Dolly Koghar’s philosophical take on a journey of seven decades.
Till a short while ago, the number 70 translated as those foggy and gnarled people you see but take no notice of. Well, here I am, sitting on the fence ready to dive into that number within the month and wondering how on earth I reached here in such a jiffy, when individual days seemed so hazy-lazy and tarried. It’s said that age is just a number, and I know not whether this is the winter of my life, or autumn, or just the late summer, but I’ve made it really far compared to my dear, kindly and gentle darjee. Nevertheless, the best celebration would still be the usual home-baked vegetarian cake with hubby’s signature, piping-hot, garam-garam masala chai with mama-phad and cheese toast shared with the few family members that aren’t stranded across the planet. Although I’m still baffled about why candles are lit for the dearly departed, unless it’s to help light the way through the dreaded crossover, but I can now clearly see why we blow out candles on birthdays; it symbolizes the 365 extinguished days of that one year, and for me it’s 365×70 = 25,550 days that are finished and done with, gone for good and accessible only till memory will serve me.
As I land on the side of the so-called ‘wai thong’ or the ‘golden age’ of wisdom, I’m desperately hoping for some answers to my questions; some profound, and some silly and unimportant, like why was I named Dolly? My story starts somewhat like this: darjee, my father, as the eldest brother in the Thakral household, was already married, but as fate would have it, it would be a long time before I would come to this world as his daughter. Thus, I was joyously welcomed as I also became the very first grandchild of the household, and I guess I was cute (sic) enough to be one of the earliest to be named Dolly in our community in Thailand.
However, it’s not an unusual name, neither is it unexpected from us Serds/Sardars/Sikhs. We have a penchant for cutesie pet names like Pinky, Lovely, Lucky, Sweety, Bunty and Sonu, regardless of whether it’s a boy or a girl. Our real names, too, are androgynous and gender neutral, and it’ll be no wild guess that it’s a Serd if the name prefixes with Raj, Har, or Jas; or ends with jeet, preet, meet, deep, vir, bir, prem, pal, nam or inder. The distinction is in our middle names: our men are lions, or Singh; and we ladies are Kaur, or lioness; for the courage and valour needed to win the battle over the obstinate mind. Our names are derived from our holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and are the attributes of the one God; my name, which only my in-laws used is Pritpal and it, too, is His quality as the ‘loving caretaker.’
But as Shakespeare would say, what’s in a name, for a rose is still a rose, by whichever name. So, then, if I was Dolly and still am Dolly, then why am I constantly changing in both body and thoughts? Am I who I think I am or am I just a random cluster of stardust that has come together to form this complicated and exasperated moi? What is my actual purpose of being here, of existing? Is this all a dream, an illusion, a play of Maya; a 3-D figment of God’s imagination? Wither did I come from and whence am I heading to? What happens to the gamut of emotional upheavals I experienced, whether it’s the warmth up my spine on hearing the thump-thump heartbeat of the foetus in my womb, or the choking feeling on seeing the maimed child-beggar through my air-conditioned car’s windshield?
As for whether I’d want to relive the past 69 years – thanks, but no thanks! I’m not interested in re-experiencing my babyhood or that of my children or grandchildren, when the cry is from a tummy ache, yet milk is being forced into the mouth; nor of the hapless years of childhood when play is wanted, but discipline and learning is imposed. Neither would I want to revive the whole range of my tumultuous teens, then my adjustment to married life, and then seeing the kids settle into theirs. I’d be crazy to want to go through the horrible, terrible menopause yet again. Nah! Been there, done that! I’m perfectly okay with where I am because it’s exactly where I am meant to be and should be, including the very many gaffes, plenty of things done and many, many more left undone. Besides, wishing to modify or remove even a comma from my written destiny would send the whole chain of events berserk and could very well erase the happiest of times and the best of things that came interspersed with the hurdles and travails.
Although seventy years sounds lengthy, it’s actually as brief as a soap bubble in this mithya, or unreal world. Because the reality is, someday, sooner or later, I too will be relegated to becoming just another fairy tale, à la Cinderella, whose everything went ‘poof’ at the stroke of midnight. The ball gown, my body, will turn to dust; and the crown, my name and status, will be forgotten within the hour; the only things left behind will be the glass slippers, my possessions, and some memories of me for a little while more, and my carbon footprint for a little longer.
It is said that at the last breath, within a split second, one’s whole life down to the minutest detail flashes past like a movie, and the soul understands completely the hows and the whys of things, but alas, it is too late to regret or repent or correct any of the mistakes. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, it has been an incredibly fascinating journey through what Sri Ramakrishna calls the ‘mansion of mirth’; for what is life but a big joke, that I took too seriously! So, on this day, all I can and would want to do is bow my head in humble gratitude to the Supreme Director for giving my soul the opportunity to learn from all perspectives, by affording me every part possible that I could role-play in this female body, on this huge stage of samsara.
However, I am but a mere human and must have fallen short of fulfilling my Thamma, my Dharma, my duties to the assigned roles of beti, bahaen, dost, masee, buah, mamee, chachee, tayee, biwi, bahu, ma, sassu, nanee, and dadee. I wonder if I lived up to and respected my roles, or did I think of myself as less, and insulted the positions that came my way just because there was no attached job-description or name-card? A garbage collector or an undertaker that we overlook are as important, if not more so, than the business tycoons, because without them, we would be living in an unimaginably putrid world. Without snakes and cats, we’d be overrun with rodents, and our soil would remain untilled without the lowly earthworm. The tiny ant works tirelessly decomposing filth, and are exceptional examples of uncomplaining, industrious corporation; traits we humans could well learn from.
I am also eternally indebted to every living being that co-acted and shared the stage with me, whether as mere backdrops or in major roles over many acts. Because above and beyond, we are all individual souls that are brought together into this classroom of existence, and every single interaction, however brief, and regardless of whether they were pleasant or outright ugly, was and is a lesson learnt and taught. Lessons that our subconscious imbibes to help propel us forward on the path of individual evolution; towards a higher stage of being, of consciousness, of purity, until we finally come face to face with the ultimate Reality.
So, as I reach and pass this milestone, I wonder if God, while stroking His copious and luminescent white beard, has His quill poised in mid-air, pondering what to write into my tomorrow(s); or perchance the pages were already writ the day the stork dropped me here 70 years ago. But there’s the one thing I am very sure of and that is, the rest of my days will not be monotonous—but a mix-bag of laughter-and-tears, a drama of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.