the next half-life

Last fortnight I received a request to address four-hundred engineering students who were beginning their first semester. I’ve an old resolution that I’ll never turn down a request for students, so I went. Surprisingly, the billionaire promoter of the college was himself there, and he welcomed me with admirable humility and I conversed easily with him. He spoke of his experiences in China, of his properties in Bangalore, and of his manner of working with politicians, of his clout with them. The back-office boom has created demand for housing and workspace that his builder-community have exploited to great profit. He spoke with passion about congested Bangalore, as though it is all someone else’s doing. About the new airport, he said it will choke the city, especially where he lives, which is not too far from my home. So, even if I haven’t his great wealth, I share his woe. The billionaire and the not-so-rich and the poor all curse and coexist in this, our reeking, polluted, bursting city.

I told the students what I’ve been telling other student gatherings: you can do anything you want as long as you love what you’re doing.

I’ve been making frequent excursions to the ghats, seeing farms and plantations and wild places. The roads to these places are new and jet-black, there are no pot-holes, and the shoulders and medians are neatly marked in yellow and white. The forests are shrinking, but at the moment there is enough green to lose oneself in, water furls and unfurls in lakes small and large, the air is crisp, and the hill-ranges are so mysterious they offer a sense, almost, of the sublime.

I work in the manufacturing industry, so I am complicit in the unceasing assault on this terrain, even if on a small scale, and from a distance. The other day I read about an entrepreneur who took his fortune from the IT business into eco-tourism. A social activist from the jungles where this entrepreneur has established his first resort told me that one small resort is a load of ten villages upon the jungle. This week, a partner of this entrepreneur proudly told me that their resort is rated second on a national ranking in a certain category. Another two resorts have joined their neighborhood, and private holiday-homes are steadily trickling in.

When I stand there and look at the hills and the lakes and the streams and the tall trees, I am overcome with longing and much guilt.

I remember a line in an old photo-essay on Arun Shourie which said that he shifts his career to a new direction every seven years. He has gone from fiery journalist to honest politician to something else. I’ve read in recent weeks Alain Botton’s Status Anxiety, and Osho, and my thoughts are on vanity and on the right path for the second-half of a life. Two books arrived from last week, transcriptions of Mother Theresa’s utterances; on Monday the courier will bring Bill Clinton’s Giving; on my table as I write this piece, John Ruskin’s Unto this Last lies waiting to be finished.

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