I am a confirmed ‘What if’ person, ‘What-iffer’ if you please. Don’t know what that is? Someone who tries to find through imagination how they would react to real or thought up scenarios, if/when it happened to them. You need plenty of time on your hands for that, apart from the inclination (and of course the quite mandatory creativity) to put yourself in all sorts of tough situations (theoretically only) and come up with solutions/rejoinders/whatever (solely inside your head). Of course one does not always find them, but the trying-to-find part is apart from being pretty good exercise for the brain, a good way to pass the time as well, sometimes in a macabre way, I admit.
Time I have aplenty. A homemaker’s day involves doing work that becomes sort of routine over the years that it frees your mind to dwell on whatever you like. Besides when you are standing next to the stove stirring what needs to be stirred, it is not your brain doing the work. So it is free, having delegated work to hands and eyes, to wander into the exciting world of What-if-Land.
There are other times too, like the long journeys you take, sitting by the window of the train, music playing into your ears, watching the scenery rush past and let your mind do much the same thing. but time is definitely not a prerequisite to let your brain do some what-iffing. It can happen easily enough right in the middle of life as it unfolds around you, while you are watching a movie, or a street fight, an accident, while reading a book, in your bath, at a party, while eating, when you overhear someone, or you are listening to someone…. You get the drift? Anywhere, anytime is What-if time.
Now to what exactly I What-if about. It could be about anything. While watching the movie Towering Inferno, and days afterwards in fact, it used to be, ‘What if I had been in the burning building and was asked to sit in the ad-hoc contraption set up, a chair hanging on a rope, to be pulled to the building across?’ It never failed to make my knees go weak at the thought, and turn to jelly. Nah, make that water. I could never ever do it, I’d tell myself. I’d better let those who could actually do it take their chance at saving themselves. Then what would I do? Burn in the fire? That was not acceptable too. The truth is, I could never ever find a solution to this one however long I what-iffed.
There was the time I read a book by Desmond Bagley years and years back whose name escapes me. People had to be vacated from some place because a fifty feet high tidal wave was expected to hit the coast. In the story, many refused to believe that, with disastrous consequences. The book gave me great scope for what-iffing. Would I believe if I was told the same? With me staying in a coastal area with the sea close-by the thing seemed an eventuality for which I should be prepared.
Having to move out unexpectedly is a theme that plays out a lot what with all those disaster movies from Hollywood that I love to watch. My what-iffing goes to the extent of planning (in my head) what all I should be taking with me in case the what-if situation came true. Money, certificates, some food and clothes etc etc. One day, I shared this what-if scenario with my children, and the First Born immediately chipped in with, “I’ll take the computer!” Those were the days of desktop comps. He wanted to take the huge monitor and the CPU?! No way, I told him, it will take too much space in the van. Yup, I drove a van those days and yes, I was planning to drive. It was precious space we could use for other ‘more necessary’ things! (Today I’d sing a different tune!) He was adamant about taking the computer and I had to reluctantly give in. Crazy conversation, eh? The fruit has not fallen far from the tree you feel, right?!
When I read about the Kadalundi train disaster, where some bogies fell off a bridge and into the river, it was again, ‘What if’ time for me. What if I had been inside? What if a loved one had been? It is not always about natural or man made disasters of a colossal nature that has me what-iffing. Sometimes it is about bad news nearer you, accidents, personal disasters, a loss that you hear someone has had which seems unbearable to you and which makes you quietly wonder what if you were the one in their place? How would you cope? That last one about coping is a genuine looking-for-answers sort of what-iffing.
At times you overhear a conversation happening in your vicinity, or read Facebook messages between friends (and foes) and wonder, what if it were you, how would you have reacted to it/dealt with it? There are others like, what if you lost your memory, or even your sense of hearing which I almost did years and years back, thus came to realize how important it was in the scheme of things. What if you found yourself in a strange place with no money? What if someone slipped drugs into your bags without your knowledge and your were put in jail in a strange country? What if a group of dinosaurs converged into your city a la Jurassic Park? The possibilities are endless.
Sometimes what-iffing is about good things happening. What if you won a lottery? What if you got the opportunity to go around the world? What if you could go on a cruise? But then again, what if someone hijacked the ship? Or worse, you are taken hostage by militants, bringing you right back to the grim ones again. But guess what, what-iffing does a more serious job on a personal front, of helping you know your limits, your breaking point. How much can you take without disintegrating? What if a loved one did this, or that to you? Would you keep quiet, react, walk out? How much hurt can you take, or want to take? What if what you feared so much happened for real? What should you do then?
What-iffing has its benefits, for theoretically at least you have answers to a host of problems you might come across. Many times I have had the right retort ready at hand because of the what-iffings I had indulged in earlier. Yet, it is not always so simple. When your fears come true, you are left shaken, broken into pieces and not always ready to follow decisions you have taken well in advance during many of those what-iffing times. But sometimes you draw upon your reserve strength and blindly follow what you have decided upon, because you have no other choice left. I must say though that I still haven’t got a satisfactory one on what to do if the Towering Inferno replays.
©Shail Mohan 2014