e6: dizzy with freedom
veggies. choices. life.
i'm sick of doing small, meaningless shit.
which is what i told my friend anshu as we had drinks on a hot koramangala afternoon. the thought had made my stomach clench a few days before, as i lay on my bedroom floor beneath the fan, sweating and reading about the ukraine.
it’s obviously far easier for me to do small and meaningless shit in life. i have a bookmarks folder called ‘wishlist’ that has what seems like a hundred pages of things i want. makeup, clothing, lamps, watches, posters. i like money. i like going out to eat. i love lying on my sofa and reading a novel about some white girl in new york, or listening to music for hours on end. i could be a consultant. peak meaninglessness.
my money—my parents’ money—gives me the opportunity to do this. it also gives me the opportunity to guiltily navel-gaze for hours and hours. the guilt, of course, comes from the fact that i am free to act any which way i please. like sartre says, we are condemned to be free—caught between choices, not knowing which one to make, and to refrain from action becomes another choice still.
i tell anshu that i’m in that mindspace again, the one where i want to change the world. it’s a shit world and it makes me sad. (and that’s all it does to me, mostly—worsen my mood.)
i have a lot of freedom. i think when i was 19-20 years old and drunk on marxist theory, i convinced myself that i didn’t have this freedom. i can’t do anything, because it’s the state’s responsibility, because there will be a revolution, or because i don’t know enough to do things right. this is what sartre calls ‘bad faith’—the (self) deception that we are not free.
now i know i am free. there is an anguish that comes of this realization. anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, kierkegaard says. my life has boundless possibility. so what do i do with it?
today i went to a vegetable santhe/mandi/ open-air market in yeshwanthpur.
the vendors at the santhe are either from the suburbs of bangalore or some villages at the outskirts of the city. each sunday they lug sacks of vegetables to the city, only travelling by bus. a few of the slightly more prosperous farmers might use small three-wheeler cargo vehicles instead.
at sunset, the process of stock-clearance must start. everything not sold is thrown. when i got to the santhe, it was 8 pm, almost time to go back to the fields.
every week, vendors set up before sunup in the designated santhe space, spreading blue tarps for themselves and their veggies. it’s usually the women who come to sell. sometimes young boys of 13-14.
when i walked in it was pitch dark, i switched on my phone’s torch to see better. what i found was a 10-20 metre stretch of concrete (i think? it was hard to tell) with a narrow path between the rectangles of tarp. most vendors carried what i’ve come to think of as classic bangalore vegetables: beetroot, beans, carrot, cabbage. then there were all the usual supermarket veggies: onions (small sambar ones as well as the regular sizes), tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers. but i also saw several vegetables i’d never seen before.
one was a soft, spirally green vegetable, not longer than 4-5 inches, which turned out to be a type of native (naati) cucumber. i saw a large yellowish fruit with rough skin, the vendor called it ‘chakotara’. i recognized it as grapefruit from the internet and bought one. there were bunches of tiny green berries, smaller than peas, filled with tiny white seeds. the woman selling them told me people make palya with it. i told her it looked interesting, but i was a little nervous about those seeds, so i didn’t end up buying any. i bought some varieties of greens that i thought we might figure out how to cook.
we saw a few more odd-looking veg but i was too distracted to go check out each one. i kept noticing people stacking their produce into mounds. i was told that each (sizeable!!!!) pile was worth 10 bucks each. nearly everything was 10 rupees a kilo. 10 rupees for a huge floret of broccoli. 10 rupees for a giant gourd of some kind. 10 rupees for 2 cuts of palak. and so on.
i thought about 10 rupees and what it could get me, in my posh fucking life with my macbook and my silver jewelry. absolutely nothing. maybe one menthol cigarette. maybe one stick of chewing gum. maybe a couple of biscuits. what the hell is 10 rupees???
i saw in my mind mountains of lush, verdant produce, sliding off tarp onto a landfill. i saw the kids who came to my window at traffic stops, asking me to buy sunglasses and paper napkins and pens. i felt bile rise in my throat. disgust with my own life. what a world this is, in which my midnight cravings are satisfied with a press of a button. in which the people who grow the food i eat ask for basically nothing—all in order to live their lives of endless labour. in which i sit in an air conditioned room and think about suffering while children go hungry.
i thought that by studying philosophy, i would cultivate a moral consciousness. i thought i would discover the meaning of life and the world, and my purpose within it. i’d know what to do at every point: handily equipped with a framework that had answers to all my questions.
and studying philosophy did result in intellectual and moral engagement. not more than, say, being in love. but it made me happy. for example, it brings me great joy to think about nagarjuna and camus and schopenhauer. but this thinking is an aesthetic act. i’m revelling in the beauty of these conceptual worlds, actually drawing away from moral action (and therefore my own freedom).
i will continue to think about philosophy, but i am tired of denying my freedom. i’m sick of doing small and meaningless shit.
i want to imbue my life with meaning.
i want to ‘become what i am’1.
that starts today.
Nietzsche, Ecce Homo