I have always been a a huge Paulo Coelho fan. One of my most favourite Paulo Coelho quotes is: “One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”
As I grew out of my youth, it became rather inevitable for my wild heart to adventure through life, ticking checkboxes on my so-called bucket-list. I had the most amazing parents who encouraged me to do everything that I loved. So yes, right from rappelling to star-gazing, from meditating in the Himalayas to white-water rafting in the Ganga, from acting in street-plays to making short-films, from map-less road-trips to all-night partying, from writing books at 15 to meeting Bachchan at 17, I had done it all.
I changed several jobs, made all sorts of friends, lived a rather crazy life, which I was extremely proud of. The overachiever that I was, I had complete faith that the massive pile of certificates and hoards of awards I had earned would make me one of the most capable people alive. But, of course, this was far from the truth.
And so, when life hit me, it slowly sank into me how nobody had ever taught me how to be happy, how to love, how to understand my mind, what to do when people are difficult, how to handle moral conflicts, how to take right decisions or even how to think.
I realised life was a gift. I also realised it was something too invaluable to use without the an instruction manual. I had never been instructed on life!
Of course, learning life as a form of art has never been a big deal. Life is learnt by living. But working in the media and the corporate world taught me that learning life without being trained for it is like steering a car without ever knowing how to drive. There was a huge possibility that I would pick it up through trial and error, because I was after all an educated and intelligent young woman. But because I was an intelligent young woman, I knew that I ran the risk of going through a lot of trials and making even more errors. No, I wasn’t ready to do this to my life.
My bucket list had the fanciest things a person my age could think of back then, but I suddenly realised it did not have the one most important thing I needed to learn – life.
So, I added ‘life’ into my bucket list!
Before I died, I wanted to learn life properly. No, actually, I wanted to master it. I wanted to be able to walk through this adventure with greater surety and a pro-like expertise. I wanted to be able to stay calm no matter how challenging this game got. I wanted to bloom into a person and a professional I was truly proud to be. Someday, I wanted to do life right.
Yes, some day. Because right now, I had no time to learn life. I had a career to pursue, a social life to die for, many other fascinating checkboxes to tick off my bucket list, before I could make time for life. And what was the hurry any way?
But two big incidents changed the way I thought. In those days, I was in college. It was a regular rainy day. I was returning from KC College in Churchgate (Mumbai) to my home in Powai. Yes, it was raining heavily but Mumbai is the unstoppable city, right? I was on my way. I remember I called my Mom to switch on the geyser and keep warm water ready. I wanted to take a good hot bath and drink some soup. My estimated time of arrival (ETA) was not more than 30 minutes. But I did not reach home till the next morning.
The severity of the floods on July 26, 2005 was such that I had to wade through neck-deep water, holding on to a corpse for the sake of balance, at 2 AM. I was awfully sick by the time I reached home. But we were all happy that I reached home. What if I had not? What if the waters had engulfed me? I kept thinking about it for months. The fear of death had never been so real to me before this.
This was the first time an alarm rang loud enough to awaken me to the fact that death has no known ETA! Life is too short and precious to waste it on uninspired living. Not knowing how to love truly and rejoice fully, and to say I am too busy to learn life, is like saying I have no time to learn swimming because I am busy watching the waves. We need to dive in. But, I realised that life was a ticking bomb almost a year after the floods had left ripples of a deep quest to learn life in me.
Soon, I started working and got too busy to think about life again. Back then, I often travelled to Churchgate for work. Since I lived in Powai, it only seemed like a logical decision to travel by the local train than travel by road and spend four hours daily in traffic. It was a usual day in July 2006, and I was going to board the 6:50 PM fast local. I suddenly got a call to volunteer for an event close by. Since I was done with my work early that day, I decided to not board that train but instead go for the volunteering activity.
I did not board the 6:50 PM local. But I have no idea where those who had boarded the train reached. In those very first class carriages of the train, in which I travelled daily, there were a series of bombs blasts that evening. The shock that I could have been one of the hundreds who lost their lives to this incident, the sights of their destroyed bodies and distraught loved ones, changed something inside of me forever.
A big question hit me: If today was the last day of my life, which items on my bucket list would I most regret having not done? And the answer popped out loud and clear in my head. I had to learn life first. It could not be a post-retirement plan. It could not be postponed for some day. It had to be right then.
I needed more efficiency and inspiration at work. I needed greater love and selflessness in relationships. I needed a higher purpose and insight for life. I couldn’t afford to wait till these things happened over time. It was clear to me that time was the last thing I could take for granted. So, I needed to shift ‘life’ from my bucket list to my priority list. And that one decision changed everything that I have ever been.
I turned to knowledge-based spirituality for guidance. I attended several discussion groups, workshops, seminars. I did a two-year long formal course in spiritual knowledge. The logical and scientific approach of our ancients fascinated me beyond measure, because I was not the kind to accept anything based on sheer faith. I needed rational arguments and intellectual evidences to convince me that the new perspectives on life I was learning made sense. And yes, they did make an incredible amount of sense. I realised that everything the society had hardwired into me was beginning to change. I was beginning to change.
Making life a priority made me a happier, more successful, and a hugely loved person – way beyond what I had ever imagined myself being. Learning and mastering life as a form of art gave me a grip that everyone around me was noticing. My life was no longer all about trials or errors. My life was a masterpiece in the making. And now, it is amazing how the knowledge of life has made life into a daily adventure I can’t stop relishing! All it took was shifting ‘life’ to priority on my bucket list.