John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath has been lying on my table(s) for a few weeks now. It’s a long read, punctuated with lots of dust, chapters that scribble a picture from words, and slowly describe the migration of the Joad family. According to a Brainpicking’s post, Steinbeck kept a diary while writing this novel. He gave this diary to his son, which is now public. I read a post which carries excerpts from the diary. In his personal corner of confession, Steinbeck has expressed his self-doubt and fears while writing this massive book. He has described how his doubts ate away into the forces that pulled him towards writing the book, and how he consoled himself to go on despite the bleak confidence he had in himself.
In the last 9 months, I’ve witnessed fabricated chaos in great measure, followed by apathy and purposelessness. While this has greatly gnawed away my reserves of patience and ambition, it did something else that I did not recognize until recently. Almost a year ago, I came out armed with knowledge and ability to take on any rock in the world. But I was wrong. It was this rock of chaos, apathy and the p word that I wasn’t prepared for. I knew exactly what I had to do to solve a problem. I didn’t know what to do if the solution wouldn’t be accepted. I knew exactly how to make the best way to track progress. I didn’t know what to do if every time we made progress, we’d get thrown back two spaces. I knew exactly what to do to build people. I didn’t know what to do, if they didn’t want to learn. And so on. It went on like this for months when I found myself panicking at the throwing of pearls before swine. It was noisy. It was frustrating. It was exhausting. And yet, it did not relent. Nothing that I did with impeccable quality and intention worked. It just went down the dirtiest drain in the city. There I was, turning it over and over in my mind how it had all started and why it didn’t seem to end. Needless to say my self doubt was far greater than self confidence.
So I started focusing on the small things. The one friend that I could make in an abyss of revolting people. The one walk I’d take which would calm me. The food that I really enjoyed eating. The colours on the presentation, which didn’t mean a thing, but there I put my colours just the most beautiful way possible. The pen I’d like to make notes with; no matter if it cost 100 rupees and the notes I made would amount to nothing. The one instrumental piece that I would hear everyday. The 3 prayers I said each morning after careful choosing. The words I chose to tell myself after paradise was lost. And yes, the way he smiled.
I started noticing the little things, because quite frankly the big picture was rubbish as hell. And it was yesterday that I noticed over a sumptuous lunch that while the bigger things had not taken care of themselves, the small ones had been holding my life up. I ate aloo parantha and methi sabzi, vanilla ice cream and cake for dessert. I smiled at the people and saw how despite everything that was lost, everything I had gained.
Every time I pick The Grapes of Wrath, it fills me with a wonderful feeling of knowing that there lived a man who struggled with himself to write a book such as this, and went on to win the Nobel. This book has been more than just literature. It has been a symbol of the life I’ve been leading – one of self doubt, yet trudging on because I will myself to get up and go on.
It hasn’t been a conscious decision to expound the merits that I gathered once I stopped looking at the big picture. Frankly, it has been excruciating. I wanted to change something, move a little mountain, conquer 50000 words, zip off the another part of the world, and a million other dreams. Yet, I sit on the grass drinking commercialised tapri chai talking to people about faith and their trysts with it. I go back and make some more dreams for the life that’s left. I had to zoom in to lose focus of the big things that fell apart. In the process, I found the little ones. It took me some methi ladoos, a supportive partner, and Brainpickings to do that.
This morning, as I waited for my turn at using the bathroom, I read a chapter of The Grapes of Wrath and a tangible happiness flooded my body. I could touch it. In the little things I’ve found my consciousness expanding. It means something.