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Units to measure Life – contemplations on a Birthday

As a teenager I had resolved that birthdays or anniversaries are in themselves useless.

A year = a revolution of the earth around the sun. So it is at the same spot in its orbit that it was in, when I was born.  SO?

How is that a big deal? How is that a reason for me to celebrate?

And so I stayed away from such ideas that held no intrinsic meaning.

If one must celebrate life itself then there is no need to wait for an annual occasion. But if one is looking for an excuse to celebrate, then any day is just as good.


We created a little family tradition. We pick out a person, and the rest of us tell him or her 3 things that we totally appreciate about the person. Kids need to not just feel love, but they need sound bytes  that articulates this love to have concrete emotional foundations. And so this became a much awaited ritual. To ensure that we never forget to do this, we chose birthdays as a special day. In addition, the birthday person then reflects on the past year – to pick out the events that stand out, to pick out the successes and the failures, and to make a plan for the next steps forward. Finally everyone writes in the log book of the birthday person and we all have fun reading past entries that contain many of the significant stories of the person’s life.

This little family ritual is probably the only thing that I look forward to in my birthday. A ritual that we have artificially implanted into this specific day.

No doubt the memories of the cake splashing and friends and food will also remain. But these will probably act as the ribbons and the confetti and balloons surrounding the real thing which will be memories of the articulated love.


The question of how to measure ‘life’ comes up often. In discussions. In thought.

Measuring it in ‘time’ is pointless because 2 people can live for exactly 50 years yet both would have lived to different extents.

So then is it number of ‘experiences’?

or number of ‘varied’ experiences?

or number of ‘life impacting’ varied experiences?

or number of life impacting varied experiences that ‘trigger personal growth’?

This definition seemed complete enough.

But of late I am beginning to think about this topic again.

Too often – on a taxi ride of less than 5 minutes – I find that I have lost track of time and have no idea how much time has passed – and the reason is that I was deeply engaged in long trains of thought.

So should life be measured instead in terms of the number of thoughts that we engage in?

At this point, it certainly seems like the most fitting measure of life. Because it is only through thoughts that we traverse distances in our minds. And it is only through thoughts that our personalities evolve. And it is only in thoughts that he passage of our whole life is completely contained.

And so, if life is a passage of thoughts rather than time, then there is no cyclical periodicity (such as the earth coming back to the same spot periodically) – there is only a monotonic vector flowing forward – so then is there an annual reason to stop and blow candles?


When I came across deep discussions and contemplations about age “40” and age “50”, I wonder why the world is fascinated by these specific numbers. What is unique about the 40th compared to the 39th or 41st or 68th? The only significance is that now the human body will begin to enter a new phase. If at all any date is relevant, then it is the date of the onset of these changes. Not some arbitrary number like 40 or 50.

And this year did bring me my daily pills for chronic ailments that I had reserved for grandmas! Now that I have my own little pill-box, I have arrived! πŸ™‚


Finally, the single factor that has alerted me to the fact that I AM growing older, is mushrooming growth of my children. From being tiny packages of 3 kg each, they have all grown into large humans that tower above me ….they now earn and have their own teenage soulmates …..and make sound decisions … short they are themselves adults. This is an alarming development especially since it seems to have happened overnight with no advance notice!

And then using inductive logic, it is easy to see that the mother of these three grown ups, must herself be of significant age! Strange how there’s so much on the ‘to-do’ list of life that measures like age seem as trivial as the length of my hair!


Excerpts from an inspirational Hindi Poem  by Harivanshrai Bachchan (with translation) that I heard 25 years ago ….

“Mainey jeevan dekha jeevan ka gaan kiya

Main kabhi kaheen per safar khatm kar deney ko taiyaar sadaa thaa

Is mein bhi thi kya mushkil

Chalnaa hi jiska kaam rahaa ho duniya mein

Har ek kadam per hai uski manzil

Jo kal per kaam uthaata ho woh pachtaaye

kal agar nai phir uski kismat me aata

Mainey kal per kab aaj bhalaa balidaan kiya?

Mainey jeevan dekha jeevan ka gaan kiya


Kaali Kaaley keshon mein kaala kamal sajaa

Kaali saari pehney chupke chupke aayi

Main ujwal mukh, ujaley vastron mein baithaa thaa sustaaney

Path per thi ujiyaali chaayi

“Tum kaun?” “Maut”

“Main jeeney ki hi jog jugat mein lagaa rahaa”

Boli: “Mat Ghabraa- Swaagat ka merey tuney sabse acchaa samaan kiya hai”

Mainey jeevan dekha jeevan ka gaan kiya



“I have lived life and celebrated life.

I have always been prepared to end the journey at any point in time and place

Where was the difficulty in that?

For one whom the journey itself is the goal,

The destination is found in every single step

Those who put off until tomorrow, will regret

in case the next  ‘tomorrow’ s not written in their destiny

But I never did sacrifice my today for a  tomorrow

I have lived life and celebrated life.


Kali, draped in black hair, with a black lotus adorning it

Wearing a black sari stepped up to me silently

I, with a shining spirit and shining demeanour lay resting,

On a path filled with shining light

(I asked) “Who are you”,

(She replied) “Death”

(I replied) I  remained so busy in living life (that I forgot to prepare for your arrival)

She said: “Don’t worry, you have prepared for my arrival and welcomed me in the best way possible”

I have lived life and celebrated life.



august 2011

2 comments on “Units to measure Life – contemplations on a Birthday

  1. Anonymous
    October 19, 2011

    everytime i read this it gives me a new angle…today i read this bcoz was thinking what to do for my daughters 18th bday?? Though i wanted to capture your idea but it looks difficult now as thay are so old now …and they wiill say mother your new drama and you are such a drama queen…hopeam able to incorprate it subtly….

  2. wovensouls
    October 19, 2011


    this year its my daughter’s 18th birthday too!
    i’ll be giving her a simple photo presentation – which is just a series of photos from the time she was born to the current day. it took me a long time to select the photos from the printed ones taken in the 90s and then getting them scanned for this digital flow. but it shud be fun and its portable – just right for the main medium of her life!
    my son’s 21st is next year. for years i’ve collected patches from his old discarded but favorite t-shirts (some that needed to be washed n dried at nght cos he wanted it every single day) – school uniforms, cub scouts t-shirts, and now his army uniform – will patch these together and make a quilt using basic other standard material as a base. i thought boys would be less appreciative of sentimental stuff like this, but he loves the idea and has suggested that we make it a frameable size so that he can take it to college and display it on his wall!
    and about being a drama queen – i’ve just accepted that these sentimental dramatic things are fun for ME, so the rest of the family will just have to bear it πŸ™‚ too

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This entry was posted on August 12, 2011 by in Life Lessons, Thought Kaleidoscope.



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