Shakespeare talked of the world being a stage, and human life being a series of seven acts. Closer home, Vedic philosophy had it all sorted out into four clear-cut compartments or ashrams – Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyaas. But is life really that simple? In our age and time, when people have babies first and then get married, couples take a break from their blissful Grihasta state to find their true calling in life only to get back together again after realizing that having to do the laundry, pay the bills and cook three meals a day all by yourself is not so cool after all...I am pretty much willing to bet a one-month salary that the good old bard would be tugging at his beard in frustration…and our sages would be left dumbstruck from not being able to express their frustration for the lack of swear words in Sanskrit.
One evening after a particularly heated conversation with a friend over how simple or complicated life is, (never mind the fact that we did not even touch consensus with a ten-feet pole!) I went back to reflecting over these ‘stages of life’. Besides, reflecting on random matters of dubious distinction is a great hobby, now that coins have lost their sparkle and stamps are pushing the envelope trying to stay alive, battling electronic phantoms. And I digress…true to my hobby :)
Coming back to my reflections, life does not seem to me like a cake that you can clearly cut into slices and put on different plates to be handed out one after another. It seems to me more like a bag of peanuts. You never know when you get a perfectly salted one or one that leaves you cursing the genus, species and whatever else there is to the whole nutty lot. There are no stages. There are just phases. And you never know which one it is going to be.
Someday you wake up feeling the feeling that you can’t exactly nail down, but know it is there. The feeling that makes you want to bounce off the bed screaming ‘I love you’ to no one and everyone around. It could just be the previous night’s awesome dinner or a beautiful dream that just did not make sense but was beautiful nevertheless. It could even be a butterfly fluttering its wings in Timbuktu. You don’t care what brought about that feeling. All you know is ‘life is beautiful’. So you sing your way through the shower (to hell with those notes and octaves!), dance your way through breakfast, smile like an idiot when the autowallah extorts ’meter + 10 rupees’, give a handful of coins to the beggar at the crossing, lilt a ‘good morning’ to all your colleagues and coo sweet nothings to your PC even as it shoves a 404 error in your face. Phases like this usually don’t last long. They are probably like the fillers that go in between the main acts on stage. But as long as they last, ‘aal iz well’ in your world!
And then there are the ‘(unprintable word) the world’ phases. They are like weeds. Stubborn and irritating, coming back with a mind-boggling frequency even after you have gotten rid of them. These are the days when you just don’t want to open your eyes to those smug little morning rays and take the day off, even as apoplectic team members spend an entire morning Googling to find out what on earth is ‘Caribbean equine flu’ that has struck you down 2 days before the project deadline. And if you feel benevolent enough to drag yourself out of bed, chances are you will leave the water faucet half-open to drip down the drain an entire month’s water quota of a small village, smirk while thinking that the beggar at the crossing could have done a better job with dabbing that red color on his bandage, ask your colleague how she feels being allergic to water and deodorant, and then get back right home to tell your wife that her new yellow dress is not being too kind on her tyres, and then turn on the TV volume to let the cat-fights and beeped-out abuses of reality TV drown out the real abuses coming from the kitchen. To be honest, these phases aren’t all that bad. After years of social conditioning, after an entire childhood of being taught the difference between ‘what you want to say’ and ‘what you should say’, these phases are like the whistle on a pressure cooker. Relieving. Liberating. But the ‘bringing peace to the world’ phase that inadvertently follows it can haunt you for a long long time. This is where the gender war goes 1-0 in favor of women. When you back up your ‘to hell with the world’ phase with biological reasons, no questions are asked. Game.Set.Match.
I have a postcard that says ‘there is a secret part in everyone that loves being miserable’. This brings me to the third phase. The sour, horrible-tasting peanut that takes you by surprise and pulverizes your palate, even as you quickly spit it out. The phase where you see the world in negative, no matter how Technicolor it is. Remember those Greek tragedies? Those opera singers bursting out of their corsets, with painful shrieks bursting out of their contorted mouths? This would pretty much be the background score drumming through your head all day through – even as you sulk about how rude the autowallahs in the city have become, worry how global warming has made the city ridiculously hot, wonder what it must feel like to be homeless and penniless like the beggar at the crossing, answer every ‘how are you?’ with ‘why…what’s wrong with me?’, pity yourself for uninspiring work, virus-affected workstation and back-stabbing colleagues who you are sure are plotting against you even as they stand at the water cooler whispering and laughing intermittently. In this phase, everything in this world sucks…and no, am not talking about gravity! It is like pathos, conscience, guilt and all those ten thousand complexes having a picnic together in your head. And then we take refuge in the past, shutting our eyes, rewinding those little tapes somewhere in the back of our head to 10-20 years back and wondering what went wrong and where!
Finally, we have what I like to call the ‘Miss India’ phase. Right from the moment that the alarm shakes you out of bed, you know you are the one. Morpheus’s Neo. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. The one to Save The World. You finish your bath with just half a bucket of water to save the other half, pack the left-over breakfast to hand it over to the beggar at the crossing, threaten the auto-wallah with police action if he takes even as much as rupee over the meter reading, spend every ticking second of the 2 minutes at the red light trying to motivate the beggar to take up some work to feed himself, offer to finish off your colleague’s work because you know she has a little baby to look after and stay back late to help the guy in the next cubicle draft an apology email to his girlfriend with a proposal in the P.S. I love these phases. I mean, what’s life without some bravado! But the journey from the pedestal to the rock solid ground can leave you bummed out, especially if you land on your perfectly mortal bottom.
And this to me is life! Not some compartmentalized, sorted-out stack of events. But just a mixed-bag of random, crazy phases that come and go at their own whim, in no particular order, with no fixed lifespan…just like those peanuts in the packet. Tomorrow I may be 40, 57 or even a much-lived 84, but I know life will still be about waking everyday and either discovering that I love the world or realizing that I hate the very sight of it; either agonizing that the world just doesn’t seem right or prophesying that everything is going be all right. Life will still be about opening my eyes every morning and finding a new me. It will still be about taking a deep breath and thinking “this too shall pass”…