Cheshire Puss, she began ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where-‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat
– so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you are sure to do that,’ said the Cat, if you only walk long enough.’
(Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
In the manner of all the firsts,
here’s the Cheshire Cat from my own pen
I reminisced with delight when I was recently called Cheshire Cat – my nickname among a select circle of friends, in a comment on my website. The first time I read the lines reproduced above in Lewis Carroll’s classic ‘Alice in Wonderland’, I don’t think I was much older than the protagonist in the story herself, and certainly no less wonder-struck.
Whether in the present dialogue or the one in which it says resignedly, We are all mad in here, as a young boy, it was my first brush with characters talking and behaving like ‘people’. I was then a complete stranger to the word anthropomorphism but not to the power of the concept it described.
I felt that boyish sense of wonder revived when years later, at Tata Steel (2000), Jamshedpur, I heard those lines again during a ‘millenium presentation’ made by Mr B Muthuraman (then Vice-President and later Managing Director of Tata Steel) as a part of the company’s millennium vision.
The magic was back. I read the book all over again, even more impressed by the wisdom of the Cheshire Cat. In all the incredible madness of the story, it stood out with its indomitable wit, wisdom and a wide grin, which would be all left after the cat had vanished. This grin once led Alice to remark: ‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’
Its wisdom made a deep impression on my mind and it started appearing in my chats with friends (in those days, this was done face to face), serious or otherwise, which is what earned me this nickname. Even my present-day students will vouch for letting the Cat out of the bag during my classes.
The paragraph quoted above has such depth. It contains an obvious message and conceals another equally significant one. The obvious one is about having a goal in life, without which all our efforts would be directionless. There are three elements that motivate one towards a goal: direction, intensity and persistence. Here, direction is the essential one. The rest are necessary, but not sufficient.
The not-so-obvious message is that in the absence of a goal, even though we may achieve something in life, it would turn out to be meaningless when we realise that it was not in line with our goals. Our achievements have a meaning insomuch as they enhance our sense of self-worth and help us actualise our true potential. For this, they have to be aligned with our vision, towards which our goals serve as milestones.
One may argue that without a defined goal, one can still indulge in exploration, both within and without, and the experience gained would be rewarding anyway, for the journey is more important than the destination. However, the point one would be missing here is that even an exploration seeks to uncover something, and that something is usually defined. Looking for an answer, while the question itself has not been articulated may lead to meaningless discoveries or worse, seemingly meaningful answers. For instance the mysterious figure of 42, arrived at as the answer to the ultimate question, in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’!!!