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Instructions For Life

By: Kalindi Joshi
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Have you ever noticed how easily we use phrases and proverbs in our day to day conversation? We don’t know who coined them, who recorded them, and how they came to be defined and accepted in the English language. And yet, our vocabulary consists of more of these proverbs than we realize. Same being true for Hindi and every other spoken language in the world.

The craziest thing about proverbs, though, is the truth in them. All of us at some point of time or the other have ranted about life not coming with an instruction manual. I now realize that we just aren’t looking in the right places. Proverbs are the warnings and the answers. And I just kept thinking of them as witty punch-lines!

Take for instance, “Empty vessels make more noise”. Stated as cleanly as if it were an observation from a scientific experiment. Or a natural phenomenon. Water boils at 100 degrees Centigrade. The Sun rises in the East. Empty vessels make more noise. Simple statement. Scientific too, if you think about it. But how did it enter English vocabulary? Who drew the parallel with people? Food for thought.

Over the years there have been a few proverbs which have stuck out as motifs in my life.

  1. There are two sides to every coin– The absolute bane of my life. The reason for the biggest conflicts in my head. Probably also the cause of numerous acne and ulcers and other such physical manifestations associated with conflicts. I know it’s supposed to be a sign of a rational mind – to think about cause and effect of all actions and then take the best decision. But, I kid you not, this “fairness” comes at a price. And you’re charged only after you realize you were the only one doing this. If this is something that you do – Congratulations! You are on the path to ruin your own life!
  2. The squeaky wheel gets the grease – If the first one left any shred of logical thinking, then this one is sure to finish the job! We (dangerously) tend to pay attention and give credit only to the loudest voice. Don’t get me wrong – it works very well with non-living objects – you look out for hints of malfunctioning in your vehicles, in your electrical and electronic gadgets, cooking implements, and it can save your life! But it becomes difficult to confine this to only inanimate things. Extending this into the living world can create a whole lot of misery for those working quietly. If we only listen to the loudest people, we end up missing the softer ones. Who’s to say that they wouldn’t have the substance in their thoughts, words, or actions that we are taking for granted in the louder ones? And worse still, what if we miss the problems the quiet ones are facing quietly? The asymptomatic issues can be much more threatening just for that reason. If you’ve ever had your credit given to someone else, you know how it feels. Remember to not dish it out to someone else in turn.
  3. A miss is as good as a mile– Where do I even begin on this one? Missed flights – by 5 minutes or 12 hours; missed appointments, missed opportunities – and the fact remains – whether those were missed by a whisker or not, it didn’t matter. When you miss something, or worse, lose something; there is no consolation in how close you came to achieving that thing. The loss itself becomes the only truth of it. Until, of course, something better comes along. <Another proverb at your service!>

Which brings me to my last one –

  1. Every cloud has a silver lining – You could again link it to science and how that silver lining is the play of light shining behind the clouds. But funnily, the same thing happens in life too. We might hit rock bottom, but if and only if we find the strength to get up and start walking again, we find something which gives us our drive back. A lot of people call it providence. I just like to think of it as good old grit!

The next time you find yourself looking for help in the craziness that life keeps throwing so generously, remember to pick up a book of idioms and proverbs. Books, even old grammar ones at that, do have the answers!

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