For most of us, life has always been about achieving targets. Or at least, that is what the commonly perceived idea has been. It starts from childhood — the pressure to pass school with good marks to get into a good college, then to get a job and get married before you are ‘too old’ for it.
Every year counts, isn’t it? People often say that. But certainly, nobody talks about the learning, the growth that must come along with these years for it to actually make the count. Former US president Abraham Lincoln rightly said: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts, its the life in your years.”.
There was a sense of hysteria whenever students decided to drop a year or more, either to prepare for exams or to just be. The impression of dropping a year has always been accredited with wasting the year or being left behind by their batchmates. Sit at home, unemployed, and you’re already a wretched fellow. You’re already considered a failure by society. A failure when you’re not even halfway through your life.
I remember my elder sister when she was preparing for a state government exam after completing six years of higher education. This was when all her friends were earning and my father once said, “One must complete their studies till they are 23 and then start doing work so that they can marry happily after few years of saving money”.
That’s when I realised nobody fails, but certainly, time or rather the perceived idea of time fails them.
How time was perceived
Everything needs to be done in their respective time, otherwise, you will hang back and suffer further difficulties. This is how a typical Indian parent convinces their child, for marriage, especially.
But does this end there? No. One day I asked my mother what if I get married in my 30s? Will I be a loser? Or would it be seen as some kind of a majboori, simply ignoring all the possibilities that I can happily choose that for myself?
To which she responded, bragging about her farsightedness, that I will retire way before my children are settled, and hence I would not be able to provide them properly.
That’s when I realised that perhaps we think of life as a mission. We are merely completing our targets in time or else just moving forward with whatever finds its way to us.
But, there’s no staying back, staying back to feel, to see or to realise. We perceive time in dissociation with people and their learnt experiences that are actually making it worthwhile, but instead in numbers like days, weeks, years and age. We perceive time as constantly moving even if, we are not.
How Covid changed time
Then the year 2020 happened. When a deadly pandemic engulfed the entire world and the whole world witnessed a complete shutdown. A shutdown of all these activities that were hitherto considered life.
The whole of humankind strove for a drop year, to gain life, to stop, to acknowledge, to help.
Now, it has been more than a year into the pandemic, which has claimed millions of lives and changed the ways in which each of us relates to and navigates the world. Schools have cancelled final exams and universities have been shut for more than a year now while students happily considering an extension of their courses and degrees.
I love how young people have now learnt not to care a jot about time. Marriages are getting postponed, some people are leaving their jobs while some are simply forced out of it and parents who used to freak out earlier want their kids to just be at home and do nothing.
This has changed how we perceive time. Now, I perceive time not just in figures but through memories, experiences, lessons and realisations.
During these unfortunate times, some people lost all their savings within just a few days, by paying off hospital bills for their loved ones. Money perhaps saved for those so-called ‘future plans’ and it just struck me that the real generosity lies in giving all to the present.
I wonder if this is hopelessness. But it isn’t. Yes, there comes a time when we get restless as a result of years of conditioning. But we need to remind ourselves that indeed we are growing more than we are ageing.
This reminds me of a very beautiful nazm by Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
“Maana ki ye sunsan ghadi saḳht kadi hai
lekin mere dil ye to faqat ik hi ghadi hai
himmat karo jiine ko to ik umr padi hai”
Srishti Chourasia is a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi