When Wonder Dies...

How many of you thought you'd become an astronaut when you grew up? How many of you thought you'd become a spy like James Bond? How many of you thought that because you did something better than others this one time in school, meant you were special? How many of you felt like you were born to do great things? I am sure, all of you. And how many of you are doing great things? Some of you? Many of you are earning well, have great families, and have something to live for, but is that the greatness you envisioned growing up? Probably not, right?

All of us as children have this wonder for life, this excitement for the things to come. And as we grow up, most of us, lose this excitement. My uncle used to tell me that our creativity comes from this excitement - this wonder - the same excitement that gives children the ability to appreciate animated movies. This wonder, this penchant to believe in miracles, drives a lot of children. As they grow up, they are faced with one disillusionment after another, till one day, they are entirely jaded. That's when they stop enjoying animated movies and comic books - that's when they lose their creativity and become "grown-ups". 

In my teenage years, I would listen to my uncle's stories and theories and think he was so smart. As I grew up, I realized that even though, the things he said were coming true, he had been but an ordinary person. And all that he said was common knowledge. It's so ironic that it was the same childish wonder that made it possible for me to appreciate my silly uncle's theory about it. Growing up, there were so many stories about my family members - alive and deceased - that were told to me. Wonderful stories, some with grit and some with flair - my father's armed forces life, his secret agent life, my grandfather's army days, my grandmother's "richie rich" childhood, etc. These were the stories that made me believe that I was special, even if by association.

Before I move further in this article, maybe I should tell you these stories in short, so that I can ruin them later:

  • My grandmother's riches - My grandma's father was a pre-independence "zameendaar" (landlord). He owned around 700 acres of land - 400 acres of agricultural land and 300 acres of jungles which included mango, guava, and jackfruit trees. In the 1950s, when the Hirakud Dam project was being executed, his lands came under the "budi-anchal", which literally translates to "submerged region". The newly formed independent Indian Government bought off the land from my great-grandfather and paid him, what was considered peanuts but even so was a considerable amount of money. Being an uneducated generational zameendaar, he knew how to handle land, farmers and tenants but not hard cash. He moved his massive family to the city and splurged the cash in keeping up his zameendaar lifestyle, till he was nearly broke towards the end of his life.
  • My grandfather's army background - When he passed out from school, my grandfather only had his poor mum to take care of him. Having no money to pursue graduation, he joined the armed forces as a sepoy - I think his position was that of a Gunner-Clerk. I am not sure if that rank exists today. He served for a couple of years, before his old sick mum wrote to the army requesting his release on compassionate grounds, since she had no-one else to take care of her.
  • My father's time in the Armed Forces - My dad actually served in both the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. When he was 17, he enlisted in the navy, but after fifteen months in sea, he developed sea-sickness and was discharged. He came back and pursued his graduation in a local university, but when there was a notification for a job with the Indian Air Force, he applied again and joined IAF, where he served for 17 years. During his tenure in the Air Force, he also qualified for a short stint in the Black Cat Commandos, during which, he toured in Sri Lanka and was also a part of Operation Blue Star.
  • My father's secret agent life - Well, this is a story which was mostly conjecture, based on some strange things we had observed. My dad bounced around doing odd jobs after he took voluntary retirement from the Air Force at the age of 36. He was the principal of a newly founded engineering diploma college in Southern Odisha for a while - which was strange because my uncle believed that he lacked the qualification for the job. Anyway, for the few years that he was in that job, some high profile CBI cases were cracked in the area and my uncle and a cousin of my father's who has a police background theorized that my dad could very well have been undercover during this period. I admit, I remember him donning a holster under his shirt in those days, but I was too young to remember things correctly - this could very well be a figment of my imagination. After his stint there, we moved to another little town where he served as a security officer, till his untimely demise a few years later - that job was a more plausible one and my uncle thought that that was when he actually left the intelligence job and became a civilian.
All of these stories, among other stories about my father's bravery and chutzpah, made me feel special growing up. I was, after all, a part of the same gene pool, I thought, I was meant to do big things. I believed that my teachers looked at me with awe. I was convinced that I was larger than life and the women around me adored and revered me. I believed I was intelligent and would achieve great things in life. The reality had other things in store for me, though. Nearly two decades later, I find myself stweing in my own mediocrity, having not achieved anything of substance. I am more or less okay with how ordinary my life is - because I am happy now. I just have this one regret - that I lost the wonder, which helped me keep this great image of my ancestors. Cynicism eroded through into my adult mind, making me see all those stories in an unfavorable light, which to be fair, isn't a great way to look at them either.

A lot of shit happened through the last several years that led to this dreary outlook on life that I hold today - I have written about it in earlier blog pieces, so I won't go into it now. I will, however, take you through how I see the above stories now, having lost that childhood wonder, so that you understand what I am talking about. 
  • My grandmother's riches - While the story is true, to the best of my knowledge, I also know that even if my grandma's father had not lost all of his land in the Hirakud Dam project, her life would not have been very different. You see, she was one of fourteen siblings and being of a darker complexion in a typically fair-skinned Brahmin family, my grandmother was treated like an ugly duckling. Her education, her life and future were an afterthought for her father. He did not let her finish school, made sure that her life was confined to the kitchen while her younger siblings went out to study and later had good jobs, and then married her off to my grandfather who was from a poorer family. Chances are that her life would have gone the same way, even if her father had retained his land. Maybe she would have inherited some of the land, but it seems unlikely, since she had some really wily brothers who would have done their worst to keep the inheritance to themselves.
  • My grandfather's army background - I always thought it was cool, that he had been in the army. But my grandfather who was a very blunt man had clarified to me very early on, that his time in the army was nothing glorious. He was miserable there, having enlisted out of desperation rather than a calling to serve. And his mother got him out on a ruse, since she was not as helpless or old as she had made herself seem in the letter she wrote to the army headquarters. The upside to the story was that after he came back, my grandfather went on to finish his graduation and studied further, securing a good teaching position, which eventually made my education and upbringing possible. It also ensured that my grandmother had a respectable life and even after his death, lived as an independent widow.
  • My father's time in the Armed Forces - My father was an incredible man. But I can't help thinking that his incredibleness was more relative rather than absolute, as I always believed. The fact is that he was in Non-Commissioned ranks, both in the Navy and the Air Force. The only reason he joined was because he did not get along well with my grandfather as he was a mischievous teenager. A lot of his legends seemed a little exaggerated to me, although they very well could be true. The thing is, most of my father's stories from his younger days were narrated by my uncle who hero-worshipped his older brother, just as I did. So I am not sure. What I know for sure, is that he was in a meager profile in the forces and had to leave because he was having a messy divorce. The Black Cat Commando bit is not corroborated by any documents, and while I think it did happen, I don't believe it is anything larger than life, as it is often made out to be.
  • My father's secret agent life - This one often seemed a little too rich to me to be true. The so-called implausible job that he had was quite possible if the institute was more of a vocational one rather than a full-fledged diploma college. My dad could have gotten the job as he was an ex-serviceman who used to get preference in jobs as a part of the government's attempt to rehabilitate retired army veterans. What I know about the time after is that he worked his ass off to earn a little money and give me a good life - he was raising me alone, since my mom had left us by then. So, while he may not have been a national hero, he definitely was a hero for me.
I believe that must illustrate how losing that wonder makes me see things clearer but also takes away the magic from all the stories. And when you take magic way, you are left with reality - dry and lifeless reality. I saw the wonder fading away, little by little as I grew up - it affected all aspects of my existence. I used to be a romantic once, now I am a pragmatist. I believed anything was possible once, that is a thing of the past now. More importantly, I believed in myself, I believed that I was capable of great things when I had wonder in my life. But now the wonder is dead.

After all is said and done, do I believe that if I had retained the wonder, my life would have played out differently? I am not sure. I know for sure that losing that wonder has taken a toll on my creativity - you see, earlier when I imagined a fantastic plot for a novel, it all seemed plausible and doable to my child-like wondering mind, but now I ask myself, "Really? In what world would that happen?" and that is what losing that wonder has done to me. Well that, and the jaded memory of my ancestors.


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