There were four of us playing a slow game of monopoly. The dice spun lazily, counters moved half-heartedly and one of my friends even passed-up the opportunity to buy a lucrative property. In between the pauses of boredom we began talking. My friend who gave up on his chance to buy and earn millions in paper money sighed, ‘If time travel was there, I would have gone back a hundred years and bought some palaces for a hundred rupees’.

Suddenly the thought of time travel seized us. Two of us immediately knew our favourite eras to go back to (Victorian and for me, the 1940s, the beginning of existentialism when Sartre was alive). Our fourth friend quietly remarked, ‘I would go back twenty years in my life and change two decisions.’ The game stopped. We had known each other so long we knew exactly what she was talking about.

I spent the next week asking people what they regretted. A colleague said she would never have married her husband. I looked at her in disbelief. She had invited all of us for her 25th anniversary the following weekend. She said, ‘You make do with what you get even if it isn’t what you want.’ People who did have kids gave puzzling answers. They always wished they had kids earlier or later, in direct contrast to their reality. For most people, the life not chosen looked greener from where they were. 

The only person who was cheerfully unrepentant was a 22 year-old who insisted that at forty if he didn’t regret anything then it meant he hasn’t had enough fun in his life. In his youth, like so many of us, he was still worshipping the gods of irresponsibility, impulse and wanton acts of carelessness. I felt old talking to him for I understood this absolute lack of fear while making a decision. I had been there once.

Most of us have chapters in our life which we wish we hadn’t written. However, this is where we are now and I have a suspicion that even if we are careful about what we do next, regret will come, bringing along its lingering sense of sadness.

I called my friend who wanted to change the two decisions of her life and asked her to imagine how her life would be if she had changed them. Step by step, logically we plotted her path on a different route. Much to her shock, she realised she would have ended up exactly where she was today. I didn’t feel like asking whether she still regretted everything.