What followed was a conversation about what would happen with the cash. I think they wanted to buy someone a wedding present, I don’t remember exactly. And while they spoke to each other, I sat looking up at these two people, conversing with each other with such wisdom—they knew what they wanted and where it would be found. They have all the answers (and riches) in the world, I thought. There was a godly quality there—the things they knew and the things they could make happen! Ironically, they unknowingly painted a picture of an all-knowing, sorted, stable adult I would believe to be true for a long, long time. And here I am, turning 30, nearly as old as they were then and, trust me, there is nothing godly about me. In fact, quite the contrary. I think I know lesser now than I used to.
I come from privilege, from an influential Zameendar family of top-tier government officials at the intersection of two major political parties. But I never took any of it for granted, I always knew I was blessed and was thankful for it. I knew everything could change, though I hoped it wouldn’t. Fear of loss of privilege was among the most present themes of my life. By some miraculous twists of fate I ended up in the upper most cohort of a renowned English university’s graduating class, moved back to Pakistan and started working right away. I’d always be observing, reading, understanding—I remember when I would take a train in England during my university years, which was often, I’d sometimes read a random Wikipedia page. Strange, I was. I had learnt the rules of success and failure, of going to heaven and hell, of being socially likeable, of starting pseudo-intellectual conversations in book clubs, of making dinner party small talk and even dressing rightly—I did after all have to be omniscient by 30.
Somehow, when I started meeting my life goals, of the perfect job, having the family I had always wanted, finding my better half, travelling the world, things started to become murkier—or clearer, depending on where you’re looking from. Everything I had learnt—these rules—were great for getting me to where I was, but now that I had arrived, what was next? Was I to become one of those complacent men with an above-average career trajectory and unremarkable life? So I started to think, and the more I thought, the more the rules of life appeared to transform into shameless conspiracies. Since then, so many timeless truths have broken into irreparable shards of commonly accepted deceit. Social rules and constructs are biased and stereotyped, religious rules exist to keep their custodians in power, legal rules don’t apply to the influential, rules of war are written by the victors, economic rules make the rich richer, even standards of beauty are colonially cursed. Then how can I accept any of what I know to be true?
It’s not like falling into a bottomless pit of gloom and doom. It’s different. It feels like an arrow is being pulled back on the string of a bow right before it’s launched. And I don’t know how much further back this arrow will be pulled before it is released. And when it is released, I don’t know where it’ll end up. But perhaps none of that matters, so long as it flies far and wide, gliding effortlessly through the air, discovering places hitherto unknown to it.
That excites me, navigating through the unknown. Who knows what I will find? Perhaps if I am able to cleanse myself completely of what I know, I’ll be able to find the joy in jumping once again, perhaps I’ll fall in love again with music I have over-heard and exhausted. Or there may be an experience I never knew I could have. A burning bush or a Eureka moment, perhaps? As I write this, I look at the blinds in my office and wonder, are these wooden planks arranged in engineered perfection or are these artists who paint the wall in jaw-dropping patterns with rays of the afternoon sun they let in?
Perhaps that’s what turning 30 is about for me, being excited about a new, unstructured, boundless way of being in the unknown. Or perhaps these are the first signs of the early onset of a midlife crisis. Or complete cognitive failure. I really don’t know anymore.