by Sudha Ratnam
A meteor may strike the earth to smithereens or the world might end on a day forecast by a well-known soothsayer; I take these fearful predictions in my stride with a familiar companion inside me whispering conspiratorially that nothing of the sort would happen. Not at least for another century, perhaps! By then, I would be safe in the divine corridors. But a celestial haven is far from my mind when my maid hasn’t shown up after giving her word that she would clock in an hour early to help with the cooking and cleaning for the unexpected visit of my offspring who lives elsewhere. Should I shelve the cordon-bleu menu that I had planned for a perennially hungry child? For me, he is still a boarding school boy of 13, whenever he visits me or I him! My instinct advised me: “Yes, shuffle it off and settle for a homely lunch of fried rice, mixed lentils, a healthy salad and dahi! Your domestic help is a shirker. Don’t hope for her to show up today!” I may even be surprised when I see my son tucking into the humble repast after his regular airline, train or restaurant meals!
For every one of us, Hope seems to be the crucial incentive to carry on in life as events unfold day after day, from the trivial to the grave. One keeps hoping that one does not miss a bus or train getting to school or to the workplace, or that the cell phone does not go off at a crucial time. It is not rare when we hear someone bemoan that a casual medical check-up revealed a serious ailment, a time when one calls on the elusive Hope, and pray for better times. Our fluid and fragile life really rests in the hands of the enigmatic dispenser Hope, which wields its power from the day we are born.
When the newborn arrives, sometimes we hear a whisper, “Hope it’s a boy!” It is quickly stifled fearing the strident backlash of common sense not to distinguish between a boy and a girl. The toddler, over time, is ready for play school. Tears are shed by young mothers amidst an occasional sparkle and shriek of joy, “Oh, I never believed my little one would make it!” Her child has taken the first scholastic leap. Elaborate tutoring has got the child a place in the nursery allowing the mother to heave a sigh of relief as she gets on with her software job. A walk in the park would rekindle hopes in another mother who failed to secure a place for her little one in the desired school. The park teems with neighbourhood children and their parents. Many other schools are suggested and the mother carries on with renewed hope.
Admission into a college is won by many youngsters after angst-ridden hours of filling forms and scouring cut-off mark lists that year after year virtually rule out a large chunk of hopeful adolescents from entering a good university. But faith and optimism do not desert the valiant as the youngster charges off to an unheard of-place, stutters and learns an alien tongue, gobbles unfamiliar food, makes awesome friends and scores good marks or perhaps suffers heartbreaks and leaves. Just about anything can happen but hope to God it is not something as devastating as calling it a day from life itself as happens too often.
Sometimes the failure to crack an entrance exam to a professional course could miraculously open the doors to becoming, say, a famous singer. “He’s a good singer, thank God; he had the sense to try for the T.V. auditions!” Not a frequent occurrence this, but not an impossible one either!
Life’s unchartered paths bring with it despondency as well as excitement. The youngster armed with a good degree and a fine job is looking for a suitable partner. A plethora of matrimonial sites offer the “very best”: a glowing bride with qualifications ranging from earning a fat salary to keeping a model house, or a groom with swooning good looks and a job in Silicon Valley; the list is endless. Hope rises recklessly and furious meetings and parleys go on. Seldom does the sheen of this initial aspiration linger on, if it has not already opened one’s eyes to the realities of the rocky ride to conjugal bliss!
The daily routine tires many who head for a makeover checking out malls or online products that promise a sea-change in the way one appears, or a state-of-the-art gym claiming to make the client breathtakingly slim. Hope steps in. The persistent shop assistant smiling vacuously is expectantly waiting for the reckless shopper to boost a sagging sale. A young girl is de-tanning and the fifth brand that she has tried has not dried up her enthusiastic pursuit of the elusive pale complexion that she feels will fix many problems in her life. A tired and lined face reaches out for that anti-wrinkle cream that claims to ease the creases and fill pockets in the face in seven simple days! The prospect seems tantalizingly tempting and the client selects the product in a daze. Wrapped in crisp patterned paper, it is held lovingly and carried home. The cash registers tinkle and private disappointments are washed away in the honey-apricot gel.
For the elderly man who tries to live within his means, the stock market is the magic oracle as it teeters between crashing and picking up at will. But he dares to hope the next day and the next. It is not for want of trying but often things don’t seem to work.
“Learn to live for the minute and you will feel fresh as a daisy!” screams the author of the latest bestseller, a self-help manual. The chance of making it on one’s own has drawn a blank and now there is this ready buyer who may possibly find answers from the manual and sort out at least some of the things that have gone awry in life. The scented, expertly designed book finds a place on the dining room table, making it a breakfast companion. The book accompanies its owner to work and is by her side as she drops off into an uneasy slumber! Something will come up, as the author hopefully suggests: “continue focusing your thoughts on what you want. It is the laws of attraction that will make your dreams come true!” And one dreams on, hoping for a better day, a better deal.
All these individual stories collectively, have made Hope a global figure. Hope struts into climate change conferences, dances in meetings that discuss ending of wars and bombs, and holds out a hand, however fragile, to millions of displaced people fleeing famine and floods.
Will the Arctic ice melt soon or will the Ganga ever be cleaned? Hoping for the best to happen is all that remains, after one has made one’s effort. Like the earth spinning on its own axis, the enigmatic Hope alone seems to sustain our lives as it were. Like a silken thread, Hope connects a possible dream with an almost improbable reality. We might have to face many days like the vivacious Scarlett O’Hara Gone with the Wind, utter bravely, “But tomorrow is another day!”