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Back to the future 
Anjuly Mathai
 Story Dated: Saturday, April 20, 2013 14:4 hrs IST 
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When I was very young, my mother used to pick out what I was to wear each day and lay it on the bed. I hated it. One of my earliest memories is praying to God that he’d make me an adult fast so I could choose what to wear.

When I rifle through old photographs I see a gangly version of myself, gazing into the future. I used to read newspaper editorials, not understand a word, and reserve understanding to the future. I would see TV journalists reporting in the midst of a rubble of human bodies and imagine myself to be one of them. I would own a bookstore and serve tepid tea to customers. I aspired to be the girl in the advertisement, sipping coffee on a colonial balcony, my hair billowing behind me.  I would be one of those bikini-clad women who all look alike on a Goan beach.

Some time without my knowledge the future arrived. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything I planned. I don’t own a bookstore and the girl in the advertisement exists in a continuum of endless coffees. I’ll be 26 in a month – a car crash I can’t avoid. No one attributes my terrible driving skills to my age anymore.  Young nephews and nieces have graduated from calling me ‘chechi’ (a Malayalam coinage for ‘elder sister’) to aunty. I still have no idea how shares work and can no longer put it down to my innocence and young age. Age has robbed me of what Julian Barnes referred to as ‘the inventiveness of true ignorance’.

It has its perks of course. I have now learned the art of tossing back a beer with practised ease and am legally allowed to do so. Earlier, I pretend-laughed at my uncles’ jokes because I didn’t get them. Now I pretend-laugh at their jokes because I get them.

Still, everything seems to be happening in a rush. I’m not ready to be a 26-year-old. I’m not ready to be served wine at a restaurant; I want good old coca cola. I’m not ready to be asked my opinion on the nuclear situation in North Korea. I don’t want to see my friends put up pictures of their toddlers cutely spouting Nestle bubbles on Facebook.

I wish I could go back in time and narrate a few life lessons to my 16-year-old self: don’t smile so smugly at the camera. In ten years’ time, you’re going to look at yourself and wonder at your own gawkiness.  If you thought you got high on sambar, wait for the real deal. Don’t be scared to talk to that boy you like.

Otherwise, in ten years, you’ll wonder at your stupidity aggrandising someone who’s probably just like you. Don’t take everything so seriously. Have some fun, do something illegal. Remember: Your past becomes the raw material for the anecdotes of your future. Your dreams may be rooted in fantasy but your plans are rooted in reality. And tell your future self: stop trying to be profound. Act your age.
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