I have been relishing the sweetness of my mother tongue for the past one week. The realisation, that I have still not lost the ability to pen down( literally) a few words in Malayalam, has raised my confidence level immensely. I tried to focus on the light hearted and humorous .The Good Lord knows that we can all benefit by laughing at ourselves a bit! We are all too full of ourselves, generally speaking.
But then another memory emerged, and my mood changed: it took me back to the holiness of it all. The power of a question. Never, ever, underestimate that power to reach out.
When I reached the Bal Sishu Grih ( Home for the children: Orphans/ Abandoned) the classes were going on in full spree. Remember that a decade ago, things were very different. No High Court Committee was there to review and inspect the functioning of such homes. NGO and UNICEF representatives were not given access freely. The Homes were under the iron control of a rather financially deficit department laboured with too much work and too less sensitivity. Oliver Twist in his orphanage, asking for more, and getting beaten for it- that would catch the picture.
A separate group of children were seated on a verandah-they were all obviously mentally handicapped, MR, ( affected by mental retardation) and no one was there by their side. They sat vacant eyed and desolate. Pulled by something far beyond compassion, I moved to that corner. It was then that I saw him: bright eyed, eager, sharp ! A very normal child amidst that sad group.
‘ Who is that child? Why have you seated him amongst these kids?’ I asked the Superintendent.
‘ No one understands his language. So….’, she was apprehensive of disciplinary action.
‘ What do you mean? You never tried talking with him?’
She sensed my anger and kept quiet.
When I reached his side, I asked him in Hindi, ‘ Child, what is your name?’
He answered. He also said something in what sounded to me like Telugu.
‘ Are you from Andhra?’ I asked, smiling at him.
A barrage broke; as the ten year old started showering me with his words. I understood the gist of it but not all.
‘ How long since he has been here?’ I asked the Supdt.
‘ Almost three years, Madam. He was shifted from an Agra Home.’
I pulled out my mobile and called my dear friend and batchmate – a North Indian- posted in Andhra Pradesh. She came on line.
‘ I think this kid is from Andhra and accidentally ended up in UP. Please speak to him and tell me the details,’ I said.
She is one of the finest officers I know,( winner of the PM award of excellence ), but more than that she is a great human being. Ten years ago, that same sparkling genuineness, reached out through the phone.
I gave my phone to the kid.
When the phone was given back to me the child was sobbing and my friend was jubilant!
‘ Mini! This is a miracle! He is from a village in the nearby district. He says that he ran off after a bicker with his mother over his lunch and got into a train! The train reached Agra and a police man caught him. He has been in various Homes since then. Note down the address of his house. I shall inform them too.’
I sent the child, accompanied by a senior officer, the very next day to his village in Andhra. When the officer came back, he told me that the villagers celebrated ‘ Diwali’ due to the joy! ‘ Madam, that mother had given him up for dead. The police station had a report which read – presumed dead! I was hugged many times along with him! Felt wonderful!’
I felt happy that I could do my bit; and called my friend to convey my gratitude.
‘ Keep asking questions,’ she told me half seriously, half jokingly.
Yes indeed, the power of a question! It can change someone’s life.
May the Lord enable us to ask the right questions. Always.
The news of a poor, mentally distraught, famished young man- belonging to the tribal community- being beaten mercilessly to death by a mob who alleged that he had stolen some rice; who took delight in posting selfies, made many of the listeners reel under the shock and horror of human deeds. Finding it difficult to forget the picture of those wide eyes and face which was innocently staring at evil, I ended up calling someone dear to re kindle the fastly dimishing hope within.
Sister had a different take on the issue. ‘What enters our minds and hearts: those thoughts decide whether we become devils or angels,’ she said quietly. ‘So it is important to introduce only the highest, kindest, most beautiful thoughts into our minds.’
I recently read an article by the great SreeNarayana Guru: Spiritual leader, poet par excellence, scholar in multiple languages, humanitarian, radiant soul lamp for want of better words; in which he had elaborated on the same topic. It was an article called , ‘ Daiva Chintanam’. He warned about the omnipresent evil which easily takes over our minds and hearts if our inner selves remain susceptible and vulnerable. He also wrote about choosing intentionally to welcome the beautiful and lovely energy vibrations around to enter our souls. From the pen of a master who wrote such exquisite poetry of deep philosophical meaning in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Tamil; who had translated Upanishads and Tamil spiritual literature alike for the common man, this article on what we jokingly refer as the super natural world, took me by surprise. He clearly mentioned the ‘unseen worlds’which we have to be aware of.
Leaving aside psychological studies of mob, dissipation of responsibility etc, I allowed myself to reflect more on these thoughts.When the mind is full of anger, vengeance, pettiness, hatred, it is truly dark. Who resides within us then? How did that enter? How does one welcome the good? By cultivating kindness, affection, generosity, wisdom, love, service, selflessness…
In a world so very ready to troll and abuse the voice of the outsider, it is almost an act of subversion to bring up children who can think differently: those who can naturally see the ‘oneness’. Children who can think for themselves, and look at the world around with compassion.
Perhaps, each of us can take up the responsibility: to nurture the young souls in our family to grow up that way. But it is a lot of hard work.
Perhaps that starts by giving them good books to read. By introducing them to great, fine, high energy thoughts of those good spirits who lived/live in different parts of this mortal world. Those who had different names, different genders, different skin colours, spoke different languages but spoke the same beautiful truth.
Perhaps it starts by weening them away from the seductive world of objects, never ending greed, relentless marketing and self promotion into a serene, luminous world of thoughts.
Maybe we can do our humble bit to turn them into “human beings” : who , on meeting a hungry, mentally disturbed living being will offer food and clothes with no second thoughts.
A generation which will never seek out an iron rod and a flashy mobile phone to torture an innocent to showcase their ‘coolness’.
(Photos of excerpts from Sree Narayana Guru’s translation of Isavasyopanishad and his immortal Anukampa Dasakam- Ten Shlokas praising compassion)
I find her entranced in a thick book- she is awed! I snooze near her, enjoying the warmth of the heater in the unhappy cold of a dire winter. An hour later, I open my eyes and she is still in the same position, the book on her lap.
“Interesting , eh?”
I take a peek.
‘Adventure of the devil’s foot’
“Are you understanding it?”
She looks at me with that ‘I do not expect that from you’ sort of a look.
I grin. And snooze again.
This time, it is late and the book and the child are still in their places.
“Time to sleep,” I say.
“Five more minutes”, she says. It is neither a request nor a plea. It is a statement-typical of her.
Five minutes later, I cough meaningfully.
She closes the book.
“What was the adventure?”
“The empty house,” she says with a prim expression.
As I tuck her into her winter blankets, and turn the heater around, I realise that certain classics will always get the chill away from our souls.
On the bed, was Penguin’s ‘Classic Sherlock Holmes’. And already smiling in her sleep, was the youngest fan in the family- enchanted by the inimitable detective of 221B Baker Street.
The suffocating winter cold fails to depress my spirits.
When a child reads happily, that joy is warm enough to withstand the severest of life’s winter winds.
I search for and finally find an old copy of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories. Dusting it, I slyly put it next to Holmes.
Certain manoeuvres have to be silently executed for success. Especially with little girls full of ‘ I do stuff my way’ attitude.
Let us see now, if that old lady captivates her too!
” So read up about Hryvnia and Berkut, Ma, by the time I am back,” she calls, on her way out. She waves Irodov at me. The fat text book, I mean.
It must have been almost twelve years since I browsed seriously through international issues. As an aware reader, I knew generally about the world and its happenings. But the new challenge was serious. The kiddo had an assignment and she wanted to discuss about Ukraine- the crisis, the currency depreciation, the riot police.
In two hours time, I found myself staring at the deep socio-political-economic polarization challenges that the nation was facing. The similarities and differences with Greek economic crisis loomed large. The Crimean annexation, the role of NATO, the international debt obligation, terms like economic hair cut/write off, sanctions, creditor associations, Tatar minorities, Black sea fleet, cease fire agreement et al started making sense. The deep links that every economic issue has with military alliances and political realities of power balance came into forefront.
I also felt a sense of Deja Vu. This story has happened before. The story is happening now and will continue in future- across the world.I could have changed the name of the nation and the places and the allies and the saga would remain the same. A child in Africa, needing help for doing an assignment on the crisis of Afghanistan, would have a mother staring aghast at the same history of military alliances, socio political milieus, minorities and trust issues, strategic liabilities, economic policies and a country struggling for stability.World over, the human story remains the same. The players, the interests, the struggles, the fights, the bloodshed..it is like script being rehashed again and again by new directors and new actors. The victims being always the simple citizens who only want peace and a safe future for their children.
My daughter returns, and switches on Dr.Who. The “Master” is hell bound to be in power. The most powerful drug in the world. And he marches to a tune of drum beats in his head. Actually , he is a very scared little boy within.
” The joy of travelling the universe, the privilege of seeing it- is that not ownership enough?” asks David Tennant.
The Master blinks for a second. Then the power crazy nature reasserts itself.
As the Time Lords start their plans, the episode closes.
I sigh deeply. There is a strange serendipity in all these events.
” Do you want to discuss the topic now?” I ask.
” No. I have homework. Maybe tomorrow?” she says.
I think of a country, far away. For a mother living there, and a child, it is not an issue to be discussed tomorrow. Will the child be at peace to do her homework and watch Dr.Who? Extending the metaphor- in how many countries, were children, especially daughters, free to study to their heart’s content?
I pray in gratitude. The simple joy of a normal day. It is a gift denied to many , many souls across our earth.