In a world where we overshare, the real heroes of the year have been Achinta Sheuli and Shah Rukh Khan
It is that time of the year. Time to review goals and plan how to create better versions of ourselves, knowing fully well that there is only a minuscule chance of us remaining almost the same.
Like others, I have stopped deluding myself about setting goals about the things I really want to change. I know that my goals for eating less dessert and exercising more will really not happen, but I do wish I could do it. However, I have developed a habit of keeping track of people who have left a mark on my mind in the calendar year which has gone by. Most of them are in the personal space but at times deeds or words of public figures make us think more about our own lives and the lessons we can imbibe from them.
A family’s resilience
The hero of the year for me is Achinta Sheuli, from Deulpur, Howrah, West Bengal. He is 21 years old and won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games 2022, which were held in Birmingham earlier this year.
Achinta ’s father died at the age of 38 years. Achinta was nine years old. His mother had to start taking care of their two sons, Alok and Achinta, on her own. They lived in a mud-walled, tin-roofed hut in Howrah. The family did needlework plus a range of odd jobs to make a living. His elder brother mentions that in a week, three of them collectively would earn Rs 1,200 and at times even less. His brother gave up his own aspirations to be a weightlifter and worked simultaneously with multiple odd jobs to support his family and his brother.
In an interview with Sportstar, his brother said: “Achinta and I worked in the fields; we harvested crops and carried the loads on our heads. We have carried paddy for Re 1 [per] bag. We didn’t always do it for money either. We did manual labour in a field for a week, at one point, because we were given an egg a day and a kilo of chicken at the end of it.”
From being a child labourer, Achinta became a Commonwealth gold medalist. I cannot even begin to think about the depth of his and his family’s resilience, sacrifices, determination and goal directedness. His story, like the many others I am privileged to hear about, due to the nature of my work, will remain with me much after 2022 ends. Achinta, Alok and Purnima Sheuli are the real heroes for me this year.
Lesson through non-action
The star of the year 2022 for me is a star for the entire planet. It is Shah Rukh Khan. It is not for what he did but paradoxically, what he chose not to do. He taught me a lesson and hopefully through his non-action the entire world has learnt too.
It is how he handled his son’s terrible harassment in the hand of a misguided bureaucrat who was simply drunk with power. SRK and his wife Gauri Khan did not utter a single word publicly in their defence during the entire shambolic spectacle when the entire nation was ogling on them.
Imagine the pain of a parent who knows his son is falsely implicated and the whole nation is watching a young man being paraded to jail and their personal life is scrutinised by vultures, with the sole intention of humiliating the family. The spectacle dragged on, during which also came the allegation that he, a Muslim man, spat on the funeral pyre of Lata Mangeshkar during her cremation. Others, on behalf of SRK, clarified to our bigoted nation that he was offering a dua while paying his respect and it is an established practice in Islam.
Silence is golden
SRK maintained an astoundingly dignified silence. It is perhaps unthinkable during the times we live in. We express opinion, indignation and overshare at the slightest opportunity. To keep silent, when everyone else is screaming to malign you, conveys the depth of a man’s dignity, fortitude and stoicism. He is the star for me in the year 2022, who outshone everyone not by doing something, but by not doing ‘anything’ and keeping faith. It is a reminder that in this world dominated by whataboutery propagated by 24-hour news channels, social media, rigged news items, you need not bare your emotions to defend or justify yourself, especially when you have the means. He reminded me of the cliche, silence is golden and there are people who still practice it.
Failing to distinguish between pressure and stress
The award for the worst victim of having foot-in-the-mouth disease for the year 2022 goes to Kapil Dev. In a public event, he candidly mentioned that he did not understand the concept of stress expressed by young people in today’s day and age.
Implicit in his statement was that he perceived the concept of stress as utter nonsense and perhaps a lame excuse for non-performance in the times when going get tough.
Kapil Dev is an icon, but he reflected his tunnel vision and lack of understanding how the society has moved on over four decades since he was at his prime. Like many of us, he failed to distinguish between pressure and stress. Kapil Dev performed skillfully under unimaginable pressure, but he was not stressed. Would he have felt the same if he was playing now? I do not honestly know.
The times have changed drastically, and the world is a different place. There is a difference between 1980s when he was at his peak and now. Social media was absent, Babri Masjid and the Twin Towers were still standing, and India was not yet shining. Our aspirations were lesser and more moderated. Our worlds were a smaller space in our minds. We had no option to express our thoughts on wider platforms apart from in local tea shops, clubs or family gatherings. We had to keep our thoughts to mostly ourselves, except sharing with those whom we had access to. Internet changed all that.
Trolling was a not a verb then. Compare that to a situation now. Virat Kohli’s daughter got a death threat because of his being out of form. Billions of people spew hatred, describe cricketers as rich spoilt brats and offer suggestion without probably ever having played any sport at a competitive level. These factors have transformed mere pressure to something bigger, which is stress. It is the change of context and social environment under which stress is felt. If you are like Arjuna, who only sees the eye of the fish while shooting an arrow, you are blessed. Most of us, lesser mortals, are unable to do so. There is no failure in acknowledging that one is feeling stressed. Rather, it is a sign of courage to acknowledge that we need to recoup. A child goes to appear for a difficult exam. It can be a pressure. But if the parents remind him how much they have sacrificed for him and their family’s honour will be destroyed if he does not do well, the same pressure is converted into perceived stress. It is the reality which perhaps Kapil Dev did not think off.
I have a few wishes for 2023, which I know will not be fulfilled but there is one which might be. It is SRK hugging Achinta Sheuli on a stage in any event and I am cheering in the audience with my favourite dessert in hand. Happy 2023 dear readers!
Dr Jai Ranjan Ram is a senior consultant psychiatrist and co-founder of Mental Health Foundation (www.mhfkolkata.com). Find him on Facebook @Jai R Ram