Age of Gumption

I don’t remember much of the 1971 movie, Do Boond Paani.

Every so often though, I am reminded of one of its songs. I play it on a loop a few times and let the lilting music soothe me. While the song plays, without being conscious of it, I absorb something more from the video- something too subtle to put into words. Here’s the song:



I must have been a tiny tot when I saw the movie. It is strange how deep an impact the movie made on me though I hardly remember it. Apart from the song, there is just one other scene I remember as vividly as if I saw the movie yesterday.

Simi Grewal lies exhausted after giving birth to her child all by herself. She hears someone trying to break into her house. She takes up her husband’s sword to fight the man even though she is weak as a cat. The man is forced to flee, shocked by the ferocity of the unexpected attack.

I don’t remember who the man was, or how she came to be all alone. I do vaguely recall that the time was afternoon, with scorching, dusty winds blowing and that the village was deserted. Why it was deserted, I have no idea. Perhaps because of the drought.

Has a life of ease and greater material comfort diluted our capacity to conquer adversity? Click To Tweet

The movie has been filed away in my memory as a glowing example of the grit and determination of my resource-strapped country as she struggled, not only to survive but to thrive. Three centuries of colonial rule had bled her dry her of wealth- material as well as of spirit. But something in her doggedly refused to succumb. She was determined to rise- come what may.

I cannot imagine the hardihood of that generation, especially of the women. With so little to celebrate, they yet managed to sing happily as the trudged over twenty miles of burning sand dunes, balancing five to seven pots one on top of the other, to fetch water for their families. And this is not all they did. The water fetching was just a small part of their everyday duties.

Before you jump down my throat for taking a movie as an example of real life, let me remind you that in 1971, when this movie was released, the women of Rajasthan did fetch water exactly as is shown in the movie. Their lives were every bit as hard; their spirit every bit as buoyant.

There are isolated pockets all over India, even today, where life continues to be difficult. When a failed monsoon creates drought-like situations, life must again turn into a devastating challenge. The tenacity and heroic fortitude of people, must then, rise to the fore and help pull them out of the abyss.

This song always makes me wonder: have we got too comfortable? Has the lack of hardships diluted our ability to stand steadfast and persevere? Has material ease sapped our gumption?

If you would see a man’s heart, knock him down. Then observe how he rises. If you would see his soul, do it a thousand times more.

~Lance Conrad

If you would see a man's heart, knock him down. Then observe how he rises. If you would see his soul, do it a thousand times more. ~Lance Conrad Click To Tweet

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating physical and existential hardships of the same level as those depicted in the movie. That would be rather too drastic. I doubt if any of us have the hardihood to survive even a week of that life.

Having said that, I must confess I am dismayed at the ease with which people get overwhelmed nowadays. A very sad incident comes to mind to demonstrate what I mean.

A couple of years ago, we were shocked to learn that a neighbor’s seventeen-year-old son had committed suicide. The reason couldn’t have been flimsier.

It turns out that the boy had demanded a new smartphone of his father. The boy had lost his third phone in less than a year. All his phones had been high-end smartphones. The father was deeply annoyed to see that instead of feeling sorry for his carelessness, the boy demanded another phone with absolute confidence. There was not a trace of contrition in his demeanor. He had in fact, taken it for granted that he would not only not be scolded but a new phone would be given him just for the asking. Obviously, the father refused.

The boy threw a tantrum. Apparently, he had boasted to his friends that they would see him with an iPhone on the morrow. When he forwarded this idiocy as an argument to convince his father, the father dug his heels in, little suspecting what lay ahead.  The child was too fragile to withstand even a stiff breeze, let alone a storm. He broke.

His parents sold their house and disappeared from the neighborhood after his demise. The boy’s inability to handle a minor bump on the road wiped out the entire family.

There are men who become impatient and angry at the least discomfort when their habits are incommoded. In their idea of the next world they probably conjure up the ghosts of their slippers and dressing-gowns, and expect the latchkey that opens their lodging-house door on earth to fit their front door in the other world. As travelers they are a failure; for they have grown too accustomed to their mental easy-chairs, and in their intellectual nature love home comforts, which are of local make, more than the realities of life, which, like earth itself, are full of ups and downs, yet are one in their rounded completeness.

 ~Rabindranath Tagore

The challenges of our world do not compare to those faced by people of the last generation. We have immense resources to let us live in comfort and luxury. If we do occasionally suffer a lack of basic amenities, we know that the shortage is temporary. And yet, even a temporary inconvenience is enough to derail people totally.

I do not claim that there is a weakening of gumption across the entire human spectrum. That would hardly be accurate. The other end of the spectrum is not numerous, however, it does exist. They make up in quality what they lack in quantity. The giants of spirit who demonstrate tenacity and fortitude might be few and far in between. To them, then, falls the task of making up for those of poor gumption. The majority, meanwhile, sit on their precarious pedestals and play the victim.

Surely you too know people who are convinced that their life is not worth living if they don’t get the promotion they were expecting? Or because some ill-mannered lout was rude to them? Or because something did not work out exactly as they had hoped planned?

You must surely have met people you’ve wanted to hold by the shoulders, give them a sound shake, to ask them what their angst was all about and to tell them to grow (the hell) up! Their devastation threshold is awfully low. You can always depend on them to come undone at the drop of a hat. Then someone has to rush and pick up all the mess they leave as they lurch drunkenly through the velvet-lined corridors of their life.

You wonder why the Age of Gumption died- and what killed it.

Age of Gumption

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9 thoughts on “Age of Gumption”

  1. It was gumption that saw the previous generation. You are so right. I have always felt that having to work for a better life materially brings out the best in you, to work harder, prioritise, find your spiritual strength to cope with difficulties and be better human beings in general. Material comforts and an easy lifestyle does make one take things for granted which is why even temporary hardships meet with anger, frustration and the extreme step of even killing oneself.

    My kids tease me saying that I am a sucker for survival stories, preferring to read even young adult books with such a theme. I guess I am just trying to keep reminding myself of the days when there was scarcity, hardships, physical labour and more that built character, as Calvin’s father would have said 🙂

    1. How concisely and articulately you said exactly what I was struggling to say! I’m so pleased! Now I’ve got it all readymade! 😀

      Material comforts and an easy lifestyle does make one take things for granted which is why even temporary hardships meet with anger, frustration and the extreme step of even killing oneself.
      This sentence particularly, is pure gold.

      Even I am sucker for survival stories. I may not cry when I am in pain myself, but to witness the pain… and the courage of someone who refuses to buckle under… always makes me tear up.

      And yes, the Tagore quote is so delightfully tongue-in-cheek. 😀

  2. I can relate a lot to your last para. I have few friends who are falling at the drop of a hat and am tired of picking them up. I have given my best and am slowly leaving them. They go into their shells and don’t want to come out. I am dead tired with them and have given up as each one of us have our own shit to clean.

    1. Oh that;s horribly tiring. I know of the kind of people you mean. I was married to one for 12 loooooong years. I never managed to get him afloat instead he sank me all the way to the bottom of the ocean. Talk about heavy rocks! 😀

  3. Not very knowledgeable about films, but I can so relate with how certain memories and association embody core values. I feel that about a lot of music that I have grown up with.

    The definition of success has changed drastically in the last few decades. One can blame it on the new economy, on the rise of corporations that make thoughtless profiteering a justifiable, even honorable, pursuit, or on the falling from grace of values like honesty, integrity, authenticity and enterprise. The meanings of words like enterprise and industry have changed.

    The problem is not just that of materialism or inability to deal with adversity. It breeds many other attitudes that are at the root of the rot we are seeing. Objectification of human beings (and not just gender based), contempt for principles, unwillingness to take personal responsibility for one’s actions – the list is long.

    The work you are doing through your writing is of critical importance because it repeatedly brings into perspective the price we pay for our choices. The most important responsibility every human being today has, regardless of whether they see it that way or not, is to impart value education and character building to the next generation. We have survived, but the next generation is coming into a world of much sharper contrasts, much starker realities, and one that is much less forgiving or accommodating. We are all called; whether we heed the call or not is up to us.

    1. I agree with you completely Subho. The problem is not merely an inability to deal with adversity. That is merely the first superficial skin of the onion.

      A contempt for principles… which relegates them to irrelevance… is certainly at the core of our deepest maladies today. Far from practicing them, virtues like integrity and industry have indeed become lost concepts. The new generation seems to feel that the only way to thrive in the world is by graft, pull and cutting corners. They have no idea they are sawing off the branch on which they sit.

      The last paragraph of your comment means to me as much as you can imagine. That my effort is seen- and seen by an aware, discerning consciousness- fills me inexpressible gratitude. Thank you for this pat on the back. I sorely needed it.

  4. Yes, we have been spoiled by our petty little creature comforts. And with every passing generation, this problem is getting worse. Or maybe when we see it from another perspective, the amount of time we save by not having do many of the chores that our earlier generations had to do because of lack of comforts or simply lack of affordability of many basic gadgets can become such a boon if we know how to utilise that extra time! If we can use that time for our real inner growth.

    But instead majority of us while away that time on silly gossip and entertainment of the crudest kind, shopping for the latest gadgets and all that unnecessary stuff being one of those entertainments. From where will be develop that gumption to take up the little and big challenges that an ordinary day offers, like that woman who still has to travel miles to fetch drinking water for her family. Hey, we don’t even think of it as a challenge, we just log on to social media and talk mindless platitudes about not wasting water etc, esp on Holi 🙂 I wish someone would shake up these privileged self-righteous folks and teach them a thing or two about gumption!

    That quote by Tagore is a gem! Great find, Dagny!

    1. Beloo, as always, you highlighted the core issue.
      All the time we save, what are we doing with it? We are only turning increasingly silly and wasteful. We seem to think we’ll live forever. Worse, we don’t seem to think that we have an obligation to make our lives into an anthem of significance.
      I wish I could shake the self righteous folk until all the privilege falls off of them. 🙂

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