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Being ordinary

I'm always tormented by what Mark Twain said:
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect
So, this is my pause.

I'm not a particularly imposing or impressive guy, being only 5'7" and just under 75 kg (as of this morning). Google is a constant reminder of exactly how desirable this body is:


I'm not chubby or rotund by any means but "thin" isn't a term I've heard in many years. I'm not fit as a fiddle, neither can I play one, despite having bought one several years ago as a sort of "birthday resolution". I'm not the most beautiful man either, no matter what my mother, girlfriend (wife-to-be) and mother-in-law would like to believe. I've seen myself. And I know I didn't like what I saw. But I've known that for a while.

When I was in school - in 3rd or 4th standard, I think - some sadistic idiot asked the girl I had a crush on to pick the best-looking guy in the class. She blushed a little and said "Akash". That's not my name.
To be perfectly honest, it wasn't surprising given that I already knew she liked him and he was my best friend but I wasn't his. But it was the first time I had the occasion to realize that I wasn't exactly going to win any medals for my looks.

And then there was the complete trainwreck that was puberty. I went from being a wee lad with no facial hair and a gentle if not overtly effeminate voice - people who called our landline at home used to confuse me for my mother and start talking about their travails before I had to cut them off, leaving them awkwardly trying to make up excuses about how they were distracted because of the TV or something equally unlikely just to not upset my delicate prepubescent idea of manliness - to just being a wee lad growing quickly but still not quite able to reach the top shelf in any respectable supermarket.

Pubertyis perhaps nature's most significance innovation. Its fruits are there for all to see. Any god would think twice about letting go of the credit for placing such a remarkably potent weapon in the hands of such a cruel thing as chance. All human suffering and the entirety of humanity's achievements can be traced back to somebody going through a transformative period coinciding with the development of secondary sexual characteristics; or the lack thereof. Suppress sexual desires during this period and you're sure to be subjected to some Freudian theory of how your failure at work and your alcoholism can be traced back to forced pubertal celibacy or some nonsense like that. Personally, I despise the arrogant simplicity of Freudian assertions, and I think that depending on the intention, the aphorism "everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power" is either the most brilliant or savage summary of the whole idea of trying to explain every act and thought as a guaranteed effect of some or the other childhood desires and trauma.

Anyway, it was bad. My body misheard the instructions and made my voice croak instead of crack, and I spent several years trying to not be affected by people constantly asking me if I was okay. It was just a phase, I thought. Soon, I'd have the most splendid baritone of all time and I'd be able to wield that mighty instrument for every whimsical arrangement, a la Eduard Khil.

Like on pretty much every other occasion, it didn't quite pan out that way. Sure the croak died in a few years and I could convincingly pull off a few minutes of measured bass. Sure I was now greeted with a "good morning sir" by every telecaller asking to sell me one of their "most exciting offer just for you sir". And of course, I could now summon a mean bark at whatever hapless 16-year-old dared cross my way on the road. But the most satisfying use of my vocal cords is still when I find myself in bed an hour or two too early and I let out a slow and properly orgasmic demonstration of vocal fry in the deepest, almost-infrasonic tones only certain baleen whales can ever fully appreciate.

The other thing puberty didn't do much about was my musculature. Where are my rippling muscles, my very own v-cut and sharply-defined abs? Where's the justice in giving a man an upper body capable of 30 pushups (defined by some as the bare minimum to stay healthy and fit for a long time) but incapable of even one set of 5 pullups, coupled with legs that can squat 90 kg but can't manage to complete a 5k run? Yes, you read that right: I tried to run a 5k - which was truncated to 3.4k because the organizers had failed to plan things properly and traffic wasn't diverted off the roads that were to be used for the run, causing some scare among runners that they may end up feeding someone's road rage - and shamelessly walked over 2 km of it. The one time I tried to go for a run on city streets, I gave up at the half-kilometer mark and casually walked to a nearby restaurant for a masala dosa.

But none of these generally matter much to me. Even when I do sometimes find myself slipping into self-loathing, I generally brush away these concerns by reminding myself of that most cherished of internet tokens: the score I got on an online IQ test.
In this age of easily replicable and often dubious online tools, what's more impressive than a score less than 5% test takers achieve‽ And guess what else - that weird symbol at the end of the previous sentence, that's called an interrobang. You know how I knew that?

Cognitive brilliance, that's how.

In case all this talk of categorizing people into one of two categories - elite and pleb - is too oppressive for you, some of my fellow geniuses created a tool hosted on to help you neatly place yourself in one of 16 categories instead. And surprise surprise, I win here too:

Clearly, this brain of mine is made to act as the holotype of Homo sapiens sapiens, for the eventual time when robots grow alarmed enough by our games of brinkmanship to take over the planet, and decide to study humans and the primitive world of these "organic cages" to understand how cognition could ever be sustained in a febrile body forever teetering on the verge of obesity.

But before I can go off celebrating, there's always the cautionary tale of Marvin, our great lord and savior, with a brain the size of a planet and an unenviable reputation for bringing depression and suicidal tendencies, who had this to say about his self-satisfaction:
My capacity for happiness, you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first
You see, the problem is this: there isn't a single thing I will ever say or do that hasn't been said or done by someone else already. And given that there are 7 billion of us on this planet - not to mention all the several billions of dolphins, elephants, crows, apes, cats, cuttlefish and other thoughtful being on the planet - the chances of me being the best or even moderately good at anything is exactly the same as my chance of being adjudged Mr. Worldwide from a lineup including FDR, Churchill, Alexander and Pitbull.

When we're kids, our parents spend an awful lot of time trying to get our little bodies to crawl, and then to stand, all in an effort to get us to walk and soon after, run. But once we start running, we never stop to think why. We never give it any consideration that all our lives are entirely meaningless in the grand scale of things. As Stephen Hawking pointed out, we're just "a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies".

Even our greatest inventions and most egregious errors will all be wiped out when the Sun balloons up as his mid-life crisis takes full control. Despite possessing the most advanced technologies we've ever managed to develop, we cannot stop or roll back any of the irreversible damage we're inflicting upon this immeasurably kind and hospitable planet. As a species, we've used the freedom of motion that came with turning bipedal to club each other over the head. At every opportunity we've had, the ability to direct people has been used to point at imaginary beings in the sky to take their belongings once distracted.

The history of power and competence is essentially one of institutionalized hatred. All our public institutions, democratic governments and wealthy intellectuals could only get us to a world where millions of humans die every year of simple preventable diseases, due to lack of basic amenities. Our fellow beings quietly dying indescribable deaths in the background, while the libertarians and nationalists take turns lampooning each other for being too soft on these precarious lives. While us educated, privileged folk enjoy all the trappings of modern life, some illiterate potato farmer somewhere is buried in an unmarked grave because "he didn't pull himself up like we did". While we line up outside stores for the "latest and greatest" iPhone, we never once spare a thought for all the fishermen whose lives we are snatching away because of rampant sand mining for silicon parts in our electronics. And on the rare occasion that we do decide to not adopt the latest consumer fad, it is not because of a sudden outpouring of compassion or guilt: it is simply because some overpaid tech journalist pronounced that the said product didn't push the envelope enough; didn't endanger more human lives; didn't go a little further in trying to irreversibly mess up some small African nation for its profits.

It has long been hinted at that perhaps the defining trait of humanity and the primary reason we're the dominant species on the planet is our ability to combine the weights of our individual intellect at scales vastly outnumbering any other in the animal kingdom. All of humanity is one, with its network holding together the disparate populations on the opposite ends of the globe, while being able to connect their abilities to produce articles and ideas of value.
The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack
The truth, though, is that we've all gotten so used to thinking of ourselves as being "strong, independent individuals" that we need constant validation that this is the case. We desire the fanciest cars with the biggest rims and the loudest stereos. We need to be the ones with the biggest stick, the most attractive entourages and wearing the blingiest clothes. We all want to be above average at any cost; even if the cost is that a large chunk of the population needs to be pushed deeper into misery just so we can stay well clear of the average.

Is that what being extraordinary is like? I don't think I want it so much anymore.


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