Inner View · Personal reflections

What Might Have Been?


A few weeks ago, my teenager nephew was asking me some tough questions about life. This is a young lad who is quite sensitive, imaginative and perhaps thinks about things a bit too much. Ultimately most of his different questions were leading to the one BIG question – What If…? What if that thing hadn’t happened several years ago, or what if this thing had happened differently….how his life would have been different then? What would be different in those scenarios? The endless questioning of a growing, seeking mind….why this, why not that, what if…? 

As I tried to address some of his queries in a manner that a teenager can grasp and in the process gaining some clarity on my own similar seekings, I was reminded of a beautiful ghazal by Mirza Ghalib, particularly the line – woh har ek baat par kehna ke yun hota toh kya hota (to say everytime what if this had happened). 

Can we ever really know the answer to this question? Mirza Ghalib was seeking in his way, T S Eliot was seeking in his own. You and I, and my nephew, have to find our own answers….

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know. 

~ T S Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

Perhaps this soulful rendition of Ghalib’s ghazal in the voice of Jagjit Singh may open some doors to let the light in,  yield some hints for my own answer, or at least clarify the question a bit more by throwing light on the inner view of such seekings. 

Postscript:    Today is Makar Sankranti – a day that signifies our aspiration to move away from the delusion and darkness and toward light, purity, knowledge and wisdom. I hadn’t planned to post this entry on this day, but in a way it makes sense to do so. With this post I remind myself (and hopefully my nephew, and a few readers as well) of the futility of asking “What If?” and of the need for accepting and yet aspiring to transcend “What Is” with a hope and prayer that “What Will Be” will be exactly that is needed for my journey toward light and knowledge, purity and wisdom.


Image: credit

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