CAN any of us say with confidence that we know what is what? I had opened the cap of a mineral water bottle while travelling in a train when a person seated opposite me asked provokingly: "How do you know the bottled water is pure?"
"Generally, it is considered safe," I said after the first gulp.
"Sir, take it from me, in times of scarcity, nothing can be taken for granted. Business instinct at such times is to take people for a ride."
This made me doubt whether I knew anything about water safety. From birth to the grave, all of us, in one way or another, are shaken by what others make us look like like babes in the wood; and self-knowledge, even in mundane matters, seems to be as difficult to achieve as to turn our minds inwards to "know the self."
"I have been telling my son not to take the C.A. course, but opt for computer qualification," my friend said, disapproving of the choice of his son regarding his career. "Computer spells mammon to youngsters today." I agreed with my friend. Nowadays no son or daughter accepts what the parents say. "Appa, you do not know anything about employment opportunities. You belong to the older generation. You know, my friend passed C.A. and immediately got a job on a salary of Rs.20,000 per month."
After 60 years of life one need not feel hurt when told by a 20-year-old that today's elders know next to nothing about the changes taking place. Honestly, how many of us can correctly gauge the happenings at home?
"Have you noticed your daughter?" asked the wife.
"Why? What's the matter with her?" the husband replied as if nothing can go wrong with his charming daughter as far as he could see.
"That's all you know. She is going to drop a bombshell about her marriage plans," the wife warned.
"Is that so?"
"What do you observe in this house? Read the newspaper, go to office, return and gossip with your friends, watch the TV that's all. You have not been observing our daughter of late she takes the cordless telephone to her room late in the night and talks endlessly."
"I see, that's why the STD bill is hefty," the husband said. All that he knows is the sudden increase in the telephone bill and not what caused it his daughter's love chat. He revealed his ignorance about the goings-on at home.
It is not as if one half of the world is knowledgeable like my fellow train-traveller or the housewife, and the other half meekly gets educated by them. If there is an all-knowing super-intelligence, it can only be the advertiser on TV. From the toothpaste to the brand of cooking oil that will gain encomiums to a daughter-in-law from a hard-to-please mother-in-law, the TV advertiser enters your soul, keeping you from the pitfalls of everyday life. While doing so, he has the knack of dubbing you an ignoramus. Day-in and day-out, we succumb to his Good-Samaritan image and end up feeling that we are no fools, but are highly discriminatory in taste, and have no time to make the correct choice. The advertiser also takes us to be such dunces in whose heads he has to ram his message again and again.
It is said that ignorance is bliss. If I had not met the co-traveller in the train, I would be gulping down bottles of mineral water without any fear of health hazard. Now that I have been educated to think well before the first sip, I turn the bottle on all sides to see if there are any impurities. Many a parent would be happy to see the charming teen-aged daughter reclining on the bed holding the cordless and giggling, but now you try to work out which guy is trying to entice her.
In the welter of doubts, life still provides moments of exhilaration, not so much from right choice, but from the mistakes committed by others. I happened to hear the loud conversation in a bus between a mother and daughter, both carrying big bags after shopping. "Sudha! Do you remember Anu purchased a new washing machine last year? It has not been functioning well. You ought to see her lament over her purchase," the mother said. "Amma, the one I got in Bangalore is still working extremely well," Sudha said with obvious pride. I wanted to ask them whether someone like my fellow-traveller had put her wise to washing machines. The bus stopped and they got down. I wondered how many of their day's purchases would behave like Sudha's washing machine.
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