Living in the now
I truly believe that happiness can flow from small things. Time spent with loved ones, an uplifting word from a casual acquaintance, a chance meeting with a long lost friend; all these seemingly mundane things can make us happy. To this list of things I must add school and college reunions. These events, although always satisfying, follow an interesting sequence. As we cross major milestones in our lives, our relationships and interactions with friends also undergo a simultaneous transition.
At the 10-year class party, everyone is out there to impress. Despite the prevailing spirit of bonhomie, each one tries to outsmart the other with success stories about doting spouses, super intelligent children, prestigious careers and material acquisitions. In contrast, there are the idealists, dreamers and revolutionaries who talk of building a more equitable and just world. Gradually water finds its own level and personal connections are renewed with like-minded peers. As for the others, promises are made to meet again, knowing that it will happen a decade later since everyone will be immersed in the struggle called 'life'.
Interestingly, the 20-year class reunion is more relaxed because for most, life has reached a plateau or ambitions have tapered off. You can let your hair down and have a meaningful conversation with an old classmate about aging parents, rebellious children and missed career opportunities. A long-lost female friend may even unburden herself about her husband's suspected philandering. This usually happens when she feels a sense of camaraderie, but at the same time knows you are unlikely to spread the story since you are not part of her social circle!
There is a noticeable change in the interactions at the 30-year class party - all of us are carefree and lighter in outlook. It's almost like reverting to our childhood and youth. The sense of competition is mellowed and we are more comfortable in sharing life's joys and woes. It's like pressing the refresh button and starting all over again with renewed vigour and energy. We do not erase all our memories, only the ones that create obstacles in bonding together once again. This is a joyous phase because we meet real people with no labels or tags attached.
With the passage of time, my relationships with old school friends have undergone this gradual transition. However, it's not just my relationships –there has been an overall change in my attitude toward life. It's as if the carefree, youthful aspects of my personality have resurfaced from a subterranean past. No more mountains need to be climbed nor oceans to be crossed. I have simply unchained my thoughts and started enjoying the simple pleasures, with more intensity than ever before. I relish each sip of morning tea like the time when my mother offered me the first cup as an acknowledgement of the fact that I had "come of age". I take in the pristine blue beauty of the sky as if it's a special gift from nature only for me. I no longer view the thinning of the trees in autumn as a sign of aging, but as the promise of new leaves sprouting next spring. Rather than reflect on my mortality, I cherish each day as if it's a new beginning. Consequently, I feel younger – sometimes I even delude myself into thinking that I look as young as I feel. But recently, a short exchange with a young girl made me realise that – well – that I am getting old after all.
At a recent dinner our host introduced us saying: "Hi Milia. This is… She is an aspiring singer. I thought you could share your experiences with her since you are a pro." I asked the young lady what genre of music she was interested in. When she said "Rabindra Sangeet", I felt an immediate connection and started reminiscing about Santiniketan, Chhayanat, my music gurus – Kanika Banerjee, Nilima Sen, Wahidul Huq – the impact of Tagore's songs on the independence movement, etc. She listened attentively, but when I mentioned my first TV performance, which happened to be live, she interjected: "Oh My God! That must have been ages ago. How does it feel to be part of a history when television was black and white and there were no sophisticated recording techniques? You must write about it some time. For posterity…". "Yes, I should" I mumbled and walked away.
I felt dejected for a brief moment, wondering if indeed my worth is only of historical interest. Luckily, my positivity resurfaced since I realised that my happiness is not derived from lost glory or a promising future but from living in an unencumbered present.
In that vein, I will continue to embrace the little joys of life that come my way each day while waiting earnestly for the next class reunion. Is it the 40th or 50th? I forget. But does that matter?
The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.