Wednesday, April 13, 2011

26/100: What I Learned So Far

Writing my CV and my profile on Linkedin and the like, I have always visualized life as a journey and I as a traveller. In a way, this is more uplifting than imagining this to be a play and I as an actor, as I would love to reach somewhere after all these efforts and not return to where I was before, as an actor invariably does. But the implicit assumption of a journey that you know where you are going, and what should happen next: Not so in this case, life is indeed more serendipitous than a rail trip.

These unexpected twists and turns remain no longer unexpected as I get used to it. I laugh, therefore, when I see an younger colleague flustered when her neatly planned seating arrangement in a student event goes wrong. I tell her in private that planning it out was still a great achievement, and the expectation that things would go according to plan was an act of great valour, but accepting that things would go wrong is an essential part of sentient existence. She tells me that I have grown old and cynical.

But, as a traveller must, noting what I saw on the road is claiming the reward for my trouble. But this does not necessarily mean being old, because time well spent is preserved in a way. That's the other thing I learned. We tend to measure time from either end, how much time have I spent and how much have I got: But once you are on a journey like this, both of these measures do not matter any more. This is a journey of no return, remember, and your starting point has been lost forever. Hence, there isn't a point going back measuring where you started from. On the other hand, since you don't know the end, and this may come suddenly and now, there is no way you can measure what you have got. That's my way of saying that I am not old, because no one can actually be old as long as they are alive.

Am I saying, then, that time does not matter and it does not need to be measured? No, just that it should not be measured from either end, because those ends are either irrelevant or invisible. I am saying that time matters here and now, and it matters what you are doing with time. Each moment, take it as a moving scene outside your train window, has so many intricate details and possibilities, and one can note as many details and explore as many possibilities: That way, each moment is enhanced, many times than its original deflated self, a movement of the slightest hand of a tiny watch. That way, each moment is lived many times, like the slow-motion sequence of a football match. That's my point: It is almost making our lives like a football match where hundred goals are scored rather than one or two, thus making it a fifty or hundred times enhanced experience.

This does not mean life on steroids though, as the football analogy just got us into. It is rather a life of detail and pleasure, of connection and engagement, of exploring and extracting each moments' worth of living experience, and of crafting possibilities like writing a beautiful poem on an interminable journey on trans-Siberian railway (or a journey from Guwahati to Kochi on Indian rail). If I double the possibilities, I live twice as much.

So, this is my summary then: Live every moment. I have also learned the enabling (and disabling) power of language, but that's a discussion for another day. I have learned that words have their own lives: using my journey metaphor, their journey is different, more like fireflies you will see if you look out from a train window in a summer evening. They live and die along the road, but illuminate and capture a moment or two, immerse a thought and emerge as one. They let you construct the possibilities of embarking on another journey and they make, if they live in a moment, the moment seem eternal. I love the words, you can say: I love the music of the prose, the sheer poetry of the otherwise dry marching sound of the keyboard, the meaning arising out of sequenced letters, just as beauty arise from apparently meaningless brush-strokes of a painter. They are the children of possibilities and they bear possibilities in their womb. In a way, they are time's message to us, and we catch some and craft some, and we build our time with them all over again.

But, work calls and I must go, suspend this discussion full of possibilities and meaningfulness, with a promise of return. I learned this too: You never return. But this does not take anything away from the promise, and the possibilities.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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