Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ – John Greenleaf Whittier
As you age irrevocably, well into your dotage, you start to think more about things. All sorts of things. Could I have handled things differently, should I have handled things differently? Should I have considered a career in medicine, healing the sick and the lame, instead of landing up in an advertising agency helping to promote cigarettes, soaps, tea and tyres? I was a mean off-spinner as a teenager. Why did I not think of cricket as a potentially profitable livelihood? The answer to that question is not far to seek. There was no IPL when I was viciously turning those off-breaks. What I meant to say was that the off-breaks were vicious, not me. If you want me to be brutally frank, the god-honest truth is that my off-breaks never turned at all (just went straight on), and ironically that is how I deceived most batsmen who kept playing for the turn, poor saps. Cunning, I call it. Then again, I may not have made obscene sums of money thanks to there being no fat cat sponsorships those days, but look at Sunil Gavaskar. Same age as me. Extended his career brilliantly as a commentator and sports management consultant, and the best hair job in town as well. I could have done that, barring the hair job (I am quite happy with my shock of distinguished silver-grey hair, thank you). All else failing, I could have been a writer. If only I had started writing a novel around 50 years ago, who knows, by now I might have been the toast at various literary festivals, holding forth (and fifth) with great elan, my name being spoken of in the same breath as Salman Rushdie. Look, if I am going to indulge in pipe dreams, I might as well go the whole hog. Instead, I write trite columns like this one, hoping a handful of staunch followers will actually read them and post a ‘like’ or ‘thumbs up’ on Facebook. That’s pitiful, that is.
As that opening paragraph was becoming a tad too long, I must provide a separate segment for music, another passion. I was not a bad singer, even after my voice broke at the age of 15. Terrible thing this business of the voice breaking. For days on end, you are not sure if you are a soprano, an alto or a tenor, a kind of vocal schizophrenia, till it finally settles into a reedy tenor. Notwithstanding, I was an ‘A’ singer in the school choir, if you must know. At home, my mother forced Carnatic music down my throat, but in retrospect I am eternally grateful for her insistence. We are a family devoted to that arcane art form (my nephew is a top-flight Carnatic musician). I guess what I am trying to say is that, whether I crooned Paul McCartney’s Yesterday at parties or Tyagaraja’s Entaninne sabari in the raga Mukhari at family get-togethers, I drew generous applause from those two very different circles of audience, not forgetting the odd geometry box as a consolation prize at our local club. Not that I had the foggiest notion of what to do with set-squares, protractors and compasses. Actually, I am guilty of false modesty here. I did once take part in ‘The Sound of Music’ national talent contest and won third prize. One of the judges told me I could have won first prize, were it not for my ambitious attempt to reach an impossibly high octave in the girl’s part in ‘You are sixteen going on seventeen.’, and coming a stunning cropper. Putting all that to one side, the final verdict was, ‘He could have been a singer but didn’t quite put in the hard yards.’ Yet another instance of (sigh), ‘if only…’
However, without getting all maudlin and soppy about it, I am quite happy with my lot. Advertising was an exciting profession to be in during the 70s and 80s, and a bit during the 90s as well. Earned my keep, met many interesting people, not the least of which was my wife. She was not my wife then, of course, but you know what I am getting at. All right, I should have said ‘my future wife,’ thanks for nothing, you pedants. I could have also said ‘alright’ instead of ‘all right’ and the pedants would have been up in arms all over again. One has to be ever mindful of these sneaky devils who were once proof readers at publishing houses or ad agencies, and who take perverse delight in pointing out that you’ve got it all wrong with your apostrophes, colons and semi-colons. Ask me, I am a card-carrying member of that dubious and painful club.
All in all, while I am enjoying my early years of retirement, I think the verdict on my life could be summed up with a simple ‘He has done all right.’ (Here we go again!). That doesn’t sound like much, I admit, but if doing all right was good enough for the Right Hon. James Hacker from the brilliant Yes Minister / Yes, Prime Minister television series, it’s good enough for me. Not perhaps quite an Einstein, Fleming (the penicillin chap), Bradman or Dylan (Thomas or Bob, take your pick), but can’t really complain. Sometimes, when our ad agency bagged an important client after days of blood, sweat, toil and tears, life got momentarily pretty exciting. Drinks all round and so on. The simple point I am striving to make is that you should be happy with your lot, if you have made a decent fist of it, and not worry too much about what might have been. Sure, who would not like to have been a Federer, but if the lord above gave you a backhand that was non-existent, you might as well just sit back and enjoy watching the balletic Swiss genius at work. A similar analogy can be applied to cricket. If you are incapable of dispatching a juicy full toss to the boundary, you are better off enjoying Geoff Boycott’s classic description of that sorry state – ‘Me grand mum would have hit that for four with a stick of rhubarb.’ Get the picture?
In his celebrated essay, The Superannuated Man, the essayist, poet and antiquarian Charles Lamb, wrote this memorable sentence, ‘I had grown to my desk, as it were; and the wood had entered into my soul.’ Had I heeded my father’s advice and opted for a career in accountancy (he was a banker of some repute), I might very well have echoed Charles Lamb’s sentiments. He (Lamb that is, not my father) toiled for 36 years at the East India Company behind a desk, which explains his deeply felt cynicism.
Those of you, like myself who devoured the works of the Master, P.G. Wodehouse, will also be aware that he worked briefly at the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in London, a job he intensely disliked. Being a purveyor of humour and unlike Charles Lamb, he chose to put a mordant spin on it – ‘If there was a moment in the course of my banking career when I had the remotest notion of what it was all about, I am unable to recall it. From Fixed Deposits I drifted to Inward Bills – no use asking me what Inward Bills are, I never found out….. My total inability to grasp what was going on made me something of a legend in the place.’ Contrastingly, Nobel Laureate and poet extraordinaire, T.S. Eliot found his eight-year career at Lloyds Bank of London a soothing spur to his poetic pursuits. ‘I am absorbed during the daytime by the balance sheets of foreign banks. It is a peaceful, but very interesting pursuit, and involves some use of reasoning powers.’
I can fully identify with the quandary in which Lamb and Wodehouse found themselves mired in. I manfully struggled through to obtain a university degree in Commerce when I would have been much better off taking Literature. Perhaps my dad had visions of his son following in his banking footsteps. Even today, if you asked me to analyze a bank reconciliation statement, you will find me gasping for air. All of which, of course, eminently qualified me to join the advertising profession, the primary sine qua non for which was to be in possession of a good English diction, an awareness of where the apostrophes were to be placed and above all, to be able to down three large rums (or whisky) straight up and be able to walk in a straight line or stand up erect and say, she sells sea shells on the sea shore. If you could play a bit of golf, you went straight to the top of the class. The rest you picked up as you went along. I may be accused of mild exaggeration, but as the saying goes, in vino veritas.
Seriously though, I guess the point I am driving at is not to look back regretfully at what might have been. Rather, grab whatever comes your way and make the best of it. If that sounds a wee bit preachy, so be it. As the late British comedian Peter Cook (alter ego to Dudley Moore) once said, “I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin for the judgin’.” Likewise, if only I could have actually turned my off-breaks, who knows what heights I might have scaled. Quite so, but having stumbled into advertising and now having become a maddeningly obsessive blogger, I am as happy as a lark. That does not stop me from day dreaming. In the words of the Bard of Avon, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’