Life beyond Established Mindsets

Clouds float like huge cotton bales in a blue sea. They bear a tired look as they move westwards. They should be as the rainy season has been quite busy for them. The skies now get back their metallic birds after a hiatus of one and half years due to the multiple waves of the pandemic. The frequency of flying aircrafts is increasing. They look like another species of birds flying higher. Below them, the scavenging black kites have started to fly in the village sky quite frequently, a clear sign of the prowling urbanization. Nothing wrong with the change, it’s inevitable. We can but have better waste management and more trees for the kites to look for natural preys instead of hawking over the stinking waste of humanity.

A dragonfly is resting on the pointed end of the spear-shaped grills over the upper border of the garden gate. It’s a beautiful sight. I dare the monkeys to do the same. It’ll give a solid injection on their red bums. They but have better minds than to take their follies to this extent. So they prefer not to get injected in this manner. If I had the power to punish them and they possessed the patience and willingness to take it, I would ask them to sit on these spikes.

This is the month of pitra paksha, ancestor worship month, when people put ceremonial offerings on their wall tops and roof parapets. It’s believed that one’s ancestors receive the offerings through the birds, especially the crows. Now there aren’t many crows left here in the village. Only the monkeys and Homo sapiens are adding to their numbers. A few dozen crows are taking burps of kheerhalwamalpua and puris. Looking at the quantity of the food on offer, the crows can, at the most, taste it. And just tasting it leaves them full to their neck. Being overfed, the crows look sleepy in fact. The major portion of the food is then taken by the monkeys on behalf of the ancestors. With this rich extra diet I expect more and more monkey mamas carrying even more monkey babies.

I am fed up with the monkeys. I need diversion, something that can make me forget the simian-driven misery. I watch some Iranian movies. If you are fed up with the typical larger than life, unreal song, drama and romance of the Bollywood try some Iranian movies. They are so simple and small time in their subtle plots that they pierce truth like anything. They sound like the countryside trill of a little bell tied on the neck of a sheep, a little hymn, pious and pure.

Majid Majidi is a master storyteller on the screen. His ‘Children of Heaven’ is Himalayan in emotions, even though it’s a tiny-budget story, primarily concerning a little pair of brother and sister. It’s not a fight for billions or the best looking girl around. The family has extremely limited means and the brother-sister duo has to share the same pair of sneakers to go to their schools. They are always running to help each other reach the school in time. The nine-year-old boy then runs a four-kilometre race to win a pair of shoes for his little sister. To win the shoes he has to lose the race to two runners. The shoes are for the third winner. The first and second positions carry far more lucrative rewards. But these better rewards have no meaning for the boy. Our ‘best’ is what we ‘need’. Beyond that it’s a pathetic tale of greed. He fights for the third position to get shoes for his sister. To him the first and second positions are as worthless as the last position in the race. That’s the beauty of pure hearts. They indeed are children of heaven. Our children have such a rich potential for purity, innocence and unconditional love. It’s a pity that we allow it to dissipate as they grow old. This has been the biggest unharnessed resource on the earth. This I think is our biggest misfortune and collective failure.

The other movie that brought tears of gratitude, joy, smiling sadness and understanding is named ‘Baran’. It’s the story of sublime love, a love that isn’t looking for completion in the form of marriage or getting the person as we usually perceive it. A simple, bucolic construction site labourer falls in love with an Afghan refugee girl. She initially worked as a labourer on the same site. She had to disguise herself as a boy because the female refugees aren’t allowed to work in the foreign country. Well, he gives everything away to see a smile on her face, gives away his entire savings, sells his citizen identity card in the black market and turns a stateless citizen. He can’t buy her costly gifts but he gives a pair of crutches to her father who has broken his leg. He offers all he has to the altar of his emotion. He has to see a smile on her face before she leaves Iran for her home country Afghanistan. As she leaves for her native land, she gives him a faint smile, a smile so precious given her inexplicably horrid pain and pathos. She then hides her face in her burka, loses her identity as the truck moves away, perhaps forever.

He is left behind as the most satiated of a lover. He has just given his all, selflessly. Hence there is no pain. When you give all you have for your emotion, you won’t feel a loser. You hardly carry any guilt. And a guiltless conscience will enable you to smile over tears. He has given his all. He isn’t in pain over his offering to pure love as he smiles while looking at the sandal mark in the mud where the girl’s footwear had stuck as she left for her country.

Love isn’t a derivative of outcomes in relationships. It’s only about how much depth you enjoyed irrespective of what happened later. The boy and the girl never so much as touched each other’s hands but their smiles at the end of the movie say it all. They could feel love even though they couldn’t act on the feelings of love in the form of a formal relationship.

I have moisture in my eyes as I recall those lovingly haunting scenes in the movie. The ceiling fan above is creaking with equal measure in sadness. It is a battered, rusted ceiling fan in the veranda above the dining table whose one corner is reserved for writing. The fan may sound sad but it still is a happy home for somebody. The upward facing plastic cup on the fan’s rod has enough space for an old bat to spend his days. The fan has crooked wings and makes creaky weird noise as it revolves slowly. The bat seems to have fallen in love with this set-up.

Initially I tried to rob the bat of its ownership deed on the fan. It was but so damn adamant in retaining its lurching cradle that it flew dangerously close to my face. It gave me enough warning to stop the project midway. A simple, nondescript village writer is no match for an angry bat. The bat is soundly sleeping above as I write this. There is a guava tree in the garden. I am sure he tastes most of the guavas in the night leaving them for me to eat during the day.

I am sharing something which might be disturbing to a few people. I have successfully opened very hardy looking brass locks of famous brands. What is disturbing in that, you may wonder. Well, it definitely raises a few eyebrows if you manage it with a thin screw driver. Before you jump to any conclusions and imagine me going around stealthily in the dark of night, let me clarify I use it when the option of the key is missing.

Once it happened like this. It was a heavy brass lock of a famous brand that had lost its key in the house. With the spectacle of messing it up with an outright breakage, I thought of giving it a try with a thin screw driver. I just put it in the key slit and it dropped open in less time than even a key would take. My sisters looked agape. I myself got a shock how did it happen. The feat gave me so much confidence that I kept an eye on the lucky screw driver in case of similar emergencies. And it did arrive.

A peasant woman in the locality had a star of her eyes, a huge brass and iron lock. It gave her that much of security as no God, family member or the entire police of India would give. We can say it was her first love. She was very finicky about someone getting into her house and steal her things. But as long as the house was under the protection of her lock, she could afford to take relaxed breaths a few yards away from the door.

The lock was very firm in its duty but the key turned frisky and lazy and got lost somewhere as she looked helplessly at her obedient lock. ‘Let me break open the door itself!’ a sturdy farmer was ready with a heavy iron rod. ‘We can use it to break the stones, let me try this one,’ I offered. The peasant woman always accosted me very lovingly so I thought it my duty to help her. The look in her eyes told me that she found it as much impossible as driving the earth off its trajectory with this needle. She really trusted her lock. To her it was the strongest one in the world that would need the entire village’s effort to resolve the issue.

Anyway, in went the screw-driver’s tip to a particular direction—I am not going to tell about the specifics because people with ulterior motives may take clues and wreak havoc in neighbourhoods—and the clock dropped open. It took almost half the time she usually took with her regular key. She was rattled. Shocked and out of her wits, she felt cheated by her dear lock. She stared at me with open mouth as if I was the biggest burglar in the world who broke open locks almost professionally. I had to leave the scene in a hurry. After that she lost her faith in locks. ‘Locks are just to protect our homes form dogs and cats, not from…’ she would stop and spare naming me and look at me suspiciously.

After that I avoided the eventuality of breaking the locks whose keys went missing within my house a few more times. The last time the best lock in the house, a big brass one of a famous brand, tried to test my skill. The lock was defeated fair and square. ‘You seem to have a lot of these experiences in your past birth,’ my sister laughed once. I just got conscious and looked the other way.

There is a lesson here. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to do it at any cost. What you can do is definitely important. But what you shouldn’t do is equally important. You shouldn’t open locks stealthily in the dark just because you can do that with screw drivers. Do it if someone has lost the key and is looking for some help. It applies to most of our skills, capabilities and knowledge. We have to draw a line beyond which we won’t do something even though we are capable of doing. A car without brakes, and all of accelerator, may enjoy a furious ride but it surely crashes over the precipice after a point.

Presently, the best lock guarding the worst provisions in the house in the storeroom surrenders to my screw driver, its key being on uninformed vacations somewhere. The cobwebbed interior is shrieking to be relived of its load a bit. I am in lenient spirits and agree to its plight. There go the empty cartons, bottles, mugs, wires, canisters, dented utensils, stacks of newspapers and many more things. I don’t wait to haggle with a kabadiwala over the things that I find a burden on the old countryside house and draw out blood from his already anaemic finances. I simply pile up things at a corner by the house. I know one man’s trash is somebody’s treasure. The things are usually picked up within a day. But today it takes much less time. They are already here and I am yet to finish disburdening my barn and the storeroom of the extra stuff.

It’s a pleasant surprise. They are two sweat-laden dark handsome adolescent girl kabadiwalas. Why should boys have all the fun? The girls are matching boys in the space so why should this earthly domain be for the boys only. They are sorting out things with a sweet sweaty determination. Their duppatas are purposefully tied around their waists. There is a look of full mission. Their carrier rickshaw is getting loaded with the old treasure. They greet me with a smile. Hardworking girls earning their bread through diligent work is something what puts them into the orbit of divinity in my eyes.

I was once so overjoyed at seeing a girl electrician in the nearby town working wholeheartedly at my voltage stabilizer that I had to give her three time the money I owed her apart from a brotherly blessing on her head, all this to justify the moisture of joy in my eyes. Coming back to these waste collecting girls, I get so overjoyed at their complete dedication to the job—most importantly, their eyes don’t carry shame, guilt, embarrassment or any other negative complex about their job—that I have to run back again into the barn and bring out something that would be of use to them at their house. I drag out my iron folding bed, in good condition even after serving for a decade at my rented accommodation in Delhi when I slogged out in the editorial departments of academic publishers. I am retired now, too early a retirement though. But the bed still has much more to offer to tired bodies. I put it on their carrier rickshaw with full respect and a smile. They also smile back with confidence and pride. They are not begging, they are doing a job. And a job is a job is a job.

Look for bread daily but look for meaning beyond yourself also. All of us, from rag-pickers to space walkers, can view our jobs as ‘meaningful to society’. Aren’t these girls doing an amazing job for the society? They clean the surroundings and clear away things that would leave the locality stinking. So dear readers, give respect to those who are doing their job happily.

I have seen smiling rag-pickers and terribly unhappy ever-frowning corporate guys in swanky buildings. My respects flow to those who do their job joyfully, taking it to mean something bigger than themselves, a kind of contribution to the larger scheme. Every task done with a happy frame of mind is a contribution beyond the limited scheme of the self. Try to fall in love with what you do, just as I like the task of writing even though only a few hundred copies sell and I hardly earn any money from my writing. But it’s my Ikigai. I am at my best in feelings while I am writing. Find your Ikigai!