Life, according to Murphy’s Law

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 9 Feb 2023, 8:09 PM

When I first heard of Murphy’s Law, I assumed it had to do with Eddie Murphy. But that wasn’t the case. It is attributed to Edward Aloysius Murphy, an American aerospace engineer who worked largely in the safety-critical system (the system’s meaning is a tad convoluted and not really relevant here, but do look it up in case you are interested: it is bound to increase your GK quotient) in the 1950s and 60s. He had once said (famously, in hindsight, so much so it was upgraded to the category of an “adage” and “epigram”), “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.

Doris Day had sung Que Sera Sera in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) that I had watched on television as a kid (we even sang Que Sera Sera in school on Annual Day), which roughly meant the same thing, but couched in an upbeat cadence, giving it a positive spin. “Whatever will be, will be.” I had heard — and sung — Que Sera Sera way before I was introduced to Murphy’s Law, and had made my peace with cheerful fatalism.

Later, when I was in high school, once I missed my school bus because it always came late and on the one day when I arrived at the bus station exactly 60 seconds late, it came on time. I reached in time to see it whiz past. And I turned to my uncle (who had come to deposit me at the designated pickup spot) and asked, “Why is it that on the one day I am late, the bus comes early?”

“It’s called Murphy’s Law,” he responded.

Basically, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” had been extended to mean “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time”.

I have my own personal interpretation of Murphy’s Law, one that I have stretched from the original considerably, and I’m happy to note most people whose lives appear to be governed by Murphy’s Law are likewise likeminded.

Going by that first ‘missing the bus’ incident, today, for me everything appears to be symptomatic of Murphy’s thought bubble.

It plays out like this, day in and day out. I am expecting an important phone call. At a certain time, give or take five minutes, that’s what I’ve been promised. Say, it’s been pencilled in for 8am. I wait till 8.30am. No phone call. I don’t want to call and sound desperate or pushy. So, I go into the kitchen to boil myself an egg. I only have to fill out a pan with water, put it on the stove and drop an egg into it. Takes exactly a minute, tops.

And in the course of those precise 60 seconds, my phone begins to ring, and since I am in the kitchen, and my phone’s in the bedroom, and there’s the whoosh sound of traffic below, I miss the ring. I come back to retrieve my phone and I notice the missed call. When I try to call back, the other line’s busy.

Worse, when I try to check in on my egg, I realise I had popped one of the two eggs in a pack of 12 that had a cracked shell into the pan. Now the whites of the egg are flowing into the water like a leaking dam. Damn, I have to put in another egg to boil. But more importantly, what are the chances that I had put in the bad egg?

The other day, I was trying to avoid someone in my neighbourhood. I know he goes for a walk at a certain time, so I went into a coffee shop to grab a bite, kill some time and go for my walk slightly later. What are the chances that the very bullet I was trying to dodge was seated right next to the entrance of the same café — out of the 10 that are scattered in the vicinity?

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