Two conversations come to my mind when I think of the influences that shaped me. I was not a participant in either of them. Rather, I was a shameless eavesdropper. The conversations stayed with me for a long time. I turned them around in my mind dozens of times exploring new angles and arriving at different conclusions.
Time is a strange entity. I was never at peace with it. I always had trouble structuring my days. I dreaded clocks and calendars. Any time I was asked to plan for the future, I broke out in a sweat. Planning for the next five or ten years made no sense to me. I could not think where I was going, what were my goals and how I would reach them.
But these conversations morphed in my mind into something personal. These fragments became my compass in times of doubt. Time still is unmerciful to my mind but nostalgia colours events into something more comfortable.
The first conversation that affected me deeply was when we were vacationing in the hills. I, now, live in the hills and often think back to that time. There was a bend in the road with a couple of small shops. We stopped at one to buy batteries for the camera. And then, there they were, in the patch of sunlight peering through the dense tree cover. An elegantly dressed young woman with a much older man. My adolescent self caught a snippet as they walked by. She was talking about a recent law and order event and how the situation had been brought under control. She was confident and articulate. He looked every inch a man of the world, attentive and captivated.
That brief scene became the inspiration of my endeavour to change myself into an intelligent and articulate person. Where once I was scared of the future and of any kind of planning, now I credited the young woman for shaping my personality.
The second important conversation occurred at a railway station. This was much later in years when I had bid adieu to my tumultuous teens. I felt I had a mature understanding of matters. Still, I struggled in my relationships especially with my near ones.
At the station, dusk was falling and the chatter of pigeons beneath the sheds was loud. The platform teemed with people. Normally, I find railway stations romantic, with whiffs of adventure and uncertainty hanging in the air. It was here that Anna had met Vronsky (I had read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy at age 16). But, this day, time was heavy on my hands. Having visited my family, I was travelling back to my workplace. There had been misunderstandings and altercations.
I stood next to a group of well dressed young men. I could see they were siblings, come to see off their youngest brother. He looked sullen. And they started talking. I heard the eldest talk about their parents and the perceived favouritism. They talked of the simmering resentment within the family. They talked of the unmet expectations and the fractured relationships.
Listening on, I could put my own relationship with my parents in perspective. I could then understand that strife was a natural part of all families. But love had the power to bind. I mended my relations at home having learnt that lesson.
At some level, both conversations had affected me deeply at crucial times in my life. I came away learning from them. It worked better than a heart-to-heart talk.