When I grew up in India, I had a clear edge over my friends. My birthday was always a public holiday: it was the birthday of Gandhi. Father could skip his office and take me somewhere special. Mother, who did not have to work either, could stay at home and cook something special for me. They made me feel special and, when my friends came, to my great pleasure they were treated royally too.
Now, I am not sure why, I seem to feel a little embarrassed when somebody tries to do something special on my birthday. It is pleasant to be with friends, perhaps drink a glass of wine. That is enough for me. What pleases is that someone remembers.
As a kid, like other kids, I dreamed of a fun life, full of adventure. World War II was in full swing and I saw the planes roaring away in the bright Indian sky. I thought of being a pilot, not knowing that many of them were flying to their flaming end. Later I fell in love with cricket and imagined being like Don Bradman, the Australian wizard of a batsman.
Even later, after I heard the brilliant Hungarian writer, Arthur Koestler, speak in Kolkata, I borrowed a phrase from him to express my dream: I would like to walk on the line of intersection of the planes of thought and action. I worshipped the world of ideas, but I didn’t want to live there all the time; I also craved for the world of action. I remember how I admired Dag Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary General, who flew instantly to every trouble spot on the globe during the day, only to retire at night and jot his Markings. I still adore his definition of strength, “Only one feat… not to run away.”
I have struggled to find fulfillment in my work, for work was important to me. I have also struggled to find fulfillment in the rest of my life, with mixed success. One is occasionally tempted to wonder why one has to struggle so much to achieve so little. Some friends seem to sail more smoothly and accomplish more easily. Perhaps they have a better handle on life.
Every birthday represents the crux of a curious anomaly. Everything you do is unimportant, because whatever you do matters little in the vast cosmos and in the eternity of time. All is forgotten and put aside. At the same time, everything you do matters greatly, for it makes a difference to the world around you and the people in front and back of you. Because of that it makes a vast difference to your life.