From Little Gidding by TS Eliot, a poem that never fails to give me the chills:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
When I finished my 10th standard exams and declared I would do Arts and not Science in college, school teachers made calls to my mother urging her to see sense and not let me ruin my future by picking the least preferred option. I loved the reactions I got when I told people who knew my stellar exam results my choice.
And when I started college, I loved almost every class – Psychology, Sociology, Economics, French, English. The only one I hated was Maths, which my mum had caved to pressure and forced me to pick “in case I needed to sit the SAT”. Ironically, English was the subject I was most bored with because junior college English is so lame.
When I was picking my subjects for senior college, I had problems again because the college made assumptions about what was best for me and slotted me into a subject combination I was unhappy with. I had ideally wanted an English, Psycholgy and Politics combination which was not possible, so to my eternal regret, I swapped Psychology for Sociology. Sometimes, one should listen to one’s elders and I should have gone with the offered combo of English, Psychology and Anthropology.
I picked English as my major even though English everyone knows is a perfectly useless if respectable thing to study. Even the more revered professor in our department took pains to tell us that studying literature is perfectly useless (paraphrasing Oscar Wilde) and moreover, that we should harbour no ambitions of selling Binaca toothpaste (a reference to the advertising profession) after we graduated.
Studying English Literature changed my life. It was the best decision I ever made. I have since tried to pick more lucrative study options, like Law, but they were not for me. I am destined only to study perfectly useless things and revel in them for themselves. And as a result have a life suffused in words and their pleasures, which can be its own reward even if these days one has to use words more prosaically to also make a living.