Places – 2

So many of us, especially the believers in a western, non-fatalist, deterministic line of thought are certain we can plan our lives.  Much effort and much thought goes into having a vision and then directing and acting in a self-written play, taking center stage, lifting the curtains on the enactment of our own scripts.  We want it rendered alive, drawn out of the recesses of our brains and made real.  Willpower plays a key role and certain cinematic cliches like “if you build it they will come” or people saying “dream big”.

I am attracted to this line of thought as well.  I make lists, I set goals, I resolve to do certain things, not do certain things.  I gain immense satisfaction from checking things off my lists.  My notebooks and journals are full of plans and lists.  I have spreadsheets that track our expenses, I have repayment schedules chalked out for my debts, I have fitness goals, writing goals, I want to train hard enough to become a seasoned musician, I want to live in a home that isn’t mortgaged and drive a car that’s paid off, I want to share breakfast with my family every morning; I, like everyone else, believe that these things could make me happy because if I live here, in this country, at this point in time then I have to believe in the pursuit of happiness.  All my steps and all my missteps are taken in an elusive pursuit of happiness while the definitions of happiness keep morphing as I become a different person from one day to the next.

But this is what it always remains, despite the stacks of notebooks chock full of plans and lists and grand visions, we never move from pursuit to destination.  There’s nothing wrong with an eternal pursuit, this is what life is all about, but as I grow older I realize that the most gratifying moments in my life have been the unplanned ones, the serendipitous ones.  Something unexpected happens, as it did for my Dad when he took off for Hawaii, and everything changes.  “Plans” almost always get relegated to the dark attic-like space in the surrounding ether that stores all the roads that weren’t taken because we took detours from the most obvious plans, from the ones that appeared to be the most logical segues at any instant.

The most logical segue for me in 1988 certainly wasn’t a final move to the United States.  I was in the middle of a master’s degree in Economics.  I was uninspired and listless and not at all at home with the mind-boggling squiggles of Econometrics.  The prospect of another year of mastering something that was so challenging and so uninteresting was unpalatable in the extreme but I was resigned to it.  I was sticking to the plan and willing to put myself through every stage of the torture, despite distractions, despite immense boredom.  The plan was to finish that degree.  But something unexpected happened again when my dad got a Fulbright scholarship that was to take him on a tour of universities within several states in the US.

I remember those days, I remember standing at the terrace of our New Delhi flat at Mandakini Enclave, gazing at the horizons, wondering what life had in store for me.  Boredom was the most overwhelming state back then, with distraction close on its heels.  I also had a very distressing asthma condition and my parents had been assured by a doctor at the Patel Chest Institute that my problem might go away with a change of venue; a change that would take me 7,000 miles away, perhaps.

So the biggest and most pleasant surprise of my life was when mom and dad asked me if I wanted to accompany dad to the US.  As if they needed to ask! Of course, of course! I had never wanted anything more than I wanted that.

I was often asked what I would do in the US.  Unlike others my age who came here having secured an admission to an Ivy League institution, or some others who got married early and followed a spouse here, I didn’t have a plan.  I used to say I would “earn and learn”, that this is what Americans did.  A vision of learning while earning was all I had, no other plans, no other details fleshed out.   And even this broad vision was only trotted out for the curious, the nosy.  All I wanted was to break free, to start afresh.  I wanted to see my own footprints in the sand as my fingers slipped from my dad’s guiding grasp, amidst a pool of tears – both his and mine – as I walked on with steps that were shaky and determined at the same time.

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