(Originally published in The Hitavada in 2014)
In the late sixties, when I was doing MA (English)I came under the magnetic spell of one Mr. Shekhar, an aesthete and an ardent devotee of Sri Aurobindo, and the then Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Centre, Nagpur. Playing the sedulous ape to him, I wanted to do everything perfect: studies, music, food habits, exercise etc. I professed and boasted of perfectionistic culture. Later, I started teaching English Literature at Morris College, Nagpur. I was an avid fan of Robert Browning and appreciated his poems especially his dramatic monologues. His hero, Abt Vogler, was a court chaplain, a consummate artist, who extemporized upon musical instruments and craved to be a perfectionist. Browning’s ‘Andrea Del Sarto’ has a didactic tone,
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for.”
The message is, man’s ideal should be in heaven which can never be achieved, and one should keep on striving throughout his life to reach perfection.
But now when I think retrospectively, I feel that perfectionism is an unattainable, imaginary and a nonexistent notion. Platonic love is a romantic idea which the youngsters create and they enjoy getting intoxicated in its reverie; it is a delusion of grandeur. So is the case with perfectionism; it is a fleeting, artificially created evanescent concept, which doesn’t make an allowance for human frailties. If a budding writer aims to be a Shakespeare or a Hemingway he might die before he achieves anything of that sort. A nagging wife always finds her husband to be a good-for-nothing-creature while she thinks her neighbour, a clerk, is a paragon of virtue, an embodiment of idealism and the quintessence of perfection. A musician, a writer, a painter, a businessman, a sportsperson, everybody feels that they lack something which the other person is endowed with. You don’t have to be a perfectionist always. I think those who believe in the theory of approximation are a happier lot. These days most of the so called spiritual leaders give you a heavy dose of unrealistic religious sermons which make you feel you have lost your self esteem, and that you are a sinner.
Every young girl wants to have physical attributes of Katrina Kaif, every young boy wants to exhibit muscles like Salman Khan, every businessman wants to be a Mukesh Ambani, every poet wants to be a Vikram Seth. However great you might be, you have to be smaller than somebody. Too meticulous approach in life makes life miserable,for we should realise that life itself is messy, imperfect, ill organised and haphazard.
And why should I live life the way somebody wants me to, for it is my choice. It is fine as long as my choice doesn’t transgress somebody else’s freedom. Perfectionism breeds the idea of disenchantment, dissatisfaction and disillusionment to the extent that you start condemning your very existence. I am batting here for the theory of approximation as against that of perfection. We have to learn to be content with whatever we have achieved, for, the idea of perfection is itself imperfect; it is a relative term whose interpretation varies from person to person. We are what we are.We can’t be really other than ourselves. Perfection consists not in doing things extraordinarily rather doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.
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