A note on Kismet
To the editor:
Growing up in India, one gets introduced to the concept of “Kismet” (Hindi) or “Naseeb” (Urdu) — destiny or fate. This concept is often a consolation for the vast masses of the unfortunate folk of the poor nation. This concept irked me at times. I viewed it as an escape from personal responsibility and accountability, a blind belief, something for palm readers to take advantage of. However, with time and experience, as I matured, I realized that complete control on the direction of our lives is an illusion.
The German philosopher Nietzsche popularized the phrase “Amor Fati” — love of fate. He equated the ultimate affirmation of life to desire for eternal recurrence of our life, exactly, with all its joyous and painful moments. Nietzsche was offering an antidote to Schopenhauer’s negation of the will, his disgust and turning against the world. Both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche recognised the inherent difficulty of human life and the heavy hand of chance that governs a person’s destiny.
Recently I have been reading “The Consolation of Philosophy,” written by the Roman statesman Boethius in 523 AD while awaiting his trial and eventual execution. Boethius writes the book as a conversation between himself and Lady Philosophy. It opens with Boethius bemoaning the injustice of his imprisonment. Lady Philosophy consoles him that he is merely experiencing the turn of the Wheel of Fortune. Nothing ever belonged to him — it is fortune that bestowed him, and it is fortune that has now taken everything away.
It is interesting to note that Boethius was a Christian. Yet with the icy hands of death upon his shoulders, he writes a book based on pagan platonic philosophy. What also makes the book poignant is that a man on death row can find it in himself to create a work of literature and philosophy that stands the test of time.
What the ancient culture of India, the brilliant mind of Nietzche and an educated statesman of Rome standing at the precipice of death offer us is this — a consolation that we only influence the outcome of our lives but do not fully control it, and that one can try to see the unfortunate events of one’s life as the inevitable turn of the Wheel of Fortune. Leaning on our virtues and learning from every turn of the wheel is all we can do.