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     Volume 7 Issue 3 | January 18, 2008 |

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Not So Great Expectations

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Ever have one of those weeks when you just feel like the world is bearing down on your shoulders -- you know, one of those horrible dark phases in your life in which you feel like anything but the superpower that people expect you to be? Half the time, if you are like me, you are struggling to jam-pack everything that you need to do in a 24-hour day -- without being successful, of course. In addition, everywhere you look there is evidence of your shortcomings and incompetence, because there are always those annoying people out there who just manage to do everything, and do it with a smile on top of everything else.

Who are these people? And do they have some kind of special information that we normal people are not privy to? After all, it is perfectly common to not be able to always do everything that society expects of you, or is it not?

Winter in Dhaka is a busy time. It is filled with weddings, dinners and more dinners with relatives and friends of people who have come from abroad. Add that on to your normal day-to-day schedule, and you have a very crammed two months on your hands. And trust me, saying no or regretting is not an option. A missed phone call, an unanswered email or a no-show at some obscure dawat can all cost you your sanity. You will be 'regretting' your decision for the next two weeks, which kind of defeats the purpose. Think about how many times you have given up a relaxing evening at home with close friends and family, or even (God forbid) on your own because you have some ridiculous obligation to go somewhere for someone. It does not matter if you are tired or you have a deadline for the next day -- we conform to what society expects of us and we go to that dawat where we don't know anyone, and we answer that dreaded phone call, just so we can save ourselves the trouble of dealing with yet another thing that the members of our society are so good at -- the 'khochas' (jibes) about not fulfilling your duties and responsibilities later.

And believe me these khochas are not things that you can just let wash over you -- they hurt, and they are personal and half the time they have you reeling for the next few days trying to figure out what other nasty hidden meanings were a part of that very small, seemingly innocent comment. That's the thing about our society. It does not practice the theory of 'an eye for an eye' by the book. Instead the motto here is more in the line of 'if you even accidentally bump into me, I'll claw your face off in public.'

I sometimes suspect that we are completely unforgiving to other peoples' problems because we are terrified that if we, even for a second, sympathise with someone else's shortcomings we might just be reminded of our own. And in a society which spends so much time and effort pretending and acting for God knows whose benefit, having problems and admitting the words 'I can't' is not an option.

The truth is that our society puts way too much emphasis on the external factors of life rather than working on the seemingly more important things -- our internal affairs, or even, things that we enjoy doing. It almost seems like we spend so much time working on our outside image and what people think of us because we actually have no confidence whatsoever in our inner selves. Or maybe it is even worse than that -- perhaps this obsession with outer image stems not from insecurities or lack of confidence but from different priorities. I sometimes suspect that the people in Dhaka are soulless. They have spent so much time worrying about what people think and what they look like in society, that they no longer care about retaining their own sanity, or taking care of their own personal needs.

It is interesting. We have adopted many things from the west, some of the more negative things being our obsession with material possessions and an extremely money minded attitude to life. However, sadly enough, we have not managed to take from the west what makes it lightning years ahead of us in some ways, things like a strong emphasis on respecting boundaries and other peoples' privacy, or understanding the meaning of personal space, or even taking care of your own issues without worrying or caring about the repercussions.

Maybe I am being harsh. You may say I am just a bitter person who is jealous because I cannot manage everything in my life as easily. I do need some down time and cannot always be running around fulfilling my duties to other people, because after a while I feel like I am not fulfilling my duties to myself and living for other people. But maybe I just don't know the secret of everyone's success. It just seems strange to me that people spend so much time doing things because society expects them to. Or perhaps these people are just better actors and more tolerant than I am. Maybe they hate doing the so-called needful as much as I do, but somehow just manage to pull it off without looking miserable or wanting to bite everyone's heads off.

Whatever the reason I have come to the conclusion that I am definitely one of those far from perfect people -- the kind that has breakdowns when there is too much pressure, the kind that sometimes shies away from big crowds when she is feeling out of sorts and the kind that cannot always pass everything off with a sunny smile on her face. And while I may envy all those lovely people who manage to do everything and do it all right, I somehow feel like maybe all those super people are, in some ways, unlucky. Yes, they may fail to fail in anything and always manage their lives, but they miss the whole fun of relaxation and doing something that they enjoy. And while they manage to be the ultimate 'it' people in our society, in the process they miss out on the beauty of living for themselves.

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