Outrunning Fate

by Gurpreet Sihat

When I was a kid, there used to be this painting in the corridor that both frightened and mesmerised me in equal measure. I can remember almost every detail of the painting itself – the black cat that stares out at you in the bottom right corner, the arrow reaching forth to burst a yellow balloon hidden by a red circle halfway up, the little man trying to run out of the frame clutching something that’s reminiscent of both water and torn cloth rippling in the breeze. 

When he was younger, my Dad used to hang out with all kinds of creatives – film makers, writers, painters. Ninder was one of those people, and this was a gift from him. It was a constant in the Sihat household: always sitting above the mirror, lit by the same strength bulbs, there to contemplate as we passed in and out of the house or up and down the stairs… 

Until it wasn’t.

A few months ago, while searching the attic for… honestly, I don’t remember what now… I saw a dull blue corner, a nondescript black bird in flight, peeking from behind a mound of bubble wrap. It was a little worn, scratches on its surface and one side of the frame missing, but there it was. Ninder’s painting. 

Since cleaning it up and returning it to its rightful place in the corridor (albeit no longer above the mirror, but above the shoe rack where it can be better seen) I often stop to stare at this painting. 

I marvel at the colours and the way hair turns seamlessly to sky and wonder what was going through Ninder’s mind when he put brush to canvas, how much he thought about what he would include beforehand and how much came on its own accord.

Sometimes I dare to debate the symbolism of each individual element. Leaves, for example, symbolise hope, renewal, revival, fertility and growth. But this particular leaf is a deep red, not a vivacious green. An autumn leaf then. The symbol of change, yes, but most likely pointing to the autumn of a human’s life cycle, where we prepare for the winter of old age and death; an idea meant to be reinforced, perhaps, by the bare tree the tip of the leaf strokes. 

But every once in a while, I don’t think about the technique or the artist or the symbolism; I think about the message the painting, as a whole, tries to convey. A message I knew as a child though didn’t truly understand. As an adult, I can see it clearly now, and it stops me in my tracks.

You cannot outrun fate.

I used to be so decisive. I want this, this and this, and this is how I’m going to get it. Since the start of the pandemic, and thanks to the abundance of change its brought with it, I seem to have lost that edge. All these possibilities seem to be following me around; none with obvious opportunity or clear path, but each with a certain amount of promise. Some take me away from the path I had planned to walk down, others encourage me to walk adjacent to it. In truth, I don’t know which to follow, and have likely been standing still between all of them for a while now, fooling myself into thinking I’m still moving forward. 

Today, I stood in front of Ninder’s painting with a cup of coffee, the 8am light pouring through the front door and warming my feet, the birdsong drifting through an otherwise silent house, and I thought about my predicament. I don’t do well with change, I try to avoid it at all costs, and yet it keeps appearing. It’s inevitable and constant, just as every wise person states. But today, this painting brings me comfort. What’s going to happen is going to happen. 

Que Sera, Sera. Kun Faya Kun. What will be, will be.

What’s meant for me, will find me. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing. The bad, and the good. There’s no way to escape it. I chose one path, and now more are opening up for me. I can choose any one of them and if I ought to have chosen another, surely it will come back to me eventually. It’ll be just as inevitable as change itself. 

And so I’ve taken a step. A step that feels like veering off the trajectory I’ve been on since university. A turn that could bring me to where I’m meant to be or open up another set of paths. And it’s Ninder’s painting, now back where it belongs, that has allowed me to make that move. All because I was searching for something else, and saw that one, uncovered inch. 

Fate, anyone?

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