The secret lives of men

If you don’t have a quirky talent, maybe it’s time to cultivate one. Look where it got these men


The name is Bond. James Bond. 

Arguably up there among the greatest pickup lines ever uttered by a man in the pages of a book. Or on the silver screen. And perhaps the smoothest introduction ever made by a man in a bar sipping a vodka-martini. If it didn’t leave his female companions shaken, it certainly stirred something in them.  

Wonder if it would have ruffled avian feathers the same way, though. A little-known fact about Ian Fleming, a man of words, was that he was also a man of birds. 

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After years of distinguished service, the British Naval Intelligence officer created the spy who loved anything in a negligée. Somewhere in between, he took to watching birds in the sunny isles of the Caribbean. Not one to retire tamely, he was already imagining the character of the swashbuckling secret agent that femme fatales couldn’t resist when inspiration sidled up to him toting a pair of binoculars. 

This was the original James Bond, an ornithologist of note who, despite not really being God’s gift to womankind, had a lot to preen about in scientific circles. Fleming’s secret passion for birds led him to find a name for the character that became a runaway bestseller, earning him a second wind as a spy novelist, not to mention ample wealth and fame that built a lasting legacy. Until his death at a ripe old age, James Bond, the ornithologist, didn’t mind his name becoming a conversation-starter — he loved the welcome attention it got him. 

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Talent doesn’t always have a calling card and it often shows up where you least expect to find it.

Samuel Clemens holds a US patent for the design of suspenders. He might have easily found gainful employment in one of the fashion houses of New York or Fleet Street. Perhaps it’s just as well that he didn’t, because American literature would have been poorer without Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In case you didn’t know, Clemens is better known by his nom de plume, Mark Twain.

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Discounting a few bad eggs like Jack The Ripper, one wonders what might have become of men had they not led secret lives. Or if their secret lives had stayed secret. 

The actor Christopher Walken, for instance, might have found renown as a circus lion-tamer. Closer home, Rahul Bose might have brought glory for India in rugby. And Mike Tyson? Gloves off, he still threw a few punches racing pigeons. Talking of boxing, that might have been Billy Joel’s career had he not chosen to become the Piano Man. Muhammad Ali might have won a Grammy or two as a rapper. And Napoleon might 

have pursued world domination as chess grandmaster.

Multifaceted men and women have found purpose and pleasure in spheres far removed from their work. So much that recruiters are now on the hunt for people with lateral or unexpected talents that may be left out of the straitjackets of the corporate résumé. In the era of the 16-hour workday, HR has appropriated the philosophy of “bringing your whole self to work”, and making room at work for hobbies and interests. This has engendered a different problem — a consequence of too many public influencers with MBAs.

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Psychologists agree that making time to cultivate a hobby or passion brings plenty of mental health benefits, helping us to not just relax and unwind but find purposeful meaning in life as well. A word of caution for those besotted with the millennial obsession of “investing in” oneself or “pursuing your passion.” This is not necessarily about shaping skills for a second career, but about honing a hobby for the joy of it. If that pursuit finds direction in a new life goal, well and good, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to well-being. The Japanese idea of Ikigai, the intersection of talent, purpose and wellness, is founded on this premise. 

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A careerist mindset to hobbies may have deleterious consequences, too, as frustration can find an outlet in potentially dangerous ways. Consider the case of this young Austrian artist. He painted street corners and buildings in Vienna with a passion. He even tried to make a living from selling his paintings as postcards. However, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna rejected his application twice, citing that they lacked humanity and a sensibility for nature, and recommended that his cold, hard eye for structural details were better suited for studying architecture instead. Frustrated, but not disillusioned, he continued to paint all his life, even carrying his art materials to the front where he was sent to fight as a soldier. His leisure time got rather scarce after the Second World War broke out. Decades after his death, his paintings were auctioned for millions. 

His name was Adolf Hitler. 

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