A Critic's Meta Review: 5/5
Vocation by Rabindranath Tagore (REVIEW)
One of the most unfortunate things about childhood is that, throughout its entire tenure, all a kid can seem to think about is what they are going to do as soon as it’s over and they have turned into the ever-desirable “grown up” that their parents, popular culture, and society at large have conditioned them into believing are much more free to do what they want than a measly little tater tot like themselves.
While this is true in a sense, as “legal” adults are certainly licensed to indulge in a number of base desires - from the desire to stay up late, eschewing the dreaded “bedtime” of their youth (though, in my experience, this comes back in full force and, when it does, it could not be a more welcome addition to one’s life) to the so-called “freedom” to give away money that was acquired by sacrificing actual freedom - the freedom that the kids are really after in the first place - to whichever roadside attraction they happen to be charmed by at the time during their trip to the end of the beginning (which just so happens to be the beginning of the end - who woulda thunk it?)
The reality, as we all eventually come to realize once the haze of adolescence wafts off and we are struck in the face by the cold, thick coffee mug of adulthood and all of the responsibilities that it carries, is that the very freedom we were waiting for was there all along. I mean, sure, we might have had a curfew, and perhaps we weren’t allowed to eat certain foods or consume media deemed inappropriate (if your parents were into that sort of thing which, thankfully, mine were not; I remember watching Scarface with my father before I had even entered grade school) but you know what we were able to do? Whatever we wanted, all day, without being consumed by anxiety.
Sure, we had our hang-ups, but we did not spend each and every moment of our “downtime” (which was pretty much all the time) agonizing about the potential earnings we were missing out on, for we had no concept of opportunity cost. We had no one to feed other than ourselves, and even that was not something we had to think about. It just arrived to us when we needed it.
Who could possibly be more free than a child in the modern, developed world? And yet, we were unable to relish in this freedom because it carried with it an intense fear of the unknown; to echo Jean-Paul Sartre, we felt as if we had been “condemned to be free”.
It’s all quite tragic, really.
Oh well - it is what it is.
Can’t be what it ain’t.
If you would like to get a sense of the imagery used by our pal Rabindranath in this here poem, I would suggest visiting his (and my) home country of India sometime. There you will see all of the “hawkers”, or street vendors, of which there are an infinite number - much more than New York City or London or Paris or Venice or anywhere else you could possibly think of. As a matter of fact, the art of selling things on the street is so firmly ensconced in India’s overall cultural and historical lineage that an entire subset or surnames has developed as a result: the suffix -wala roughly translates to “person who does”, so if you meet someone with the last name “Chappalwala” or “Ladoowala” it is likely that they come from a long line of individuals specializing in the sale of shoes and sweets, respectively (much like the German last name “Schumacher”, or any number of other occupational surnames from “Baker” to “Weaver”).
Tagore does a great job evoking that feeling I was talking about at the beginning of this article (oh my, how time flies by) - that persistent longing to break free from the perceived constraints of youth and “walk the streets all night, chasing the shadows”; however, I have a sneaking suspicion that, upon catching up with these very shadows, we would have absolutely no clue what to do with them. Confronting them, attempting to understand their nature, and perhaps gleaning a lesson or two from them, is a process far too demanding - both mentally and spiritually - for a wee little snot nose to handle. So, instead, we mope around and lament about having to go to school and being sent to bed by our mothers.
The boy in this poem does just that, naturally, watching the watchman toil away in the cold dark of the night from the warmth of his comfortable bed. He longs to be out there roaming the endless streets - not realizing how good he has it.
I think I’ll stick with my mattress, kid. You do what you want, though.
You are far more free than I could ever hope to be.