It was 1999, the year when I had to begin preparing for the JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) which is the nationwide exam to get into one of the 7 IITs in India at that time. Every single one of my friends who was even remotely serious about passing the exam had joined one coaching or the other. I decided not to. I did pass the exam but I'd probably have done better had I done what others did. I don't regret that decision because of two reasons: I'm now doing what I love to do anyway and I think Indians tend to highly overestimate the importance of an IIT education (especially if they graduated from one.) Still, sometimes I wonder why I decided not to join a coaching. That was the first major decision, as far as I can remember, where I made a conscious choice to not follow the flow.
It should come as no surprise that there is a part of me which would like to believe that that decision was inspired by a courageous stance of rebellion. That would most probably be delusional though. The truth, as far as I can tell, is that I was and have always been at a loss when it comes to understanding and appreciating the various forms through which social wisdom is dispensed. The great social machinery which chuffs and hums with stunning harmony might as well be a secret cabal to me. The customs of all of its groups have always appeared foreign. I seem to have stood outside of its circle of mysterious inner workings. And I don't think that I ever chose to be so aloof. Most of those early decisions which might now be mistaken as rebellious in hindsight were taken, as I now understand, purely out of my own hesitation and confusion. This includes not only not doing a coaching but also leaving my job and coming to the US for a PhD. This includes many other personal decisions as well. The overwhelming forces that have shaped my life have been indecision and hesitation, and this I am quite convinced of. Brighter, more ambitious people than me might as well have their lives and goals laid out in front of them but that was never my position.
Over the years I did notice something important though. I noticed that, as far as I can tell, I don't really regret anything from past and I do not feel anxious about the future (at most times anyway.) I noticed that I see my own situation in life as having emerged from a series of accidents, to which I have more or less only been a passive witness. And this series of accidents has landed me at a point where I can lay claim to a certain sense of inner peace and contentment. Perhaps others possess these qualities to a greater degree than I do. Perhaps not. They don't seem to, at least. This observation - that a life created from accidents can find contentment and one which is built upon foresight and wisdom often fails to do so - has sown great doubts within me. Does anybody know what they are talking about?