Rajendran has been after me for a while. I feel bad for him, but I don’t have a choice but to make him wait. All my data, including my internet banking details, just went up in smoke. He calls, and all I can tell him is that he will have to wait. He probably doesn’t trust me. He doesn’t want to let go of the wee bit of light he sees. And perhaps rightfully so; it is becoming increasingly so hard for us to trust people nowadays.
“Some sort of fear or insecurity or both seems to be gripping us all the time. So much, we won’t even, for instance, offer a ride to someone who needs it”, said the old man, as I dropped him off at his destination. He didn’t say much, just thanked me and walked away, that weak, frail body dragged by two tired legs.
I have been thinking recently of how much we struggle against the tide of life. We fight, we fret and we fume when things don’t go our way. Some turn to prayer, others just assume they’re battling it out all by themselves. Some recognize and accept human intervention, if not divine. I have been accused of inconsistency and perhaps rightly so. If there is something I am consistent about, it is recognizing that I am full of contradictions. In this instance, I realize that there are times when I get angry and want to change the way things are. At other times, I wonder if it at all makes any sense, knowing how we’re but a speck and that why things pan out the way they do, is something we will never know nor be able to change. I wonder if a lot many of us are forever reconciling two parts of ourselves – one that believes we are in control of our lives and battling things out, and the other that has resigned to providence or whatever else one may attribute the course of life to.
Prakash is a young boy, all of twenty. He was waiting by the side of the road, and when we stopped to ask him for directions to Jangalapalli, he was hardly looking at us. We had driven for more than 2 hours by then. Relieved at having found the Taluk right, we were hoping to reach to reach our destination shortly, when he informed us that it was about 20 km away. That meant roughly an hour more.The roads weren’t bad for sure, but they weren’t exactly the new age expressways of India either. Thankfully, for me. Having done my fair share of road trips in the last decade or more, I haven’t exactly been enthusiastic about the expressways for more reasons than one. Mostly, however, I find them boring. There isn’t any life; one just has to keep driving, to the point when one might just fall asleep. Thankfully, there are still the manic drivers that keep me awake, even on such road. It pays to be alert in life as much as it does, if not more, on the road.
Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen.
Then what will be the quality?
Watchfully alert, joyously unmotivated,
centered, loving, flowing, one walks.
And the walking is sauntering.
Loving, alert, watchful, one sits, unmotivated –
not sitting for anything in particular,
just enjoying how beautiful
just sitting doing nothing is,
how relaxing, how restful.
Prakash helps out in his farm of 2 acres. They grow coconuts, dry them, grind them to extract the oil and sell it in the wholesale market. His father takes care of the business. He and his brother chip in, when they are not wasting time being ‘educated’. He tells me he is in college, pursuing an engineering degree. My cynical self was surprisingly controlled, considering the poor kid and his aspirations. Yet, I couldn’t help but give him some free advice, something I try not to do. We had all of 20 minutes; he had hopped on with us in the car, as we were driving in the same direction in which he was proceeding. He would get dropped, we’d find the way that google maps wouldn’t show us – it was win-win.
His business was fetching them 1000 rupees a day – not a paltry sum. And if you were living where he is, with a house for yourself and buying stuff cheaper, you’re quite well off. Not to mention that all the income is probably not taxable, you are actually living it up. And this kid is borrowing about 40,000 rupees a year to pay for his so called education. “I don’t want to do this work. I want to work in an office”, he tells me. It is shocking how our system has come to alienate an entire nation from its roots. I try telling him how much of a waste it is, what he is trying to do. He can hardly make eye contact, let alone speak. He would graduate, look for jobs. Even if he finds one, it would have to be in a town and they would pay him next to nothing. He’d struggle to make ends meet, leave his roots but most of all, he would struggle for meaning, like a lot of us do. Even if he was going to study, I was hoping that he’d find ways of improving his own trade. He didn’t sound convinced, but then we had to drop him and continue on our mission.
When we found it, it turned out to be a small house, much as I had expected. The villages in TamilNadu aren’t the kind one imagines from the movies. Electricity is mostly available, Coca Cola has become commonplace and the cell phone, ubiquitous. The door, one among a few more in a row, was locked. Evidently, they were out. We reached there at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and I had safely assumed that Rajendran’s father, a temple priest, would be home by then, as most Hindu temples, especially the smaller ones, close for lunch. Whether or not the Gods do, the priests for sure need their afternoon siesta. Having driven for almost 3 hours and hunted the place down, I didn’t know how to react. This wasn’t the first time – indeed, there have been several instances when I have wanted to surprise a friend or someone, and found myself being surprised with locked doors. Looking back, I still do not know why I went there. It wasn’t that I wanted to verify. The kid had actually brought along his high schools certificates, fee receipts and even photographs prove his credentials. I hadn’t even looked at it. Somehow, I have come to believe that when one is doing a charitable act, there is no point in verifying. It is why I don’t pay attention to people who discourage me from giving something to a beggar. They do not realize that my intention isn’t just to ‘help’ the beggar. If help had to come, it would. I give, simply because I can, and feel like giving. It doesn’t matter where it goes or what happens to it. The intention is to give. Someone would receive, in some way, directly or indirectly.
Let us forget all that we are taught about how it is noble to give and humiliating to receive.
Because for most people, generosity consists only in giving, but receiving is also an act of love.
– Paulo Coelho
So when I called Rajendran from his village, he was shocked. Two weeks ago, when I was home, I heard Ma speaking out to someone. “I told you to come in the evenings, when Pa is at home. You have turned up again and I am not sure how I can help you”. When I met him, this reticent looking boy introduced himself and very hesitantly asked me for help. He was in need of help – he was in college and couldn’t afford to pay his tuition. I didn’t promise him anything, except to ask him to send me an email. I promptly received an email the very next day and the kid has been after me ever since.
Rajendran isn’t as well off as Prakash. Unless you serve in a famous temple like Tirupati, priests aren’t exactly doing well. In that sense, Rajendran perhaps is more desperate. Yet, there were some striking similarities. I had encountered two similar, yet very different lives, at their respective crossroads, both from the hinterland, striving to carve out an identity for themselves. As we left the village behind, I was filled with mixed thoughts on the future of this country. Predictably, the roads back to the city were a lot easier to find.