So there I was, in the front row of the auditorium, with a foolish grin on my face, my camera clutched tight in my hand, watching with unblinking eyes the command performance of Zaara at the annual day function of her school. She had a poem to recite, ‘Eidelweiss’ to sing, and a few dances to perform. As usual she was as bright as buttons and full of a wonderful zest that entranced the audience. My wife fretted that someone would cast the evil eye on her. I, who had no belief in such mumbo-jumbo, wanted her to shine even brighter.
The programme over, we drove back home singing her praises and promising her special gifts and incentives. Zaara listened carefully: she would call in her debts the next day in the morning; that we knew. Sometime after, we were settling down in bed at night, and it struck me that grandchildren were special because they represented our very genes: they were us in miniature, our guarantee that we would be alive in her, much after we were gone. It was proof of our immortality beyond the flesh. As human beings we know that our days are numbered. And so, we seek to leave behind something that will live on.
But that is true of children as well, you may ask. Our children are the most apparent of our legacies; but the task of growing them up, nurturing them and ensuring that they have a job and a family and the financial stability so essential today, that takes up most of our living moments: they are more a responsibility and a source of worry than a pure and simple, uncomplicated joy. But a grandchild? She is boundless joy; just a little doll to love endlessly, without conditions, without the weight of responsibility and obligation. And so we see in her the very face of ourselves, the fact of ourselves that will still be there, perhaps sixty years later, perhaps a good half century after we are gone. To herself take on the mission we had had, to see that her own grandchildren will grow and flourish just so, even as she bids her goodbye.
When a pining Majnu writes his and Laila’s name elaborately on an ancient monument, what is he trying to declare to her. That his love will last like the monument itself, forever and ever. It is the need for immortality expressed in calligraphic form. When a scholar or professor writes a thesis or a book, or an artist a beautiful painting, then too he tries to beat Death, by leaving behind a work that will last more than his days on earth. Perhaps a century later, somebody like him, will turn the pages of a book and see the name or the painting and know that so-and-so had once walked the same earth he now stands upon, and had left behind a tiny part of himself. The need to be forever relevant, to be remembered, not merely by family and friends, but by strangers; it is a powerful instrument to try to perpetuate everlasting immortality. To leave our trace behind.
Have you ever wondered at the million twists and turns in the road you have navigated that has made you the man or woman you are? The countless choices exercised to turn left or right at the fork, to speed up or slow down, the trains missed, the planes boarded, the strangers who appeared without explanation and turned into friends, the friend who turned into a lover or a wife. How many deliberate and casual choices have there been, how many decisions thought through, or forced upon you, right from the accident of birth upto the present moment of your life? It is a particular sperm and an egg which has made me. If it were another, I would have been someone else. The nine months in the womb were kind; if not, I may have been gone even before arriving. If my father had not been appointed in the particular job he had the fortune to enter, he may not have worked where he actually did, after at all. Some other state would have been my home. I would have been in another school and college; I would have taken up some other employment, met some other woman who would have been my wife, would have bred other children, and not our Divya, and would have had, in time, some other grandchildren, not Zaara.
Imagine then how different life would have been: I would then have been someone else altogether, my life perhaps better, perhaps worse: perhaps living life as a millionaire, or as a pauper, perhaps a thief or a philanthropist, perhaps a saint or a sinner. We are who we are by chance and providence, by the thousand possibilities churned out in the permutations and combinations of circumstances swirling around us. We are motes that dance in the random swirl of time, becoming who we are by sheer chance and the blind turn of the dice.
And so, it is beyond belief how heroic we all are, to still live the lives we lead, regardless of everything, despite the uncertain and random workings of luck and time and space and the curve of the tracks. The tracks that we see spooling away behind us, the tracks that are still to be laid out in the days ahead, over which we have but so little mastery, are but the etchings of a random play of chance. And that is why, defiant as we are, we need to leave our markers behind us, our thumb prints and our biometrics, our signature and our genes, at every step, at every moment, to say that I was here, on such and such a date I had passed through, yes me, the one with the grey curly hair and the wrinkles near the eyes, known by the name I so possess; yes, I had been here and had performed this and that task, and then had moved on. And I write my name and drop my genes so that you will know I was here. It is the only way I can beat the relentless whirl of random circumstances, which would otherwise, erase me as if I had never existed. It is a puny effort, but magnificent beyond the power of words to describe.
Did Zaara make these thoughts spring in my mind? Perhaps she did. I love her still and all the more for the wonder that she so gracefully brings to my small and momentary life.