Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Call me obdurate, hard-hearted, compassionless, but I always thought, that crying is the defense of the feeble minded. I was of the opinion that (and I may be wrong), people who break down at the slightest whiff of saddening air only do so to grab attention or in self-pity. Under no circumstances is shedding of tears an option for me to vent my grief. This gene, I believe, has been passed down to me from my mother, a very strong woman. It usually takes a lot to ruffle my lachrymal apparatus. As far as I can vividly recall, instances in my life when I came close to crumbling under the pressure of dejection are so few, that I can count them on my fingers. And instances when I actually caved are even fewer and there was always a very strong reason behind it. But there are also times when you are only consumed by a sense of gloom clubbed with compassion, but it doesn’t actually crack the pot of tears waiting to be broken. The pathos of the situation just gives you a doleful muse and leaves you pensive. You don’t shed a tear but silently ponder over situations life sometimes bares you to. Life shows you how it can cruelly play around with your emotions and remind you how helpless you can be when it does that. Believe me, I’ve been there! This is to tell you how it feels to be caught in such a spot. These were no life altering incidents and might even sound trivial to many, but they are certainly something that I will never forget. They will always linger on, in a dark corner of my otherwise empty head.

It was a cold December morning and I was up early, to study for an exam that afternoon (not something I do very often!). My mother was already up as usual, finished her early morning puja and kitchen purging and was preparing for a new day. I was in my room trying hard to pull my slothful self out of bed. When I finally did, I trudged over to the balcony to feel the morning chill. I was admiring the rising sun and the morning buzz as I shivered in the winter zephyr. I turned around to get back in when, from a distance, I heard a woman wailing. It was a long, forlorn cry that struck me hard. I looked over to see who it was and why she was crying. I noticed that she was with her maimed husband who was pushing himself on a flat trolley as she walked next to him. They were almost naked, with only a few inches of clothes to hide their shame. They were desperately wailing, sobbing and crying out for a piece of cloth. Now, such a sight is not in the least unusual, if you’re living in India. You practically grow up with beggars all around. But something about this hapless couple was very unusually rueful. And there I was, draped in a warm cuddly razaai watching these two unclad people who were in a desperate need for it. It was heart-wrenching to hear their sobs. My eyes almost welled. As I contemplated on giving them some clothes, I turned around to see my mother holding a small bundle of old and unused sarees. As her lips mumbled a silent shlokam, she gestured towards them. I was so terribly moved. I ran into my room, grabbed a bunch of unused clothes and wrapped them up in the razaai I had draped around me. I took the two bundles and ran out to give them to the helpless couple. As the woman clutched the bundles, I saw a look of heart-felt gratitude on her squalid face. She showered blessings on me as she took them. But the joy of having helped a person in need didn’t last long. Their cries haunted me. Their sorrow echoed in my head and killed my concentration as I sat through the examination that afternoon. I was so disturbed by them for some unfathomable reason, that I couldn’t sleep for the next two nights. Sometimes I still hear their voices and sense their destitution, even today. I hope they’re doing well. I really, really hope so.

While that got me thinking for about two days and occasionally afterwards, this incident had me for a week. Hailing from an orthodox family and hence being slightly religious, I used to visit the near by temple in my locality every Saturday. For a long time, I noticed this old lady who begged at the gates along with a few others. She was a regular, like I was. I would give her something every time I went to the temple and she would bless me in gratitude, like all beggars do. We wouldn’t talk or greet each other, a smile is all we shared. One saturday she didn’t show up. I thought she was probably taking a day off. She didn’t show up the next week either, or the next week or the week after that. Her continued absence bothered me. I asked one of the other regular beggars if he had seen that old lady. He nonchalantly replied – “She died about a month ago.” A sudden chill and a rude shock! I was not prepared to hear that. While I usually sang out loud like a mad man on the loose as I walked, that evening I walked the whole distance back home in mournful silence. I couldn’t eat or sleep that night. I mourned that old lady’s death for a week after that, with sleepless nights. I didn’t visit that temple for more than two months afterwards. I felt no kinship with that woman, but I still mourned her death. Strange, but true.

This was way before the previous two incidents. January 26, 2001 – a major earthquake rocks Gujarat. All major news channels did a commendable job in covering the misery of the people and increasing their TRP ratings. I wonder if news channels will ever realize their ‘social responsibility’. Anyway, a national news channel was covering a collapsed school in central Ahmedabad. The surviving children were being taken to the nearest hospital. One video showed a 12 year old girl on a stretcher, with broken limbs. She was evidently more worried about her missing father than herself as she wailed “Mera baapu! Mera baapu!“. I don’t know if she ever found her father . I don’t even know if she herself survived the injuries she suffered, although I hope she did. I was at the dinner table when I saw that depressing video and, needless to say, not a morsel went in after watching it.  Her face is still vivid in my memory and her cries still haunt me. I know, this sounds ridiculous to some, but it’s true, that’s how ridiculously emotional I can get sometimes.

December 26, 2004 – the sea breached its frontiers with land and wreaked havoc. The town of Nagapttinam, TN was the worst hit in India. Again, the new channels celebrated their ever-growing TRP ratings, with their respective coverages. But Barkha Dutt is one journalist I’ve always looked up to and admired her for her professionalism in reporting, be it the Kargil conflict, the military coup in Pakistan or the Boxing Day Tsunami. Her coverage never lacked the professional character that many reporters are sadly famished of. She covered the tsunami in the same spirit. But she’s human after all – she broke down on camera when she visited a make-shift relief center. And one cannot blame her for it – there were mothers looking for children, children pining for their parents, some looking for entire families. It could not get worse, the death toll and the number of missing kept rising by the minute. In any case, Barkha Dutt’s report on the relief-centers was gripping. After watching the report, I fervently looked for the smallest of opportunities to volunteer in the camps in the affected areas. I finally found one with Red Cross, Hyderabad. The center was looking for volunteers and I gave in my name through someone I knew. I was to board one of the special trains to Chennai in a couple of days, when suddenly, I got a call from RC. They said they already had enough volunteers and didn’t need more. I was heart-broken. I tried persuading them into letting me go, but they had already decided not to. Every time I watched the visuals of the devastation after that day, I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. I would be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. The thought that I didn’t do what I could, gnawed at my conscience.

These incidents did not affect my life in any manner, but still remain fresh in my memory.  They always will. These were times when life reminded me that I am human and that I am susceptible.

On a closing note, here’s a music track that is often voted ‘the saddest classical composition ever’ – Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’.

PS: Now try reading the post with the track playing in the background! But don’t cry, please.

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