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Sunday
, June 9, 2002

Life Ties

Downplaying intellect
Taru Bahl

AKASH was one among six children living in a joint family. He was different from his siblings. While they splashed in rainy puddles and played pranks, he watched the rain as he put his thoughts down in verse or painting. He appeared a pleasant enough kid, who used his time for creative pursuits. Since he was frail, people presumed he did not like physical activity. What they didnít know was that though Akash wanted to be a part of boisterous activity, he didnít know how to make the first move. He too wanted to play the fool and be chased for playing truant.

He watched his aunts and uncles indulging in banter with his younger brothers and wished they would pull his leg too. When they played antakshri, he itched to be included. It never occurred to them to ask, since they were convinced he would pooh-pooh the idea. As he grew older he realised that it was a combination of his body language, slow manner of speaking and track record of being a bookworm that had sealed his fate. His exclusion was not because people did not like him but because they thought they were doing him a favour by not intruding in his private domain.

 


His brothers decided to join their fatherís business. Two of them dropped out of high school, while one barely finished his graduation. Akash, on the contrary, had cleared IIT examination in the first attempt. Though, for a moment, he wished he hadnít, for he wanted to be treated like the rest. His "grand success" he had further alienated him from the others. Try as he did to underplay his intelligence, his family knew he was a "bright spark," way ahead of them. Fortunately, at the IIT campus he was not such an oddball. There were many who were placed under the category of "weird". No one bothered them. Whether they sported a ponytail or Elvis Presley-like sideburns or wore pink shirts and yellow trousers, no one looked down upon them. Akash became active in various activities and found his inter-personal skills improving. Deep down, he wished he was livelier and envied party animals who led colourful lives. He didnít like his staid self and felt sorry for himself. He would have loved to infuse some enthusiasm into his persona but was clueless about how to go about it. He was gearing up to lead a dull life.

On one of his vacations he met Meena, who was constantly in and out of the house. She had moved into the neighbourhood barely a month ago and had endeared herself to the entire family. He was completely smitten by her vivaciousness. Singing, dancing, acting, helping his mother and aunts in the kitchen, she was a bundle of energy. And a beautiful one at that. Before he could think of ways of getting his feelings across, he found much to his surprise and joy, that she was seeking him out. She lost no opportunity to involve him into their activities.

All along he had visualised such a scenario but now that it had presented itself before him, he found his legs turning to jelly as he tried to humour Meena. With time, he got better and to the surprise of his siblings emerged out of his shell. Once that happened, every evening was party time. Romance blossomed and by the time he returned to the institute he was a changed man. He was hopelessly in love and his entire look had been transformed. When people treated involved him in all the fun things that were going on, he felt a sense of gratitude towards Meena. The moment he finished IIT and landed a job, he married her. Akash felt there couldnít be a man happier than him.

The years that passed were a whirlwind. They were blessed with two children. Their social life was a choc-a-bloc with engagements. Akash had never felt so good about himself. He invited people every day and Meena played the perfect hostess. They would be out till midnight, watching movies, going for long drives and playing cards. The kids were more or less brought up by servants. When Akash made the transition from being an articulate young man to a person who was given to muttering inanities, he himself didnít know. People who had known him earlier found the change unpalatable. They were unwilling to accept that their friend, a gold medallist, had trivialised his intellect by engaging in frivolous pursuits and had stopped growing. Meanwhile, people Akash met now could not believe that he had such a meritorious academic background. He came across as fun-loving and indiscreet. They did not solicit his opinion on serious matters.

A time came when Akash resented it. He wanted to tell them he had an IQ which was higher than theirs. They, however, laughed at his attempts at seriousness, telling him he looked nicer playing the mad hatter and certainly not the intellectual. At 45, as Akash sat down to do serious stock taking, he wondered what had gone wrong. Was it because Meena had never felt the need to develop her intellectual side? She had always been happy with the way she was and saw no reason to change. Whereas, Akash had been devoted to serious academic pursuits honing an analytical mind. Only he was not happy with the way he was. He wanted to have fun, the way others were having and always felt left out because he was intelligent. He had subconsciously resolved to tone down his intellect and marrying Meena had made it easier. Together, they came across as a warm couple in the initial years. Since he did not grow intellectually more than her, he had become slightly awkward in his behaviour. Now when he wanted to change that, he found he could not reverse the trend. Ideally, he should have combined the serious with the non-serious and the fun-loving with the responsible. By just focusing on having fun he had not only let his intellect rust but also he had not done full justice to being a father, son or even friend. Most of his relationships lacked depth. He stood at the crossroads, confused and unsure of what he was and what he wanted to be.

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