To start with, I would like to share that I am an avid reader. I love reading books - they are literally my best friends. Give me a book and a properly brewed cup of ginger tea, and you will find me purring contentedly on my couch for an entire weekend - with no need for cell phones, television or even a laptop. And like all book lovers, I absolutely adore reading classic literature. I will not be so impertinent as to say that it is easy for me - indeed, some of the famous literary works such as Ulysses and Illiad took me a long time to finish. The language and the subtle meanings hidden in every sentence was quite heavy, and it took me a long time to thoroughly read and appreciate them. But every time I turned over the last page of a classic, it gave my heart immense joy and a strange kind of a satisfaction - a feeling one usually gets after he/she accomplishes something noteworthy - like running a marathon, or losing X kgs. It is like a gorgeous hangover - one in which I keep going over the stuff I read and perceived. A feeling, due to which I often tend to dissolve into thoughtful meditation for several days until I am ready for the next book, the next adventure.
These books, these great works of literature aren't great because of their fabulous story lines. Most of these stories are very simple, and can be summarised in less than 4 lines. The reason why these books have been acclaimed to be classics, the reason why generation after generation falls in love with the magic woven by these great authors - is that the way these insignificant stories have been narrated, the way simple yet extraordinary characters have been portrayed.
These books contain pearls of wisdom about human nature, about the course of life, and about the world in general. The insights described by these authors are indeed spell binding - it makes every reader pause and think... for several seconds. It compels the reader to go through the same lines, the same paragraphs, the same verses several times - only to find a new insight, a new truth, a new perspective and a new learning. In simple words, these books are classics because they make the reader wonder about their own life, and enable him/her to draw worthy conclusions. Even if these books may not practically answer the questions which may plague the reader at any level, they do help the reader develop a perspective which may not have been possible to attain easily.
If anyone is a big fan of reading classic literature - such as George Orwell, Rabindranath Tagore, the Bronte Sisters, etc. - you will probably agree with my observation that in most of these books, the tone is of desolation, despair, hopelessness, and the selfishness of human beings which tend to make the lives of the protagonists miserable. Jane Eyre lives a miserable, thankless life in-spite of being intelligent for her time and brave (until of course, the happy ending), Agnes Grey too has a similar life till the end of the story, Odysseus goes through trails and agony for several years until he is reunited with his family, Dorothy (of 'The Clergyman's Daughter' by George Orwell) goes through several horrible incidents for no fault of hers, and so on.
However, I also observe that most of these protagonists are loners. The reason why most of the classics in the modern age are considered "serious" is because they have this aura of despair and hopelessness. I often wondered if it was the romanticising of destitution, wretchedness and poor fate which made the protagonists of these stories such strong characters. I mean - there is a pattern. None of these characters would have reached the climax of the story - wherein their character develops a steel coating and emerges victorious after all the crap they have gone through. It made me wonder - are these characters someone who we all secretly ache to be?
Even modern literature echos these thoughts - although on a.... let's just say.... different - level. Take Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc. for an example. All these characters were ordinary losers like you and me.... maybe even worse, because they went through stuff which no one, under normal circumstances, could overcome. If Peter Parker wasn't bitten by a spider which gave him superpowers, he would have probably become a boring corporate guy, working at a menial job where everyone takes advantage of his "eager to please" nature, forever playing second fiddle to his richer friend who would ultimately end up marrying the woman of his dreams (and hated every second of his existence. Some advanced authors would have even probably developed his character into that of a psychotic mass murderer). If Bruce Wayne wasn't a rich guy, he would have probably succumbed to the path of drug addiction or crime, and died a meaningless death in some godforsaken alleyway, just because the path of struggling for life's basics would have been ingrained in his persona. If Superman wasn't an alien, he would have just been an ordinary kid, with ordinary talents.... and would have led an ordinary life.
Closer home - even Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar echoes this sentiment - he says that since he has led a very ordinary life, devoid of tragedy and pain, his voice lacks the quality required to really strike a chord in people's hearts. So great was his epiphany.... that he went the extent of looking for tragedy. And when he did acquire what he wanted, he accomplished his goal. Unfortunately, by then, his goals and priorities had changed, and he found that he had taken a lot more than he had bargained for. Aditya Roy Kapoor in the movie Aashiqui 2 is a hopeless alcoholic. But it was his undying love for the art (and later the woman) which made him get over himself and mould another individual.... develop a legacy which he could leave behind. Even, to the extent of making him give the ultimate sacrifice. In an alternate universe - what would have happened if he wasn't an alcoholic? What would have happened if Rockstar (Ranbir Kapoor) would have just been a maestro at the vocal arts - much like Sachin Tendulkar in the field of cricket? (BTW - I am NOT undermining Mr. Tendulkar in anyway - I think the man is a real inspiration to all of us who would love to follow our dreams and passions.)
However - after further thought, it occurred to me that the common factor in all these characters was not their tragic lives. It was their loneliness. It was the fact that all of these great characters who generations will continue to love and adore and identify with (on some level) is that they were all lonely people, with no real friends. Even if they did have any family or friend, they had eventually been deserted, at some point. And that, in my opinion is where the greatest difference between them and us lies.
Don't get me wrong. These characters had friends and family. But they were loners - because they chose to deal with their problems alone, rather than take the support of their friends and family. THAT is the real difference between a loner and everyone else (who isn't a loner). The underlying trait between all these people is that unlike common behaviour, they chose to deal with their situations alone. They never asked for help. In fact, even when some faithful, well meaning friends offered help, they shunned them - simply because they believed in something else, something which common people would never understand, some values which they held of their own, some fire within themselves which they refused to extinguish. They marched to their own drummers, they danced to their own tunes, they created their own destiny.
Modern literature authors (creators of Spiderman, Superman, Batman, etc) chose to add a touch of fantasy. These characters were lonely too - if you notice, none of them had any real friends who would stand up with them and give them a safe haven while the bullshit ravelled around them. (I am not going to explain this with examples - just think about it). I have no idea why the authors did it - maybe these writers were more cynical and thought that only miracles could create invincible characters. Maybe, they wanted to create cool, awesome characters which everyone WANTED to be, as opposed to classic literature authors where they developed strong characters who adapted to their situations.
The minute I realised this, I felt blessed. Because, I realised that I don't need to have the strength of Jane Eyre, the resilience of Odysseus, the powers of Superman or the wealth of Batman. I don't, and I may never develop these strengths. Like everyone else, like these characters, I too, may go through all kinds of crap. For example, I may lose my job. My dreams may shatter, or a loved one could be lost. I may get into a horrific road accident and lose my limbs/sight. A terminal disease. Some world catastrophe. I may never find the love of my life. Or I may have to spend all my life living in rented apartments, with no proper plan for the future. I have no idea - shit happens, and it happens to everyone.
The rampant poverty in our society, the hungry kids I see around me, the poor teenagers living in slums begging shamelessly for clothes or discarded mobiles, the diseased dying on the streets, the overworked autowala who, in a moment of frustration raises his hand on his infant daughter, the couples huddling under tarp in freezing winters/rains.... all of this will continue around me, and I will probably never be able to help them in any significant way.
I know for sure that I will probably never obtain super powers or wealth or wealthy significant others like the characters in the stories which will enable me to make any difference in my own, or in any one else's life. I am just me - boring, helpless, me.... and the thought sometimes makes me feel terrified. Terrified, that I have been given an easy life (relatively), a sound mind, and a healthy body - and yet, I would probably be less than useless in the face of any calamity - be it in my own or in anyone else's life.
But then, my second observation brightens the bleak background. I realise that unlike the protagonists in these stories - I do have something which they don't. And that's friendship. I have friends. Friends and family who I can blindly count on, no matter what the situation is. Friends and family who have supported me always. They have celebrated like maniacs for the ups in my life (no matter how insignificant or silly), and have held my hand and comforted me when life was totally kicking my ass. And That knowledge gives me a strength - a feeling of invincibility which probably even Batman, Superman or Odysseus did not have - because they weren't surrounded by family and friends who were even half as wonderful as mine.
And that single realisation sets me free. It makes me realise that life can go any way. After all, it is life, and it has to go in some way. But in this unpredictable journey, I am not alone. And that single truth probably makes me even more powerful, more invincible, and stronger than all fictional heros/heriones put together.
Everything's gonna be OK. Eventually. It is my firm belief - a faith which sets me free, and allows me to live happily. And here, I would like to tell you too (in case you have any doubts at the moment) - that you may be going through shit too. You may be going through breakups/divorces, difficult moments in career, annoying people who make your lives hell for no good reason, painful health issues, losses in family/friends, business problems, identity issues...... but please rest assured ...... that it will be alright. Not because you found a miracle, or a rich partner, or won a lottery, or obtained super human powers. You will be OK... you will get past this..... simply because.....
You aren't alone.
P.S. - If you aren't convinced and still harbour cynical thoughts, just google phrases like "importance of reaching out", "power of friendship", etc. I am soooooo not getting into that!