Enigmas of Life


Fazal Ali Butt

As if life itself wasn’t enough cryptic, man has further perplexed it by conclusions of his experiments. Perhaps it resulted from the arduous efforts of man to demystify the enigmas posed by this mortal existence. Since man is by temperament easy going creature, no matter how laboriously he strives, deep down in his heart an ever vibrant longing keeps hankering for respite. This very yearning made man draw and store conclusions so that when again faced by such similar riddles he should have a readily available answer to offer to the deadly sphinx – life.

Thus, avoid the toil of working it out again.  Oblivious of life’s ever growing reservoir of puzzles, he committed himself to solve the every conundrum of this transitory abode and then rest afterwards. Nevertheless, innumerable souls, since the beginning of the world, have solved their share of riddles existence extended them; they couldn’t make any dent at the Sphinx’s coffer of riddles.

Instead, at present, the prevalent situation is that on the one hand, life, bursting with vigorous mysteries, still challenges man with riddles of intricate nuance, while, on the other hand, solutions of mysterious past riddles found and recorded by prudent men, like solved papers of past exams, are voluntarily and often generously available to all and sundry. At first glance, this situation appears encouraging. Ah, at last man has solved all the enigmas of life. Laboriously attained answers are effortlessly available to be just picked and thrown back at the perfidious Sphinx.

But, a careful reconsideration reveals the intricate web of problems created by wise men of past who solved the past papers presumably hoping to be of great use for today’s man, but these solutions environ us like a silk worm’s cocoon encircles itself and ultimately suffocates it to death.

Maxims, literature, biographies, proverbs, history annals, and tales of grandparents provide us with rich sources of solved past papers of life-exam. A universally held opinion tells us that the archives of these solutions are full of wisdom for the next generation. Indisputably, they do offer us the blueprints of the workings of those minds that in their finest capacity did their best to untangle the complex problems they faced. Nevertheless, they will only be of a little help for the next generation, for they hold minute collective wisdom sensible for the descendants but massive magnitude of contradictions. Let’s consider these two cryptic adages. Plan all the way to the end. Nothing can ever be done if all the possible objections must be overcome first. What should one do? Should one meticulously sketch every minute detail of what he wants to do and have at his disposal an alternative option for every possible snare? If he has heard of only one of these adages, it’ll be easier for him to act. But, if unfortunately he is aware of both, he will be in a baffling quagmire to choose.

As both are valid solutions of one and the same enigma put to two different personalities. One acted without planning, failed, planned, acted again and succeeded. The conclusion he drew was: planning must precede the action. The better planned action leads increased chances of success. Whereas, the other, perhaps he had heard of this wise saying, devoted lavish amount of time to planning and scrupulously planned for every possible consequence, acted but still failed. His experience totally differed from the first one. Resultantly the wisdom he encoded in the second axiom is just the opposite of the first one.

‘Which one holds wisdom for us?’  ‘Both,’ comes the answer. Surprised you ask, ‘Which one to follow, then, and which one to leave?’ No Delphic guidance. It was the analogous situation of incongruity of events in which Hamlet found himself, sought help from traditional wisdom, which offered him contradictory options to choose from, when he made his world famous outcry: ‘to be or not to be.’ Explanations of one sage told him to act, while of other suggested him to wait and let the events take their full course.  Thus, the spectator finds Hamlet inactive when required to act and active when supposed to let go. Moral of altruistic stories forbids us to be opportunists, whereas, the proverb: opportunity seldom knocks twice; suggests being on watch of opportunity and avail first time it knocks one’s portal. Likewise, read this brainy saying of an opportunist boss: ‘get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit’; and contrast it with ‘there is no unique chance in the world, Lord gives man many chances.’ Now if one day you are trapped in a situation where you have to make a decision between availing a chance, which is deleterious to somebody, and letting it pass; what would you choose?

The opportunistic and altruistic philosophies are sword drawn against each other. Once more, both hold wisdom and are frequently used to give advice; yet again it is, like Hamlet, you who is in quandary to decide. And if it is only I who has to toil then it makes little difference whether I toil to disentangle the enigma itself or toil to select the most suitable choice for the MCQs; In any case, what man envisaged – have a readily available answer to offer to the deadly sphinx and consequently, avoid the toil of working it out again – didn’t fully actualize. Man still has to strive and use his gray matter; if not to devise an answer then to choose a right answer out of a colossal amount of answers accumulated during past three millenniums.


  1. With a very tangible explanation, the writer has forwarded a truth of life stating the fact that things or actions are nothing than the choices that are taken. Fate has nothing to do with the riddle! We ourselves create the sphinx first and then try to find its solution. It means that Sphinx is not what we have but it is what we create. To be or not to be arrives when we try to break ourselves in our own created prison. We are the captives of our own identities, living in prison of our own creation.

    Fazal Bhai, i really enjoyed reading your article.

    Take care

    Kashif Habib

  2. Allah gave us the senses to help us in our choices. The choice itself is indeed mountain peak as one has no fore-knowledge on whether the action will bring out the intended result or not. That's why we say "INSHA-ALLAH".

    A good plan without Allah is definitely bound to fail!

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