‘Eid Mubarak, Haji Sahab’, sirened Aditi, locating him in his regular armchair on the farther end of the hall. Aditi’s unusual greeting took him by a pleasant surprise. She usually addressed him as Mirza uncle. He had recently completed Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, which had taken him years to plan and finally fund the travel, respectfully earning the title Haji to his name, at the age of 57, something he was secretly proud of. He turned off the television, cordially inviting the family into his mansion. ‘Come, sit with me, bachche…’ he invited, giving her a warm pat on her shoulder. Aditi’s father had joined as the chief accountant at Mirza Qasim’s firm, a few years ago, and soon the dynamics between the two wise men had evolved; from a mere business dealing into elevated mutual respect. They had something in common, other than their sun sign. Both had discontinued formal college education, despite having the means to do it. The rote learning served no purpose to their intellectual minds that delved into realms, far beyond books. Experience. Culture. Pain. Philosophy. Philanthropy. Education did not guarantee a job back in the ‘70’s, and one had to toil, starting-up a new business venture or join an existing one, with family or otherwise. As for Aditi’s education, both of them strongly insisted on the need for it. They said times had changed.
‘Who do you want to be, when you grow up?’, Mirza uncle prodded her while the Shahi Biriyani and the Galouti Kabab got served on their plates. Aditi looked at her dad and coiled. ‘She is yet to make up her mind’, her dad jumped in. ‘Bachche, at your age, Ameena was married to me’, he said, looking at his pious wife who seemed content carrying a large tray across the table, of orange sherbet with basil seeds floating on top of it. ‘But, I am only twelve’, she gently retorted, ‘I have three more years to decide.’ He laughed aloud and said, ‘ In three years, you will only choose your stream of specialization. Finance or Liberal Arts or Science. I am more interested in who you want to be.’
Aditi did not understand. Whenever someone asked her about her future, they expected her to choose between a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer. Whatever she chose, hardly mattered to them. The question was mostly rhetoric, answered by their own myopic minds. A doctor’s life is too stressful. Women can’t design great houses. Law is not a safe field for women. Girls have to manage a family too. Bank jobs are ideal for ladies. So on and so forth. She was a victim of limited exposure, contained in a small town throughout, where even the town library had nothing more to offer than an English newspaper and a few worn-out books in the Nancy Drew and Famous Five series. Those were the days before the world wide web was discovered. Her situation warranted an unwanted dependency on the knowledge and experiences of those who had traveled into substantial parts of the globe. The world had seemed too hostile a place for her to fit into. She felt cocooned when her father comforted her, ‘You could hold a respectable job; be a collector of a district, an auditor, or an Income tax officer.’ How she secretly worshipped her dad for telling her not to believe in a world that would try to limit her potential. Mirza uncle would tell her the same, too.
‘Uncle, did you know who you wanted to be when you were my age?’, she countered him, curious to know his response. ‘Yes, my dear. I have seen how lives can just be wasted in mirth and merriment, leaving people with a sense of nothingness as they grew older. I always wanted to make a difference to society.’ Aditi saw how this tied into what he was currently doing; owning a business that offered livelihood to many households, and its philanthropic arm that housed and educated several underprivileged children. He also told her how life can only be lived forward. But the plans had to be made backward, starting from a point where you want to end at, and trace it cautiously, step by step, connecting it to the present. ‘I had decided at the age of 10, to extend myself beyond the family I was born or would be married into. There is a whole wide world that needs you, he concluded.
Aditi stopped eating. She was engulfed deeply with a gratifying feeling. It somewhat relieved her of the stress that came from having to choose a particular stream of education. That decision seemed ancillary now. The new discovery of the need to define life’s purpose, before choosing the means to do it, had added a new dimension to her thought process. For the first time, she felt completely in charge of her own life. She quietly sipped her drink, pondering over the prominent question, while everyone else exchanged pleasantries. She was in no rush to find the answer. It could take her days, months, or even years before she fully understands the life’s purpose she wants to hold herself accountable to. But, on the Eid of ’92, Haji Sahab had sprinkled some star dust into her mind. Her ‘Eidi’ in the form of a spiritual compass that would consistently gravitate her towards her nucleus.