Thursday, April 29, 2010

The finer things

(Note: This was written in the library while around a 100 people were studying around me. It's more of a spillage of thoughts, not a carefully crafted article)

I recently happened to read a rather intriguing article in the editorial page of the Economic Times. Does the name Joshua Bell ring a bell? (heh) He's a grammy-winning violinist who once decided to conduct a social experiment on being prodded by a Washington Post columnist. He donned a t-shirt, a baseball cap, a pair of rugged jeans and played his best compositions outside a Washington metro station, as one of those buskers by on the pavement. Out of over a thousand people who passed by, apparently, only seven stopped to listen, and, amazingly, one recognized him. There's stats on how much cash he collected from the people who stopped to listen (apparently the guy who recognized him payed him $20, i don't know how that's a sign of respect and all) but let's not go there.

Of course, the columnist who came up with this idea and later wrote about it got quite a few accolades for it, including the 2008 Pulitzer prize. (Oh, he won another Pulitzer in 2010. For an article on something along the lines parents killing their children by leaving them in cars. Don't ask) The point of this entire charade was to prove that people have "no time to stand and stare". That they pay substantial amounts, $100 for a half-decent seat, to listen to the same guy at his shows, but they really wouldn't stop for him at the metro station.

The idea stands. Strong and steady. We've all got quite a busy schedule. People don't have time today, there is always something or the other on their minds keeping them tensed and taut. What the columnist wanted to convey was that human relations aren't the key anymore, it's all about alienating yourself from human contact, being alone and calling it competition.

But you've gotta admit there's a better way of proving it. This experiment proves nothing except the author's talent of making 45 minutes sound like an epic.

I discussed this issue with a friend over tea. I honestly didn't see the big deal. Agreed, it's a racy life, nobody has the time to appreciate beauty even when it's staring you in the face. And as for recognizing the guy at the metro station - Thin about it, if Ustad Amjad Ali Khan or some other Indian virtuoso were to be standing in a below-average attire at CST station at 10 AM, how many people would recognize him?

What did come out of it, though, was a realization that there's people who're working on it. Working on trying to show the world how out-of-hands the pace of the world in general has gone. I know I'll get questioning looks and advice that it's a dog-eat-dog world, and survival of the fittest and all that, but I still firmly believe that the finer things of life are seldom appreciated.

But what change do I expect? What are these social experiments going to achieve? There is no way the amount of competition, the insanely workaholic habits of people in general are going to change. I guess all that matters is if one realizes what happiness is for oneself.

Whatever be the case, one thing's for sure. Joshua Bell in a metro station is not the way you prove this.