It so happens that the book I finished today, Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany, and the movie Dev Bhoomi that I had started watching two days ago and finished just now, set off thoughts that converged and kept me occupied all evening.
In both the book and the movie the main characters are in their sunset years, looking back at decisions taken decades ago to leave their countries for better lives. They yearn to go back to the point where the road forked and look at the one not travelled, to paraphrase Robert Frost.
In Dev Bhoomi, Rahul Negi returns to his Himalayan village after forty years and is met variously with wariness, hostility, relief and joy by the different people who used to be in his life before he left for the UK.
He appears so ill at ease, so displaced, aching, regretful, occasionally hopeful . . . A range of nuanced emotions flit across his face, consummate actor that Victor Banerjee is. A step taken at one point in his youth, and he is left thinking of the road not taken for the next forty years. What torture!
In Chicago there is severe confusion and regret regarding the path taken, the one that actually led to the dreamed-of success! The characters – of whom there are quite a few transplanted and homesick ones – go through identity diffusion, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging to either home country or adopted one.
Despite the stilted dialogue and the translated feel that never leaves you through the entire book, you appreciate the conflict between their intense nostalgia for the established societal rules that decide things for them back in Egypt, and the freedom that makes them frighteningly responsible for every decision while living in the US.
You face a fork in the road several times in a lifetime. You choose one. All the paths you couldn’t take are alternative lives you might have led. No matter which one you choose there’s only so much you can do in one lifetime, even if you max out your talents and abilities and make every second count, use every minute being productive. No route is guaranteed to be the right one; even in hindsight you can’t tell if any of the others might have been the right ones. And right does not mean perfect because some things will still go wrong anyway.
When I have the crazy urge to look back and “What if . . . ” about my choices, I ask myself what is it exactly that I hope to gain from the exercise. It’s pointless to dwell on what I could have done differently, because things have turned out well enough.
“What if . . .” is fine if I go into a pleasant reverie in an idle moment, in which case I drift lazily through my parallel universe, enjoy the change of scene, and come back recharged when I finally stop dreaming. Even when I hit the brakes, they work like Tesla’s regenerative braking, using that energy to charge my batteries!
4 thoughts on “what if . . .”
👍🏻well written! I hv not seen this movie or read the book. They sound good. But regarding this conflict, I guess it takes place within everyone, at a time when one stops being busy, being responsible for a whole lot of stuff. Generally, I think in the final outcome if you have had some part of every aspect of life – personal, career, friendship, close relationships including family – then you won’t feel too much of regret. Also if you hv taken the path with awareness, and not by default, because of a lack of options, or bullied into/ blundering into something.
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Dr. Vatsa: I am going to write down your ‘What If’ article today. And keep xerox copies. It has given me a lot of internal peace and “shakoon” Just reading and reviewing it gives me “freedom from messy overthinking of past, web of bad decisions and events in my personal and professional life.” Many articles that you write here have a very therapeutic effect on me…I think it might work for many many readers who have some past sorrows failures etc. or just any psy issues….Thanks and regards
Is it like wondering what age I want the time capsule to take me back to and deciding to stay put?