I have a friend, who I met in college, the brightest student in class by miles. And when I say bright, I mean someone who could discuss Marxism with Marx himself, or tell you intricacies of Freud’s work that most people would not be able to comprehend. But, she never rubbed her immense wealth of knowledge in anyone’s nose; you could walk past and not even notice her- reserved and simple, yet gifted with a brain so sharp that one word out of her and you knew this was someone who had spent years curled up with them books, from Robert Frost to Dostoyevsky. Not that she’d tell you that. But you knew. Also, she was the one you went to when the exams loomed dangerously on your head!
I lost touch with her, as I did with a lot of my friends, after college. We all went our own ways into the big bad world, our bosoms full of idealism and dreams. But, in all the years that I was not in touch with her, I would think of her off and on, and when I did I always imagined her deeply lost and involved in the world of academia, which is the only thing she seemed to be meant for and enjoyed.
But, when I did finally reconnect, I found that she had abandoned all that seemed so dear to her and gotten married soon after college. Nothing wrong with that, but she seemed the last person in the world to be doing that.
Anyway, it was what she did and I never asked her why. She married someone in the army, had a son, nine now and immersed herself in her domestic world. She seemed happy when we talked, but I always detected a twinge of regret in her voice, something I didn’t explore further.
But it made me think. Why did she make that decision? It was not for love, that much I know, since I vaguely know the man she married and I know it was not an impulsive must-marry-him decision. But, it was not for me to question a friend’s decision, even if I wondered about it often, and she largely seemed happy, so, I let it be.
A few days ago she wrote to me and herself addressed the matter, if only indirectly. Her words are here, and I am sharing this without her knowledge, but they are so beautiful that I feel I should share them. Also, they encapsulate wonderfully what I feel about my own decisions in life:
“Introspection is a dangerous activity. It makes you look back and take stock, not a pleasant thing to do. In life, you walk down a road… then, a path opens up on the side and for some reason you leave the road and start down that path. It’s a beautiful path, tree lined, shady, and edged with dainty blossoms. The fellow travelers that you encounter are polite, friendly and nice. The path does get bumpy occasionally, but, there are no steep gradients, neither up nor down. The path is more of a dirt track and you walk in a slow unhurried pace. The scenery is pleasant though, it seldom changes. Slowly and imperceptibly, you stop taking in the scenery or feel the cool shade or even notice the fellow travelers. Even as your feet carry you along the path, your mind wanders back to that road that you got off. What all did that road have to offer after you quit it? Once in a while, through the gap in the trees, you catch a glimpse of that road. You dimly make out people walking in confident purposeful and fast paced strides. This sets you wondering. How is the journey on that road? What happened to the friends you parted from when you wandered off down this shady green path? You try and imagine their glitzy, high – octane life, full of accomplishments targets, achievements and hefty pay cheques. You feel a twinge of envy as you envision their confidence and their self-assertiveness, their ability to say no when they wish to. You gradually endow them with all those qualities that you seem to lack. The exciting journey of the busy roadsters creates a tiny inside you. Soon you spend all your time peering down this hole even as your brain is slowly sucked into its lightless oblivion. How close you are now to becoming Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, even if by nature you are neither hedonistic nor adulterous. The wooded path palls on you, the cool shade suffocates you and the pleasantries of the sweet folk, you find tiresome. The timid flowers by the wayside seem so tiny, so pathetic…
Sooner or later in life we reach this stage. Bewildered, you ask yourself,” where am I? How did I get here? Would I have been better off on that other road?”
I still don’t know why she look the leafy path and I don’t want to. But my point to her was this; that no matter what path you take, you’ll always peer through the trees to look at the other one and wonder if that had been better. Someone who took the fast paced one would wonder if being with the kids on the shady path had been a better one to opt for…it’s the ultimate quandary and I can safely say it is one that most women face.
Women, not men. Men believe that there is only one path for them, and they take it. They don’t feel the angst of wondering “what if?”, of agonizong over life changing decisions, of watching their friends stride along a path that they would have liked to be a part of. It should not be this way, but it is. And it’s a shame.