Modern-day slavery, where we enlist ourselves as slaves
We are all slaves to one thing or the other. Here’s a story of modern-day slavery.
It’s 11.30 pm, I am preparing for my journey back home, waiting at the airport lounge for my flight, killing time watching Netflix. I could feel a tingling pain in my knee joints, and I realize I am getting older and weaker at 38. A quick look at my sagging belly tells me I am far from healthy, ignoring my seating position and indulging in the movie in an upright chair has started to develop slight back pain.
On my right-hand side is the food counter, with a neatly arranged buffet table, giving out a not so pleasant smell of stale food. Next to it is the neatly arranged fridge with different varieties of aerated drinks, and an assortment of canned juices. A tired and half asleep waitress is lounging over a stool, looking at the abyss, probably imagining all the different ways her life could have been.
On my left side is a transparent glass wall, from ceiling to floor, stretching from the far left end to the right. I can see the empty tarmac, waiting to receive the planes expected to operate at this late hour. The empty lounge makes it clear that it’s not the most preferred time for travel. At the far end of the lounge, in a dimly lit area is a rather tall and overweight guy enjoying his meal from the open buffet. The back pain distracted me from my surrounding, and it brought the focus back to my health.
It was not so long ago that I felt so energetic, getting up every day religiously at six in the morning, and visiting the gym for my routine work out. Hardly a year it is since I stopped going to the gym. The objective while visiting the gym was never to sculpt an enviable body, it was kind of catching up on lost years, and to prolong life a bit longer to live to see the kids grow up.
The gym routine lasted hardly six months before completely stopping and getting back to the unhealthy lifestyle, but those six months was the most productive time invested in me after thirty-six years. It was kind of giving back to self, unfortunately, it didn’t last longer than that. Excuses abound on why I didn’t continue, and there were many more such excuses on why I didn’t start earlier, but I guess this is life, full of excuses.
It was a hard day today at work, eventful as well. For the first time I let emotions flow without restraint, and that too in front of a colleague. It was a cry of desperation, frustration, call for help, venting of anger, display of helplessness, and hope for support. But there was nothing to gain, other than a helpless apathy from the other end, the kind shown for the emotionally weak person. But it brought me a lot of relief, a feeling of unloading a huge burden from my chest.
It all started with sharing what I was going through at work, and all it took was some friendly advice that touched some hidden chords, leaving me completely vulnerable. Starting with a sob, it turned into a full-on emotional breakdown, with tears flowing down my cheeks. Suddenly I felt like I lost total control over my emotion, for a moment my ego couldn’t win over my tears. I had to get up and walk away from him in an effort not to put him in an awkward situation, walking away to the far corner of the terrace, to hide behind a fake wall, a perfect spot to hide and let it flow, till all the tears that built up over many months of frustration are fully rained down.
When I am in such situation I try not to stop myself, I let it flow, I let it continue till the last tear is out. It helps, to wash away all that agony which build up inside, with every tear all the pain gets expelled from within, I wash them all away. After about five minutes, I walked down towards my office, hiding my face from everyone, quickly got into the washroom, I washed my face several times, but it was clear it was not over, and my face showed it. I left the washroom to walk down the floor out to the street, it was empty, I found a spot about fifty meters away from office to sit in solitude, to let the emotions settle.
It’s amazing how the face reflects every emotion in you even if you don’t want them to, I had to wipe my face of the leftover emotions from the outburst, for that I had to first calm the sea inside me, and there I was, just sitting and focusing on the road, as strangers pass by. No one seems to notice me, everyone seems too busy with their own thoughts, brisk in their pace, and heading towards their destination with an unwavering focus. In a way I sensed I am one of them, and the road I am walking on at a brisk pace in my life.
This whole incident was a release of steam build up over the last six months, inside the pressure cooker situated right behind my eyes. And my colleague and the situation he presented was the pressure valve, which let out the steam so that my mind doesn’t explode. I guess not everyone finds a pressure valve at the right time, and some do explode, and those explosions can take many shapes and forms, some even extreme.
The mind is an amazing phenomenon, it works in all kinds of strange ways. It has immense power, which if guided in the right direction can create wonders. But it requires a pilot to guide it in the right direction, without which all its energy is wasted, and that pilot is us. If you let it take over on its own it will create a world of its own for you, it will set the rules, and it will make you follow those rules, which may not always lead down the right path.
Thirty-eight years have passed in this world, thirteen years in a marriage, ten years as a father, and here I am. I live two thousand and four hundred kilometers away from my family, and three thousand and six hundred kilometers away from my hometown. My week is entirely reserved for work, and the weekend’s for family. I guess the monthly salary I take home brings a certain feeling of achievement in me, it’s even more exciting when I enter those numbers into the elaborate spreadsheet I have developed to track my income and expenses. But beyond that, I rarely get to enjoy them, but it definitely brings security and comfort to my family. And I try to ignore the feeling of what staying away can be for the emotional well-being of my kids, despite having a first-hand experience of it from my parents from the tender age of five.
The world is filled with so much wealth that it’s like a bottomless pit, if you are in pursuit of wealth you will never be able to reach the bottom of it, and you will never be able to satisfy your urge for it. The worlds richest person could probably be just scratching the surface of it, and a whole lot of them could hardly make a dent. Considering that, a common man’s pursuit of wealth can be Compared to a small fish on a hunting trip in the vast ocean.
For me, my pursuit for wealth started with a job right out of university, my salary was a measly sum compared to what I earn today, but at the time it was enough to commute to work, grab a delicious sandwich for lunch, and occasional shopping for some clothes, but still some money remained to spare. It’s amazing how your world expands with the growth of your income, no matter how much you earn there is always something to spend on. The way the world is laid out, and the way the layers in the society is set up, keep your insatiable hunger for wealth alive, it doesn’t matter whether you are a person who is starting out, or the one who is leading the number game.
At the time of starting out your needs are very simple, and your mind creates an invisible boundary for you on what is within your reach, anything beyond the boundary just becomes a dream. With time you start growing beyond that boundary, as you start to earn more and more the mind keeps redrawing the boundary to accommodate your growth, until the utility value of money plateau. And 99.9% of the people hardly get to experience that level in their life time.
As with any other common man, I stand where I am today following my dreams, which started out with having enough to survive on my own, and then it slowly started growing and getting more and more ambitious by day; having enough to get married, enough to provide for, enough to have kids, enough to have a better life, enough to have a home, enough to travel, enough to secure the future, and the list goes on…. Basically nothing is never enough. But I hardly realized what I had to give up to satisfy all these unending desires.
Two days back I had an argument with my boss, it started out with a feedback session. The concept of feedback session is really interesting, its basically a fancy word to cover up the ugliness lying behind the mask. It’s basically someone telling you what you should do, and what you shouldn’t, and it’s more often someone telling you what you did wrong, than right. In a corporate atmosphere there is something called corporate culture, which basically is a culture that the company wants to promote. So when an employee joins the company it starts instilling in you a certain culture that they want you to adapt to, this is done in different ways, and the feedback session is one of the tools to keep you in check, so that you don’t deviate from the path set out for you.
Now imagine for a second that there is someone in your life telling you how you should live, what you should do that day, what you should wear, what you should eat, who you should meet, when you should sleep etc… won’t that life be miserable? But people accept this all the time, except that they need to get paid for it, and that’s the work life. You basically let others dictate what you should do for a certain amount of money. Depending on what level of chain you are, the level of independence you enjoy vary greatly, but at the end of the day there is always someone above you, who you need to obey.
If you think for a moment, you will realize that they are not any different from you, they are also made of flesh and blood, and they are not created any different either. If you would have met that person as a total stranger outside work you would have not accorded him any special stature, but at work, you are forced to give that person a certain stature, you are supposed to obey him, and follow his commands. This is very strange phenomenon that only a few manage to realize, the rest blindly follows. They don’t realize the strangeness in this whole set up, because this is part of life, and deviating from this is being a rebel.
Post the argument, I felt totally let down. The corporate culture of pointing fingers, and making scapegoats out of people, made me feel sick. Post which I pondered my options, whether I should continue to be part of this corporate culture or should I break free of this. But in my mind, I did not have the financial security to let go of my benefits by making the first move. The money I have saved up was never enough, and I was not willing to be seen as a loser.
That was my moment of truth, here I am, a free man (at least that’s what I thought I was), stuck in self-inflicted modern–day slavery completely driven by financial motivations. It’s in that moment I realized that I am completely in chains, chains which were nurtured in my imagination, and now it seems so real that I can’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s imagination.
In reality it’s something I can easily breakaway with just a signature on a resignation letter, but my mind keeps telling me that its something I can never break away from, and it has become something I was prepared to endure all my life, just to ensure that I get to continue to receive my salary. Even though it was miserable it felt secure, change felt even more miserable than that, financial instability felt more gruesome than the modern day slavery. It just opened my eyes as to how deep I am buried in this game of money, and so is many around the world.
Today’s session with my colleague was to let go of my ego and blow off steam. It worked like a pressure valve, to release all that steam building up inside me, and to secure a temporary relief before the pressure fills back up again. I will need to find many more of such occasions to act as a pressure valve if I am to continue doing what I am doing. But the question that comes to my mind is whether this is the right thing to do? How can I break away from this self-inflicted pain, and the financial handcuff? How can I get myself out of this never-ending marathon, where I work endlessly, ignore health, give up time with near and dear ones, all of it just to make money which never delivers what you thought it would….which is happiness.
How can I make myself understand that with this lifestyle I am heading towards an old age filled with regrets? These and many more questions haunt me at every moment in life, probably change is coming, I just need to keep asking more and more of these questions to myself, and soon I will be at the tail end of modern–day slavery.