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Category: Reflections 28 Dec 13

A few years ago, in the presence of my daughter I was seeking counsel from my father over some vexing dilemma.  I must have been going round in circles, because my father stopped me and asked what I should have known was a leading question:

“Dolly,” he said, using a childhood nickname, “haven’t you learned anything all these years?” I fell right into the trap when I said: “No, no. I’m the same since I was 18.”  Bad move. Both my father and teenage daughter looked at me like I had stunted my own growth.

“What?” asked my father.  “Time, study, work, experience, books, travel, friendships, family, relationships have taught you nothing new?”  I answered as truthfully as I could: “No.”

My father dropped the subject, but my daughter didn’t. Over months and years, she said: “Baba was shocked you’ve learned nothing. Why did you learn nothing?”  I had to bear this onslaught till she forgot about it. So this year, I looked at the question again. I answered truthfully to myself. Of course I changed. Life had battered me down like it’s done to everyone else. I was in denial. I was unwilling to let go of the memory of being 18: exuberance, endless possibility, burning curiosity, willingness to take big leaps, risks that leave you bruised or flying but never stagnant; fearlessness, testing boundaries, adventure, a full laughter. It is all there, but sometimes buried.

After looking at my parents, who are more whimsical teenagers than wise elders in their outlook, I am willing to accede that experience and wisdom doesn’t make you act or feel old. It makes feeling young better.  So here are a few things I’ve learned.

1. Everyone in life is damaged. To be human is to be damaged.  There are times we feel more broken than others. That’s when we lash out. That’s when we get bitter and blame everyone else.  That’s when we need people to sit us down and say: “Stop. What’s wrong? I’m here.”  Damage is never personal unless someone is vindictive, out to destroy you. That’s when get to decide whether it’s worth it to fight or walk away. The latter is the harder, wiser choice.

2. Stand up for fair play, justice. It could save a life. Recently I saw a woman leave her engine running in a traffic jam, run out of her car and push away two bullying boys from a younger one.  They rammed him up against a wall, were calling him names. She shouted at the bullies so hard that they slunk off, cowed.  All bullies are cowards. I have heard people standing up verbally for what is right. And that action changes everything. It makes the damaged bully stop. It makes everyone feel better. Standing up to bullies can save vulnerable people from getting hurt. It’s not a favour. It’s a human duty.

3. Don’t give up on anyone unless they are psychopaths. We all mess up. Everyone deserves redemption. At some point in a fight with a spouse, a love, a friend, a colleague, an organisation, we all say: “This is a dealbreaker.”  Unless it involves a heinous act, few things are dealbreakers. Back off if you have to, heal, with time, forgive. One day you will look around at your friends and be glad your ego didn’t get in the way of what they are to you, and you to them.

4. Think of people who look sour in traffic, behind the till, on the street, at a party, at work, like a challenge. I once saw the fiercestlooking woman on a crossroad.  She looked at me with the rage of a woman to whom too few people have given way. I decided to try this experiment. I gave way to her. I was rewarded with the sweetest smile that I will remember all my life.

5. Don’t be adversarial towards the opposite sex. At Christmas parties recently I met single, married, divorced, and widowed women. They all had different sets of advice.  The 86-year-old woman said her 56-year marriage taught her women should be soft; nurturers; whores in the bedroom and Madonnas out of it; make a man’s home his haven.  The 40-something singletons swear by economic independence.  They are on the lookout for men at least 15 years younger who they can enjoy, objectify and discard at will. No matter what the relationship, the compromise, it can’t do without kindness, indulgence, delight, laughter, empathy, and forgiveness.

6. Be a health and love junkie. Nobody has figured out the exact shade of blush or eyeshadow that makes a bride “radiant” or a new mother “glow.”  It’s love. Love is the best facelift. I can’t take my eyes off people in love.  The other is exercise. It pumps endorphins in you to give you a high even when love fails. 

7. Avoid being jaded even after you’ve had your face rubbed in the mud. Swear a lot. To yourself. Mutter under your breath. Sing in the shower. Make faces in the mirror. Be ridiculous. Shake yourself up to remind yourself of your exuberance, innocence and hope at 18.

8. Finally, as actor Dev Patel said in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.” 

Happy New Year.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur