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Life is short, except when it's long

Remember when journeys meant romantic anticipation? As you left the predictable confines of your life to get on a train or a plane, who knew what fate, also called the seating plan, held for you. The love of your life might be sitting next to you. But would you act on that opportunity?


Illustration/ Satish Acharya

It may have been hard once, but now there's email and Google. Still, hesitation beats technology every time. If you hesitated, fearing it was too fanciful, would you regret it forever, wondering through decades of cocktails and ennui, about the one that got away?

Now a company called We Met on a Plane can help you un-do the hesitation and find that person. A kind of time travel. Having seen the future, you know what you should have done in the past. Perhaps. Since it's not really time travel, finding the man from seat 28D, April 4, 1996, New Delhi to New York , meal choice non-veg, didn't eat their yoghurt (are you reading this?) won't reprogram the life you've already lived. Still, why not a chance to re-boot?

Researchers have discovered a chromosome whose telomere's length can predict a body' rate of ageing -- or how long it is programmed to live. They caution that this is not an absolute predictor. Other factors naturally come into play. You could get bitten by a snake. Or a mosquito. Fall off a local train. Betray someone who decides to take revenge by killing you. Die in a rock concert stampede, political rally or riot. You could just stay home and take no risks. But you'd still have to drink the water or the milk or eat the grapes. What escape from our toxic environment, which causes cancer even in little kids now?

Evolutionary theory tells us that those "chosen" ways of living, with their fitting ends, might be somewhat predetermined too. That our DNA is made from the deeds and misdeeds of our ancestors, past lives of a sort, that determine our behaviour and influence this life.

It's ironic how all this science is reminiscent of the claims of astrology and ways of foretelling the future. The social calendar of the planets at the moment of our birth -- whether Mars was hanging out with Venus or Neptune -- like the strands of our DNA, combine to make our personalities, and determine our response to life's unrevealed narrative twists.

Or, as Aristotle would have it, character is destiny. We keep telling ourselves this, through science, stories, myth and metaphor. There are exactly as many ways to die as there are ways to live - their connection intimate and intertwined like those fancy engagement rings.

In response to this people broadly fall into two categories. The Life-is-Short people think there's no point thinking too much about stuff. And the Life-is-Long people like to plan and not do too many foolish things because they're likely to be around for the consequences. Or is it the other way round? Life-is-Short people like to plan because they don't have that much time to do all the things they want while the Life-is-Long walas feel they can leave things to chance because there's always time for another one, you know?

whichever one you are, when you find 28D, did you wonder what you'll do if she isn't interested in sitting next to you now? Aha. Wishes aren't planes anymore than they are horses. Because, unlike horses and planes, no censor or predictor can stop them or what they can do. That's the thankful mystery of love. And life too, I guess.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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