Non competitive hobbies

During my riding trip two months back, I was wondering why I enjoyed riding so much more than any of the other “hobbies” that I have indulged in over the last twenty years or so. It was tough for me to think about any other hobby that had given me as much pleasure in the early days as riding did, and no other hobby seems or seemed as sustainable as this one. As I rode, and daydreamed while I rode, I thought about what it was about riding that gave me the kind of unbridled joy that any of my other hobbies had failed to provide. The reason, I figured, was that it was not competitive (no I don’t intend to be a motorcycle racer, ever).

Looking back at the hobbies that I’ve had since childhood – be it playing chess or playing the violin or even writing, they have all been competitive hobbies. As soon as I got reasonably good at chess, I started playing competitively, and soon the pressures of tournament play got to me, I lost my love for the game and stopped playing. Violin was a little better off in the sense that for a reasonably long time I only played for myself (apart from the occasions when I had to entertain random visiting relatives). But then, I was asked to take up an examination, and then enter inter-school music contests, and I find it no surprise that I quit my lessons six months after my examinations. I must mention that I’m on the road to committing the same mistake again, in my second stint at violin learning. As things stand now, I’m scheduled to appear for the ABRSM Grade Three examination this October, but I have my reasons for that and don’t think the process of appearing for the exam will kill my love for music.

Writing remained a passion, and a hobby which I think I was rather good at, until the time I started thinking about monetization. The minute I started thinking about wanting to write for money, I lost the love for it, which might explain the deceleration in activity on this site over the last three years or so. I had lost yet another hobby to the competitive forces.

The thing with competition is that it puts pressure on you. You have to being to hold yourself to a standard other than your own, and that means you will have to do certain things irrespective of whether you think it makes sense to do that. Soon, your hobby ends up as a slave to your competition, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to sustain interest after that. You can say that the moment a hobby becomes competitive, it ceases to be a hobby and becomes “work”.

The reason I’m bullish about motorcycling at this moment is that I don’t see a means for it to become competitive. Since I don’t intend to race, and don’t care about whether others have ridden more than me or whatever, I’ll be mostly riding for myself. Yes, when I planned my Rajasthan tour, I did think of monetizing it by writing about it for the media, but that I think was more a function of wanting to monetize my writing than my riding. In the event, i didn’t get a mandate to write, and that in no way affected my enthusiasm for the ride. Rather I felt freer that I could enjoy the ride rather than thinking about what I would write about it.

As I go along, I hope to pick up one or two more such non-competitive hobbies. Of course I intend to make motorcycling a “major” hobby. As it is, I love traveling, doing it my own way and going off the beaten path. And I love the feeling as i accelerate, with the wind penetrating the air vents of my riding jacket and my thighs grabbing the petrol tank. Now if only I can convince Pinky to also take this up as a hobby..

Indoctrination methods

I’m suddenly reminded of some “competitions” I took part in back when I was in school, which in hindsight seem like indoctrination methods. The basic structure of the competition is this. An organization announces an inter-school competition – either a quiz or an essay writing contest, or even a debate. These weren’t “normal” quiz/debate/essay competitions, though. All of these had a pre-requisite, and that was reading a certain book that was prescribed and marketed by these organizations. I don’t know if one had to pay for these books – if I remember right, they were given away “free” once you paid the nominal fee to register for these competitions.

It was an easy way to indoctrinate over-enthusiastic kids, or kids of over-enthusiastic parents, who wanted to win every competition in town, and gather as many “bullet points” as one could (though this was far before anyone really thought of careers and the like). All you had to do was to announce a competition, with the promise of a certificate and nominal prize, and thousands of kids would sign up, and do anything in their capacity to win the contest.

I remember two such competitions well. One was organized by the Ramana Maharshi Ashram, where we had to mug a book about him, and then had to write an essay. I remember the topics well. It was something of the kind of “my thoughts after reading about the life of Bhagavan (sic) Ramana”. I don’t remember reading the book too well (I’d forgotten to collect it, I now remember) and wrote some random stuff. I didn’t come close to winning that.

The other was by ISKCON, and this included both a quiz and an essay, if I remember right. Again we had to mug a standard-issue ISKCON book. I remember less of this than I did of the Ramana Maharshi thing (I don’t know why), and again I didn’t do too well, and that hurt my pride as that was around the time when I used to be pretty good at quizzing (and still didn’t know to distinguish between a good and bad quiz, and not worry much about my performance in the latter).

Organizations like ISKCON or the Ramana Maharshi Ashram are incentivized to get more “followers”, and one way of gaining followers is to feed impressionable young minds of material that shows the organization in positive light. And then make them undertake activities that hammer in that message. In that sense, events such as these that tap in on students competitive spirits are a big win for these organization. It’s an easy way to reach a large unsuspecting audience, and even a “small” conversion rate is enough to drive “membership” signficantly.

On a similar note, I remember Gaurav Sabnis writing about debates that the VHP used to organize in Pune in a similar sort of effort. The only difference there was that there you didn’t need to mug any boooks.