What is a coincidence?

Source : Google photo

Some people say that there is no such thing as coincidence in life because everything happens according to a pre determined plan so who determines the plan for you if you do not believe in coincidences. This is a topic that requires some introspection because I find lots of people who discuss it but never come to any satisfactory conclusion.

Has it ever happened to you that you met someone for the first time in your life and immediately felt a connection? Is it a coincidence that you met that person at a given time and place not of your choosing but felt something happened during that meeting?

Have you ever felt that the steps you took in life were all interconnected somehow and brought you to where you are now? I think it is worth the discussion and I hope you will read this blog and react to it one way or the other.

So I will start with my own experience in life that led me to believe firmly that indeed there is no such thing as coincidence and everything happens for a reason. It is a well known fact that we all grow up under circumstances different from each other and are a product of the environment in which we grew up. Some people grow up in homes where they see the parents quarrelling over petty matters everyday leading to domestic violence and divorce later. Some are on drugs and that alone has its consequences that are too horrid to even write about. Children growing up such homes grow up with a lot of problems that their parents can’t cope with. Dropping out of school and getting into trouble of drugs and sex is common with them. Some run away to get into more trouble.

One thing leads to the next and before you know your teen age daughter is pregnant when she is barely 18 and has dropped out of high school or you teen son is wearing tattoo, earrings and is a drop out who hangs around with the wrong people who push him deeper and deeper into the abyss that he can’t climb out of. Is it all due to chance and a series of coincidences? Do the circumstances force a person to make these choices and how these circumstances come about in the first place ?

I will therefore present here a number of cases that will prove that really there is no such thing as coincidence and everything happens for a reason.

Case 1 : I met an American fellow one afternoon when I was a student and knocked on his office door to ask some questions regarding an ad he had placed on the school notice board. I had seen the notice many times but ignored it but on that day I took a step that literally changed my life forever. It is all written in my biography (The untold story of Anil) so I will not write about the details here again.

I will only mention that because of this meeting, I went to Vietnam as a volunteer agronomist that was my first stepping stone in life. There were others who were selected to go to Vietnam but only I took this step. Later one more college mate joined me in Saigon because he was encouraged by the step I took so wanted to do the same. The others did not go due to their own reasons so it is not worth writing here about it. Was it a coincidence that I met the American fellow who later became a good friend and we met again in the United States under different circumstances? He happened to live in St. Paul where I was to receive the award at the Macalester College so was that too a coincidence?

Case 2 : This case is the most compelling evidence that there is no such thing as a coincidence. I was flying to Tokyo from Hong Kong one day in late January of 1969 and was sitting in my assigned seat in the Pan Am flight but the flight was delayed because one passenger was still missing. He finally showed up and sat down next to me. After taking off he started talking to me asked where I was going and what I did etc. so I told him as briefly as possible that I was working in Vietnam as a volunteer agronomist and was going to Tokyo. I really did not feel like telling my life story to a complete stranger so I was brief but he seemed very interested in me and kept asking more questions because he was very impressed that I as a very young fellow was working in Vietnam helping the farmers in the middle of a fierce war.

Later when he knew more about me and the fact that I was not really going to Japan which was just a stop but going to the USA, he became more curious and wanted to know if it was my first visit to the US etc. which it was. Later he learned that I was going to Minnesota to receive an award for my work in Vietnam but I was going first to a small town in California called San Luis Obispo where there is a very good college where I was seeking admission as a graduate student. They wanted me to take TOEFL to prove that I spoke English so I was going there personally to sort it out with the admission officer. At that point he said to me “Young man, you just passed your TOEFL”. When I asked what it meant, he said his name is Dr.Kennedy and he was the President of the said college in San Luis Obispo.

I could not believe it. All this time I was a reluctant conversationalist because I generally speaking do not talk to anyone on a plane and just mind my own business, read a magazine or listen to music. But here I was sitting right next to the President of CalPoly where I was seeking admission in the future. I would have never met him if I was in a row ahead or on the other side of the aisle or anywhere else on that huge plane but on a random date, on a random flight I was given a seat next to him by the PAN AM . Was it a coincidence? I don’t think so. I was predetermined to meet Dr.Kennedy on that plane. He continued on that flight to the USA while I got off in Tokyo but he called from Honolulu his admission officer who gave me a warm welcome at CalPoly and gave me the admission slip right away.

Case 3 : I met a gentleman once in Saigon who said that he was from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and was the head of the Rice Production Training Program at IRRI so we started talking about what I was doing in rice research and extension in the province west of Saigon. It was just a chance meeting because I did not go to Saigon often but one that day I just walked in and met this gentleman and started talking about rice in which he was greatly interested. He turned to a friend of mine who was present who in fact had introduced me to the visitor and said “ I would like to see this young man at IRRI someday where he can learn a lot more about rice and research “ and left.

The rest is history that need not be repeated here. I was selected as a trainee to go to IRRI shortly thereafter when such an opportunity came along and eventually ended up at IRRI as a research fellow many years later. This was my third stepping stone and it was definitely not a coincidence that I met this gentleman on a random date in Saigon where I went rather infrequently.

Case 4: I went back to Los Banos sometime in July of 1969 to spend a month supervising the rice training for some volunteers bound for Vietnam and Laos and one day went to IRRI to see an American who seemed friendly. I had no particular reason to see him on that day and wanted to say hello. But on that day the deputy director general of IRRI walked in while we were talking and I was promptly introduced to him. When he was about to leave, I said something like “ Sir, I would very much like to come back to IRRI to learn more about rice and research methodologies if only IRRI could give me a scholarship to do so .” He was surprised at such direct talk but being a gentleman came back in a few minutes with an application form and asked me to fill it up and send it to him. IRRI will then evaluate my case and come to some conclusions. Many years later IRRI invited me with a research fellowship because they said my qualifications were excellent. Was it a coincidence that on that day I met this gentleman without knowing who he was and why I just blurted out a request for scholarship?

Case 5: When I arrived at IRRI in 1974 and stayed there for six months learning about research methodologies and planning to go back to India because my scholarship of six months was ending, the head of the Agronomy department one day asked me to go to Naga to check out the possibility of working in the area to do some serious research on rice yield constraints. I did not know where Naga was because I did not know the geography of the country so he showed me on the map, gave me a ticket and I went to Pili where I was supposed to stay and work in surrounding villages. Was it a coincidence that my future wife was waiting for me on that day I arrived at Pili to look for a house to rent? I met her at random and right away knew that something had happened. We would get married six months later. Again was it a coincidence that I went to Pili when I did not know where it was and was it a coincidence that I just happened to meet my future wife on day one? Was it a coincidence that I was sent to Pili and not anywhere else?

Case 6: I was reading the yahoo. India news the other day in my computer and saw an article published there by someone about the Green revolution in rice and who did what. It was a poorly written article at best but included the name of the former head of the Agronomy department at IRRI who had sent me to work in Bicol so long ago. The curious thing is that I do not read Yahoo India news everyday and perhaps once a month so why I opened the Yahoo India news on that day, I honestly do not know. So I kept on reading and felt that something was not right so I sent the article to my former mentor and head of the agronomy department of IRRI who now lives in the United States in retirement and asked for his comments. He said that a great injustice was done to him by not giving him the credit because it was he who was the person who started the Green Revolution in rice by publishing his research results first.

That led to the recognition of IR-8 as the miracle rice that spread throughout Asia and elsewhere but others received awards and accolades. I was shocked and decided to do something about it and write a blog to publish the truth so that people will know who the real hero was. It will soon be published so check it out in my various blog sites. Was it a coincidence that I just happened to read Yahoo India news the other day when normally I do not read it even once a month? As you know the articles appear briefly only once on a given day and disappear the next day so why did I open Yahoo India on that day? Was it a coincidence or was I destined to be the one to write a blog about it and spread the truth?

Case 7 : I have a friend who was doing his Ph.D at IRRI at the same time I was doing mine so we kept in touch over the years even if I was working in other countries and he was frequently travelling as well but one day he came to my house in Naga where I had settled and told me that I should move to Los Banos where our kids can get a good university education. So I thought about it and found that his suggestions were not without merit and decided to come to Los Banos. He promptly found a lot for me to buy where I would be able to build my house and settled down in our new house in 1994. We also bought the adjacent lot that we called our eco garden where I planted fruit trees but one day decided to sell it because we really did not need it so guess who bought the lot? It was my friend who had asked me to come to Los Banos in the first place. Was it a coincidence that he went to see me in Naga and because of that we came to Los Banos and later he ended up buying the lot next door to build his own house there someday? You be the judge.

Case 8: I go back to 1966 when I was just a fresh graduate and had applied to the Air Force academy of India for admission to be trained as a fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force. To my surprise I was invited by the Air Force to go to Delhi for an interview all expenses paid by first class train travel etc. Now an interview does not mean that they would have selected me but it was the first and a very important step so I was naturally excited and wanted to go but my father who was very sick told me that the Air Force was not my proper choice so I should forget about it. So I did not go to that interview and started on my Master’s program. Was it a coincidence that at that time I was invited to go to Vietnam? I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Case 9: Now I want to write about other cases where I could have died but did not. One was when my American friend and I were walking to and fro on the side walk in front of the USAID office in Saigon where we were to meet someone. As I walked away from the gate, I heard an explosion behind me. Someone in a motorbike threw a grenade at the gate and severely injured a lady who happened to pass by at that moment when I was in that spot a few seconds ago. Was it a coincidence that I was walking away from the danger not knowing that it was coming?

Case 10: I was cowering in the corner of my kitchen with a Vietnamese friend of mine one night when the mortars kept landing on the police station just across the narrow lane. The sound was deafening and it could have easily landed on my house killing us all instantly but it didn’t. Was it a coincidence that the Vietcongs were so accurate that they spared my house that night?

Case 11: I was about to cross a culvert in the Hau Nghia province on my way to Saigon one day when the land mine blew up the culvert near me . Only a few more seconds later I was supposed to pass that culvert but did not and someone else got hurt that day. Coincidence again?

Case 12 : My friend from IRRI was travelling in Bangladesh one day in a van when all of a sudden a truck ahead of the van loaded with iron rods braked suddenly and the steel rods came flying through the van and impaled the passenger sitting next to my friend and missed him by a few inches only. My friend had a very lucky escape that day but was it a coincidence that the steel rods missed him by a few inches that day but killed the person next to him?

I could go on with many more examples but the point is that these cases prove that really there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens because of a predetermined plan. The question therefore is who makes the plan? Is it God ?



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Amal Chatterjee

Amal Chatterjee


I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.