Many years ago…..

January 28, 2012

There are two things that you can do when you see a man driving a big car. The first is to curse him for being a capitalist animal and to hurl all sorts of expletives at him. The second is to find out what he has done to be able to accumulate such vast reserves of wealth.

Question: which is the most productive attitude that we should rightly adopt, if we genuinely want to make sense of the world?

This is not an easy question to answer as many of our attitudes concerning money are forged from childhood experiences. I don’t have anything against rich people. In fact, when I was growing up, I had a very rich friend, her name was Sarah. Sarah was very kind to me, she was the only child of a timber baron and I would often visit her house to play the piano. Her mother was also nice and I remembered how she would often take the trouble to fry banana fritters and serve up iced cold orange cordial during the afternoons.

When I went to university, Sarah still kept in touch with me – but by then, I had mixed up with a bunch of poor students who lived in this really old and decrepit house somewhere in Brixton. These people hated the rich, they hated them because their life was hard and I can understand how a young man can learn to hate so completely when he feels the world is tilted dead against him – when you are poor, everything is hard. Even really simple things like making it on time for lectures acquires a laden quality as the poor have to juggle all sorts of challenges day in and day out.

One day during CNY Sarah visited me in this old house. I can still remember the scene clearly. She had brought me some bak kuah. But I was cold and distant to her as I didn’t want her to see where I lived. It was as if an imaginary line had been drawn somewhere in the pavement, where I stood was my world, my beliefs another country even and somewhere where the line merged with hers was a land that I could never hope to gain entry – As I stood there surrounded by the rest of the boys, it never occurred to me that the rich and privilege could just intimidate the poor by just breathing – all I wanted her to do was to go. Leave that good forsaken place.

I never saw Sarah throughout my university days although she was just half an hour’s ride away. You could even say, I could not see her, if I wanted to keep my illusionary world intact – but when I reflect back to the moment of my youth, maybe I was just being childish – petulant- stubborn. Truth of the matter is there was never any divisions between us except that which I had imagined and breathe life into – there was no great battle being waged between the have’s and have not’s, not the type that involved me and Sarah.

When I think back, it was such a waste to have invested so much of my being in hating and finding differences when none actually existed. The irony these days is, I no longer view my estrangement nor the depth of my repugnance for the rich as something that even makes sense.

Darkness 2012
“When we were all young. We all lived in a big leaky house when we were studying in the UK. There are only two things, I remember about that house. The first is that in 200 days out of 365, there was no electricity or running water. The second was we ate only curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner and we never got bored of it. I was the 7th leader in this house. Every year someone would graduate and we would all look at him like one of those soviet cosmonauts who had managed to break out from the gravity of the earth – he was now free! We all sang.

These days, we are not so young. But it seems, we are still living in a big house. Only this time, the house looks quite nice. I think there are many things, we need to reflect on. I think, there are many useless things, we may need to throw out as well. If I had the power to step into a time machine and go back into that big leaky house again – I think, I would want to speak to all of those angry young men. I think, the first person, I would speak too would be myself. I would tell that young angry man, to seek out similarities instead of differences.

This is life, we all live and learn.”


Excerpt of a conversation extracted from a thread in Phi Beta Kappa.

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