Some people have exceptional philosophy of life driven by their unique—sometimes seemingly eccentric—beliefs, assumptions and thoughts. Tau Sukhlal was one such farmer. He was a lone mule driving his creaky cart on his very own terrain for a century of lifetime. He was a little bundle of inexhaustible energy. Ploughing the fields forever was his Ikigai, the pair of well-groomed oxen his nearest heart interest in the family, and going to the nearest town on his bicycle even while in his nineties was his passion.
He was once spotted doing push-ups in the privacy of the millet fields. Well, nothing exceptional about the exercise. The feat is mentionable because he was nearing hundred at that time.
He troubled the pitcher of water only once in a day. There was no need to take the trouble again as he drank the entire pitcher in a short interval. Then he worked, worked and worked more. The human system is unique in many ways and we cannot generalize. He had his own diet plan that included a pitcher of water just once in a day.
Further, he rarely spent his nights under the roof even when the weather elements were very testing. He preferred himself over the roof instead of under the roof. In summers the open skies are blissful to sleep on the terrace. For the monsoons and chilly dewy winters he had another roof over his quilt. He covered his charpoy under a polythene sheet and slept to the bombardment of dew, rain, hail and fearsome thunderclaps. In this manner he walked on the path of life for a good hundred years and is primarily known as the one who would eat a big mound of shakkar, powdered jaggery. He was so busy in his little world that whenever I recall him, the image of a human version of the busiest ant on the planet crops up.
Well, coming out of the nostalgia for the local celebs in the past. It’s a damp late evening as I ride a scooty. It’s a countryside unpaved track among the farmlands. The paddy fields are pleading for no more waters. More and more isn’t good. The paddy is over-drunk and has fallen.
On both sides of the rutted path, the grass has grown wild. Travelling across the cropped fields brings to one’s memory such work brutes as tau Sukhlal. His image brings a smile. But the bull frogs are always plotting to effectuate your fall. The twilight has triggered a chorus of crickets and other insects.
The headlamp of the two-wheeler puts the bullfrogs in a jittery mood. One can see a bullfrog sitting by the path from a distance. The sound and light of the approaching vehicle doesn’t break its song or meditation. It but will jump right in front the moment you are about to cross the meditating sage. It seems as if it wants to commit suicide. So here I go with a series of bullfrogs jumping right in front of the little vehicle one after the other.
One in fact mistimes its suicidal dive and lands on my foot. Then the suicide attempts have to wait for a few minutes. A bullfrog is quite big. It appears even bigger if you see it on your foot. I fall down. Luckily not hurt. The culprit triumphantly jumps again and lands into the path-side paddy field. In retaliation I turn suicidal and ride pretty fast. If they don’t jump too close, they are a beautiful sight to watch, however.
The fall has left me cranky and fidgety. I respond, react rather, by skipping dinner—or was it laziness under the garb of spoilt mood—and promise not to read or write during the night. I decide to sulk and do no more of any activity before retiring for the day.
The children in the street have extended their riotous play in the tractor trolley parked at the little square by the house. They have the bulky iron carrier to beat to the limits of their fancies. Shouts, laughter and tonking at the sides and floor of the trolley make bearing up with the noise itself a big task. So I cannot say that I am lying idle.
There is a serious matter among the players now. The clattering din has given way to a chatter which graduates to a serious conversation. They are discussing about their weight. A couple of them point out to be in forties on the scale of weight. So they are the big boys in the group.
‘I am 42 kilo,’ one says.
‘I am 46,’ the other counters.
‘But you are 14 years, I am only 13. Even with your extra year and more weight I gave you more slaps that day.’
‘When you felled me from my cycle.’
‘Near Jiten’s house whose windowpane was broken by Nittu.’
‘Yea, I remember, you hit first after getting up but after that I gave you at least 15 on your face.’
‘I remember that I gave you a slap everywhere on your face. If I add the ones on the sides of your head and at the back of neck I must have given at least 16.’
Then they pushed each other and began on the second league of the slapping game. No malice involved. The smaller kids danced around and the slappers returned to their houses with much flushed red faces. I believe their slapping game will further continue on the next day.
I still carry the heat of the bullfrog-inflicted fall and decide to chill out with a cold bucket bath. It’s blissful. Water not only cleans you, it heals the mental scars also. I feel light as I put the nice soft towel to wipe the body. I have regained my poise and smile. I am but again on fire after the cool bath. The fiery red ants in one’s towel can quickly put you on fire. The skin literally burns. Well, some days are there just to test you at many fronts. I scrub myself vigorously to make mincemeat of the tiny culprits. It’s then a very prolonged bath with a sullen, brooding, frowning demeanour.
If you feel sad and lonely, go out and open your heart to the open skies. ‘A lone man is the neighbour of God,’ says an Afghan saying. I go on the terrace and open myself to the darkish blue stillness of the night sky. The stars twinkle gently in the clear sky. There is a solitary little loaf of cloud in the sky surrounded by the starry applauds around it. The starlit bluish darkness pervades around the little speck of existence. This little fluff of cloud seems like a small piece taken off from a huge cotton bale. It stays there in the clam sky for an hour or so and then calmly melts away into the shapeless darkness.
I have my smile back. The night sky heals you if you are receptive to its mysterious treatment. You just have to look and smile. The rest of it is taken care by the starry immensity.
The younger Parijat tree in the corner of the courtyard has started to make nights sweeter with its night blossoms. These nigh flowers have the beacon of hope and light for the hearts that need it.
If during the solitary nights, you want to overcome the little tumbles that you faced during the day, I recommend a good Iranian movie. They are gentle and soft lullabies for the bruised self. You float on a misty breeze. There is sweet sadness in the tiny episodes in the lives of ordinary people. I watch ‘The Taste of Cherry’. A terribly unhappy and lonely man has lost his spirits and gusto for life and is thinking of committing suicide. An old man comes his way and tells the forlorn man that he too faced a similar situation once in life and went to a mulberry tree to hang himself with a rope there. Just that the mulberry wasn’t cooperative to his plan and offered him a sweet mulberry. The suffering man ate the sweet mulberry and it instantly took away all the bitterness of life. The suicide-seeking man also tastes a sweet cherry and its sweetness is sufficient to help him regain his faith in life. The sweetness of a little mulberry or a cherry sustains one through the darkest hour of one’s soul and then hands us over to the prospects of a sunny dawn. The sun smiles fresh and we get up and smile in return. Don’t ignore the little sweet mulberries and cherries in your life. They will sustain you even if the world falls apart around you.
The cherry-sweetened night is beautiful. The bullfrog-inflicted falls and the fiery red ants driven fires lose their meaning. The sweetness hands me over to another Iranian movie ‘The Song of Sparrows’. The soft charms of this little world carry me deep into the folds of night. An ostrich farm manager fails to capture an escaping bird and is fired. He has a smiling daughter who needs a hearing aid. Desperately in need of money, he slogs around Tehran for sustenance. He piles up a huge junkyard in his garden. He has taken it too seriously and turns quarrelsome, snappy and cranky. His children try to help him in adding to his earnings but his pride is wounded. He wants to do it all by himself. Good principles and need pull him both ways as he loiters around among an assortment of temporary jobs. He starts gathering the discarded household items, as if in panic, and consequently finds himself perched upon the heap of his junk. Sadly, the mound of his crazy collection crashes, breaking his bone. Then his children and the villagers come together to cooperate and help him through the rough patch. On his bed he learns to appreciate the song of the sparrows that he never had time to listen in life. His little son works with his friends in a wealthy man’s garden to earn hundreds of herrings which they plan to breed in the water reservoir they have cleaned in their fields. They have done well and are taking the herrings in a big basket of water. The basket breaks and they lose their herrings to the water drainage. The boy saves a couple of herrings in a poly bag full of water. They are crying over their loss. But the sight of the two herrings swimming in their water regains their smiles. They have lost hundreds of fish but the loss of those hundreds has given them at least two herrings.
Beyond one’s individual miseries, it’s the song of life that matters. The loud, piercing din of survival becomes tolerable if you have the ears for the soft sparrow songs. It’s not about how much we store. It’s basically about properly using what we have. Life is not even about how much we lose. Even losses have something to offer. Life is basically about wisely using what is left to us after the falls. It is also about nurturing a habit to smile over all the petty irritants of life.
These are beautiful movies and I smile and look into the night sky. If you need company and guidance while stumbling over life’s irritants seek it and ask openly. A book is there, a movie is there, or some other program or people whom you think capable of helping you regain your smile. Don’t be a loner. There is always company in one form or the other. Open yourself to it. You gain from it, believe me. You sleep peacefully in the dark then and welcome a new day with a smile.