“What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life. A mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough.”
“Let me tell you a secret: there is no such thing as an uninteresting life. One day you must tell me your full and complete story, unabridged and unexpurgated.We will set aside some time for it, and meet. It’s very important.
Maneck smiled. ‘Why is it important?’
It’s extremely important because it helps to remind yourself of who you are. Then you can go forward, without fear of losing yourself in this ever-changing world.”
~ Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance | Art by Rachna Ravi
“He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others–the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.”
~ Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated | Photo by Alex Newman
“What if I knew that I would die tomorrow?”
I asked myself when I watched the movie “The Walk” earlier last year.
“Would I be sad? Would I be disappointed? Or feel satisfied and happy?” I pondered.
The year 2015 was a year filled with deep introspection and reflection for me. Many of my life’s decisions in the past have had inspiration from movies. But this time this thought was also fuelled by two other incidents.
First, I reached forty in August.
Second, the acquittal of Salman Khan and Jayalalita.
I was happy about what I had accomplished with NalandaWay and hopeful about her future. I was happy in my relationships. But can I do better in life with what was left?
I was in a slum in Chennai when I learnt of Jayalalita’s acquittal. The slum had all the signatures of everything that is wrong with our politicians and governance. But its inmates were celebrating her acquittal by bursting crackers and distributing sweets. They did not care that she was corrupt and justice had been murdered. That she and every other criminal who run this country will never be punished for their misdeeds. The poor will always be living in a miserable urban hell and no one will do anything that would make their lives better.
Who am I judge the poor? I have never lived their lives. I don’t have to negotiate the corrupt police and politicians to survive everyday.
And people like Salman Khan will always escape the noose of justice. They will always go scot-free. They will never be punished.
I was disappointed. With my country. With my people. With myself, that my work with children will not even make a scratch in their lives who are sorrounded by these scavengers and looters. I was wasting my time. Perhaps I should get back to working for a corporation and atleast make money for myself. If things got worse, I will atleast have enough money to run away. Or should I kill them all? Become an extremist? I was angry.
I started reading Gandhi again. I met my mentors and asked for advice. I struggled to find sense.
“You are worrying from a place of arrogance,” a stranger told me. “What makes you think that you alone can end suffering? Do your thing. Do more of the same. We all have the key to a small part of a much larger puzzle. Let’s all come together to make a mosaic,” he said.
He made sense.
“What if I knew I will die but had to make everyday count?” The question looked different after this interaction.
I decided to write down a set of principles that I will follow for the rest of my life.
So this is my list;
– I will deal with every person with, patience, compassion and empathy.
– I will be speak and act against injustice without fear of retribution
– I will not manipulate, cheat, or be unethical in my dealings with anyone.
– I will consciously reduce consumption and reuse or recycle wherever possible.
– I will respect my body, and take good care of it.
– I will consciously look for beauty and goodness in every person, place, or thing even in the middle of overwhelming ugliness and vulgarity.
I told myself if I just continued to be usefull to children and lived with gratefulness, I will survive the madness.
Life is beautiful again. Death will not scare me. I will not let politicians and villains rob my optimism. And everyday is a gift and I will make it count.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
~ Mary Oliver | Art by Dominique Fortin
“Whatever life you lead you must put your soul in it–to make any sort of success in it; and from the moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you: it becomes grim reality! And you can’t always please yourself; you must sometimes please other people. That, I admit, you’re very ready to do; but there’s another thing that’s still more important–you must often displease others. You must always be ready for that–you must never shrink from it. That doesn’t suit you at all–you’re too fond of admiration, you like to be thought well of. You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romantic views–that’s your great illusion, my dear. But we can’t. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please no one at all–not even yourself.”
~ Henry James | Art by Krishen Khanna
“I would like to write a story about you,” I messaged her.
“But why do you want to write my story? I am one of the kids no?” she replied. I heard her characteristic crackling laughter in my head.
Introducing Akku. She warned me of dire consequences if I revealed her real name. Akku a spunky beautiful girl in her twenties, has been teaching drama to children at NalandaWay’s art lab for the past one month. She invented a language, a mixture of English and gibberish, when she realised that she could not communicate in English or Hindi. Kids in her class adored her and did not want to attend any other classes, “Akku’s classes are ‘fabulochi'” they said. Apparently it meant fabulous.
I had met Akku at a training programme that both of us had attended in Nepal four years ago. Her mother had died giving birth to her and her father died a several years after. When she returned to her work as a writer at a small but niche publishing house in Delhi, it had already been bought over by a large corporate house. Along came lots of rules which she found strange to her bohemian ways. Irritated at the turn of events, she quit her job. To her surprise she found some savings in her bank account and decided that she would travel to different parts of the country and teach drama to disadvantaged children. In the last four years she has worked with children from Pondicherry to Kargil, Andaman to Goa, Orissa to Arunachal. She does not accept any payment for her services. She stays at the house of the hosts or at a friend’s place. She eats only one meal a day but that does not deter her energy or enthusiasm.
She only has four pairs of clothes. “I don’t like other colours,” she said.
“Is there a purpose to your life?” I asked her.
“I don’t have a house to pay rent. I hate over eating. I don’t have any relationships. I don’t want to be famous. So basically all the activities that require money seems boring to me. I don’t want to be tied to a place, a person or anything. I love theatre. I love teaching to children. I love their innocence and laughter,” she replied nonchalantly.
“Every day there is a glorious story. Why create a purpose and spend an entire life time running after it?” she said and smiled.