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My life in tens

December 31, 2022

As I age, I stop to look back at my life as a parade of decades, some more transformative than others, and what I have learned from them.

As for most of us, no time span is more significant than the first ten years of our lives — that dash from womb to adolescence.

I morphed from, what I learned, was a good-natured toddler, somewhat lonely and forlorn, who marveled at his two older brothers competing at almost everything — from cricket, table tennis, badminton, and fishing and typing, to singing Hindi songs — into a curious but confused child awed by cars and cowboys. Cliff Richards captivated me, and so did listening to the BBC and going to the movies with my dad on Sunday mornings and getting off on Westerns, Tom and Jerry, and Donald Duck.

My lesson: I was going to be a gunslinger on horseback.

At age 10, I found myself, like my brothers, in a military school, another figure in an anglophile parent’s dream of raising a family of army officers in a free India he found bereft of honesty and integrity and the armed forces as an oasis of tradition and grace.

Yet, I wondered what I would really like to be. I loved drawing but my efforts to pursue art as a subject in school were quashed by a teacher who dismissed the notion of making a living from it.

A dislocated and fractured elbow from an athletic event called cricket ball throw dashed my father’s dream of seeing me eventually join the armed forces.

That was just as well, as far as I was concerned. What followed was a serendipitous renaissance — college, an interest in books, journalism and an enthusiasm for writing. Then, I lost my dad, the patriarch who fostered our love of English literature, leaving our family headless.

My lesson: You live and learn, and often, what appears to be a failure is just an opportunity for a new direction.

Thus began my second decade, what I consider my best and most fulfilling. Inspired by an editor who believed in my wild enthusiasm, I evolved into an intrepid reporter bent on exposing the truth about life in rural India, through my writing on subjects like slave labor, witchcraft, police atrocities, caste violence and feudal politics. I wrote my best stories, including an expose on a fatal variety of child labor in the slate pencil mines of central India.

My lesson: Hard work is its own reward.

Marriage and a baby daughter brought the joys of young parenthood, and new responsibilities, and a third decade packed with foreign travel, adventure and the discovery of new foods, people and places — from Japan to France to America.

My lesson: Marriage and a child shift the center of your universe. Life’s no longer about yourself.

In my forties, my wife, daughter and I migrated to the United States and became American citizens. I delved into journalism in New York — this time as an editor, guiding and helping copy editors and reporters find their way around.

My motherland, India, became the country I visited every other year or so, to meet my mother and brothers, and my friends, and in-laws.

Of course, nothing could replace the intimacy of those relationships. And nothing could surpass the pleasure of indulging myself in the foods and flavors of Kolkata, and Delhi, and Mumbai, where I lived and worked for years.

My lesson: I was still an Indian at heart, but my vision of the universe rotated around the values I had imbibed from working in India and America.

Then followed the 9/11 attack and my involvement in the journalistic response to that cataclysmic event, in my fifth decade. I was part of the world the terrorists sought to destroy, and was happy to see the effort fail.

Emotionally, my identity had transformed.

This was the decade I revived my boyhood fascination for art. I became an avid sketcher, drawing landmarks in New Jersey and New York in pen and watercolor, and acrylics.

My lesson: America was the land that opened up a new vista for me, gave me and my family a shot at a better life, and I believe in it.

Now in my sixth decade, my interest in art continues to sustain me and help make my life more fulfilling. That worked perfectly through the pandemic, when I embraced the gift of working from home — one of the best things that happened to me — while indulging in my hobbies, without the worry of making arduous commutes.

As my wife and I live out our lives as empty-nesters, with our daughter married and settled, we are rediscovering the joys of good books, an adorable shih tzu named Rengey, watching great TV shows and delicious food.

I continue to thrive in learning and discovery and realize that life can be as beautiful as you make it. Sure, there are disappointments and disasters, but there’s also much to celebrate and enjoy.

My lesson: Nothing is worth fretting over. Look at the bright side, and never lose faith.

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