We all read about that incident in our morning newspaper. Uttered a few sighs, commented about the what could have been. Then we moved on. I was haunted by the nightmare for a while, and I still vividly remember the scene.
It was a lazy weekday afternoon in Kolkata. Mexico was playing US in a world cup soccer game. As a passionate sports lover, there was no way I could miss that game - but also needed to go my university which was at the opposite end of the town. Fortunately, Kolkata metro came to my rescue, as they were showing the games live at the stations. So I watched the first half in Belgachia, took a train to Rabindra Sadan just as the halftime ended, and stood there, watching the game. People walked by, sometimes asking the score, sometimes obliviously. Trains kept passing by. Nothing distracted me.
Then it happened. I still do not know what made me turn around, and first time in my life, to witness death firsthand. The upper body of a man, stuck between the train and platform, was being dragged by the train screeching to a halt. For a moment the world stopped, the sounds seem to come from a parallel universe. I could not bear looking on. The story did come out the next day, and no, he was not attempting suicide at the metro tracks like countless other morons do, he just slipped and fell at the most inopportune moment. Sometimes there is no way to come back.
But sometimes there is, and that is perhaps the most glorious thing about life. We all had our share of misfortunes, and mistakes. We love to say they altered our lives, but that is the probably one of the worst vague generalizations one can make. We never knew to begin with how life would be if certain things did or did not happen. I am sure that I would not be doing what I am doing sitting on a dull Saturday morning at Dresden, if I did not join Florida in fall 2003, that much is clear. What is completely unclear though what would have happened if I got a chance and joined another university in US, or a research institute in India. I would not have met the same people or traveled the same road, but would that have been more or less rewarding? We do not know the answer. We have no way to find out.
We know we want to read this book, or watch that movie. Perhaps visit that place. I want Florida to win all football games every year. We probably also know how the results of our work would look like, although research by definition is probing the unknown. But beyond that, we do not know. And like the kid holding the raffle ticket in his hand, and imagining the endless possibilities, we prefer it that way.
No adventurer knew what lay ahead. That would have defeated the purpose.