I had a lot of those ‘life’s big questions’ growing up: Why do grown-ups have these things that they call ‘jobs’ and why do they have to do it every day? Why do we have to ‘work’ and ‘build a career’ anyway? What purpose does it solve, really? Why should I go to bed early? Why not have only a bowl of maggie for dinner?
The questions got weirder as I grew up: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Wait, what is ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ and why should I find it? Should I? Or is that conforming to societal norms that may or may not work for me? Am I seeing myself as I am or as I wish to be? Why should I not eat maggie for dinner when I might die anytime?
I pondered over these questions in math classes as a backbencher (Sorry, papa), with friends over chai and sutta sprints (just chai, really, I am not that cool), and in irritable solo journal sessions (they are very hip on Saturday nights, please join).
I sit and wrote for hours about this ‘life’s big questions’ and all that. I read a shitload of books. I researched more about spirituality than any spiritual person would — ‘Lifehack’s 9 ways to find meaning in life’, ‘7 Strange questions to help you find your life’s purpose’. Nope, didn’t help. I tried going to this temple and worship that God and pray this mantra and speak that affirmation (Hello, Rhonda). I talked to a little too many friends about big questions whose primary concern was to get a well-to-do 9–5.
But the answers never really came then.
Because, you know, ‘meaning’ is like a high school fuckboy with a cool motorcycle. The more you pursue it actively, the more he flutters away and is completely uninterested in you. But when you get your own life sorted, have greater problems than unhealthy romantic relationships, then voila, paradoxically, he wants to take you for a ride on his bike Saturday night when you had planned an irritable-life’s-big-questions-journaling-hip-session. What an ass.
So the answers came in weird places — when I was driving into oblivion to pick up tomatoes at the right price (20 Rs/kg only), when I was in a brainstorming session with my boss about Salesforce or when I was trying to sleep on time.
And then came the meta-question to all life’s big questions: What is the answer to the big questions for you?
For you, because as I learned as a backbencher scribbling about life in a Math class, that there is no one right answer. There is no formula, no graph, no long division all of us can do and arrive at the same correct answer hidden in the last pages.
The answers to these questions is a very, very personal matter. What my meaning is is writing that helps people soothe (and exercise) their minds. What my friend’s meaning is holding down a well-paying job so that her parents can live a luxurious life that they sacrificed for her. Both are ‘right’. Both are valid.
But, sadly (or liberating-ly), these answers change during a lifetime. Because everything is always looming in uncertainty. Because you change. So do your priorities. So does your meaning.
I know this because at 20, all I wanted is Rs 25k/month on a job that lets me go home at 6 or 7, and I can wake up early to write and do my irritable-life’s-big-questions-journaling-sessions post-work and all would be well!
I created that life at 21 (I got paid 10k more than I wanted, I woke up earlier than I had hoped and I logged off on time every day). Within a week, I hated it.
I did it for 6 months — hating Sundays because they are so close to Mondays, having TGIF feelings accompanied by the grief of ‘Oh God, ugh, Mondays’. My ‘meaning’, ‘purpose’, ideas for a ‘good life’ changed as soon as I manifested my previous meaning, purpose, and ideas of a good life into reality. Because I had changed.
I know that sitting with these big questions is not ‘required’. No one will ask me my answers. No one will expect me to give an exam. And I can vouch that spending some time not thinking about these questions, time spent in pure hedonism, is good.
But an examined life offers pleasures that are much more superior. Finding my answers has lead me to an every day that is richer, spiritually wealthier, and good-humored.
Sitting with these questions is not important. It is necessary. And we often miss the necessary stuff to complete a project at work or binge-watch the new Crown season on Netflix.
All of us have these questions. We are sitting on them. And we are refusing to make time to answer them. Wearing these questions without trying to find our answers is like sleeping in an uncomfortable itchy sweater. Do that for a year, and you still won’t get a good night’s sleep, like Ottessa’s heroine didn’t.
These big questions are necessary — even in childhood, especially in adulthood. They remind us why we need to address the nuances of life when nothing is special, there is no big occasion, and everything is in between. They tell us how to make our ‘everyday’ better. They force us to see the big picture when all we are concerned with is the ‘right’ price of the tomato.
But, you know, there is no ‘right’ price (or answer).