in. And they succumb to that pressure. Instead of pursuing what they are good at, they choose what others expect of them.

Buddhist scholar and teacher Alan Watts has a wonderful story about this. He asked his class to write on a piece of paper what they want to be in life. They did so. Then he asked them to put that piece of paper away and write down what they want to be if money was not a part of the equation. The responses were dramatically different. In the first instance, the students said they wanted to be lawyers, chartered accountants, doctors or engineers. The second time, the same students wrote that they wanted to be painters, poets, writers of children’s fiction or film makers. Watts says that it was a powerful moment which embodies how we see and live life. The story has stayed with me all these years.

Driven by passion

If we are driven by others’ expectations of us, we won’t give our 200 per cent and unless we give more than what we expect from ourselves, we won’t feel fulfilled. The boxes we tick must be the goals we set for ourselves.

When Vincent Van Gogh painted, for instance, he lost sight of time and space. There were times when he painted through the day and night, without eating and sleeping. It made him the genius he was. Many called Van Gogh mad. Perhaps madness is what we all need. I call it passion. Seek it. Nurture it. Incubate it. Live it. And you will find your fears melting away because, finally, you would do what you love and love what you do. You would live your dream and not someone else’s.

(The writer is a former diplomat and India country head of University of New South Wales, Sydney.)