By NAVEED GILANI
Early on in life, I wanted to conquer the world. Somewhere along the journey, it dawned on me that I was an average dude, neither very clever nor particularly gifted in any special way so conquering the world wasn’t for me, and was happy to let other people do it. By the way, this is what it says in my profile on this blog where these reveries are posted. Somehow it seemed pertinent to re-state the same.
Back to the topic.
These ramblings that follow were stimulated by the last work of the famous Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘The Reveries of the Solitary Walker’. He was a writer and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic, and educational thought. Rousseau, in the years between 1776 and 1778 would walk in the outskirts of Paris while jotting down his thoughts on cards. He felt that he was split from society and said that he wanted to devote his last days to “studying himself”. There were 10 “Walks” that comprise the Reveries and were published posthumously.
I am no Rousseau; my reveries are neither philosophically insightful nor as exquisitely crafted. His are melancholic and aft looking whereas mine, pivoting from the happy times gone by, are forward-looking and pregnant with anticipation. Rousseau felt split by society, I found bounties of happiness in it. Nevertheless, simplistic ramblings, these surely are.
You remember, Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space’. It did the rounds on WhatsApp some time ago. Someone with a deep captivating voice narrated it in the background of a video of Earth as imagined from Voyager 1:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.
That paragraph there, brings out the insignificance of one’s circle of life; a mote of a mote of a mote of dust to the power of negative infinity, isn’t it? And yet, within that infinitesimally small mote resides my humble world spanning over 68 years and counting. In that world, all the joys, all the love, all the successes, all the sorrows are mine to behold, mine to cherish, and mine to share. The joys are countless, sorrows few, love abundant, and successes amply matching.
Unlike Rousseau, I take my solitary walks on memory lanes reminiscing about some of the first experiences that blazed my trail and made me, me. These are delightful walks that always bring a smile to my face. My first shirtless run in pouring down rain taught me the zest of oncoming youth. That special tingling, evoked by an accidental touch of a girl sitting next in a dark movie theater, made me aware of the girls; wanted to touch them again but didn’t. Walking through misty clouds high up on a lush hill kindled the joy of exploring nature; I still get bleary-eyed when I am somewhere up there. Oh! And that same evening laying in bed, snuggling a pillow, listened to the immensely pleasureful melody of nature – the patter of raindrops on the tin rooftop. My first bicycle was a Bridgestone that gave me a permanent scar on my left knee. My first motorbike was a Honda that helped me explore the labyrinthine streets of the old city of Dhaka. My first parachute jump over rural Jenkinsburg, Georgia, introduced me to the birdlike freedom of soaring quietly atop a thermal current, cool air patting my cheeks and softly whooshing by my ears. My first solo flight in Cessna 152 was over Charlie Brown Field in Atlanta which boosted my confidence to a new level despite the sweaty palms throughout the entire flight. There are many many more….
As I stepped into early adulthood, the childlike delights gave way to a palette of complex emotions. Of these, I have embraced some, succumbed to others, and still learned from others knowing well that the unpleasant ones are still lurking in the dark corners of the lane. I choose to remember the enjoyable and happy times only; memories of others can stay in the closet.
Soon, life took a happy turn when that special tingling that made me first discover girls wasn’t fleeting anymore. It was in Limelight, a happening disco at the time, where I met my soulmate 20 years after that chance touch in that dark movie theater. Looking back now, I can see that that turn put me on the path to that yellow brick road under the great blue sky. Sure, together we faced many trials and tribulations but along with the three boys who successively joined us on the golden path I made it to the end of the rainbow winning the pot with the proverbial gold.
If, on your deathbed, someone asked you if you had a good life, what would you say, and what would be the reason for that answer? Lots of money? A big house? Retiring early? In 1938 scientists at Harvard began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores. It was hoped that the study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. Continuing to expand the number of participants, the study spanned over eight decades studying the participants’ health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage. The troves of data produced startling lessons that hold the key to a good life. It is the relationships. I find this intuitively appealing, reinforcing my natural inclination. I already have a great relationship with each of my family and my friends which will get further strengthened as I tackle my twilight years. On that measure, I already have a ‘Good Life’; I don’t need to go searching for it.
That gravel-voiced jazz singer, Louis Armstrong’, closed his 1967 song with the following lyrics:
Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world