As it happens with all the couples at some point, hubbyji and I get talking about what would happen in case one of us died. It is a rainy saturday afternoon, the kind which you love to spend buried deep inside a warm heavy duvet with bottom-less cups of hot tea.
We are on the couch in the living room where hubby dearest is as usual typing away at the laptop. I have a blanket draped around myself like an egyptian mummy and am leaning against him, staring into the space. The rain is falling noisily on the window panes and my thoughts reflect the darkness which has descended upon our already sunlight-shy house.
“A cup of tea for your thoughts?..” hubbyji says, without looking away from the screen “…..which you will make..”
“I watched a movie yesterday” I say, snuggling closer to him “In it, the husband suddenly dies. The wife cries holding his flip-flops and regrets fighting with him so much over the past years. I don’t fight too much with you, do I ?”
Hubbyji snorts so loudly that he actually starts coughing. That is followed by booming laughter. Those who know him well know how rare a happening this is. There should be a comet named after it or something. He is a man of few words and fewer laughs, my husband.
“Moving on… ” I say, narrowing my eyes “What I was saying was that after watching that scene, I realised that I have never really given all this a thought. What if something like that happened to us?”
“Well, I do have a lot of shoes…” he says, shrugging “take your pick and bawl away”
“Chhheee” I say, screwing up my nose ” I think there are many other objects in the house which will make me feel closer to you than your muddy shoes”
“Hmmm…There’s my camera” he suggests” and my work laptop and the old guitar and the ‘Jagjit singh’ gazal collection and your love for me that is so precio…….”
“Lets do mine, lets do mine, lets do mine” I say clapping my hands and sitting cross-legged on the couch facing him “What will you do if I pass away?
“Date?” he says, winking.
“I will haunt you till eternity” I say “I meant which thing of mine will you hug to yourself and you know, be all sad?”
tick tock..tick tock..tick tock…tick tock…
Now hubbyji is the one who is gazing into the space. I would be so mad at him right now if only I could think of a suitable answer for the question myself. Didn’t see this coming.
“Well, you cook a lot….” hubbyji finally says.
“Are you really suggesting that you’d drape your arms around the pressure cooker or a box of lentils to grieve for your deceased wife? I ask, coldly “You can’t think of something better?”
“Err…Your writeups? he asks.
“That won’t work” I say, shaking my head ” They are all on the laptop. It has a lot of other rubbish stuff in there too. Besides, you’d be crying so won’t be able to read anyway.”
“Our photographs together?” he asks.
“We don’t have any around the house” I say, growing more and more sulky with each moment “we live like gypsies with bare necessities because we are always shifting. My lovely souvenirs and fridge magnets are still packed in a cardboard ‘mithai’ box. What’s the point of decorating the house if one has to pack everything up every six months”
“I can get some developed but I guess that will be painful too. Let me think….Your cookbook collection?” he says, clearly grasping at straws.
“I got most of them at a flea market for one euro each. They threw in a free teapot” I snap.
“I GOT IT! I GOT IT” he jumps from the couch with his fist in the air ” The ‘A’ pendant you wear around your neck. It signifies your love for me and your niece. HAH! THAT’S SOME SERIOUS MUSHY STUFF!”
“THAT GOES WITH ME WHEN I DIE.. GAAWWWDDDDDD!!!! CAN’T YOU THINK OF A SINGLE THING?” I shout, standing up, throwing my hands in the air and giving him the sternest of my looks.
He he he he. I have got hubbyji in an emotional fix now. Its a state where a person (usually the wife) guilts their partner into doing something nice for them by pretending to be extremely disappointed by their actions. On the other hand, it can also stand liable when a partner does something especially sweet for the other one. In both these cases, the torch of the next ‘grand-gesture-out-of-guilt’ passes on to the weaker link. I have got hubbyji in a tight spot now. I am so going to encash this with a fancy meal out tonight. I am on a diet and thus, we only eat out once in three weeks these days. Maybe that new italian place…..
“I am sorry honey!” he says, breaking into my thoughts “You tell me the correct answer please”
“Ummmmm…… what?” I ask. I am already miles away mentally. Castello bruno does a pretty decent bruchetta.
“Wait a minuuute!!! You can’t think of any either!” he says, triumphantly “Admit it! If you could, you would be wayyyy more cross than you are looking right now”
“Fineeeee!” I say, deflating like a balloon and falling heavily onto the couch “I can’t think of any either. I guess that’s kind of sad, isn’t it?”
“Nah!” hubbyji says, pinching my nose “You are in my soul, in my heart..in every molecule of this house and I….”
“Awee sweet” I say, before stretching out on the couch and burying myself under the blanket again “Make tea naaa. It’s almost four and it’s your turn. Chop chop”
Huffing and puffing and grumbling, hubbyji heads into the kitchen and against the background of the angry clattering utensils, I have a little conversation with myself. Its a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Am I doing enough with my life? When I leave this world, will I leave behind enough evidences of having lived a full, fruitful life?
We all have something stored in our memory banks of the past that we wish we could have done differently. The could haves, might haves and should haves. These regrets become part of who we are, along with everything else. As I searched inside for the girl I’d been many years ago, I recognized a long held regret myself.
As a little girl, I loved sketching and painting. It was my true calling, everyone would say. I used to carry my sketch book and pack of water-colors everywhere. Even while travelling by train during the summer break, that sketch-book would be out of my bag even before the ‘coolie’ was done adjusting our luggage beneath the sticky blue berths. Those were the simpler days when we used to travel in a non-AC sleeper coach with windows wide open and the hot wind blasting on our faces as the railway chugged its way to my naani’s place. I would quickly try to copy on paper, the rows of worn-down grey Birla Cement shops with their bright yellow shutters that we passed during the journey or a lone hut with a single hanging light bulb in the center of a field right outside my window as the sun went down over a wide stretch of lush green countryside. I would excitedly present the drawings to my grandparents the moment we reached their home.
One of the fondest memories I have of my dad is how at every gathering, even at a potluck New-years party in our building’s modest compound, he would challenge people over paper-cups filled with Rasna, to pick out the toughest object around. He would then conjure a pen and a paper and drag me away from my friends.
“Beta, show uncle how quickly you can sketch that thing”
I would immediately start drawing “We will send her to ‘J.J. school of arts’ in Mumbai” he would proudly announce when the others politely showered me with praises at the end.
How do teenagers nowdays say it? It was my ‘X factor’.
I was bad at Math and Science. EXTREMELY BAD! With two tutors and all sorts of extra classes, I managed to only scrape through the passing mark in my board exams in these subjects. When the time came for applying for the colleges, my mum begged me to go for an Arts College but I stayed stubbornly against it. It had been ages since I had even picked up a paint-brush. Once adolescence struck, my life had been flooded with all sorts of exciting things like my cool friends, sleepovers, celebrity crushes, b’day celebrations, long phone conversations and spicy gossips over cute boys. Rest of the time was spent cramming up for exams. Therefore, eventually art sneaked out of my life and I didn’t even notice.
Also, my biggest supporter was not around anymore. Dad was gone. Forever.
“Its the BBAs and MBAs and B.Techs and Engineers and doctors who make it in the real world. Art takes you nowhere. One has to be realistic” I parroted to my mother. She warned me that I didn’t have an aptitude for the corporate subjects but I stayed put and went ahead with applying for a Bachelors in Business Administrations degree. Moreover, in the world where even choosing ‘Commerce’ as a stream during high school was considered beneath one’s dignity, where did art and other creative studies stand a chance anyway? Social life is a tough nut to crack and I chose to go with the flow. So another three years with subjects like Accounts, Law, Business Math, Statistics. I loathed them all.
Before I knew it, I was in love! I was married at the age of 22, right after I graduated. I have never been too ambitious (read: serious about life). Earlier on in my marriage, I joined a job as an Human Resource employee in a small company for a little while and hated it. It was boring and just not my thing. After that, hubbyji’s work took us to a bunch of different places and I found the perfect excuse to not work and just chill- we moved around too much. I was having fun. I never worked after that.
Fast forward six years. There is so much I would go back in time and change in a minute. If I would have made the right choice all those years ago and actually pursued something that I loved with all my heart, maybe there would have been that fire in my belly to make something of my life. I would have had that confidence of possessing a real talent that I could use to carve a solid independent career for myself. You just can’t excel at something that you don’t enjoy. I never enjoyed one moment of studying BBA. One bad decision that I took back then, is the biggest regret of my life.
Recently, I appeared for a telephonic job interview where the person asked me “What have you been doing for the last six years?” and I blurted out- “NOTHING” That was when it hit me hard. SIX YEARS OF MY LIFE DOING NOTHING. It can very well transform into 60 years of me doing nothing. Where was I going with my life and whom was I kidding with all the excuses? That moment right there was a wake-up call for me but sadly, there’s no rewind button in life. Today, when I am bored out of my mind being cooped up in the house and am willing even to wait tables just to kill time, I have been told that I don’t have the right visa to work in this country yet. Sigh!
Well, that’s my story.
An unfulfilled life is an unhappy one. The single biggest regret that most people have as they come to the end of their days is that they didn’t live a life true to themselves and that they put too much stock in what others expected of them. Regrets are a product of our own actions….or inactions. They are a reflection of our own lack of courage or fear of upsetting the life we already built. Most often, this hole in our soul is centered around the relationships, careers, unfulfilled desires or stranded passions. If one has any such issue which carries tremendous emotional weight, it can be a pain to tow around throughout life.
Millions of times, you will find yourself down in the dumps. Somedays I don’t even feel like getting out of bed and want to spend all my time moping away but what truly leaves me amazed each of these times is that how the very next moment, the simplest thing can make me aware of how wonderful my life really is. It can be a gorgeous sunset, perfect cup of tea made by my better half or just sleeping on the issue at hand and waking up to a bright new morning. No amount of positivity enducing quotes shared at social networking sites are going to help you overcome your challenges. Setbacks are inevitable and you have to help yourself and work around them, period.
This is what writing does for me. It has rewarded me with an outlet from the steam-engine that my mind is.I am able to pour out my deepest thoughts/dreams/fears on paper and many a times, get various new perspectives on my own feelings while doing so. It’s the perfect stress-buster and soothes me to no end. That is what a cherished hobby does to you. It is designed to take over and make you feel good about yourself when you need it the most. Forced activities can never do that. They don’t give you that joyful adrenaline rush and nor do they ever become a real part of you.
There’s another activity that I have always secretly loved but have been running away all my life- singing! Friends and family claim that I have the ability to give it a serious shot but I never ever had the confidence. On this Mothers’ Day though, I downloaded a voice recording app, mustered up the courage and sang a few lines from an old hindi song to send to my mum as well as my mum-in-law. It took me about forty takes to get those four lines right (most of the initial ones were croaky and weirdly nasal) but boy, did the reactions from both the ladies more than made up for it. The heavy weight of having suppressed this wish all my life seemed to vanish from within me and actually left me feeling so much more lighter. It was exhilarating!
It’s never too late to create a new reality built around an unfulfilled dream. Thanks to facebook, I see a mom of three sharing pictures of herself taking a salsa dance class, silver-haired grannies running long marathons, children volunteering for a cause from an insanely early age and people with disabilities creating exquisite art that would put many able-bodied artists to shame. Thus, there’s no legitimate excuse for holding on to a regret and not making something substantial of your life. Follow your unkindled dreams, pursue something that you love doing, call up an old classmate and apologise for being a bully, pick up that dusty old guitar and play a few notes. Get rid of the crippling emotional baggage or the weight of a bad choice and try to move on.
One has to figure out what’s important in life and it surely isn’t the accumulation of regrets.
Few days later, I am waiting for hubbyji outside a shopping center, slurping away at my delicious softy. Its a beautiful sunny day. He had excused himself a while ago and I have no idea where he has vanished to.
He comes out of the shopping center a few minutes later, with a spring in his step and swinging a tiny blue packet like a matador.
“Where were you?” I demand.
“I went to get you a gift” he says, clearly excited.
I look at the navy blue packet in his hands and then at his face, which is covered with a smile one mile long. He certainly is mighty pleased with himself.
“What is it?” I ask “Are these the new spectacles which you wanted me to buy after you said that the current ones make me look like Subhash Chandra Bose ? I don’t want them. I want another ice-cream”
“No silly” he says, thrusting the packet at me before whispering “Something for me to hug when you are gone…I mean IF you are gone”
I peer inside the carry-bag and see a shiny new sketchbook and a pack of crayolas…
Emotions get better of me and I open my mouth to let out a wail. Hubbyji quickly stuffs my remaining ice-cream cone inside my mouth to shut me up. Wiping my eyes, I look at him and am taken aback to see that he is still eerily grinning from ear to ear. What am I missing? That’s when realisation dawns upon me. I know that face. The sweet gesture…..
He is the one who’s got me in an emotional fix now. Yeah, he wins.