By RAJESH SINGH
On Being a Rolling Stone
It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. For decades since this sagacious statement came to be known, and even before, the stone that rolls has commanded little respect in a society which loathes movement, more so of the kind that compels its to think, and worse, rethink its own perceptions and attitudes. And, this society, largely of course made up of self-appointed definers and analysts of success, refuses to appreciate (a more charitable opinion would be that it is incapable of doing so) the stark truth – that a rolling stone has dynamism; it is symbolic of that eternal, immortal being called Time. Because, if there is anything that you ca accurately pin upon time, it is a constant movement. It is that quality that gives it an elusive and romantic image.
At a less profound level, a rolling stone is considered a symbol of instability, of immaturity, of failure. If you wish a damn a person who has not conformed to the social contract on stability – in career, marriage, personal conduct… whatever, call him a
Rolling Stone. He gets effectively black-listed. Whatever else the poor man does thereafter, he will have to constantly either live in the shadows of the indictment or expend considerable energy in refuting the charge, by engaging himself in pursuits that could potentially, if only partially, restore the lost credibility. Much of the human race is currently involved in this epic exercise.
Since one lives among persons who are prone to draw quick conclusions (this has nothing to do with any effective decision-making ability that one may suspect they possess), I must hasten to clarify before I proceed any further that I am not an advocate of multiple marriages or a personal conduct that reflects the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. No sir, all that I endeavour to say is that, simply because one fails in a marriage or two, or that one quits a job a little too often, it does not necessarily point to some inherent defect in oneself. A quest for meaningful living, for a life-partner who is better able to relate to one’s aspirations and indeed acts as a catalyst in one’s creative growth, is not a sin. It cannot be assumed that such an objective gets attended to in the first attempt. A creative person is necessarily restless, though the inverse is not always true. He is the Rolling Stone that needs to gather no moss, because this moss is a derailed society’s deranged contribution.
The world would have been a poorer place to live in but for the wanderers. Imagine if Christopher Columbus had been content living life in his home town and never dared to venture out in search of new lands. Or that Galileo had not challenged established concepts about the universe. Purists may argue that it is stretching imagination too much to equate Galileo with a rolling stone, but the fact is that a Rolling Stone is essentially a euphemism for one who dares established norms and traditions – not for the mere sake of doing so, but because he has seen greater good elsewhere. The genius of Oliver Goldsmith was entangled in his personal lifestyle which was horrifying for most people, more so the traditionalists. He was truly a Rolling Stone who lived life on his own terms, even if that meant penury and loss of some personal ‘dignity.’ The great Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib is another example. He never settled down to a ‘respectable’ profession. Instead, he gambled and wrote poetry. He died in poverty, but will live on as long as literature lives on earth.
To be poor and a rolling stone, is such a convenient combination to understand for a system that places undue emphasis on material well-being as an indispensable ingredient to ‘stability,’ or to the theory that, if you are not fiscally well-off, it is because you area rolling stone. The moss (that a rolling stone does not gather) her acquires a sharper meaning – it means wealth. The Rolling Stone, therefore, has to suffer humiliation. And, who cares if you are full of the most creative ideas but have a light pocket!
The intellectual and creative person is respected, true, but more if he is financially robust. Otherwise, he is merely tolerated, declared a good man gone wayward. Such a person may command sympathy now and then, but on the whole he becomes a subject of ridicule. He can provide the most expansive arguments and the greatest thoughts, but if his pockets do not jingle, he is left stranded. A mere clerk in a government office is looked upon more respectfully than an accomplished writer who struggles to make both ends meet. The clerk neither employs any intellect to his job nor is called upon to do so. With his ‘side income’, though, he buys az beautiful house for his family. Society has great regard for him despite the fact that his source of income is no hidden secret. The advocate who is no more than a broker, who earns a dubious income from his networking, has a higher position in society than the humble scientist who labours in his laboratory on a meager salary, hoping to leave behind work that benefits mankind for generations to come.
We live in a system that is materialist to the extreme. It respects creativity if creativity fetches money. It abhors creativity when creativity demands that you shed your degenerative reasoning and stand apart from the crowd. It requires courage to demonstrate one’s separateness in a herd. You should not laugh simply because others are engaged in doing so; you must not lament because others around you do so. The Unknown Citizen of Auden never became a hero though he was just the perfect model citizen of the State, since he conformed to everything that was expected of a spineless identity. He was not a rolling stone that brims with fresh ideas and actions (all insane, according to most others).
The problem is: there are too many Unknown Citizens in our midst. They are in a brute majority. Just as history is written by the victors, social norms are formulated – and accepted as the truth – by these Unknown Citizens. In this worthy task, they have the full support of the State that detests questions of the uncomfortable kind. They have a system that does not easily digest fresh food for thought, yet is in perfect order when having to stomach assembly line edibles. Together, the ‘materialism only’ club has helped atrophy the mental growth of mankind itself. But then, if this Group is so very powerful, why is it then reluctant to even admit, let alone accept, the opinion of the creative mind? The answer, simply, is: because it feels threatened by the sheer energy that moral strength can generate.
Finally, I fail to understand why the gathering of moss is considered so very essential to be a good stable stone! By its very nature, moss is a rather slippery thing that can do no good to any one who steps on it. It tends to form at points of stagnation. In effect, we ought to look more nobly at a rolling stone precisely because it gathers no moss.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.