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Shooting for the moon

Ambition: damned if you do, damned if you don't

Mitali Saran  |  New Delhi 

Mitali Saran

Early in my twenties, my father sat me down for the world’s shortest conversation. “So,” he said, “what do you want to do with your life?”

“I think I want to be a good person,” I said.

He smiled. “How nice!” he said. “And what about your plans for the future?”


I fished about in the deeps of my soul and found that it was all shallows.

“Nah, that’s it, really,” I said.

His smile became briefly fixed, like that of a person who can see a hungry lion sneaking up behind you but doesn’t want to ruin your last moments by telling you so. Then his face slipped into frank panic,and he walked off, no doubt to strike my name from his will.

I think my father would much rather have been a freelance photographer, but he had to have a more stable job on account of having produced squadrons of children. He worked like a demon all his life, and liked being good at his work. My mother likes to be good at her work. My siblings like to be good at their work. I have to spend a lot of time keeping my inherent tendency to be a jerk in check.

Fact: I have no ambition. I am a viciously competitive Boggle player, and when I’m drunk, I often challenge much larger people to arm-wrestling matches, but that’s about the size of it.

I’ve been thinking about ambition, because these days you cannot draw a breath without choking on some image or article or television debate or conversation about the Sheena Bora alleged murder case, which seems to boil down to a discussion about the nature of ambition. The noise around this case has drowned out all other known sound in the universe. If there is life on Mars, it is sitting around arguing about whether Indrani Mukerjea is a ruthless gold-digging baby-killer, or a healthily ambitious baby-killer. Eveyone has an expert opinion. (By the way: I got a three-word email from Peter Mukerjea eight years ago, in response to a column, and this very week I was in the same room as a guy whose last name is Bora. So if anyone wants me on a TV panel, I’m available.)

I was sick when the story broke, and not just from the media treatment of the story. I had fever, bodyache and wet cough. As I lay around trying not to die, my thoughts turned once more to my future. It’s good to be good, but it’s better to be able to pay one’s medical bills, which are only going to increase. I have no relevant skills, now that email, text and social media have totally sidelined grammar and punctuation. I am unemployable, on account of consistently resisting employment. I won’t marry rich because, hello, I’m lazy, not stupid.

What to do?

I think I have finally hit upon a workable plan: I could be an Uber cab driver. I have a car, I love to drive and I am an excellent driver, especially after a nip or two. I am not well-dressed, but I can be courteous. I generally don’t smoke in the car. I am absolutely guaranteed not to rape any customers, though if Mark Ruffalo climbed into my cab I might drive more slowly and try to chat him up a bit. When I don’t feel like driving, I can just turn off the app. It seems win-win.

I finally feel I have something to work toward. But you never know, when you’re dreaming your tender dreams, how horribly wrong things can go. As Leonard Cohen said, “I’ve seen the future, baby: it is murder.”


Mitali Saran is a Delhi-based writer mitali.saran@gmail.com

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First Published: Sat, September 05 2015. 00:06 IST
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