Feel. Think. Act.

 

I am waiting for a knight in shining armour to come riding on a horse, sweep me off my feet and ride away into the sunset.”

Why is it never in a flaming-red vehicle with alarm bells ringing?

As she stands on the edge of the terrace atop a skyscraper in flames, I want to be the one- mask in place, cape fluttering in air, swooping down from the sky and flying away with her, as a million onlookers gasp, “That’s him, yet again!”

Why is it never a helmeted, blue-uniformed man on a snorkel?

Doctor!” “Sports hero!” “Movie star!” “Rock star!” “Soldier!” “Teacher!”

Why is it never a fire man?

Ever wondered why the fire man is missing from all our lists, conversations, books, comics, movies and everyday lives, except, of course, when the context is a fire accident?

Fifty-two years in this world and twenty-five years in Mumbai- the most densely populated city of the world’s second most populated country- is enough time to have bumped into all kinds of people that exist in this world. I have met billionaires, beggars, aliens, angels, gods, godmen, pimps, transexuals and a terrorist.

Yes, a terrorist.

Even a terrorist. But no, not a fire man.

Why is he so elusive?

Why is there no fire man in anyone’s family, or extended family or extended extended-family?

Why is he never a bridegroom at the weddings we attend? Or the stranger we bump into at a party? Or at a dentist’s waiting room? Is it that he finds toothache too mild a pain to go to a doc?

Why do we never find him sitting in our adjacent seats on a bus, train or aircraft? Is it that he doesn’t ever travel in any other vehicle other than the fire engine?

Is he for real?

Or is he that kind of a superhero who appears only during a crisis and disappears after that? Could he be our local barber or that innocent school teacher or that bored postman, who shrugs off his clothes in a phone booth or dark alley, and turns into a superhero in a crisis?

I have gone around asking everyone I know where I could meet him.

“At the fire station, of course,” was the most popular answer.

“Why go in search of him when you can get him to come home in no time? Just set something on fire,” a friend had joked.

“No, I don’t want to meet him professionally,” I had said. “I want to meet him at a coffee shop or a restaurant, where I can talk to him.”

“But why?” was everyone’s unanimous response to that.

Why?!

“Why shouldn’t we? How can we afford not to meet him?” was my thinking.

“He and only he has the formula for our life’s problems.”

As a kid I thought it would be the maths teacher, because she seemed to have a formula for everything else. But soon, I realised that no mathematical formula can ever solve life’s equation of X + Y = Z, where X, Y and Z are unknown and varying all the time.

A little later in life, I thought parents must be the ones with all the answers.

But by the time I was a teen, I knew that parents are very good at telling us what not to do, but terrible when it comes to being right about what to do.

That’s why, sooner or later everyone turns to god. Even I did.

The problem is that god does such a good job of camouflaging himself that I ended up asking my questions into emptiness, in the belief that he was somewhere around and listening. Not even an echo came back. Even if I assume that he had indeed listened and also answered, then those surely were so well-coded and encrypted that I hadn’t even realised they were meant for me.

That’s why I had in my forties turned to godmen- the self-appointed interpreters of god’s coded answers. The problem was that their interpretation was always the same: “Pay me, and all your problems will vanish!”

All that vanished were my hard-earned savings.

My search for the one with the formula for life’s problems continued without success.

It was only recently, when I was going through the copies of my old resignation letters, that an overused corporate phrase in one of the lines, struck me.

All we seem to be doing here is crisis management- fighting and dousing one fire before moving onto the next.”

Fire fighting!

It suddenly seemed to me as the best way to describe problem-solving.

If problems are like fire and solving them is fire-fighting, then the man most qualified to tell us how to do it has got to be the fire man, right?

Simple.

That’s how my search for the fire man had begun.

After almost two years of scouting around, I found a friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s cousin who had a neighbour, who he believed used to be in some way connected with “fire, water and all that”.

So, the biggest meeting of my entire life was finally set up.

I least expected what I encountered.

There sat an eighty year old man in front of me. Watching him struggle with the glass of water in front of him, I wondered if he was indeed the man who could have walked bravely into infernos and rescued lives, or just handled those enormous turbo water-jet hoses.

But as we got talking and he began to narrate his experiences, every fictional superhero began to seem like a kiddy character in a Pixar film.

Here sat the real super hero of the real world, in front of me.

To those who say, so are teachers, doctors and soldiers, I say that it’s easy to rescue people from ignorance with a cane, save lives from a heart attack when you don’t have to go through one yourself, or protect one by killing the other.

In contrast, the fire man has to willingly walk into the jaws of death to save those already in it.

I let him say all that he wanted to say. It took a while before he finally dried up.

It was then that I asked him the question for which I’ve searched answers all my life.

Is there a formula to fight and douse life’s fires?”

I thought he would flinch and it would take me a few more hours just to explain what I meant.

But his answer was instant, as if he had been preparing for it all his life.

In my experience I have found the mothers the most difficult ones to rescue. They are like heavy emotional sacks, refusing to budge without their kids, their husband and their belongings. But once done, they are so emotionally spent that they become one of the quickest recoverers from shock and trauma.”

I couldn’t understand the relevance, but listened.

However well meaning they might be, the onlookers are a big hindrance in every rescue. But they are the only ones with objective opinions in that hour of crisis. Being relatively uninvolved and unemotional, their cold logic and suggestions have often provided the breakthrough we were hunting for.”

He ambled on. I was clueless where he was heading. Had he heard my question wrong?

The reason why I spent forty years of my life in fire service is because there’s nothing in the world as noble as this rescue act. Running into a raging fire without knowing who you are going in to save, or whether there’s anyone in there at all, is not driven by instinct like most other rescue acts, or emotion, like most human kindness acts. It’s driven by just one thing- purpose.”

Interesting, but I was not there to make a biopic on him. Impolite though it might have been, I had to remind him what I had asked.

He simply chuckled.

Every time we got a call and were rushing to the accident site, I used to follow a simple routine. I used to sit there in the van, eyes closed and feeling all that I wanted to feel- worry, fear, anxiety, shock. It was my way of draining all emotions out of my system. By the time I reached the spot, I felt nothing and was ready to study the problem like an onlooker would. Ideas come easily then. Once we had our plan A and Plan B and Plan C, I stopped thinking, and rushed in to execute the plan like any possessed fire man would. Not result, not emotion, not instinct, it was the plan that became our purpose.”

He paused to sip his coffee that had gone cold already.

To feel like a mother, think like an onlooker and act like a fire man is life’s formula for its problems. Ironically, I had mastered this routine for forty years so successfully, and yet never ever thought of using it to tackle my life’s many economic and relationship issues. Had I, how simple life would’ve been, I now wonder!”

He continued to speak, but I was no longer listening. I shut my eyes to concentrate on my thoughts. My mind was frantically recollecting all the problems that I, my family and my friends had faced, and was beginning to fit this formula in, to see if it works.

It did beautifully.

Every example of great handling of a problem had, in a way, maybe by instinct than knowledge, been the same formula.

Feel. Think. Act.

And strictly in that order.

Because if you FEEL any time other than in the beginning, you will end up as an oversized emotional baggage; if you THINK any time other than in the middle, you will end up as a nervous wreck or a grumpy brooder.

I was convinced.

This was not just the simplest, but the only way to deal with life’s problems.

I don’t know how long it had taken me, but when I opened my eyes, the fire man had left, his chair was vacant, his coffee cup was empty and there was a note for me under it.

I read it.

Dear Friend, I knew you were going around searching for a fire man and an answer. The fire man you might have found. But the answer you would never have. Because life’s answers don’t come to us well-worded. Instead, they lie buried at our work place, our homes, our lives. And anyone who lives as long as I have, and faced as many problems as I have, is bound to have come across it many times. Problem is, we don’t recognize it. Thanks for making me do it. And sorry, I am no fire man, just a poor old man! Thanks for the coffee.”

In shock I rose to leave, when the waiter stopped me.

Sorry sir, you forgot to pay!”

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3 responses to this post.

  1. that was just awesome and what i was searching for sometime…. just one question.. how can i get out of the emotional sack

    Reply

    • Arjun (Not the one in Germany, but the one in Bharat- Mahabharat) needed a Gita (Not the pretty young one, but the pretty old one). God, religion and rituals are nothing but ways to get out of the FEEL sack, and to be able to THINK, then ACT. I am sure you are capable of finding or creating your own. Tears are the world’s best known solvent of emotions. I also find sleep a very good drainpipe of feelings. Go pick yours! 🙂

      Reply

  2. Posted by Arjun Sashi on January 13, 2014 at 6:38 am

    yeah surely 😉

    Reply

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