The burden of expectation

February 16, 2009

A couple of things that I did last week prompted this post. Before, I proceed a caveat. Most, or rather all of what I am going to say has already been said a few thousand times before. So, I am not going to score high on originality.

Firstly, I happened to watch “Gandhi, My Father”. A reasonable enough movie. Most importantly, it presented a side to Gandhi which is not very apparent in the public domain. Anything that refers to the Mahatma, puts him on a pedestal and given all that he has done for the country, rightfully so. At the same time, the fact of the matter is that he was as much of a human being as any of us and therefore, it was very refreshing to see that paints him as a father who is torn asunder by his eldest son’s repeated failings. The film is all about Gandhi and his son, Harilal, not fulfilling each other’s expectations and how the son gets crushed under the weight of expectations. In the case of the son, the problem is compounded by virtue of the fact that in addition to having to live upto his father’s expectations, he is also expected, by the public at large, to live upto Gandhian standards. As is only to be expected, he fails and that more or less is the storyline.

Secondly, after having been smitten with Jeff Abbott, I decided to read his “Panic”. Notwithstanding the fact that it was a page turner and held my attention till the end, it was not in the same category as his “Cut and Run”. And I believe that this has to do more with the weight of my expectation under which it was laboring rather than any significant dilution in the literary quality per se. Unlike in the case of “Panic”, I picked up “Cut and Run” at random, without any expectation whatsoever and it turned out to be a memorable read. Just goes to show the devastation wrought by the weight of expectation(s).

There are several other cases in point. Something as frivolous as sport (and to me sport equals cricket), although it can be as unforgiving an arena as any, has the remarkable and extreme example of the Don’s son, John, changing his name to Brandsen (it is a different matter though that at some later point he reverted back to being a Bradman). As a generalisation it can be safely hypothesised that , but for the film industry in India, where all you need to earn your stripes is a famous surname, the weight of expectation crushes the best and the brightest.

In one of my earliest posts, I had mentioned the profound effect that Khalid Hosseini’s “Kite Runner” had on me. Prompted by a comment on my post by Compulsive Writer (, I decided to read Hosseini’s ” A Thousand Splendid Suns”. If at all possible, ATSS, which in my opinion is virtually a sequel to KR, is even better than KR. Suffice to say that ATSS left a much more indelible mark. I guess the success of ATSS is more the exception than the rule.

Of all forms of expectations, beware those that we place on ourselves. These are in reality the most damaging and debilitating. The premium on “success” in today’s world being so high, it would require tremendous strength of will and character to take things as they come. As long as we have the maturity to give it our all and not be worried about the result, expectations should not weigh us down. As long as we realise that each new day means a fresh start in every sense of the term, we will not be bogged down by the tyranny of expectations. And as long as we apply the same rule to the rest around us, the world will be a simpler place to live in.


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