Banana chips at Harvard

There’s a famous folklore about a Harvard MBA and a Kerala fisherman. I made up the Kerala bit to give the story some global exposure.

Here’s a brief version: Harvard MBA meets fisherman – watches fisherman catch fish for a few hours and return – asks him why he didn’t stay out and catch more fish.

Fisherman says this is enough to feed the family and he has a long bucket-list that includes: swim with the children – take an afternoon nap – catch the sunset with the family accompanied with coconut water and Banana chips.

MBA dude shakes his head in disappointment. He draws out a business plan for the fisherman and talks about a potential IPO after which the fisherman can retire and watch sunsets and take up, like: fishing or something.

The fisherman’s like, “that’s deep bro! Fancy some Banana chips?”

I just made that one up to come one full circle, but you get the point.

Here’s a weird feeling I have every time I read a version of this folklore: It’ll be nice to get an MBA from Harvard.

We can’t resonate with the life of the fisherman. It’s idyllic. A good idea for a vacation maybe, but not for life. It will get boring after a while. The boredom comes because there’s practically no sign of struggle.

Without a worthy struggle, life feels dreary and aimless. The size of our struggle has become a measure of our lives. Hence, we fall in love with the struggle. And anyone that’s just sauntering around whistling a song – catching fish – watching sunsets –  eating banana chips – looks like a complete slacker of a basket-case.

There’s been a proliferation of happiness lately and much prose about being ‘happy for no reason.’ But, there’s a shallow secret we aren’t admitting: A really happy person is kinda annoying!

We would all like a bliss-filled state of random happiness, but to remain that way doesn’t seem normal. Our idea of ‘happiness’ is a reprieve – a break – from our daily struggles. So, when we see someone happy, we secretly start to look for his/her struggles. And when we can’t find any, we snicker in disgust. It doesn’t feel right! The equation doesn’t balance.

That’s why we ask some people, “how can you be happy all the damn time?”

Suffering has become a license to happiness.

Here’s where we need to take out a Banana leaf out of the fisherman’s book.

In our love for struggle, we are making the cardinal mistake in love: of falling in love with the image. We fall in love with the struggle in a hope for a struggle-free future. We fall in love with the struggle because not struggling feels wrong. We fall in love with a struggle because it validates our need to be happy.

Watching one too many Tamil movies has taught me this about love: let the struggle fall in love with you!

Let the struggle fall in love with you because you respect it. Because you don’t expect anything from it. Because, of them all, you were the only one laughing! And you had the Banana chips.

It is often said that the struggle reveals you.

But struggle reveals itself as well. That’s when you see that ‘happiness’ doesn’t come after the struggle, it comes from inside it. And if you cannot struggle with a carefree-whistling-saunter, taking happy comfort in absolute pointlessness, perhaps you are struggling the wrong struggle.

We live our lives catching more and more fish every day so that someday we don’t have to catch any more fish.

We fish all our lives without ever fully realizing it’s not the fish we are after*.



*Henry David Thoreau.



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