In 2002, I was facing a crisis that I thought would sink my career. And it taught me the futility of worrying.
At that time, I was serving as the Trivandrum City Police Commissioner.
The problem started quite innocuously – about 200 tribals came down to Trivandrum and blocked the road in front of the Chief Minister’s house. These tribals lived in the forested areas of Northern Kerala and were extremely impoverished. They were protesting against their poverty and government’s failure in providing for their welfare.
At that time, I did not worry too much about their protest, which we handled quite easily. After all, I was used to handling thousands of protestors.
But soon after, the protestors refused to leave the city and instead, started camping in temporary hutments they put up in front of the Government Secretariat (the headquarters of Kerala Government).
Because of their poverty and backwardness, the tribals understandably got a lot of public and media sympathy. People felt that the government had not given them their due.
Hence, every day, a horde of media journalists would camp around their shelters and their agitation hogged the daily news coverage.
The government wanted to resolve the problem but the protestors’ demands were so extreme that it was not possible to meet them. And as the stalemate prolonged, the protestors started getting restless.
The Chief Minister had forbidden us from using force, even if the protestors provoked us. The government felt sympathetic and wanted us to show extreme restraint.
However, the protestors started becoming belligerent, hellbent on forcing us to do a lathicharge. Because if we did that, they would get massive news coverage, which would bring them even more public sympathy.
So the protestors started blocking the gates of the Secretariat. Till they blocked only three out of four gates, it was still not a problem since officials and ministers could use the fourth gate.
But on a Friday afternoon, they blocked the fourth gate as well.
At this point, we had no choice but to arrest them. And if we did that, it would result in massive violence and the police would be accused of untold atrocities. There were also unconfirmed reports that the protestors could set fire to their own huts and blame it on the police.
So I was in a no-win situation. If we used force, we would be vilified and I would be doomed. If we did not use force, the headquarters of the state government would not function and I would have failed in my duty. Again, I was doomed.
But fortunately, when the protestors blocked all the gates that Friday, the Chief Minister told me to not arrest them since the next two days were weekend holidays anyway.
Hence the crisis was averted till Monday morning when offices re-opened.
The whole of Friday and Saturday we were preparing for the inevitable. If there was a lathicharge or use of teargas, I would become the villain number one. I would probably face a judicial inquiry and the incident would become a permanent blot on my career.
There was no way out. I kept thinking of some solution every waking minute but couldn’t find a way out.
But to our surprise and delight, on Sunday, the protestors and the government arrived at a compromise, and the agitation was called off just in time.
All my worries proved to be unfounded.
Quite often, we expect the worst to happen and worry about it. But, more often than not, the unexpected is what happens.
Five or ten years ago, would you have expected your life to be what it is today? Chances are that the unexpected is what happened. The future is always uncertain.
So should we stop thinking about the future? Not at all. If we can take some action, by all means, we should do that. But more often than not, our thoughts just keep going in circles, without an escape.
The next time that happens, remind yourself that most likely, the unexpected is what will happen. Our worries rarely play out the way we imagine.
Let us try to instead be fully present and experience life in the present moment. It is not easy – I personally struggle with it. But that is the way to think.
Hope this stays with you in the moments when worries are eating you. Thank you for reading this.