If, like me, you grew up in a small town in India, the sound of a siren probably brings back memories of a white Ambassador very purposefully zooming through narrow streets, an air of urgency around it as vehicles, pedestrians and pushcarts stood to the side to let it through. And it was never alone.
There were motorcycle outriders, sent ahead to make sure the sea of humanity parted before it had to honk. These were followed by the iconic Gypsy (the"SUV"of the 90s), with gun-toting constables hanging on to the footboard on either side. I remember watching this scene a hundred times. And every single time, I found myself riveted by the sight of the official car, as if all its power was concentrated in the red light on its roof, screeching and flashing and reminding the rest of us of how ordinary we were before it.
I used to watch it, pupils dilated, mouth agape and filled with a sense of wonder. Secretly, I desired to know what it was like on the inside. Sometimes, I would catch a glimpse of a tiny fan through the white curtains (if the darkened windows were ever rolled down). Wow…a word I learned in those moments.
And that’s why I understood why my mother wanted me to get a government job – in a state like Bihar, a government job was the ultimate symbol of power and prestige.
And ever since, I’ve wondered what power really is, what does it mean? How do you decode power?
I’ve thought about it for years, and this Diwali, I give you my take on what power has come to mean in a country which was, for the longest time, ruled by colonial powers – the inability to let go. We see this in politics, the corporate world, in cricket, among religious gurus, and even high-profile journalists. Halfway across the world, Trump and Clinton are battling it out for what is considered the world's most powerful job. The fight has been dirty, to say the least. Closer home, political families are on the verge of a split as a potential expiry date to a powerful position looms.
Another trait of ‘powerful’ people is the inability to tolerate someone standing next to them. They’re on an imaginary pedestal, and there’s no room for anyone else.
Very early in life, I had a boss who believed in the adage: my way or the highway. I eventually took the highway – to entrepreneurship. So you know what I mean: People who cannot even pretend to hear you out. They can only hear their own selves.
Then there are the prescriptive and preachy types who have no conversations, and only speak in monologues. Is it because they fear that having a dialogue means ceding control?
Let’s face it. Power is addictive, and it gives you a high like nothing else; unlike other addictions, withdrawal symptoms can last a lifetime.
But this Diwali, I wish you “real power”.
The power to understand that the more we chase power, the more powerless we become. Real power lies in recognizing and admitting that we are, in fact, powerless. Surrender to this idea: Power is temporary.
I only have power over my own self (and that too sometimes I question). I know it’s easier said than done, and it’s difficult to come to terms with in a world where we are surrounded by the different manifestations of laal battis. Like every day, every moment.
The child in me still craves for the laal batti Ambassadors, but the grown-up me every day tries to remember that power is so ephemeral, so transient.
And whenever power tries to seduce its way into my heart, i remember the lyrics Amitabh Bachchan so eloquently voiced -
Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon, pal do pal meri kahaani hai, pal do pal meri hasti hai, pal do pal meri jawani hai.