In pursuit of the ‘Alternate’

Three months ago, I joined an online course that aimed at enhancing one’s reflective practice. We chose Gandhi as a medium, engaged with content around him, practising slow reading and listening. I came to this course for two reasons: one, to improve my listening ability and two, the course talked about Gandhi, someone I was eager to know more about.

Every two weeks all the participants (about 15 of us) would get together on a Zoom call and talk about what had we learnt about ourselves, after engaging with the content: essays, books ( some written by Gandhi himself) and movies about him. These were shared in advance by the facilitator of the course.

As I listened week on week to my voice and the voices of all the other participants, it became obvious to me that we were all seekers, seekers of the alternate! And Gandhi became the epitome of the alternate. In his life and through his ideas, we were all seeing glimpses of our own search, while simultaneously wondering if he would survive in ‘today’s real world’.

I find the word ‘alternate’ fascinating. For the alternate to exist there first has to be something that is ‘not alternate’. For lack of a better word, lets’ call this the ‘real’, for what is reality but just an acceptance of something by a majority.

By this definition, the alternate is nothing but unreal, a search for a different reality. Is that necessarily such a bad thing?

Stay with me.

I wasn’t necessarily a rebellious child, but I did give (still do) my parents a hard time. I wasn’t overtly curious, didn’t want answers to everything but would drag on and on about why children were begging on the streets, why my teacher wasn’t rich, why my brother didn’t have the same level of compassion as I did.

Perhaps what I was doing in my younger years was questioning what didn’t seem natural or right to me. Let’s say the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘alternate’ had not yet descended on my consciousness. You know what they say about babies only existing in one world. Which is why the only thing real for them is what is in front of them. Try putting a screen between a toy and a 3 month old reaching for it, he will stop reaching out. The toy no longer exists for him.

So, I incessantly debated the ways of the real world that didn’t seem right or just. John Ruskin (19th century writer and social thinker) said in his book Unto his last

“No man ever knew, or can know what will be the ultimate result to himself, or to others, of any given line of conduct. But every man may know, and most of us do know, what is a just and unjust act.”

Sensing impending doom, I was often counselled by my elders and well -wishers to be more real, to better align with the ways of the world, lest life became a struggle. Sadly, they haven’t succeeded, else I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog and studying naturopathy (the ‘alternate’ healing method).

After four decades of existence, I reckon it’s better to struggle being at odds with the world, than to drown your inner conscience, that little voice of guidance. For then you may become like the baby who lives in and understands only one world, where an ‘alternate’ can never exist.

My Gandhi course has given me hope. It has validated my belief that there are enough people like me seeking, seeking the alternate because the ‘real’ of today is just not ok. Social theory tells us that all it will eventually take is a critical mass of people believing in a different reality to alter the status quo.

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