She came home from school, tossed her bag on the couch and casually mentioned, ‘ We read a poem in school today. It was nice.’

My ears were only half-listening at this point and I replied with, ‘That’s good to hear.’

‘It was ‘Ozymandias’. Have you heard of it?’

At the sound of that name, my ears perked up, my disinterest vanished and I sat up straight. ‘Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. ‘Here lies Ozymandias, King of Kings. . .’ My voice trailed off, as the memories fluttered beneath my hazy brain, trying to remember the words of the poem from 2 decades ago.

‘Oh so you’ve heard of it?’

‘Heard of it?! I studied it thrice. Once in school, once in under-grad and again in post-grad. It’s one of my favourite poems.’

So saying, I turned to Google and typed in the name of the poem and waited for the results to pop up. Oh, how I loved that poem. I had it memorised down to the last word. It was always at the top of my mind.

Yes, it was, whispered a voice inside me. Now you can’t even remember it fully, can you? You, who could rattle off entire poems without blinking an eye. You’ve forgotten it, haven’t you?

I really didn’t want this to be true, but as the years pass and information overwhelm hits me from every side, I am forced to concede that I may be forgetting the things that used to give me immense joy.

Like poetry.

Did you know that I had a tattered, cherished copy of Palgraves’ Golden Treasury for over 7 years? It was given away in one of our numerous moves. I still miss it dearly.

Did you know that I would go to the college library on those hot afternoons when we didn’t have a class and I’d pore over the verses of poets who made me feel completely at home?

You probably wouldn’t know that even today, given a choice, I would go back to sitting for 6 hours in a classroom, listening to a professor talk animatedly about the magic of Walt Whitman or the genius of e.e.cummings.

There are days when I sit in silence and give myself over to wondering what life would have been like, if I’d walked down a different path. The truth is, I almost did.

Around the time that I was finishing up my post-graduation, I was looking at the possibility of taking up a PhD: marrying myself to the world of the written word, to the exclusion of all else.

There was no question about what I’d do either. It would have been Literature, pure and simple.

If I had done that, I might have been teaching the language that I love, to students that loved it as fervently as I do.

Had I become a teacher, my days would be so very different now; meeting eager young minds, challenging them to think beyond the literal meaning of the text, urging them to analyze the words and find the depth in what the writer had to say.

I’d be poring over books in the library again, losing myself in the cool confines of a silent literary haven- the introvert’s paradise.

But, Life had other plans. It would involve taking a step away from studying and choosing reality, marriage, a child, a job (close to teaching, but not quite) and lead to writing, blogging and where I am today.

I rarely have regrets when it comes to my experiences. I truly believe that every path has meaning and we are exactly where we are meant to be.


Every once in a while, though, I pick up my thesis on e.e.cummings and remember how I enjoyed the long days and nights, spent knee-deep in poetry.

I close my eyes and imagine reading Ozymandias to a class of wide-eyed students, opening their minds to the immense possibilities that lie in the world of language and watching them revel in the marvel of one of the finest minds the world has ever known.

In that moment, away from everything the world deems important, I find myself again, living the alternate life I might have lived.

9 thoughts on “In Another Life

  1. Okay, I will start by saying that I am so happy to be here. While you were out on vacation, I missed your blogs. Those flash fiction and thoughtful posts you pen.
    This post was beautiful and a peek into your life from the past. I did not know you were a Literature student.
    Can you now not complete that PhD? Now Gy would understand your need to study and put in long hours. In my view she would see her Mum following a long lost desire and that would be a great inspiration to her as a young tween.
    You can then teach, blog and write 🙂
    Sorry, if that feels like free advise cos I know it is. :/

  2. There’s so much to love in this post Shailaja. I love flowing nostalgic introspective writing. And you’ve completely maxed that.
    Also when the kids say, “You know this?’ it’s such a high. I always give myself a mental fist bump, specially because these instances are becoming rarer by the day.
    Finally, your dream of this other life is so beautiful, perhaps because it IS unreal and unrealised. Reality is often not half as beautiful. I can vouch for that coming from a family of teachers. I’m glad you chose this path – from a purely selfish point of view of course and also because you get to keep your dream untarnished by reality.

  3. There is so much to love (and to identify with) here. Forgetting things we used to adore, due to the demands of modern life (seriously, whose brain isn’t bursting at the seams with all the information we are expected to remember?). The desire, common in people who love learning, to be a perpetual student (I know that is my ideal occupation). The way life forces us to choose practical things (like jobs) over our passions (like literature).

    I feel you do not need to have “teacher” on your resume to be one who teaches. My husband, who is a teacher as well as a school IT administrator, often answers the question “Oh, you are a teacher? What do you teach?” with the answer, “I teach people.” This came from one of our college professors and who knows where he got it. The point is, there is always more to learn, and as we accumulate wisdom, there is always something to teach, to anyone in our sphere. I’ve certainly found this to be true after I had kids.

    I love how you established very succinctly, in the first two paragraphs, who was speaking, and their states of mind. Well done.

  4. The road untraveled- Always looks better later than when we made the decision, doesn’t it? But how wonderful to have felt that passion.

  5. The joy of writing and words would stay in you forever Shailaja. For it is not just the days you spent over poetry, you gave your heart to it.

    I can imagine the moment and the spark within you when your daughter mentioned the poem to you

    If there one poem that would always always remain in my mind, the one that I had learnt word by word, it is The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Learnt it in class ten and I can still remember most portions of the lengthy poem. That’s the magic of good writing and of poetry

  6. Oh this is so beautiful Shailaja. The joy of reading poetry, to understand the meaning behind the words… and that feeling of awe when you read a cleverly written metaphor. Life is unpredictable… But our love for things remain the same. You still write some amazing poetry… I would love to read more of them ?

  7. Loved this. I can see you doing that you know, teaching, getting lost in books and your students.. Oh I loved this, just the way you wrote it. Pure love for something that is the written world.

  8. I can imagine you in that classroom surrounded by students willing to catch every word. Oh why didn’t you pursue teaching English Literature. I know, fate! But seriously, can there be some way in which you can do this part time. I can’t imagine how much joy that would bring to you, Shailaja.

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