It must’ve been that song. That damned song again. Looping in my head. Too hushed; too soft-footed to be heard clearly yet loud enough not to be ignored as yet. It could’ve been the rush of that virgin sunrise on the desolate beach where I stood this morning all by myself imagining something beautiful beyond that calm sea. It could’ve been that love that suddenly overwhelmed me with life today. Or could it be the desire that invaded my being without being invoked – to set all my baggage down on the corner of some unnamed street and walk again like the gypsy I am. It could’ve been all of these. Or some other feeling I don’t know how to put into words at this moment. Whatever it was, I am thankful for it because it made me think of you. I wished to see you today. Simply watch you walk by before me so that I knew there was, after all, a good reason for all these feelings of mine that strip me of all the skins I hide myself in and, for a long moment, stand naked in spirit. Innocent and Hopeful to everything that is.
In the last couple of years, I have developed a deep-seated apathy and resigned repulsion towards TV news channels and other news agencies. Some of you may identify with me here. Maybe those of you who do are even more than I am willing to imagine. That feeling of irritable discontentment, its cause and shape unidentified and unattended, remained like a dormant yet real pain within me. Till last week, that is. Thanks to two fellow bloggers, today I know why news channels that dominate our nation’s airwaves no longer have my trust or respect, and remain relegated between vicious propaganda and incoherent tribal cries in my mind.
The help offered by the two bloggers, let’s call them Blogger A and Blogger B, has been unwitting but genuine. I am most grateful for what they said in the comments section of my last blog. It helped me seek and understand the world I live in a little better.
In a rather recent post titled, ‘You Sanctioned 26/11, My Grieving Friend!’ I put forth the idea that an act of terror shares its fundamental operating principle, i.e., use of fear by physical coercion as a valid negotiating tool, with equally lethal consequences, but on a much smaller scale, with certain domestic atrocities that happen right inside our homes and neighborhoods.
In order to demonstrate the idea presented, I cited four examples of violent crimes, all based on reports in our leading national dailies, that shared their core idea with the act of terror. One, incidentally, was a case of dowry death.
While misunderstanding of my standpoint was expected, and hence further discussion and debate anticipated, what I did not fancy at the time was the birth of a whole new blog idea from it. But that is what has happened.
Mistaking (!) my post for a treatise on dowry and dowry deaths, Blogger A said:
“I thought the dowry problem has come down with the women going out and earning. an earning wife is like a blank cheque. They can be drawn, they can be over drawn. If she wants she can save her dowry and spend for her own marriage. So the dowry problem is not as much as it used to be when women got married with no education, no employment and as total dependents on their husbands.
U won’t see the old breed any more.”
I read it twice to make sure I understood what was being said. This is what I understand. Blogger A’s whole argument rests on her assumption or belief that dowry deaths exist or existed because women were not gainfully employed and hence marriage was not a financially profitable proposition to the bridegroom and his family. But now since women are working, the husband and his family can enjoy the fruits of her labour and will not or should not torture, maim or kill her. This will and has resulted in reduction of dowry deaths. Well, sounds like a reasonable argument till you look deeper. The most critical aspect of this argument is what has NOT been said – as always, it is the unspoken value system or belief which gives rise to her opinion. In this case, Blogger A’s rationalization that with women being money earners today, the incidences of dowry deaths should come down is based on a belief that marriage as a financial transaction is acceptable. She believes dowry is not only valid but its existence is unquestionable. Did she consciously choose to believe in such a monstrosity or did the idea take root in her consciousness as a social, cultural or religious dogma, is secondary. The very fact that as a rational human being the real nature of her core belief on the subject is telling of our conditioning. Does she herself know it? I have no answers nor I will not try to assume. But I know, this unspoken belief is what the NGOs and other organisations/individuals against dowry have to fight and eradicate to prevent dowry deaths.
Blogger B categorically holds the victim (the girl who gets burnt) responsible for her own torture and subsequent burning in dowry deaths(!) In his comment, he says: (The highlighted italics are mine)
“…Terrorism is a one-sided affair.. but on the other side Dowry or social evil the victim has time to react.. Depending on the situation!! A girl who is harassed for dowry by her in-laws has time to decide what is important to her (her life or her husband or given to in-laws demands). Let me give you an example “When you were a toddler how many times did you try to put your finger in the power socket?? I think if you did ever get a shock you would have learnt it that if I finger this socket then I am asking for trouble” same way when a newly married girl gets beaten up by her in-laws or husband for the first time and doesn’t learn the lesson… then I think it not worth it….(?) On the other side terrorism where 200 innocent people get killed unaware.. I hope you see the difference.. If women want to get burnt or stabbed by knife.. its for them to decide.. as far as I understand within 2-3 months of marriage a women knows for sure what kind of family she is married too, and if she is sensible enough she can always take decision on her favor.. India is still democratic country…”
On the surface this argument too may seem reasonable if you stretch the meaning of reasonable to the extreme. Yes, if you are a girl and find yourself in such a horrific situation, run! I agree, that’s the most common-sensical thing to do. Self-preservation demands it. But, if you take a moment to really understand his argument, you will be shocked by the partial blindness with which he approaches the problem. What about the barbaric practise of burning a helpless woman to death for money itself? What about the husband and his parents who commit such a heinous act? The fact that he blanks all this out and holds the girl’s ‘non-sensible enough to save herself’ attitude responsible points to his tacit agreement to an unspoken yet pre-dominant belief – in a patriarchal society, women are mere possessions and creatures of re-production to be disposed of by men at will. Blogger B may not know what his deep-seated convictions are on the subject. I can only guess. He must be an educated, urban young man who treats women as equals and with respect. But, if you are woman, how safe will you feel if you are to marry him? The answer is for anyone to guess.
And does not his argument of holding the victim responsible for the atrocities committed on her, strangely and ominously reverberate with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s remark, “Women should not be adventurous.”(?) on the murder of the young, female journalist, Soumya Viswanathan three months back. Soumya was driving back from work in the early hours of a Tuesday morning when she was shot in the head. The case remains unsolved.
Does not Blogger B’s idea of holding the victim responsible for the crime find a sympathetic chorus in the insane voices that scream ‘rape happens because women wear short, revealing clothes!’(?) Do not turn away or conveniently fail to see the dangerous parallels here. These are the scattered images of our educated, urban, liberated, modernized society – the telling pieces of a scary jigsaw puzzle. These are incidents that you and I, the common man, sees as unrelated and random incidents that require no more from us than a passive indignation and at best a slogan contest. Stop, pick up those random pieces and complete the jigsaw! What you will see is an ugly monster staring at you – the monster that is eating us from inside while we soak in the warmth of globalisation, proudly parading our Gucci glasses, Bali Shoes and million dollar homes. It is the monster that is slowly but surely turning back the hands of time ensuring that our backyards become breeding grounds for the practises of Dark Ages while we look ahead indifferently at a digitised future through our rose-tinted glasses. The monster winks at the heart of our nation, whispering conspiratorially, mockingly into our collective conscious, “Women are lesser beings.”
The unspoken yet loud social message has been made ominously clear by the male tribe,“Wear a small skirt and we will rape you, work late nights and we will kill you, marry and we will burn you. We have the right to dispose of you in any which way we want. If you want to live in our world, live by our rules. Or else.”
In spirit we proclaim to our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers this: “Women of India, you have no right to your life!” Let’s accept it.
Right to one’s own life is the most basic Right of all. It is what gives birth to every other Right. An individual without a right to his or her life is a non-entity, a non-existent. And that is what we, the enlightened, emancipated, globalised, liberated citizens of India tell our women folk. Not in words, but in cold-blooded action.
Every single criminal act against women (except Sati) that can be booked under the Indian Penal Code, right from Rape, Kidnapping and Abduction for specified purposes, Homicide for Dowry, Dowry Deaths or their attempts, Torture – both mental and physical, Molestation, Physical Harassment, Importation of Girls (upto 21 years of age), Immoral Traffic (Prevention), Child Marriage, and Indecent Representation of Women has increased systematically over the years. Statistics are available from the National Crime Records Bureau.
What makes us turn an indifferent eye, quickly and compulsively, when we see the reports of such atrocities flashed on our TV screens and written in newspapers. Why are we in such a hurry to construe them as ‘just another incident’ and dismiss them from our memory? Because it is easier on our conscience that way. We all want to believe that we are emancipated and civilized in our outlook. We wish it, even if the facts paint a different picture. Somehow we want to be liberated from the shadows of the savage that our great, great forefathers were. But no amount of wishing is going to change a thing, my friend.
Let me offer you some facts and figures on dowry and dowry deaths in India. These are available to any one of you on the Internet. Not surprisingly, what I found were contrary to what Blogger A or Blogger B had said or implied. And if they had felt it necessary to base their opinion or world view on facts, they definitely would have not said what they did. [All italics, bold and underlines are added by me for emphasis.]
 Official statistics indicate that dowry death – intentional, deliberate and pre-meditated murder of a bride – happens at least 17 times per day, every single day of the year. However, unofficial numbers stand at a mind-boggling 68 murders per day. That is, 24, 820 dowry deaths per year. And this does not include the women left maimed and scarred as a result of attempt on their lives. (Obviously, ‘brides who earn’ have not solved the problem!)
 In 1995, 4648 dowry deaths were reported. It rose to 8093 in 2007. Reported cases of ‘Cruelty by husband/his relatives’ were 28579 in 1995. It stood at 75930 in 2007. (Blogger A, are you listening?)
 According to an article in Time magazine, deaths in India related to dowry demands have increased 15-fold since the mid-1980s to the middle of the 1990s. In 1995, the National Crime Bureau of the Government of India reported about 6,000 dowry deaths every year. A more recent police report stated that dowry deaths had risen by 170 percent in the decade to 1997.
 A recent survey of 10,000 Indian women conducted by India’s Health Ministry found that more than half of those interviewed considered violence to be a normal part of married life—the most common cause being the failure to perform domestic duties up to the expectations of their husband’s family. (What else can they believe in a society where they are told to have no rights!)
 Dowry deaths are not isolated to particular groups, social strata, geographical regions or even religions. As of now, they are an all-pervasive monstrosity gobbling up innocent female lives.
 According to the Institute of Development and Communication, “The quantum of dowry exchange may still be greater among the middle classes, but 85 percent of dowry death and 80 percent of dowry harassment occurs in the middle and lower stratas.”
 The other side of the dowry equation is that daughters are inevitably regarded as an unwelcome burden, compounding the already oppressed position of women in Indian society. There is a high incidence of gender-based abortions—almost two million female babies a year. (One article noted the particularly crass billboard advertisements in Bombay encouraging pregnant women to spend 500 rupees on a gender test to “save” a potential 50,000 rupees on dowry in the future.)
 The cruelest aspect of this menace is the role that brides’ parents play in perpetuating it. The Dowry Cell of New Delhi Police Department reveals that most of the parents of the bride do not want to take their daughters back. There is considerable social stigma in India against those parents who shelter a married daughter back in their family. In most of the cases, parents persuade the daughter to go back to her husband’s home, that is considered to be the highest form of behavior one can learn from the old scriptures. (Blogger B, are you listening?)
 Most dowry deaths have occurred in the upper strata of Hindu communities, i.e., the Brahmins (the caste of priests cum the Kings’ policy-makers), Kshatriyas (the caste of warriors now-turned politicians), and Vaishyas (the traders now-transformed sponsors of conservative parties). Most killing of women for non-payment of “promised” dowry have so far occurred in the urban affluent upper-caste Hindu communities.
 The epicenter of the problem of bride burning and other forms of dowry-related violence on women is Delhi (the Indian capital), western and central Uttar Pradesh (cities such as Kanpur, Lucknow and Agra have witnessed the highest number of deaths), and places adjoining Delhi (Haryana, northeastern Rajasthan, northern Madhya Pradesh, and southern Punjab), and the problem has largely been concentrated among the upper caste above-average Hindu communities.
 It may be pointed out here that it is CHEAPER for an Indian man to kill his spouse and obtain a new one with another dowry than to divorce his wife and pay her maintenance.
 Incredible as it may sound, in some cases, the convicted husband will be requested by the parents of his previous bride to marry her sister. (!!!!) The latter is an example of the severity of the problem. The sister and her parents have no place else to go but the abuser/killer man. The death of the woman has left a permanent mark of misfortune on her family resulting outcasting/abhorrence by other prospective bridegrooms. The surviving sister can’t remain unmarried: the patriarch society and the upper caste rulers would not permit that. But the incidence of the “untimely death” of her older sister prevents her parents to find a “clean” groom for her. Now, here comes the widower willing to remarry with a batch of dowry probably a little less than the first time. And, he will now probably be more “forgiving” to the bride’s family he already so much knows. So, who should the family turn to but the “closely related”?
 The widespread, statistical impact of brideburning and dowry-related deaths is a systematic, intentional gendercide of young women, unborn as well as those born to a fate they cannot control. Twelve million girls are born every year in India. Of this number, 1.5 million will never reach their first birthday. Another 850,000 will never see their fifth birthday. By the age of fifteen, only nine million will have survived childhood. At the same time, there will have been an excess of twenty-three million males in the country.
In the highlighted lines of the last paragraph culminates the murderous rampage of of a barbaric belief. That is the practical consequence of the idea that you and I never speak of – “women have no right to their life.”
To see it for what it is, without its usual cover-up of ostentatious explanation, rationalizations and justifications, you need to patiently, objectively observe the ‘symptoms’ around you – the molestation of two young women outside a star hotel by a mob, Ms. Sheila Dixit’s comment on the death of Soumya Vishwanathan, molestation and attack on two women call centre employees by their landlord and his goons in their house, Blogger A’s implicit agreement to dowry even in this day, Blogger B’s accusation of the bride in her own dowry death. Watch them carefully. These are the often missed, mostly unacknowledged and never linked incidents that in their own way point to and affirm the same deadly principle that dominates our society today.
Finally, this brings me to the point I started this post with – the instinctual aversion for media channels and agencies that I couldn’t define. When a human being speaks without ‘thinking,’ i.e., without taking into consideration the facts of reality, we term that act irresponsible. That is what Blogger A and B did. By letting wishful thinking obliterate objective truth, they prove words no longer represent reality, but instead strive to create it. With a callous indifference that would make even the most seasoned politician cringe, you can see people everywhere make statements that substitute hearsay for facts, and opinion for demonstrable truth. The consequence is a world where nothing is right or wrong, everything a matter of opinion and opinion itself a matter of whim. When a news agency does the same thing, it is not only irresponsible but plain criminal.
News is not holding camera at a burning building or rioting public. It is not showcasing a molested girl or a kid who fell in to a ditch. That is ‘reality tv.’ A News Agency’s fundamental responsibility is to help its audience make sense of an issue or event reported. We read news papers or watch TV news channels to understand our world better, not to witness in blind terror the mindlessness of our times running amuck on our streets. Only a sick, perverted mind would entertain himself with such a notion of news. Not everyone in this country can be that depraved. I certainly am not.
Bride Burning – The Elephant In The Room Is Out Of Control by Avnita Lakhani
After having spent decades lost in concrete jungles, it is a strange feeling to see nature so up, close and personal on an everyday basis. Apart from the beautiful creature shown below, my visitor friends now include two foxes, a mongoose couple that seem to be terribly in love, a baby squirrel who shows up for his breakfast, a large flock of hen, sparrows, an old snake that’s too tired to hunt, and many others. I try to spend some time with whoever graces my backyard every day. And I get to see more and more… Watching them calms me down, helps me retain a sense of wellness and balance which I almost always found wanting in the cities. Maybe you too should step out and try to meet nature more often. But not behind man-made fences or walls, I hope.
I am a free bird. A creature of unrestrained passion. Like the flowing wind – sometimes gentle, sometimes wild. A blowing breeze and a bellowing tempest held in the same womb, born at will. I hate confinement. People who know me know this. And since I am one of them, I know it too. It has always been so. That is one reason why I consider my childhood tragic. It has been a epic of stifled material and emotional freedom to grow. But no form of energy can be curbed completely. Not forever. Over a period of time, it finds a way to escape. Or, when denied that, explode. Like pressurized steam.
In my case, there was both. Escape and Explosion. Release and Ruination. Deliverance and Destruction. Because human beings are not pressure cookers. And life energy is not steam. The natural instinct for freedom that was curtailed in the first two areas of my person was unleashed with abandon over the other two. I grew with a vengeance, and faster than most people my age – in mind and spirit. But instead of enjoying a natural want to shape my intellect and soul, I experienced, with a boiling rage against everything that explained and accepted that world as it was, a pressured need to vent my fury at all things stodgy and contrived.
It took 25 tumultuous years to realize that an individual who wants to truly achieve the potential of a human being cannot grow in pieces – he cannot evade any part of himself – mind, body, heart or soul. That is, thoughts, actions, emotions or consciousness. Real growth entails a constant, consistent and balanced movement of all four towards what one wants to be – what one wants to achieve in one’s character. (Primarily, virtues such as Rationality, Honesty, Independence, Justice, Integrity, Productiveness and Pride.)
I’m 35 now. And I am happy with where I have reached in my journey. But I never forget that half my life is overshadowed by the dark clouds of destruction of the most severe kind. Like the bombed out cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the wastelands of my past stand testimony to the carnage of a childhood that, in rare moments of weakness, I still miss. Without shame or guilt. Today the scarecrows of maturity and acceptance watch over the burial grounds for signs of wandering ghosts. They used to haunt me often but not much any more. And one day, I know, I will be free of these shadows that drag me down, to fly high and free, beyond the genial clouds, beyond the blue sky, beyond the shining stars to where no one has ever been before.
The clock on my table isn’t working. It hasn’t for the last four days. What do I care. Time isn’t of any importance to me. In fact, now that I think about it, I feel good the darn thing isn’t working. And I am sure it knows that too. It knows the game’s up. That is why the broken-down liar has that look of shame-faced defeat written all over it. The conniving evil little thing!
You see, my good sir, there is a certain feeling, a sense of deja vu, if I may say, when one, standing for while in the dark, gives in to his mind’s wanderings and starts seeing and hearing things which there are not, switches on the light only to find his fear disappear along with the dark around him. Such a man, rightly restored to his senses, might give out a loud sigh and say to himself, ‘Oh! What a fool I have been. The world is perfectly rational. I was just being duped by the dark!’ He might let out a full-throttled laugh to emphasize his new found knowledge. After all, a man who has been freed from his fear must be granted his moment of vanity. That is exactly what is happening here. I have found the truth, and my dear sir, it has set me free. Yes, I finally am free from the fear that had me in its tentacles, twisting and turning my spirit into an ugly monstrosity all my life. Allow me to explain it all.
I was possessed. Terror had taken over my spirit. It made me do things I didn’t want to. It controlled me. From inside. From outside. An invisible master, it sat perched smugly on a high rack, telling me what to do, watching me relentlessly wide-eyed and awake even when I slept. It had attached to me like a part of my being, refusing to let go even for a tiny while. I would close my eyes to escape it and it would still be there. Going tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock. The infernal thing had taken my very life and made it its own heartbeat. Yes, that was the truth.
Can you imagine your life being dictated by two tiny little needles going round and round in circles? I could, very well crush them between my thumb and forefinger if I could. Yet, I was powerless and they had me in their vice-like grip. Demanding attention, dictating terms, ordering me about here and there and everywhere, telling me in no mean terms, that I am a bum, lazy, unscrupulous and incapable of anything.
In spite of all this, I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t lift a finger against it. Oh no, I could not do that. I believed, without it my life will go completely out of control. Chaos will reign. I would be like a paper boat caught in a violent sea storm, tossed around on the massive waves of uncertainty. Oh yes sir, I was terribly afraid of crushing it to pieces as I should have. But finally, four days after that darned thing stopped going round and round in circles, I am free! I sit here, smiling at myself, content with life and everything it has to offer me. You might say it is only natural. I say, providence has it that I had to see light at the end of the tunnel. You ask me, what light? Ah! Forgive me. In my excitement I must have jumped a thought or two there. So let me go back and gather my thoughts once again.
My charged outpourings, if I was my neanderthan ancestor, would be just violent beatings of the chest and loud cooing. Yes, sir, I am happy beyond words today. And rightly so. For I have discovered a life changing truth and it is this: Time is an illusion! It is like the monster that hides in the darkness. A figment of imagination that does not survive the illuminating rays of light. So you too may rejoice now. It is a moment of freedom. We should just hang the ‘tick-tock’ machine from a pole and burn it publicly for scaring us for so long.
I, being a man given to intellectual inquiry, should have seen through the deception long ago. But alas, sometimes light dawns late even upon the brightest among us. You see, there is no concrete evidence to suggest the existence of time. I mean, aphorisms that rhyme cannot be objective proof of anything. ‘Time and tide wait for none,’ does not mean time exists. I mean, have you ever seen a man of good breeding stand by the shore and count tides? Of course, if you did find one, you would rightly term him as insane or as someone lacking in serious occupation. If one isn’t to count tide, then why count time? What is the purpose of either? Except waste of good life.
Let us take another angle here. Looking at things from another perspective, as it is said. Broadens ones understanding, it does. What relevance does time have in anyone’s life anyway? I mean, why does time exist? Who invented these bloody things called clocks? I am sure back when there were no clocks and time couldn’t be measured by the meaningless motion of it’s needles, human beings were just as well and happy. They went about doing their business and maybe, even did not miss a damn meeting either. Well, that could be a bit of exaggeration. Back then there must have been no meetings as such. Wait. I get it. Meetings were invented so that clocks were put to some good use on earth. Yes, that’s it. It’s like booze and Dispirin. The latter fulfills its purpose only when you overindulge in the first. And meetings are like booze, I tell you. Everybody likes to go overboard with them, ending up with bad headaches and terribly sick.
Yes, clocks are like Dispirin, I can see it now. I can see it quite clearly that they both exist because humans are weak willed. They are silly and stupid. They just don’t know, as it is said, where to draw the line. Or how else can you explain the simple and extremely foolish act of someone trying to, I believe the popular usage is, drink himself under the table. Science has proved beyond doubt that alcohol depresses the central nervous system. No man in his right senses would want to depress himself even if the stuff is offered to him for free. Or just because it is free. But, no! We pay good money, I tell you, hard-earned money to drink and depress ourselves. How can you justify that! You cannot. Ok, if I agree with your argument for a moment that alcohol is put to good use as social grease, and as one, most essential in high-minded society, and it does offer its patrons a temporary feeling of elevated self-esteem, tell me how does a man react the exact same way with a meeting as it does with alcohol? I beg you not to pretend we do not understand each other here. How is it that people, who seem otherwise of sane disposition, jump with glee at the mention of the word, ‘meeting.’ How is it that their eyes light up like that of children upon seeing candy at the thought of such an infernally depressing thought? Haven’t you seen them rush to faraway places and at odd hours to huddle together in bare-walled rooms, drink coffee and talk incessantly for hours without listening to a word of what is being said? Oh, these meetings, I think are worse than alcohol. They leave a sane man disoriented and depressed together after the first five minutes. You can take my word for it.
But why am I talking about meetings or booze here. I have nothing to do with either. I have nothing to do with time too. Time does not exist. No sir, time is an illusion that I can do well without. Like love. I know you are a bit cynical about my argument now. You say time and love are two different things. I say, wait, dear sir. Let me explain. Have you seen love? No, I do not mean representation of love but love itself. Have you seen it? See, like time you have not seen love either. You see the clock go through its motion, its needles going round and round in a strangely monotonous (and if you notice, indifferent) way. That is what I mean. If I go through the appropriate gestures of holding a lady in my hand and running my hand through her hair and at befitting moments make certain sounds and coo into her ears, you will immediately assume it is love. At least, you will say, oh! this man likes that woman. But is that correct, my dear sir? Can you not be mistaken? Do you know for sure that I’m in love with that lady? Or even that I find her affable and a pleasing company? Can you be absolutely sure? No. See! That is what I mean. I may be going through those motions because I don’t know what else to do. I have been taught to do certain things in august company. I cannot do anything else. I’m programmed, you see. To go through the motions of nicety. Of love. Of happiness. Yet you need to understand, like the needle that represents time, only my gestures are real. Representations are in themselves not the reality, isn’t it? So isn’t it right for me to day that time and love is an illusion. Some, with romantic disposition, will take immediate offence to my meandering, and with great profundity, state that love makes the world go round! Well, if you lie down firmly on your back and drink half a bottle of good whiskey, the world will go round and round and round till you suffer from nausea. What does it prove? Does it mean that love and whiskey are the same. If you ever dare even to allude to such a notion, they will burn your effigies before your house and shout slogans against you, dragging your good name through muck. They too are programmed to believe in love. In illusions.
See, like love, one believes in the idea of time because that’s all one gets to hear about since delivered upon this good earth. They tell you, you were born at 2:30am or 4:13pm or some other such godforsaken time as if it mattered. I mean, how is it relevant anyway. Will you have been any different if you were born at 2:29am instead or 2:30am? Or instead of 2:30 you were born at 2:31am? No! Of course, not. But some will tell you, such is not the case. They will tell you, my good sir, that a minute can change your life. They will even say that if you were born at 2;29 instead of 2:30, you could have been a great man, maybe like Abraham Lincoln or Mahatma Gandhi. Why, they would say, if nothing else at least you would not have had to go through the trials and tribulations of this life if you had decided to extricate yourself out of your mother’s womb (May God bless her!) a minute earlier. To a man of utmost vanity and genuine stupidity, these words can provide the much needed comfort of a beautiful fantasy while dragging himself through his wretched life. But, you, my good sir, being a man of intelligence will see it for what it really is – tosh of the highest order! Yes, that is what it is really. An illusion offered to appease the human weakness! Since we can safely say that you cannot go back to your mother’s womb (even if you wanted to or tried! May God bless her forever!) and reenact your entry upon the stage of life, the life you have now is the only thing you have on this earth. The good, the bad and the ugly parts of it included. So there you are. Love it or hate it, time has nothing to do with your birth or death or whatever you wish to do in between. Neither has love. Love and time are illusions. Invented to befuddle the human mind. To create a rosy fantasy for the weak. I need neither.
Maybe I should give away this clock. But who would want a broken clock. Like the great bard said, a thing going round and round signifying nothing is not a thing of beauty or value. Or is that what the bard said? These bards have the habit of saying the most darned things. I mean, you would think they are wise and witty and all. But when it comes to saying something, they make a mess of everything. The simplest of things in life acquire a rare complexity in their hands that people who have anything to do in life will do best to avoid them completely. For example, there’s a story of a man who kills his king because he like the idea of ruling and all that. Now, a young bard couldn’t just make himself say it as it is and instead wrote a play that usually takes kids a whole year to study and more often than not, three attempts to clear. Why would he do something like that? The answer is, time. He had a clock on his table that was working! Yes, my dear sir, believe it or not, it was the clock that gave birth to that and many other ills upon the human race. When you have a clock before you and you see that you have time, you try to do everything to occupy it. You see, men fear time. They worry that every second takes them closer to their inevitable death. Hence they are in an infernal hurry – a sort of race with time to their death, to do everything and anything before the clock stops forever for them. Leading a productive life, that is what it is called. But the thing is, if you are anything like the bard I mentioned, you will end up cramming up your remaining time with such stuff that generations to come will suffer its brunt. So, take that clock away, my good sir. Keep it locked in a vault, that is my advice. Or better still, gift it to someone you hate and watch them engage in a deadly race against time. While you are finally free to live your life on your terms.
Most of my last three days have been a continuous long wait. I see different shades of the feeling rise and retreat in me like waves washing over a beach. Expectant, anxious, impatient, frustrated, bored and then, complete detachment from the feeling of waiting itself, I speculate over the outcome of my effort. I hate speculating.
I realize that the act of waiting in itself is most draining. It saps you off all productive energry. Without any real control over the outcome, I feel threatened and helpless. It has left me doubting my own worth as a human being. It keeps me chained to the world that seems oblivious of my presence. The ego suffers. It finds itself slighted, insignificant.
With a certain level of assurance I can say that the agony of life lies in waiting for it to happen. Most of us don’t live, we just wait our entire lives, till death comes and ends our frustration.
Today, I find myself a little further away from my feelings. The immediacy of the moment has passed. I see the world is like a musical Merry-Go-Round that I didn’t care much about as a child. Anticipated amusement is a good reason to consider the ride, although, in real life those wooden horses don’t stop for anyone. You just take your chances, jump right into this whirling fascination before you, and hope to end up sitting on one.
I am not that adventurous enough, it seems. For I am waiting for the world to offer me a response. While by nature I not interested in horse rides of any kind, right now it is imperative that I rectify that attitude. At least, for a little while.
Yet I wait. For my phone to ring. I check my mail box for a reply that should be there but is not. I listen intently for a knock on my door signifying an express letter. Something. Something like a hand extended towards me from beyond the impregnable thick fog of solitude I exist in. No. I am not lonely. I still enjoy my company. Yet occasionally I find it necessary to allow other people in my life. I have no desire to be hermit. But I have lived with myself for so long and have become so comfortable that I don’t know how to step out of this invisible island I exist on. Trying to initiate contact, I end up fumbling like an idiot and thoroughly embarrassed. So I sit back and wait for a sign. From the world that I don’t exist in.
I am most peaceful living inside these walls of detachment, away from a world that seems to run on rules and regulations which I cannot understand, agree or bring myself to abide. Plus, I don’t like to spend my energy atoning for sins that are not mine. So I glide past the surface of their world, and smile. I don’t stop because conversations are hard to find. There is no common ground beyond the courteous ‘hello.’
The silence from other end has succeeded in making me feel a little depressed. If I look really deep inside my mind, a little useless too. It should not have. My ego must not need external validation. It should be its own judge and justification. I guess, I am not as clear in my head as I think. Or maybe, I am not completely free of my conditioning. I wonder why I should feel the way I feel because of what is happening.
Maybe tomorrow I will know. Maybe.
The Wait Continues…
I believe it is possible to predict the temperament of people long before they are born. Especially when it comes to the virtue of patience. Those that kick, scratch, cry and generally create a ruckus while inside their mother’s womb are those that lack it. They are the impatient ones. This restlessness is their first act of defiance against the laws of nature. Later, they grow up to treat man-made laws with the same disdain. Hardly ever do they learn to submit to the ways of nature or man. I also believe that their restlessness is the moving force behind most of the great inventions in human history.
I am impatient by nature. Yet I do not want you to assume that I am implying unparalleled greatness here. No. Not everyone who was born restless and impatient went on to change human history. I may or may not. Till I die, the possibility will exist. Just like it exists in your life. When I say I am impatient by nature I only say so to emphasize the greater difficulty waiting has for me. When I have to wait, every bone and sinew in my body struggles against the inertia in the moment. Oh yes, I hate waiting. Of all kind.
Waiting, as I see it, is ‘life on hold.’ It is present, which is the only thing we have, forfeited for a future that is unknown. It is mentally and emotionally vying for what isn’t, making us unavailable to the experience of what is, thereby erasing that moment from our life forever. When we wait, we don’t live, we simply sleepwalk through life.
Waiting is also accepting powerlessness. It is always a situation forced upon us, not a choice. Accepting it is accepting our helplessness. It is a humbling experience.
Therein lies the root of my impatience. I am impatient because I don’t like to feel powerless. My pride rests in the belief that as a human being I am capable of giving shape to my life. That entails control. Without control, my life would be like an animal’s – absolutely at the mercy of the external forces. Everything I learn in this life, everything I feed my mind, is meant to help me gain greater control over my life. But to realize that in spite of everything I do, I can still be powerless over it, is a terrorizing thought. It robs me of my pride. And that is precisely why I hate waiting.
That is one reason why God is such a comforting thought for many. It not only explains the helplessness man feels but also justifies it.
While I always wait because there are no other options, I find that I don’t always wait with the same frame of mind.
Sometimes I wait because the most logical next step would be a response from the world. Like when I say hello to you. Sometimes I wait because there is nothing better to do. For example, when I sitting on a park bench and waiting for friend to turn up. And some other times, I wait simply because I don’t want to feel guilty later on. Like, for example, if I ever buy a lottery or enter a grand raffle which promises a sleek BMW!
In all situations, expectations are involved, in varying degrees. In the first, a response is most expected, its nature, whether positive or negative is something I do not predict. In the second, the very nature of the response is doubtful. In the third, I am just afraid that if a miracle happens, I will feel terribly sorry for not having taken myself or my luck more seriously.
Now, the first situation can easily become the third situation when I am dealing with certain people. That is, when a response is the most logical next step but somehow because of the individuals involved, now suddenly has as much chances of happening as a miracle in my life. That is quite an experience. This is exactly what is happening to me right now.
I would like to totally remove expectation from my mind and go by only what is. And what is is this – no call, no mail, and no express letter at my doorsteps. Nothing that I would expect to be the next logical step. No response at all from the world that exists outside of my mind.
Parting thought: Waiting involves accepting helplessness, however temporary. It doesn’t suit my temperament at all.
She is a wife, and mother of two. She and her husband don’t see eye to eye on anything. Including the fact that he is not as rich as she wants him to be. Her suppressed anger is taken out on her two little kids. They get beaten up black and blue. Last week, the elder one, a boy of 5 died due to internal injuries in the head. The hockey stick had been a little too rough on him.
He is a rich landlord who has been refused a prime property by a farmer who lives there. He hires a dozen goons and get the farmer’s wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and 12 year old grand-daughter raped. In broad day-light. Before a whole village.
They are in-laws of a helpless girl who is no more. She was tortured, maimed and then burned to death by them. Her parents were a little too late to show up with the remaining dowry agreed upon.
He is a young man in love. He wants to marry the girl of his dreams. She is married to someone else. He kidnaps her little boy and demands her hand in return for the kid’s safety.
These are news from our leading national dailies. News that you wouldn’t spend a second on. Yet, they are closely linked to what happened at the Taj and Oberoi in Mumbai. Look closely. They are bound by a single, deadly idea - use of fear by physical coercion as a negotiating tool. And that is what ‘terrorism’ is at the core.
Every day, in every single part of India, hundreds of innocent people are used as pawn in terror tactics deployed by someone who believes it is his or her right to hurt or kill others in order to gain something. So why do you look in dismay at Mumbai now? Why the public outcry? Is it that one life less doesn’t mean a thing but 200 is a whole nation to mourn for? Or is it that terror is fine but the frequently rising scale at which it operates today is notacceptable to you?
An act of terror operates on the same fundamental always. The principle is the same everywhere. There is an aggrieved party, an establishment against which it fights and an innocent third party, the victim who is used as a negotiating tool. The method of engagement – use of fear by physical coercion. In different shapes and forms, all the three have been present in our life. Directly or indirectly. In our newspapers, on national television, in our own homes and neighborhoods, terror has been staring at us, stalking us, in the form of individuals who considered it their right to dispose of human lives for any cause they deemed fit. You have refused to see it. Yet you scream in horror and hate today. Why?
Are you raising your voice against a morally wrongful practise, a subjugation of your and my right to be or are you just screaming because you are scared?
Are you revolting against the idea that might should not and must not take away our right to live or are you just reacting to the AK-47 pointed at you?
A thought precedes every action. An act of terrorism stems from the idea that might is a justified negotiating tool. And that, end justifies the means. So when you let the hand that burned helpless girls for dowry, punched life out of kids to get even with their own spouses, stabbed people for perceived wrongful parking, you were paving way for the inevitable. That hand that points a gun at your head today was born from your callous indifference, my friend. That bellowing smoke and gun shots in a place of warm hospitality is the gory culmination of a disease that you thought wasn’t your business. Well, now it is!
MY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety
- William Wordsworth
“What is happiness?”
“How does one become happy?”
I believe no other question has been more thought about, discussed, debated and disagreed upon in human history than the two I mention above. Over the years I have heard many interpretations of what consists of ‘happiness’ in one’s life. While they did resemble some sort of an answer, it always felt like I was in the presence of some pre-historic witch doctor whose language was hard to understand even when he seemed to speak words I was familiar with.
‘Happiness’ was to be defined as clearly as ‘Love,’ which is abstract and obscure even today. Happiness was an emotion that could be felt but never explained. It was vague, mystic and remained that way for the high priests of worldly wisdom and intellectual superiority. I have a problem with that. I personally don’t believe when our great-great-forefathers coined the word ‘happiness’, they were either vague, mystic or ambivalent about it.
In my personal opinion one of the greatest disasters in our present culture is the ambivalence words have come to have. The absolute irreverence for accuracy in communication is appalling. I have said this before and I will say it again – we live an age of approximates. Approximates in terms of emotional and intellectual truths. We do not want nor seek exactitude in anything. Yet the truth is, reality is precise. It is concrete. Non-negotiable. An apple is an apple. A bird is a bird. A tree is a tree. They are not semblances of what they are said to be. They are what they are. Completely. Truly. Absolutely.
If 10 million people today say, “I am happy,” it seems to me that they would all be meaning different things. That is simply insane. How can we communicate with one another if the meaning of words became subjective. How can I speak with you, or you with me, if we decided that the words we speak can mean anything that we want them to. That is preposterous. If I say pineapple and you understand it for an apple, we will have chaos on our hands. Yet it goes on. The arbitrary dilution of meaning words carry in our world. It hinders us from understanding ourselves. From understanding the world around us. From engaging in life truthfully and meaningfully. One reason why, happiness is still a chimera in most lives.
I have wanted to be happy. Just like you do. The only problem was I did not know how to be happy because I did not know what it was and hence how to consciously seek it. Happiness was like everything else in life. Something that happened to me in spite of myself. I had no control over it. Yet I knew that life was not a random procession of undefinable, unrelated events or emotions. Happiness was to be acquired, consciously. Like one seeks knowledge. They are not automatically granted to one.
I know that happiness is not what those witch doctors spoke of it. It is not some paragraphs quoted verbatim from popular self-help books. It is neither vague nor mystic. It’s not a religious eventuality or a philosophical mirage. It is concrete and like all concrete things in our world, definable and achievable if we are willing to work for it. It is not a gift. It is not a miracle. It is not magic.
Surprisingly, I have learned about this fundamental and essential truth of life not from books I have read or the men I have met. I have learned it from those who seem to be most happy in life – kids and dogs. They don’t seem to be confused about the concept at all. Their lives are goal oriented and their only goal is happiness. We claim so about our lives too but mostly seem to be working against everything that could and would make us happy.
Today I want to share a few things that my canine and kid friends have taught me. I am grateful for that.
 Be Loyal To Life
Life is nothing but a conscious pursuit of happiness. Happiness is the supreme value. (A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. A value is an object of action. In this sense we can say that everyone pursues values. All of us do what we do to find and keep happiness.) Kids and dogs seem to do this naturally. Their everyday life is nothing but a pursuit of happiness. They are aware of what or who makes them the happiest and let that emotion guide their actions. In other words, they are extremely loyal to happiness.
For example, if someone or something other than their parents/owners makes them happier, they will not hesitate in spending more time with that other person or thing. The rules of our society don’t stop them from pursuing their happiness. They don’t wonder if it is OK to openly show their appreciation and love for the company of that someone or something even when social dictates rule against it.
If and when they spend time with you, they do so only because of themselves. Only because of their happiness. Their happiness is the touchstone with which they evaluate their relationship with the world around them. Nothing else, except force and fear, will make they betray that truth. Kids and dogs do not live in a world where ‘I have to’ exists. Their lives are driven by one truth, and that is ‘I want to.’
 Live In The Moment
I am yet to see a kid or dog that held grudges or ingratiated itself to someone they did not like to gain something tomorrow. Yesterday and tomorrow do not exist for them. Hence it has no significance and no control over them. They live in the moment. Their responses are to the here and now. They respond to Life, not to a memory or a fantasy. Not sharing their mind and heart with a past that is no more and a future that isn’t yet makes them fully available to moment that is. And that is what is called living life to the fullest. Their responses are an answer to the reality that exists – the moment that they live. Their lives are not reactions to figments of their imagination. ‘What was’ and ‘what will be’ do no exist for them. The live for ‘what is.’
 Be True To Life
Being true to life means not practising artificial responses to the reality that is. In simple terms, do not pretend. Kids and dogs show us what they feel. Not what you want them to feel or what you expect them to feel. The don’t try to be someone else to please you. If they don’t like a particular kind of food, they don’t eat it to make you happy. If they don’t like a toy or biscuit, no matter how expensive it is or where it was made or who bought it, they won’t waste their time on it. If something doesn’t give them pleasure, they move on to whatever that does. They don’t corrupt reality. They don’t change it to fit your needs or wants. They accept it as it is and react accordingly. Your emotions are not their reality. (By the way, emotions are personal and only a response to reality. They are not reality itself. They are subjective, varying from individual to individual.) Kids and dogs, they remain true to themselves by being true to Life.
In other words, they are emotionally and intellectually honest. For them, what is is. Hence they are who they are and not who you want them to be. They are free of your emotional demands or needs.
 Do Not Try To Control
Control is our need to alter reality to fit our expectations. It is one of the main reasons for unhappiness among humans. An individual cannot change another. Not in any real sense of the word. Yet he or she tries to. With love, with fear, with force. Knowingly and unknowingly. In love, we speak of their best interests. When we want to use fear as a weapon to control we threaten them with consequences. We use physical, financial, intellectual and emotional force to control. Somehow we have come to believe that if only people behaved the way we expect them to we would be happy. Of course, we never doubt that they would be happy too. Yet it is an illusion. Control does not exist. Even a slave who is in physical subjugation does not give in spiritually to his master. No man or woman can. It is against their nature.
Even the wise ones in us want the world to fit into their view of it. Albeit, secretly. When we fail, we get angry, frustrated, unhappy.
Kids and dogs don’t seem to have that need. No kid or dog tries to change its parent or owner or any one else for that matter. Their happiness is what keeps them alive to life. If you are capable of giving them joy, and you do, they will enjoy your company. If not, they will find someone who does make them happy. Their relationship with you is free of ‘need.’ There is no fear or force. There is no manipulation. The love they offer you is not something they use to get something from you. It is their response to the joy you give them. They don’t try to make you better parents, better owners or better humans. That responsibility is left entirely to you. Your life is your business. They understand it better than we do.
 Have A Self-sufficient Ego
An insufficient ego breeds insecurity. And insecurity breeds fear. Fear does not allow happiness. So an insufficient ego can only derive happiness from anything or anyone who abates it. You have to tell them how wonderful they are, how beautiful, how intelligent, etc., to make them happy. They don’t derive happiness from engaging in a pleasurable activity with you. Because the activity as such does not mend their broken self image. Such a happiness is neither real nor lasting. It is reactive and holds other people or things responsible for it. What it is is not happiness, but a desperate need for validation. The moment the external stimuli is taken off, the very same ego will go back to its permanent insufficient stage and either get angry and hurt or just wallow in self-pity, depending on the personality of the individual. People with insufficient egos hold other people and things responsible for their emotions. They never learn to have a healthy relationship with themselves and hence with the world around them.
Kids and dogs don’t seem to have such a problem. Their love is never an emotional need. Hence it sets no demands on you. It is a response to your ability to give them happiness. You play with them, they are happy. You tell them they are beautiful a hundred times, they don’t care. Simple.
Since they are NOT seeking validation for their being from you, your inability to love them is never held against you. The fact is, it doesn’t bother them at all. They never get sad because you do not love them. Their sadness is not a response to lovelessness in their life. [Lovelessness in one's life is equated to one's personal worthlessness in adult world. We cry not for the absence of love but because the extreme pain, shame and guilt the feelings of worthlessness create in us. That is a conditioned response.]
Dogs and kids become sad when they are not happy. Elementary, isn’t it? Their responses are to reality. Not to words. You hit them, they feel pain, they cry. You scream at them, they get scared, they cry. They don’t cry because they think you don’t love them. Likewise, you hold them close to your heart and tell them I love you, they instinctively feel the warmth of your body and respond appropriately. The word ‘love,’ no matter uttered in what language, means nothing to them. But what you do to show it does.
The best part of having an self-sufficient ego is that they will never indulge in emotional blackmail, something I personally abhor. That is, they will never hold your love for them against yourself to gain something. Most of us grown ups do that. And every time I see someone engaging in this worst kind of behavior, I feel sick to my core. Only someone with an insufficient ego can indulge, be depraved enough to indulge in emotional blackmail. It stems from their desperate need to feel un-broken. So they turn every possible emotional transaction with you into an opportunity to validate their being. They will wait for you to call them first, they will sulk if you spend a minute longer with their friend, they will not speak with you for turning up late for dinner, so on and so forth. They never learn to deal with emotional and intellectual maturity. (Honestly speaking, such people can be a real drain on your time, energy and happiness)
Look at a kid or a dog that loves you. If you walk into your house, and he or she is there, they won’t sit in a corner waiting for you to come to them. They will jump up in glee and run up to you. The reason is, they are not making sure you love them. They don’t want validation from you. They are happy to show you how happy they are to see you. Their love is not a search for fixing their broken selves. They don’t use love as medication or therapy. Love is a pleasurable emotion and they just enjoy it. It is an expression of life. A boundless energy that makes them want to go on and on and on.
 Be Responsible For Your Own Happiness
If you haven’t noticed yet, go ahead and look now. Kids and dogs don’t wait for you to make them happy. They are self-reliant when it comes to the fundamental need of life. They seek and find their own means to be happy. You are only one of the many people and things that they derive happiness from. If you are incapable of offering them joy, they don’t sulk. They don’t hold it against you. They just go and find other things and people. I am amazed at their dedication to their own happiness. They are not passive but active participants in their lives.
 Hold On To Your Innocence
Kids and dogs live in benevolent world. They start out by trusting you and the world they live in. They are unafraid of the unknown, be it people, places or things. Their only teacher is experience. If they have bad experiences, they avoid that which makes them feel bad. A kid won’t touch a hot plate twice. A dog won’t try rotten food twice. This trust with which they face the world makes them fearless. It helps them build instant relationships and opens up the whole world to them. Their only condition being, does this thing or person make me happy? Innocence, I believe, is a value to be cherished. Once lost, it is never to be regained. Never.
 Live Without Prejudice
Kids and dogs don’t care if you are black, white, rich, poor, young, old, beautiful, ugly, politician, priest, beggar or beauty pageant winner. If they are happy with you, that’s all that counts. Lack of prejudice allows them to respond naturally to every single opportunity for happiness without hesitation, without thinking twice. It makes their life richer. It gives them the advantage of an ‘open-mind’ and soul. They never live inside self-created prisons. A mind and heart that is not restrained by the silly and superfluous gives them absolute freedom to explore and enjoy life. Kids and dogs, they are free in the true sense of the word.
 Don’t Lose Your Sense Of Wonder
Boredom is often cited as the reason for a dull life. Yet kids and dogs never seem to have a dull moment in their lives. I believe it is because they are ever curious. They are curious about everything around them. They snoop around everywhere. The world is an exciting place for them to live because it holds mysteries and magic for them. It hides unexplored treasures. Life, for them, is an adventure. And adventures are never boring. They are never dull. The unknown captivates those who seek with their mind and soul. I don’t believe there is a dog or a child that wakes up groggy in the morning and thinks to itself, ‘Holy Crap!! Another Day.’ They get up and get going – its time for fun and games. I am yet to read about a dog or child that suffered from depression either.
If we were to treat ourselves like a child does and each other like children do, I believe we would have lasting, healthier relationships that offer joy and fulfilment. We would be engaging with life in a much more exciting and meaningful way. We would be living a full life.
If I have to sum up what I understand, I will say that if you want to be happy, remember three things. Follow your heart. Stay true to yourself and life. Live in the moment.
There is one more thing I have to say before bidding you farewell today. Something that I want to say. Because I am afraid. I am afraid that in our search for happiness, one of the first victims are our children. I am afraid to think what happens to the them in the name of love. In the name of discipline. In the name of a future their parents dream of. I know that parents hold great power in their hands. And power without understanding is dangerous. It destroys quicker than it can create. Creation demands conscious thought. Destruction is mindless.
I am afraid of mindlessness. Children have nothing to protect themselves against mindless adults. Adults who punish them for following their hearts. Adults who teach them to be afraid of being who they are. Adults who take away their happiness by giving them only the grown-up version of it. I know that gradually most children will give in and give up. I can see their egos shrivel and die. I can see them grow into automated robots without a mind or soul. I can see them learn to destroy what is best in them – their own self. Most of the parent’s will never even know that they have become their children’s worst enemy. By loving them the way you do. For them, your version of love may be the cup of poison Aristotle drank.
Dreams don’t die. They lose their sheen, lose their breath, and gradually disappear from the surface of our lives, only to haunt us like the memories of a departed lover, colorless without their immediacy, offering us an excuse for the pain we all feel but find hard to explain. Dreams, they too have their place in our world. But it isn’t among the living as shining beckons of hope for a better tomorrow. They survive among us as apparitions of an archaic fantasy that as children we discover within the pages of popular myths and folklores. When indulged by grown-ups amongst us, they become walking anachronisms of our times.
It is my dreams not my nightmares that I find most difficult to live with. They keep pushing me to carry on with the struggle of being alive. They falsify reality and justify the need to survive. The blatant truth is there is no need for life. It is a choice passively made out of cowardice rather than actively sought with courage. And I dream of being free from cowardice. Knowing fully well that dreams are always unreal. Like a mirage in an unending desert, they are only hallucinations of a thirsty traveller’s mind. A parched throat’s hope for salvation from it’s misery – a handful of water. Often becoming the sole purpose of his whole journey. Ever in sight but always out of reach. He chases the apparition in time unaware that he is chasing death all the while. I believe, suicide bombers too have dreams. They are just more urgent than mine. Or so it seems.
I want to be alive in the moment. Be alive for and to the moment. I want to be aware of the world spin around me. See the magic of creation unfold. But my dreams, they refuse to let me live in the ‘now.’ Always sabotaging my efforts with the promise of a better tomorrow that I can only live inside my head, they take away my opportunity to be present in my life. A constant slave to my imagined blessings in some undetermined time and space, I keep walking oblivious to the earth under my feet. I fail to smell death coming closer to me. I hardly notice the growing cold within.
Sometimes when the sun hides from the world and darkness falls over my eyes like a heavy blanket covering everything in sight, I sit down and try to remember what I was looking for and why I began the journey. But the effort seems too much. My mind can only hear my parched body scream. There’s a watering hole it had seen just a while ago or so it believes. I wait for sunlight, ready to drag my feet along the sands of time, chasing a mirage again. Compulsively, helplessly, dejectedly.
Till I collapse one night to never dream again. My open mouth will remain, still seeking a life saving drop of water but instead being filled with rough sand. The wild wind will erase my footprints forever, and the desert will toss my lifeless body into a makeshift grave, burying everything except a legacy no one recalls.
Dreams, I know, they don’t die. After they suck me dry alive, they will move on to find a new pilgrim of life. Another dreamer will be born of mankind the second I die. I am sure someone is keeping a body count.
Abdullah was a poor man. He lived in an age and place where being poor was his legacy and being a Muslim made sure he passed it on to the next generation. The typical rich Hindu landlords didn’t hire Muslims then. They opted for those who were considered to be of the lower classes that are now referred to as Scheduled Caste and Tribes. Now, Muslims couldn’t hire Muslims and thereby help their sufffering brothers cause they had no work to offer and no money either.
However, my grandfather was no typical rich Hindu landlord. He was Hindu, alright. He was also a landlord. But the moment he got married he discovered himself on the streets without a penny or a house. He had married a Hindu woman but from a different caste. That was a sin and a most grievous mistake even then. His family threw him out. But he loved my grandmother and she loved him. They began their life from the scratch. In a makeshift hut.
By the time, my grandmother had given birth to her 4th child, in a total of 11 to be born, they had moved into a decent house, and were well enough to have three meals a day. By the time she delivered their 7th child, my grandfather was the owner of 3 acres of productive plantation and a large expanse of paddy field. He had his own bullocks, and cows. My grandmother had her share of goats and hen, and a backyard garden that boasted of all kinds of vegetables one could think of. They were a hard working couple and had made it all happen with their own two hands.
So when Abdullah moved in to the neighbourhood, with his wife and 6 children, all in various stages of impoverishment, my grandfather didn’t think twice about offering him work at his fields. Abdullah was to engage in what men in villages did mostly in those days – work in the fields, and take care of the bullocks. His wife became my grandmother’s help, though her movement was strictly restricted to the backside of our house. Their kids hung around with her, and ate whatever was available in the kitchen. One proper meal, at night, was on the house.
This arrangement, however beneficial for both Abdullah and my grandfather, was not taken lightly by the Panchayat. But not one to bow under pressure, my grandfather did pretty much as he pleased, and did it successfully too. Abdullah was a grateful man. He served my grandfather most loyally.
When my grandfather died, all his kids had been educated and mostly employed across the country. Abdullah’s kids had grown up and taken his job with my grandfather. Abdullah didn’t have many dreams. To live and die with a full stomach was the best life he could imagine of. By the time he died, rumours were drifting in to the village that anyone could go to Persia and become as wealthy as a Sheikh. It was said that in Persia one could simply pick up gold nuggets off the streets. Even though most Muslim kids never had formal education, they were pretty good at Arabic from their visits to Madrasas – their religious school. Armed with the language of their God and dreams for the first time in their lives, many of them started leaving for this new land that seemed to the a heaven on Earth. Whether anyone believed the stories of rich sheikhs, kings with thousands of harems, golden palaces and uncountable wealth, Persia proved to be manna from heaven for a community that was destroying itself in a time that offered them no consideration.
Times changed. The wheels of fortune kept turning. Many summers came and went by.
One fine morning as my father sat in the front portico of our house and as usual was wondering about the rising prices and all, a strange stranger walked into our house. The first thing I noticed was the large golden wristwatch that hung like dead weight on his sunburned left wrist. Somehow, I assumed, that explained why he leaned towards his left while walking. There were two large gold rings on his left hand and one on his right. A massive gold chain hung around his neck, and as if to oblige the curious public, he had generously left the buttons till his belly open offering a perfect display of it. A huge gold-framed goggles adorned half his face, and the rest of it was smiling at us benevolently. The tight fitting polyester red shirt with large collars were the 80s fashion statement. I had seen the pictures of film heros posing in them on street side posters.
I and my sister immediately took up strategic position behind the front door, hiding ourselves with the curtain and leaned over to see what transpired between our dad and the rich man. Of course, even as kids, our little minds had conclusively arrived at that fact – this man was rich! No one in our village wore so much gold. Plus he was dressed the way rich people in the cities dress in movies. Then, there was the most telltale sign of wealth – he smelt of perfume! The whiff of that strong fragrance hit my nostrils and instantly I was transported into a world of fast cars and beautiful women in trousers, just like in the movies. This guy had to be rich, I was sure.
I don’t know much of what happened in the portico after that. My mother, as usual, dragged us both and once again reminded us how kids from good families behaved. Well, we were just curious. Kids are. But somehow parents don’t seem to get it. Anyway, after about 20 minutes of so, he left. There was my dad’s canned laughter, which compared to his booming displays of mirth, sounded like the noise of a shivering tin sheet. My mother had served him tea and biscuits. When he was gone, my mom and dad talked excitedly, which of course, brought me and my sister back from the forced exile and to the portico.
There was a plastic bag in my dad’s hand, and I realised that was the reason for my parents joy.
I remember the contents of that plastic bag and wonder what they signified. They underlined that times had indeed changed. That the wheel of fortune had forged ahead for sure. The contents underlined my dad’s poverty. It once again stamped on my forehead the mark of shame – deprived! In a time when its a crime to be poor, it marked me a criminal for no fault of mine.
The bag contained a shirt piece and two pant pieces. Abdullah’s grandson had come a long way. He had gifted them to my dad, who had accepted it, greatly relieved that he no longer had to worry where to find the money or material to buy his soon to be college going son something decent to wear. We were just so poor that it deprived but hurt more. I don’t know why, but the look in my father’s eyes brought tears to mine. There was relief in them. Like every other time when sadness of a helpless kind refused to stay inside and threatened to burst into the open, I ran into the bathroom, closed the door and turned on the tap before letting myself be taken over by the fury against my fate. I can almost remember every single time I have cried in my life. There have been only 7 such occasions.
We had to borrow money to stich the shirt and trousers. I wore them for two years. I had nothing else to wear. Abdullah’s grandson was a rich man by our village standards. He was now in Persia. My grandfather would have been proud of him. But he still wouldn’t have accepted that gift, I know that much.