It’s funny the thoughts that race through your mind when you are driving a bike through a seething crazed jungle of human traffic on wheels. Even as you are hemmed in at all angles by boorish people who apparently all have to reach their destination in the most suicidal form possible, you start thinking of life. Well, it’s not so funny then because each time we are on an Indian road we do put our life in others’ immensely incapable hands. So what better time to think of life then, really? Sitting alone in the safety of your room and staring at the ceiling does not really bring the pang of immediacy – the smell of looming death and intervening life – as close as an Indian road does. No wonder they say India is the land of spirituality! I understand why now!
As my mind wandered off into crazed highways of the past, a suicidal ride suddenly seemed like a life-affirming one. And no, I am not suicidal. We all are – unless you are some chained-at-home-creature, stepping out on to the road really is suicidal. Or the pavement. Oh really. Try it. Just get out there. And I did. I got out there. This is the beginning of the out.
I am 30 now. I like numbers like this. The decade-beginning or decade-ending number, depending on which way you look at it. And of course, it is better to look at the beginning. Last year, around this time, I thought I wanted to do something special for the 30th. You know, go stare into a komodo’s face or kiss a lion or something like that. Things we feel we “need” to “do” so that we feel “alive.” It’s not merely enough that we get up each day. We need to be “alive.” Isn’t that what they all say? All these life-affirming books/movies/gurus/swamis/bankers/businessmen/coolies/teachers. The whole milieu. And I was/am one among them.
I am a petty writer. A stringer of words which simply don’t capture the mess in my head, but I keep trying anyway for want of not knowing what to “do” anyway. But life tends to kick away plans as if it were a soccer ball on a playing field. Especially half-formed ones like mine. What is it to be truly alive? one may ask. Hell, I don’t know. Or perhaps that is being alive. Being in one form of Heaven or Hell in alternate periods of time. Just so that we know the geography really well and don’t mistake one for another when we finally reach wherever religion says we ought to reach once we choke on the bile of goodness and bitterness we churn all our life.
So just BEFORE I turned 30 last year, I got kicked in the knee. Literally. By that unforgiving piece of metal that juts out of a car and calls itself a door. The pain of that bodyslam was nothing. It was the afterbirth that left me gasping. Watching a surgeon slice through your knee was one of the scariest things I have “done” in my life. I know there are others who have cut their heart and livers out of themselves and lived to talk of the goodness of life. I am not one of them. I don’t think I needed a meniscus and patella to tell me about life. It can sit quiet and do the work it is supposed to do.
So on the day I thought I would glare at a komodo, there I was, limping along to a cheap Mexican restaurant near North Orchard Street, Chicago. Lovely, I was in the fabled A of US. But it didn’t quite cut it, you know? With just one good friend for company and a dazed unhappy-to-be-here colleague. Nah. That didn’t cut it. That was miserable. Hell, is this the way to begin the Thorny Thirties? Even the burritos were slumping down in beanish misery.
Misery begets sorrow. Sorrow begets pity. Pity begets understanding. Somewhere, within the slices of tissue that were scarred out of my knee, there also began the process we try to call experience. I was at once awed and depressed. Awed because the body can be cowed by something so small. Depressed because the body can be cowed by something so small. I had little choice in choosing either of the two reactions so I chose both. And it is a state I still alternate with.
As I cut across the right lane into the left lane to overtake a vehicle on its left (Indian traffic rules are different), I think I love the 30th after all. Not because I did see the U of S of A, from the sweeping roar of the Niagara to the beautiful Smokies to the vast spectrum of the Grand Canyon and odd little excursions into Chicago’s suburbland. Not because I wandered through to Laos and whittle time away endlessly and peacefully there. Not because I bought a car. Not because I plan to visit the Buddha this year in May. No. I think I love the 30th because I think it is just like any other year. It has a maddening sweet quality to it that every other year has had. I love the 30th because I know that I can celebrate the 31st just as if it were my 30th. I know that because I think I love the way that minutes add into hours that turn into days that burn their weeks on to the months that form the years that we say is our life. I love being where I am and watching the years go by. Because sometimes, that is all the doing you have to “do” to just be.
And I would still love to do that komodo thing.