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
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.