Alone in a Metropolis
It is an unadulterated truth - a person is essentially alone in the thick of pulsating urban life. Nothing better symbolises aloneness than death. And nothing better manifests it than a metropolitan town.
While the concept of ethics and social mores is an ever changing entity, wisdom that forms the underlying edifice of our existence is ageless.
And wisdom tells us that humans are essentially meant to be social beings. The birth of societies in pre-ancient times, as also when men hunted with stone tools for a living, was intended for a purpose.
It is impossible to lead a solitary life of the Robinson Crusoe variety. Even he needed Man Friday. From primitive existential evidence it is apparent that people formed groups and moved together for reasons such as security – physical and psychological.
Nowadays though, life seems to be coming full circle. We may be going back to the days of Adam and Eve - to being the lone men and women surrounded only by Nature.
Replace Nature with brick, mortar and iPads, and voila, you have a 21st century urban denizen.
A life in a metropolis is increasingly getting lonely. Not just because we are choosing to spend 10-12 hours in front of the laptop, but because scaffolds of societies are collapsing.
I feel, crumbling human support systems, are possibly the gravest threats that we are collectively facing; certainly in the league of growing water scarcity. The two can be equated because of the primacy of their consequence to our very existence.
A visiting French film director was mentioning that impatience, arrogance and ignorance are the direst threats facing the modern man. I feel breakdown of society may be, to a large extent, an outcome of this dangerous triumvirate.
Joint families are disappearing because growing intolerance levels in individuals are causing us to prefer the comfort of isolated and cocooned nucleuses.
A survey in the United States last winter revealed what people dreaded most about Christmas – that they would have to meet and put up with their families!
Human relationships have deteriorated to such a point.
I remember my grandfather espousing the several advantages of symbiotic community living in villages. While sometimes overzealous neighbours tended to get a bit intrusive and meddlesome, they also lent tremendous support in our hour of need. If somebody suddenly took ill, there was always a hand to help.
Marriages evoked brouhaha, and shoulders were lent during sombre occasions such as a death in the family. People offered food, money and support in making arrangements in hours of our deep loss. Nobody had to go home and cook a meal after cremating a loved one.
This is no longer a given in big cities. Injured lying on roads unattended and police rescuing people confined to their homes for months are no longer commercials of some horror films. We are living and dying amidst such numbing circumstances.
A metropolis, by Wiki definition, is a city of over a million people. But nowhere is an individual as isolated as in the centre of these swarming masses.
University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, whose research has led to the development of the field of positive psychology, writes in his book ‘Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being’:
"Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to <i>be</i> loved. Conversely, as the social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has argued, loneliness is such a disabling condition that it compels the belief that the pursuit of relationships is a rock-bottom fundamental to human well-being. ...
“My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Human¬ities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was a young boy, and his mother saw that he was in a bad mood, she would say, 'Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don't you go out and help someone?' Empirically, Ma Post's maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested. ...”
A solution for the urbanite could be a convergence of the old and the new. While we could continue to live nuclear lives, as they help us discover our individuality and give us a sense of space, we should not be averse to cultivating and nurturing people around us – friends, relations and even strangers.
Solitude can be a great gift. Because it allows us time and space to delve deep into ourselves. To swim in the unfathomable caverns of ourselves. To scrutinise ourselves as personalities and judge our growth and evolution into superior beings.
But solitude should be a choice. Not a compulsion.
Our aloofness should not become indifference to humanity. We shouldn’t put ourselves in a situation when we don’t know the names of our neighbours. An ice axe of calamity should not be needed to loosen the sprout of empathetic sympathy within us.
A society can be held together only by braces of mutual tending and attention.
Let us light the flame of kindred and feel the ever present warm glow of its benign solace.
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