Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Dear Mr. Seventeen

Dear Mr. Seventeen,

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
If there ever were a thing most wretched and disgusting in the world, which makes the mind go numb and the guts churn empty, it has to be the dish called hindsight, garnished with the sticky syrup of regret and the bitter sauce of remorse. The elements outside spell out "Christmas", and as the moods of the weather gods announce the arrival of the most cheerful and happy season which visits my city, I ask you to pardon me for such a dispiriting and gloomy beginning to this letter.

Living in the age when letter-boxes are fast becoming artifacts of historical significance and not so much utility, this particular piece of correspondence is free from the hassles of postage stamps and delivery status tracking (and owl posts). To you, whom this is addressed to, this letter will never reach, for the simple reason that you do not exist any more and in case you did, there probably would not have been any reason to pen these thoughts down.

This is your four year older self writing from the future. Those same genes and DNA, the same body which has housed you and the same mind which has guided you for seventeen long years, but which now has four extra years of learning and experience stored in the memory chip. An elder "brother" maybe? Not really, since we are biologically the same person. But apart from that, oh you have no idea who the next four years will transform you into. So from one man to another, here goes.

That's how you should be feeling right now.
How fickle, you might be thinking, that a mere span of less than half a decade is enough to alter the nature of an individual. Not quite, I say, for the underlying nucleus of our characters are the same. Through experiences, interactions and existence in general, I have come to learn and react to situations differently than you would, and it is in these responses that my experience comes to the fore. Today, you surely are a rather more well-rounded and sensible young man compared to the hot-headed and impulsive thirteen-year-old you have left behind four years back.

If there is one thing about the future that I can promise you with absolute certainty, then it would be the futility of planning and choreographing the destiny you want for yourself. You may scheme and orchestrate however much you want to, but oh boy doesn't God have different designs for you in mind! "Man proposes God disposes" has never rung more true than it does today. You see the journey ahead is so fraught with unknown elements, that the moment you have all your bases covered and the blueprint is just about to take shape, some factor completely beyond your purview of consideration appears out of the blue and all your carefully thought out plans go for a toss. So the prudent thing is to keep the mind open and the heart geared up for confronting all possibilities.

Arjuna and Dronacharya
But it certainly is not wise to go about life without an aim in sight. Our religious texts have not been written for nothing. When Arjun hit the eye of the wooden bird set by Dronacharya as his target, it is fabled that he could see nothing and nothing else apart from the eye of the bird. Focus, determination and conviction of the self are necessary ingredients for success. But do keep in mind that what you are aiming for at this particular moment is but only a temporary whim of your conscience. When you thread a needle, the entire world comes to rest within the irritatingly small eye of the needle. While in the moment, the target in front is the absolute and beyond compromise and negotiation, but do keep the faith that in the longer run there is more to the world than the eye of the needle.

Have you heard of the famous Max Born? A Jewish physicist and mathematician, he was one of the stalwarts working at the University of Göttingen in Germany in the 1930's, till the Nazi regime forced him to relocate to England. It is said that before putting his son's name down for college, Born's father had instructed his son that before deciding on what he wanted to study he should give careful attention to every branch of education being pursued, and only then choose one for himself. Prof Born is then said to have methodically traipsed through the annals of law, literature, psychology, economics, political science and astronomy - but thoroughly failed to reach a conclusion as to which subject merited his attention most. Alas, he had been gloriously unsuccessful in coming second in any of the subjects. I believe it is the great good luck of Science that a brain such as Max Born's devoted itself to Science's worship.

Prof. Max Born
Well you certainly are not Max Born (the distinguished Professor would be turning in his grave at the very thought) and the University of Göttingen is admittedly some distance beyond your reach. So why narrate such a story, albeit quite interesting but not really useful? The point is, little brother, that never should anyone shut down one's vision and limit ones capabilities along conventional tried-and-tested lines. When you pick on an activity of your choice, be good at it - be so good that no one dare raise a word of dissent against your capability - but let it not be the limit for excellence. "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist", said Pablo Picasso, so go pursue your art form in whichever field you wish, and then rewrite the rules of the art yourself. If you decide to teach yourself to cook an omelette and nothing else, by all means do so, but let your omelette be the finest omelette the world has ever eaten.

Don't fry your Omeleto before they hatch! So here is coming to the crunch of this whole letter. How common is it for us social animals to crib about the past? You remember how that septuagenarian neighbour of ours back in our early teenage used to begin most of his statements in the tone of "Back in our days...", and would eventually prove beyond reasonable doubt how much better his generation had been and what an irresponsible bunch of failures we all were? I did realize later on, that the reason for the gentleman's dissatisfaction actually emanated from a sense of unfulfillment of certain desires and hopes from his youth, and who knows perhaps a couple of deep and profound regrets as well. Well he was still a kindly man, and may his soul rest in peace today. The crux of the matter is, when you look back at your days after they have passed, the only measuring scale of success you will have, calibrated and carefully gauged, is the standard of hindsight. Not the degrees you have achieved and not the accolades you have won, but your success will be measured in how little a portion of your life do you regret having gone through. A truly successful human being is one who can look back at his or her life and state confidently, "If I were given a second chance to lead this life I would follow exactly the same path that I have already taken this time." I am yet to meet one who qualifies this criterion.

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya
So then, where does that place us! You and I, we are genetically as identical as is possible and we have shared the same experiences while growing up till seventeen, but having an additional stock of four years worth of experience places me upon a slightly higher rostrum than you. Quite frankly, brother, I know exactly what is in store for you in the next four years. A whirlwind of events and experiences which will knock the wind out of you for quite some duration of time, and by the time you start regaining your breath you are already twenty one. But in spite of knowing that there is nothing to change, that despite all my ruminations nobody is going to gift me a Time Turner (even if they did, I wouldn't be able to change anything), there is some satisfaction to be gained from the knowledge that in minimizing my regrets and locking the misery called hindsight into a closet, I can look forward to a future to live laugh and enjoy in.

Hang on, is that a knock I hear on the door? Ah, I believe it is the postman, who comes to deliver a letter addressed to me from a certain Mr. Twenty Five...

Take it easy brother.

With best wishes,

Mr. Twenty One.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti