The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

I recently came across a novel by the name “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, by Milan Kundera. I haven’t as yet read it but its title immediately reminded me of my own ‘unbearable heaviness of being’. The immediate context was an incident I happened to hear from a friend. It might just be a very commonplace incident, would have and could have occurred with almost anyone, but it just strung a chord inside me, reminding me of the shabby and ugly realities that one has to constantly encounter and struggle with, just so that one can keep on breathing in this world.

The incident had to do with a friend of my friend who is working with a public sector organization, ostensibly known to be completely honest by character. Organizations have an identity and a life of their own. Every organization has its own typical culture unique to itself. It has a certain central character that defines it and identifies it to the world. The central character of this organization, holding it apart in the world, was its honesty and integrity. Whatever else one could blame it for, the people at large, in the outside world, were convinced that this organization harbored and nurtured a culture of honesty. I too believed so, up until I heard this incident concerning the friend of my friend.

Just like most people are, this girl was super-excited and filled with a feeling of pride when she got selected into this prestigious organization. She could not believe that she had actually made it. She assumed her duties with utmost sincerity, along with that initial excitement of acquiring a job that fills one with an endless supply of energy, the exhilarating spirit of finally being able to do something and the heady feeling of being able to contribute one’s bit towards the whole scheme of things, albeit, honestly and sincerely.

As she gradually got acquainted with the organization, however, her ecstatic spirits started to slowly dim. She realized that her work was of a mundane nature, failing to offer her any source of excitement or enjoyment. The nature of the organization was quite hierarchical failing to enthuse her and pushing her into a routine of a lackluster boredom. However, despite this, the one part that she still did-not doubt was the honesty, the integrity of the organization and its people.

Years passed by so, and she got a change of department, new work, new people. She was enjoying this change, may be for the very same reason that it was at least a change, even if nothing more. Things were moving on fine. Then it happened. As a part of her job, she came across a case that she thought needed a certain kind of treatment. She worked really hard, got hold of the facts and proudly put up her findings to her seniors, her utter belief in the ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ of the organization and its officers egging her on.

And then it all started, first politely and indirectly, and then completely openly. The pressure on her to succumb, the bargaining tactics (as if it was a vegetable market where she was selling vegetables, and not a reputed organization that was duty bound to serve the interests of the people), the covert and over suggestions to just gloss things over, save the powerful and the corrupt, as it happens everywhere, she experienced all of it. And she then realized the depth of the rot in the organization. She also realized here helplessness in the entire scheme of things. Her one remaining belief, one factor that was standing out, enabling her survival in this gloomy world, was mercilessly shattered to pieces. And now she is trying to cope, to come to terms and to survive with this ‘unbearable heaviness of being’.

It may seem to the reader that this small incident, which may be occurring and recurring with thousands of individuals every day, is unworthy of such elaborate description and for penning a full article on. However, this penning down is a cathartic act, that allows one to survive these shattering to pieces of one’s beliefs, dreams and ideologies, and still survive in this murky world of pretenses, injustice and unfairness. Secondly, such incidents offer a reality check and expose the grave depths to which the rot has taken roots. Thirdly, and related to the second reason, such incidents, thus, prepare one for the long struggle that lies ahead. A struggle and a fight that will have to be fought each and every day, in whatever form it chooses to confront one. As much as they rock one’s conscience and affect one’s personalities, as much as they remind one once more of the ‘unbearable heaviness of being’, they keep one focused and rejuvenated, constantly reminding of the goals ahead and the long and thorny path that has to be traversed to reach those goals, and renewing one’s strength once the initial shock of the situation has subsided.

Nivedita Dwivedi has done MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Science. Blog at


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