In India, everyone is ready to offer advice. Giving advice even when it is not required is something that comes naturally to most Indians. I was returning back from Guruvayur, Kerala on Sunday by train. Since I was travelling alone at the age of 16, one lady passenger offered me advice on how I should avoid travelling in Indian trains alone. Soon a man pitched in with his invaluable tips about how I should live my life.
Their advice was focussed more on how my parents should have accompanied me, instead of encouraging me to travel alone and live freely. I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. I knew what they meant but I was reading a very bulky book 'Shantaram'. Prior to leaving Kerala, I had set a target for myself that I would finish it before I reached Bombay. Unfortunately, I missed the target and just started reading Part Four of the book. I intend to see myself as a crime beat journalist and they were like, engineering would be better. I asked them if they were into the creative or media field. All of them replied in the negative. Their connection with the media was reading newspapers and watching news bulletins on the television. None of them had actually seen the effort that goes into writing even a simple travel diary. I was feeling so frustrated and then I wanted to tell them writing a story is more difficult than offering advice. What made them think that they were authorities on a subject they were not directly connected with?
But given their honest intentions, I played along and gave them a patient hearing. I tried to disconnect myself from them, and wandered into Guruvayur, Kerala. I thought of my stay there and the excitement of my to-be undertaken trip to Cochin in May. It is hard to disconnect from a group of people who are highly passionate about advising you.
So there I was, being reminded of all the mistakes like refusing to accept marketing as a journalism and choosing a more depressing job as a profession (crime beat journalism), how I could have mended my almost, "non-existent" relationship with my good-for-nothing father. Honestly speaking, can a person who hasn't experienced the trauma of being a child of divorced parents, understand my decisions?
A boring Punjabi song was being played on the radio while I was reaching. I seriously wished that Punjabi songs hadn't become so popular in Bollywood these days because every other movie has a Punjabi song filled with. I prayed that the singer stopped and I got back to listening to a semi-classical or a Kavita Krishnamurthy song. I understood their genuine desire to help me feel comfortable but I was beginning to find it all boring after a while.
I have a feeling that they were on the verge of cracking a formula that guaranteed success and make me the next Aravind Adiga. How I wish I could tell them to stop. Their advice seemed so useless to me, on several counts. After all, many lessons in life are to be learnt through experience. Taking necessary action to change your life requires not just thought but even intent. Intent is derived through our experiences. I wasn't offering these people any advice on how to lead their lives and manage their careers. So, how did they get the right to do it with me? Finally, I was feeling like visiting the latrine and I managed to escape after a 180 minute counselling session.
My well-meaning advisors had to stop. I cannot express in words how relieved I was to leave the compartment and be with my thoughts instead of having someone infringing on them. In hindsight, I wanted to view my experience in a humorous manner. But unsolicited advice is not really the best way to start a friendship.