Thursday, March 25, 2010

Settling down…. At what cost?

Don’t you want to settle down? You must be well settled? Settled in this city? … These are questions I frequently encounter in my daily social interactions. Like many of our other racial and national obsessions, SETTLING DOWN is a major obsession. For some reason everyone has to settle. What it normally means – for a man -- is having a good job(definition varies, but either money or job-security is of paramount significance, depending on who is asking), a wife (angel or harridan is immaterial) and preferably kids. Cars, owning a home, sending kids to so-called A schools, are other symptoms of the settling down syndrome. Being still largely orthodox and traditionalist, we see a woman as settled when she is married. The assumption is that the rest follows automatically, sooner or later, and that a career or job doesn’t really matter. On the other hand, if you are in a “good” job, making a decent salary, you are “well settled”.

I wonder sometimes why we place all this emphasis on “settling”. To me, and my English/American sensibilities of the language, ‘settling’ always has negative connotations. It’s settling for something, which automatically presumes not reaching for more, settling for second best, and so on.

There is a typical thought process at work in the mind of most people I meet, which cannot comprehend why I don’t consider myself SETTLED in this city, for example. Why should I? What on earth would persuade me to live in the same city/area/house for the rest of my life when I could live in ten instead? I’ve lived in many places in my life so far, and intend to live in a lot more before I am ready to give up, before I finally settle in any city (when I am old and retired).

In fact, settling seems like a plague to me. People who think of themselves as settled always seem to be a boring lot, obsessed with their things and their people, and with little time for anything else. They don’t even seem to have any attention or mind-space left for other pursuits and interests. Of late, I find myself beginning to resemble those people. Some aspects of life have fallen into the settled grid, and I cannot honestly say I am unqualifiedly happy with how it has changed life. A nine year old relationship (reaching the stage where we complete each others’ sentences), a four year old kid, car, house, and the usual frills thereof, some semblance of a work-life, its all beginning to add up… Every step, every brick has built up the edifice of a settled life.

Seems to me, the more settled I get, the more boring, and bored, I become. As successive layers of settling have settled, mantle like, on the shoulders, life seems to have become progressively more staid. The more things, and relationships, I acquire the less ME I seem to be. Acquiring these trappings took as much out of me as keeping them up does, and I wonder frequently at the mind numbing obsession that is required to lead a fully-settled life (which I by no means do). Every time I have to say no to a ‘must watch’ film night show screening because of babysitting issues; every time I have to cancel a night on the town because it is a school night; every time I have to pass up an exotic trip because I have no money left after paying various mortgages and EMIs; I feel myself sinking an inch deeper into the quagmire of “songsar”.

I read much less, these days, cause books require a certain kind of unencumbered time that I don’t seem to have anymore. Heavier reading has given place, almost exclusively, to Terry Pratchett and Dick Francis because I no longer seem to have the free RAM, or the undistracted grey cells to process Kafka and Foucault. Poetry, my own at least, has died a quiet death, and the occasional ranting blog and work related ‘content’ are all I feel able to manage. Movies have become more of a compromise, so I end up watching only the films “we” like, to the almost complete exclusion of the OTHER ones I like (I get to play some semblance of catch-up about once a year when uddie arrives with his collection from chicago). Pretty much the same applies to music as well.

So all in all, placidity, contentment, and peace, seem dearly bought at this price. And I am better off than a lot of others. At least my lifestyle is a lot more ‘unusual’ and my man a lot more ‘bohemian’, and our settlement a lot more surface than that of most people. So, for example, our house does not tie us down to this city, and ‘moving on’ to another is only a matter of time. So, my insane friends go in and out of the house at any hour, and parties are more about philosophy and argument and opinions than “aap kaise ho” dinners. How much worse must it be if one doesn’t have these? Or is it? Some, I am sure, are happy with the trappings, and care nothing about such “meaningless” agonizing.

Me…I can’t imagine ever being THAT settled. Chafing at how life is now, its impossible to even comprehend the possibility of ever being that far down the road. The price would be WAY too high.


  1. Yes, I've often felt like that. Often.

    As I get older and I start to fall into "safe" patterns of my own, along the lines of the ones you describe, I have to wonder why. I think to some extent, children and young adults are brought up in such a way that they're denied the option to choose safety. They're pulled from their mothers' arms, plucked into a seat at school, forced to read new things, try new sports, attempt a craft, socialize with people they'd never meet in mom and dad's circles, take classes they'd never think to take on their own, and on and on. And yes, it does feel a bit like force sometimes, but in hindsight, those things often made it such that we never had to think about trying new things or stretching ourselves or having adventures--they were foist upon us.

    As we age, perhaps we get drunk on our own autonomy, and then don't know what to do with ourselves, and rather than actively seek out the new and the different and the rut-breaking, we look for the closest set of rules we can find. Hence the settling. It's not the right approach, in my mind, but perhaps it is an understandable, and very animalistic one. Stick together, belong, to survive.

    The other concept is just that settling is a pejorative term for a positive instinct--the instinct to root oneself. Finding that fine line between too much safety and not enough, too much action and too little, that's probably the challenge free thinkers must undertake.

    Thanks for echoing some of my sentiments!

    (one of Uddie's friends in Chicago)

  2. thnx Genevieve,

    nice to hear of resonances. thats what writing is all about...isn't it? lovely to know that what i feel and think are not so odd or divergent after all, and that others have similar experiences/emotions/thoughts.

  3. Oh, I've always chafed at the "settling down" bit. I've always hated to be tied down. It's stifling, like death. And although to the world it might seem like I'm settled, in my heart I know I'm not... I shall pursue this train of thought in my blog - do look in.