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Work still undone

His life presents a contemplative correlation between personal sense of purpose and society’s well-being
Syeda Afshana
Srinagar | Posted : Aug 13 2017 1:33AM | Updated: Aug 12 2017 11:36PM
Work still undone

Besides archiving the stuff of pure art, the imperial home showcases his handwritten suicide note which reads-“My work is done. Why wait?” Diagnosed with a progressive and irreversible spinal disease, he ended his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his heart.

He is George Eastman, an American innovator, who founded the Eastman Kodak company which carried photography to the general public by the use of roll film. A multi-millionaire in the early 1900’s, Eastman is also remembered as a visionary philanthropist who donated some 100 million dollars to various organizations, with most of his money going to the reputed educational places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build its programs and facilities. 

His life presents a contemplative correlation between personal sense of purpose and society’s well-being. The theme which appears wistful as ending life with an ease of achievement sounds quite strange! 

Eastman does not necessarily represent the grueling pace and psychological weight of life that American society breathes today. Over the decades, the obsession about comparative greatness has overtaken a reasonable standard of contentment. People’s lives have become personal journeys of seeing at and musing over the fragility of life and the transient nature of things.While there is a profound appreciation for close observation and deliberate reflection, there are concerns and issues that demonstrate mocking disparity and have missed a humane approach, thereby rendering them almost ‘unalterable’. Paradoxically!

A weekend visit to a charity event, organized by a Muslim group, juxtaposed some tender scenes with candid epiphanies. Group founder, a revert, holds a doctorate and is  a university faculty. With an aim to provide social services to the broader community of upstate New York, serving both Muslims and non-Muslims, the group’s programs are mainly funded by individual donors. At food distribution stalls, a poor puny lady in que refused to take more eatables. Modestly, she replied, “There will be less left for others if I take more”. 

While this country owns tremendous wealth, the poverty swarms, often concentrated in urban centers. Hunger, homelessness and drug abuse in particular areas has led those living in more prosperous areas to believe that all is well in their society. This illusion is one factor that has held the communities back from establishing the institutions/medians necessary to assist those in need, especially racial minorities, black population and immigrants who pitifully represent the ‘modern relocation realities’ amidst all-pervading sense of nativism (of disparate social and political hues) which is waning out the erstwhile ‘togetherness’ that once made American citizenship a thing to treasure.

A morning walk down the main road outside campus makes me realize an inarguable firmness of an unpleasant phenomenon that has taken over the country. A white-skinned truck driver suddenly yelled and shouted at me for a few seconds while he noticed me wearing a head scarf. I kept moving on in a deadpan manner, even though I was taken aback for a minute. Sharing the incident with a colleague on the campus, the next day my professor-cum-chairwoman of the host department drops in and humblysays, “My apologies. This is not what America is really all about. I feel very sad”. It was my first brush with a live and unfiltered understanding of the current American dilemma where its ‘aspiration’ isn’t matching its ‘reality’ as clash between forces of pluralism and prejudice stays.

While I am guided to different places by the most learned but unassumingly busy persons around me who are rarely visible on social media, and am also offered every support to feel easy, I picture this place as a visual metaphor of supremacy and skirmishes; haughtiness and humility; candor and caution. Like the blending of shadows and lights, that simultaneously describes the routine and the remarkable. And where the routine is not just a routine, and remarkable is extremely so. 

That’s why as history keeps forming judgments, the work on the American Dream seems to remain undone. George Eastman shot himself with a gun, least foreseeing the wrath of gun violence, as it exists in US today. His suicide note is not just a record of an overpowering emotion. Rather it forms the discourse of a more sombre complexity.