Curious?

Sometime ago, in a past I am more than willing to forget, I had a discussion with a close friend about whether curiosity or desire was more necessary for development in the world. Needless to say the discussion quickly shifted focus to what, in fact, was development. Unsatisfied by the turn of events, we decided to modify the criterion of our discussion to whether it was curiosity or desire which was the reason behind most of the scientific pursuits and developments.

Being more of a “why” person as opposed to a “what if” person, I took it upon myself to become curiosity’s knight, little aware of the fact that I was up against desire’s bishop. I returned from the contest alive, but barely so. It was a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one, for the comfort which I had with regard to curiosity had been gone. I didn’t believe in the sanctity of curiosity anymore and, if that discussion were to be held again today, I would  just as willingly fight for desire as I once did for curiosity.

Sitting at my desk today it struck me that the argument hadn’t ever really been drawn to a close. My friend hadn’t lost after all, and, the downside of the realisation, I hadn’t really won. So I decided to take the argument further, but not with anyone who might give me ideas which I cannot quite work with, for as much as I like to learn there is a time and a place fore everything and this wasn’t it. I carried the argument forward with myself instead, and though I haven’t quite reached a conclusion, I thought it quite worthy to be shared here.

However, narrating two sides of an argument, especially one which took place in two incidences separated by more than four months, is not only a tedious task but also a recipe for losing readership. Instead, I’ll get right to the point which I think could benefit the world, and, should that desire seem too melodramatic and hollow, it would give my mind the peace necessary for it to function.

Have you ever wondered why or how things happen? Why did humans learn to walk upright? Why did oxygen only develop on planet Earth? Why does gravity pull you towards itself instead of pushing you away? How does the system of tectonic plates work? How did evolution land us here, in present day? How do scientists get the ideas for groundbreaking theories?

It’s all there in our heads, and I am sure we have all wondered about such things at some point in our lives, but refused to follow the train of thoughts for any of the million reasons that surround us. Maybe we realised that such pondering yields no good, is perhaps too vague  or simply too silly. Or maybe someone we assume is wiser to us heard our misgiving and showed us that they were simply a waste of the precious time we have. Either way, even if  these doubts do find their way into our heads, they are quickly squashed out.

On the other hand, desires are ever-persistent. Desires cannot be squashed out because they form a home in our hearts and minds and leave a hollowness whenever they are taken away unsatisfied. Desires, therefore, seem to be the stronger, or at any rate the more permanent, governing forces of our actions.

Perhaps the greatest strength of desire is its range. Curiosity, when it exists, cannot be small, else it shan’t be called curiosity but doubt, or lack of knowledge. Do we call a person who wonders about the taste of chocolate curious? Of course not, we simply call them unlearned or inexperienced. But a person with desire, no matter how small, is still called desirous. A person who desires the greater good of mankind is as desirous as a person who desires, for lack of a better example and  to provide some form of analogy, chocolate.

So is that it? Does desire take the crown simply because it is a broader concept than curiosity? No, absolutely not. For curiosity is nothing but the desire to know, the desire to learn something new, or to feel something new. Curiosity is nothing if not a form of desire itself, a specific part which is so strong and so different to desire itself that it merits its own side in this argument.

Curiosity is rich. As I said, a person who would like to know the taste of chocolate isn’t curious. Curiosity isn’t something just anyone can have, it’s a rare occurrence which makes it both precious and, in some crooked sense, utterly worthless. The example which my friend and I had debated upon was that of the Wright brothers. Were they curious to know what the sensation of light would feel like or did they simply have the desire to fly?

Now the question seems awfully simple. It doesn’t matter. Of course they were curious about the sensation of flight, who isn’t? The wanted to know what flying would feel like, and they also wanted to fly. What matters is which of these desires was the stronger factor influencing their decisions? Was it the desire to experience something new, which we have already classified as curiosity, or simply the desire to do something, without the intent of learning something from the  experience.

You will find that the answer to this question, and any other questions which draw any form of line between curiosity and desire, are nearly impossible to answer.  They are almost always vague and offer no form of consolation even when the questions are answered. Some things are, perhaps, best left to great thinkers of the time, for we are, and I proudly include myself in this category, fools at best.

All said and done, I shall always be curious. I shall always have the overwhelming desire to  know, know just about everything there is to know. It seems like a ridiculous desire, which is why I don’t which to think of it as a desire at all. I am curious, and happy to be, for there is joy in learning the unknown, and that joy is worth more than the satisfaction of any desires which I may or may not have.

 

Affording Dreams

Upon one of my not infrequent visits to the village lying near my home, I came across a young girl washing some tattered clothes on a stone slab, wearing rags of her own. She was not young in a carefree way, or in any way which one might associate with youth. No, she was young because she simply wasn’t old, but she was, in fact, very grown up.

Like a grown up she earned for her family, fed her younger, and  there were many, listened to her elders, of which too were many, and helped around the house. Like grown ups her eyes were hollow, her words chosen, her actions measured, and her head weighed down. Her name was Reema, yet she called herself Aishwariya, after the famous Bollywood actress.

Her family comprised ten people, three of whom slept outside the house because there was no room in their ten by twelve shed they called home. The roof was a sheet of tin scavenged from a nearby school’s waste pile, the walls crumbling  bricks and the door a hacked and rotting plank of wood with a makeshift knob. In one corner sat a cold stone stove, the worse for wear when compared to ones present in neighbouring homes. The stove had last been lit two days ago, the mother informed me.

But it wasn’t the dire condition of living which caught my attention that day, it was, instead, a much more pleasing sight. For the rain was pouring down and homes were flooding, but a few, if indeed fifteen can be so called, children were splashing in puddles. And these children were, in fact, children, not elders in disguise.

They skipped and cheered, and slipped and fell. They called out names too, which seemed wrong at first, but then the light nature of their play resurfaced and all ills were forgotten. “We all live together; fighting would make life impossible” said Reema’s eldest sibling, the only educated person in the family.

Intrigued by this unexpected sight of joy amid ever-present gloom, I approached the party, which instantly  aborted its merry making and arranged itself as though for a demonstration, or inspection, or perhaps both. Whispers of “rich” and “bada aadmi“, meaning “rich man” were passed among them and, more out of fear than awe or respect, they died down.

After many failed attempts to to pick my sunken guts, I smiled at the children and walked away, anxious to see whether they would resume their game. They did. I realised in that single moment how detrimental my presence was in their society, almost as much as  theirs was in ours. If I caused children, the only souls unaffected by the perpetual sorrow, to stop laughing, then I had no business being there.

Yet I stayed, because y stubbornness refused to let me leave without making a change, and because I was determined to prove to myself that I could make a change. I went back towards the children, who seemed to have acclimatized themselves to my presence and didn’t bother to stop playing. I waited  for them to stop, which they did only when the sun emerged, watery and weak, from behind dark clouds.

Their game was senseless yet their joy was worth the wait. It was saddening to see that this little gathering of eight and nine year old children was the only happy occurrence in the vicinity. Finally, the children came over, bedraggled in the truest sense of the word, but smiling toothy grins nonetheless. I picked the youngest of the lot and asked his name, which turned all eyes my way.

Ayman, he’s my younger brother. I am Farhan“, said a tall, thin boy. He looked better cared for than the others, even his brother. I decided to direct the rest of my introductory questions to him. Less than ten minutes later I was bored of the monosyllabic responses which Farhan gave endowed me with. I had expected some amount of detail, but the responses were vague and forced.

I asked them about their goals and dreams, which prompted blank stares and awkward silences. I then told them mine, to provide something of a guideline for them, yet they simply stared. Seconds later it began raining again and the children return to their pitiful splashing, laughing and shouting. I made my way back to my home alone after that, thoughts racing through my brain at a million thoughts per second.

The walk back home took much longer than it had while coming. Intense sadness fought the blood flow in my veins and won, causing pain and hurt to course through my system. It was not so much the living condition or the state of the children which took all the life out of me; it was the fact that these children lacked the most basic quality of childhood; dreams.

Upon reaching home I gave extensive thought to the predicament of those children, stopping repeatedly at the same conclusion. These children don’t need money or food  or  even education, for they know how it is to live without them and have thus made peace. They have also, unfortunately, never known a world beyond their own and so cherish nothing; they neither dream nor desire, neither crave nor want.

At the offset this appears most satisfactory: if they are content with what they have then there is nothing better, says doctrine. But doctrine, like all other social evils, isn’t fair at all. Is  it truly for the best that these children have contentment because they know of nothing better? How does doctrine justify the lack of greed due to lack of knowledge?

Here we are out to build a global, content, peaceful society yet we refuse to acknowledge the lack of desire among our kin, the lack of desire which sounds appealing, but which speaks of hollow morals. Perhaps educating these children will tarnish their sense of contentment, but it will give their lives meaning, a hope to live for. We distinguish ourselves from lower beasts by declaring that we live for a purpose; these kids, who know not of goals and aims, are then, little more than lowly life forms.

If not for them then for the betterment of human society to which we owe our  livelihood, we must think on these matters and take a step. Though many may disagree, each life is as important as the next, and we would be better off if we remembered that.