Friday, 13 May 2011

Do look back

It is mandatory to keep moving on. For life is elsewhere and that elsewhere is somewhere in the time yet to come. Or is it? There comes a moment when one realizes maybe this is all that there is to it. At times that moment comes more than once in a lifetime. So, sometimes, especially when the mind has taken leave even though the rest of the body is immersed in endless work, one needs to stop and look back. Here is one such occasion from the not so distant past.

One rainy day at Hyde Park seven young people, lets call them friends, were brought together by randomness of fate and contrivance of chance. Caught in the oft-cursed ‘unpredictability’ of the London weather they sat and sipped their coffees and beers. Casting desultory glances at the ducks in the lake while mouthing customary inanities that pass as conversation these days.

The lake framed by the dark clouds, the trees gently persuaded by the wind, the raindrops softly passing by-the intricate play of nature fell apart before this unappreciative audience. The words framed within neat categories, the gently falling level of the beer in hand, the softly approaching time to get up for a refill-this intricate balance of social convention was silently appreciated by all. Maybe more so by the one sitting alone at the table by the window. Lets call him the old man in the grey coat.

He could be seventy or eighty years old. The point being of an age when no one especially not the individuals concerned care much for years and birthdates and time. Or even for how they look or what they wear. At least that is how it seems to people who are young and by that I mean not yet thirty. So let us not get into descriptions and just call him the old man in the grey coat. There was nothing exceptional about him (again I mean from the point of view of the abovementioned youth) except that on that one evening in Hyde Park he happened to be listening to seven young people blow words in circles in time. And not even notice the years fall by.

For today you are twenty-eight and the next thing you know you are thirty. “To have reached thirty,” Reginald* said, ‘is to have failed in life.” And anyone waking up on the fateful day to acknowledge the agony of turning thirty would, if they have any enthusiasm left for life, wholeheartedly endorse his sage words as they watch their world rapidly turn to a miserable shade of blue right before their eyes. But one has to live to be thirty to experience this brutal truth, which can’t be revealed to the innocent youth. And since our friends are young and carefree and not yet thirty let us let them contemplate their half full glasses.

Instead lets turn our attention to the old man in the grey coat who has lived more than twice that fateful age. But showed no sign of wear and tear to those who cared to look. Finishing the last of his lukewarm coffee he got up to leave. Then stopping by their table he softly said, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” And silently slipped away into the gathering darkness. Almost unnoticed.

Seven days later no one remembered the old man in the grey coat's words except for an old man sitting down to write the story of his life and a young woman celebrating the thirtieth year of her life.

(For Mr. Jamshed Mirza living somewhere in London. Maybe we'll meet some evening in Hyde Park.)
 *Reginald on the Academy a short story by Saki.

First posted titled as 'People you meet in Hyde Park' here.

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