Friday, February 12, 2010

Those 'What If' moments

Walking home the other day, I faced a huge dilemma when it came to crossing the road.
On one hand, there was the subway. A fairly serviceable subway. Not a five-star subway, but definitely not one of those dimly lit, scary places that double up as public urinals. I use the subway often, and have never been disappointed with it.
On the other hand was the option of joining the crowd gathering at the side of the road, waiting for the slight lull in traffic that would enable to run across. Even if there wasn’t a break in traffic, I knew they people would weave their way through the gaps, forcing the vehicular traffic to stop till they got across.
There was every reason for me to join the crowd- crossing the road directly would be a lot faster than using the subway, and given the number of people waiting to get across, there was no danger of being hit by a passing vehicle. I was grossly tempted to choose that option- at the end of a long day, why invest the effort of climbing down a flight of stairs and climbing up another. Though an arterial road, the traffic was crawling, so I wouldn’t even have to feel guilty about holding someone up for a few seconds.
I made up my mind to cross the road directly, but found I could not bring myself to do so. I used the subway.

Now, if it was a book, one of two things would have happened. Either something horrible would have happened to the people crossing the road- perhaps a driver pressing the accelerator by mistake instead of the brake and leaving a few broken limbs in its wake. Or, something equally horrible would have happened to me in the subway- mugged by a drunk perhaps.
But, since it was not a book, neither happened. I got to the other side safely, as did all the people who chose not to use the subway. End of story!

Not really. Ever since that day, I have been thinking about all the ‘What If’ moments that do not get recorded because the two streams converge without anything substantial having happened. And what about the big ‘What Ifs’? Those momentous decisions that lead you down two very different paths. Do those paths also converge eventually? Will we ever know?


Vered - Blogger for Hire said...

Ha. I often think about that! I don't like to think about it becuase it makes me realize that I watch too many movies :)

But when I make these small choices, I often ask myself the "what if," and especially "what if something horrible will happen now that I chose to go on the highway."

dipali said...

What a huge, metaphysical question you've posed!

Stacy Post said...

A good question! I always wonder what characters I'd meet if I took a different path. It's fun to imagine the possibilities. :)

Jan Morrison said...

That is exactly why I like writing fiction. I can take all the what if paths I want. What if I take up flying lessons like Stacy? What if I had gone to India in the sixties and eventually met up with you! What if when I'm out walking the boulders of Peggy's Cove I find an abandoned newborn (the genesis of my book The Rock Walker). Love it...

Ann Elle Altman said...

What a thought provoking post! As a writer, I try and let my characters make the moves. So when they come to what if situations, sometimes the path I desire them to take, they just don't. But, that makes the book come out interesting for me.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Verad - I find myself doing that quite often these days. Wonder if it is a result of becoming a mother?

@ dipali - and when you have more mind space, I am sure you will come up with a much better answer than I ever can.

@ Stacy - that's the beauty of books, isn't it? But I wonder if even in books people can change fundamentally?

@ Jan - fabulous, isn't it. And you have almost sparked off a story idea - the last thing that I need, but still....

@ Ann - it is incredible that you allow your characters to choose, though often, you don't have all that much say in the matter.


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