I was reading The Bell Jar the other day. I was at home. Sprawled across the sofa after lunch. Mother had made fish curry. She sat beside me reading the paper which kept fluttering because of the fan. I did not want to turn it off. It was hot.
The protagonist in the book, Esther Greenwood, is in a dilemma. She did not know what to do with her life. She saw her life branching out like a fig tree. From the tip of every branch, a wonderful future beckoned like a fat purple fig. One fig was a husband, a happy home and children. Another fig was a famous poet, another a brilliant professor, an amazing editor and so on. She was not able to decide which to choose. Choosing one means losing all the rest. Ester was learning shorthand. But she doesn’t see herself working in a job which makes use of it. I remembered my mother was learning shorthand at some point in her life. I turned to her and asked, “Mum, Do you remember shorthand?” She smiled a little and tried to recall. She didn’t remember. She had gotten married. She chose her fig.
Once I came back home running from school, after winning a Table Tennis tournament. I told my mother. She was making masala paste, in the huge stone grinder, sitting on the floor. She paused her work, turned to me and smiled. That’s nice, she said. Now go do your homework, she said. I love to see athletes winning medals for the country. I love to see them cry. Sometimes I watch only the winning moments. I love to see them happy. I watch with wonder when they stand on the podium with pride as the National anthem plays and the flags rise up. It’s nice to see them run on the ground, celebrating. And I think what would have happened if I had continued playing Table tennis.
I wonder if it is easy to open up and have a meaningful conversation with strangers. To tell them your deepest fears. To let it all out and never see them again. In the waiting lounges of bus stations or common areas of backpacker hostels, I could have struck a conversation with someone. I could have told him/her how sometimes I feel incompetent to do my job. Some days I feel like I don’t know many things. How I fear I might lose my job, not earn anything and have no place to live. I can tell them how the people around me have affected my thinking. How I had no control over my life. How I wish my Dad would appreciate what I do at work. And for once be okay with my decisions. I can tell how all my life I have suppressed feelings. How I never told anybody I liked them or how I never showed love in any form to people. How I ran away from being close to them. How I see some parts of the movie again just to cry. Or feel something. And how I wish the stranger could have told me I am wrong about many things. How I am blaming others for my own shortcomings. How I need to stop being hard on myself. How most of them feel the same things as me.
And I can listen to their life. All the decisions they have taken that have brought them to this point in their lives. I want to know about the time they felt really happy. And really sad. How they get up every morning and go through life. How they are okay with themselves. I want to know all the ways they love themselves and others. The times they got their hearts broken. When they didn’t want to get up in the morning. When they were not able to sleep at night. What have they compromised on? I want to converse late into the night. Sipping cold coffee. But we did not do any of those. We remained strangers. Busy with our mobiles. And now I revel with the stories that never happened.