A long wait at a bus stop reveals that growing up (aka growing old) has its advantages.
It’s a muggy Monday in Singapore as I walk to the bus stop. My desired bus speeds past me. I maintain an even pace. I could have run, waved my arms to get the drivers attention, or sprinted to catch it. But, I don’t.
I’m no longer the lithe teenager who used to take-off at the sight of bus number 333 in Bombay, in my blue school uniform and white canvas shoes, with my neatly-combed braids tied with white silk-edged nylon ribbons flying besides me like two sidekicks. That was more than three decades ago.
A small part of me wishes I could still run, if not every day, at least on occasions that demand speed. This part of me has a mental age somewhere in the mid-twenties. The larger (and slower) part of me, is aware of its chronological age, and therefore, happy to walk slowly, knowing that another bus will come by. In due course.
I wasn’t always this mellow.
Adjectives for my younger self included hefty words like outspoken, bold, ambitious. Consequently, I had a long jumbled list of dreams, desires and aspirations. I learnt later that this was called a bucket list.
Look like Madhuri Dixit. Visit the White House, See the Taj Mahal.
Learn to drive. To swim. Wear high heels.
Get married. Have children. Buy a house.
Become a famous writer.
Plan for retirement.
And somewhere along the way, save the world.
A lot on the list has been accomplished, though not always in the order I expected it. I walked to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at age twenty-two, naïve and awestruck at being in the capital of the USA.
The Taj Mahal viewing happened more than twenty-five years later.
I learnt to drive a car. Twice. The first time in America, where I learnt the mechanics of driving and whizzed along freeways, relishing the speed. I learnt it all over again upon my return to India, not just because the steering wheel and gear shift was on the other side. Dodging cattle, negotiating narrow roads and combating chaos demanded a different set of skills; lightning reflexes and a zen attitude towards the pace which was the opposite of speed. In Singapore now, without a car, my driving ability is wholly redundant.
Motherhood followed marriage, though not in quick succession. Then came divorce. An item that certainly was not on any to-do list.
Home ownership came after divorce, thanks to a quick reprioritization following the tsunami on the marital front.
One thing that was not on the list but I am proud to have accomplished, is skydiving. Scary but highly recommended. Especially if you have trouble letting go, not just of people and places, but of the pretty picture of how your life should have turned out.
Even more scary was the decision to get married a second time – definitely not recommended for thin-skinned or the faint of heart. Try skydiving first.
Becoming a famous writer – fame is not in my hands, but the writing is. So I keep working at it. Just like the retirement account.
Swimming – shows up every year on the new year’s resolution list. Looking like Madhuri Dixit has been deleted for obvious reasons.
There is a bigger list that I have compiled in retrospect.
Things that I am proud of not having done (and/or I don’t need to do anymore):
- using Fair and Lovely
- going on a diet
- signing up for a gym membership
And there are things I have always done that I don’t bother to defend any more:
- being vegetarian (why, but you live abroad, must be difficult)
- holding an Indian passport (but why, you lived in the US and now in Singapore)
- practising yoga and meditation (why not zumba or MMA)
There’s stuff I don’t struggle with anymore – like balancing work and motherhood. Though not mutually exclusive, I know from personal experience the challenge of wanting to be a hands-on mother and pursue a high-flying career. Something’s gotta give.
I gave up my ambition to save the world. Call it prudence or maturity or plain pragmatism, the years have taught me a few lessons:
- Life is cyclical not linear (two times an NRI).
- You do get a second chance (to drive, to marry).
- Learning is iterative and usually happens once you leave the classroom (haven’t received any grades after college but I thrived, not just survived).
When I obtained my first driving license for a four-wheeled automobile despite never having learnt to ride a bicycle confidently, I realized that the latter is not a prerequisite for the former. Just as I learned later, that being married was not a guarantee of life-long security.
I have a pocket list now.
It includes the names of countries I would like to visit with people who matter, because it’s not about checking off the destination, it is about the company on the journey.
My list has titles of books not necessarily on the New York Times bestseller lists, but the books that I want to read and hold.
And qualities, like equanimity, that I cannot hold but hope to cultivate.
To accomplish this, I need to accept that I may not complete everything on my pocket list. And that’s fine.
I can always make another one. There is time before the next bus comes along.
I may be mellow but I am still ambitious.
Image via Emma Matthews Digital Content Production.