Autumnal Aspirations

BY ADITI CHOWDHURY

Autumn has different connotations in different lands. Its significance also varies from culture to culture. However, to all of us, it is a season of transition, its dynamics urging us to acknowledge the impermanence of things, in the natural as well as in the human world.

In the tropical countries, the arrival of autumn gives people a respite from the blistering summer heat and the dank monsoon rains. In temperate areas, autumn augurs the departure of the warm summer and ushers in an anticipation of the winter chill. Many poets have immortalised the allure of this season in their verses. Tagore talked of himself as being the “remnant of a cloud of autumn” and has evoked the spirit of the season in many a poem. Who can forget Keats’s timeless description of autumn as the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”? He celebrated the fecundity of autumn but at the same time hinted that this abundance will inexorably be followed by the austerity of winter. In The Wild Swans at Coole, W.B Yeats talked of the season as a state of maturity, synonymous with his own ageing self.

Autumn is associated in the U.S.A. and Canada with two of the continent’s most cherished celebrations- Thanksgiving and Halloween. This is the time when the countryside is resplendent with the “fall” colours of flaming red and gold. In Indian mythology, autumn is the favourite season of the Tridevi- Parvati, the goddess of divine strength, fertility, love and devotion; Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and luck; and Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom. Saraswati is also known as Sharada, the goddess of autumn. All these interesting affinities enhance the mystique of this much loved season.

For me, autumn has always been a special time. So many precious memories are welded into my perceptions of this season.–the Durga Puja and it’s unique festive feel, the heady fragrance of the xewali flowers, the resonant baritone of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting the verses of Chandi, the clash of cymbals during the evening aarti, the deepening golden tint in the sun’s rays, the changing colours of the October sky-the list is endless. All these images coalesce in a collage of rainbow colours and sounds, sights and spirit which endow the season with a magical ambience.

However, this particular year, my autumnal musings have taken a very different slant. One evening, I was in conversation with an old friend. She casually remarked that we have now reached the autumn of our lives. This analogy set me thinking about the symbiotic bond between this very special season and the current stage of my existence.

When I was a young girl in pinafores and ponytail, people in their fifties and sixties seemed to be immeasurably old. Now, in the kaleidoscope of time and space, I myself have reached that dreaded milestone. Yet, surprisingly, life seems to be brimming with promise and potential. So much to see, savour and imbibe! Hence, in my life’s autumn, my love for the season has been re-affirmed. In fact, it has intensified.

Having reached that point in life when earlier generations must have thought of retiring gracefully from the hurly burly of activity, my spirit refuses to tread the beaten path. I stare at my morning face in the mirror and feel convinced that I still look “youngish-old”. I dare to wear bright red lipstick and dangling earrings and even experiment tentatively with new styles! All as an attestation of this confidence that life at sixty is a heady invitation to explore fresh vistas of experience. I look around me and see how my peers are enjoying this season of mellow maturity. They energise me to chase new dreams, hone new skills and “drink life to the lees” as Tennyson’s doughty warrior aspired to do.

The diversity and beauty of life’s autumn make me revel in my own maturity. This is the moment to take stock of time past and quietly glory in time present. A significant part of my living is over when I was tied down by the obligations and routine of a working life, much as I loved it. My autumn has given me a sense of liberation and release. The past years were dedicated to a career where unstinting sincerity was needed. My present is free from the straitjacket of commitments and duty. I can now echo Browning’s wise Rabbi and state that “the best is yet to be, the last of life for which the first was made……”

In my sixties and vibrantly alive, I welcome the unfettered freedom that the autumn of my life provides. I recall that one of my daughter’s flatmates in the University of Warwick was a 61 year old American home maker. She had come to attend a course in Creative Writing after her three children had grown up and moved out of the parental home, leaving her free to pursue a long cherished dream. Instances like this are many in today’s world. And they reinforce my faith in the indomitable spirit and the will of man. May my autumnal years also be a time of new beginnings and self discovery. And may I be able to tap into the infinite potential that life always offers to those who dare to dream.