Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Looking beyond your window

How have your exams been?
Have you ever looked out of your window? That window which shields and borders you from the rest of this little world? I have. All of us have. It's nearing Christmas, a season of cheer and humility, when that window opens a little, for us to look out. Christmas comes to us in cards, in suppers, in hampers. It also comes to us through humility, through reflection. It comes to us, yes it does, in ways too easy to miss. We just don't look hard enough. That's the problem.

Isn't it true that you and I take much for granted? That we are wont to throwing things away, that we are overstuffed with what our parents buy for us? Don't we all, in one way or another, feel bored whenever we have too much of something? Isn't that natural? Don't we fly from one want to another, never satisfied, never happy, thinking that we were meant for better things? We grumble, don't we, and whine at those "better things" we can’t afford right now?

All this is on your side of the window, of course.

Look out. There's another world there. A whole new world. Full of smiles and laughter and cheers. Full of sole-less shoes and sandals. Of motherless infants. Of homeless families. That's the beyond-window world. Where floods come and go, where the thin divide between life and death gets blurred every day. It is equanimity which resides here. Equanimity in those people who are less fortunate, who look at the lesser things in life with a rare kind of happiness and contentment.

Yes, it's a whole new world out there.

I heard a story once. There was a child, very small, who wanted a toy. She was spoilt. She wanted a very pricey toy, and got it through her mother soon enough. She played with it, making use of it in ways we couldn't even imagine. Eventually and inevitably, she broke it. She was sad. Angry. So she threw it. Away. For good. That she got another toy is another story. For now, what's important is this: that toy was worth feeding a family of five over an entire week. Yes, an entire week.

This child didn't know this, by the way. She didn't need to. She may not have known that the things she got in life were things which we could only dream of. It doesn't matter. What matters is the "taking for granted" part of the story. She wanted the best, if not the best of the best. When she got it, she lost interest. Became bored. Threw what was given away. Forgot it. End of story. For her.

But for those on the other side of the window, stories don't end that easily. If a house is flooded, another needs to be built. If shoes are broken, another pair needs to be bought. If uniforms are torn and spoilt, they need stitching. It's not about "wanting" here. It's about need.

Have you ever gone in your car on a rainy night? Have you ever looked beyond the window, into a world that passes by? Have you seen people, rushing without umbrellas, without any cover, across the streets? And have you seen other people, by the road, sitting, begging for that much needed rupee which will fill their hunger? If you have, then you also might have thought about the following.

This world is divided. It's divided into haves and have-nots. That's obvious. Nothing new there. None of us can get rid of this alone. When we're young, privileged, and full to bursting with those goodies and perks our parents buy us, we don't notice it. And so, when we grow up, maturing and aging as time goes by, we just move on. Indifferently. We accept that other side of the window for what it is, without really bothering to change it. It's not just about changing per se, but about getting rid of indifference. We don't do that. The sad truth is, we can't.

I'm writing this because the O/Levels have begun. I'm writing this because more than a thousand families have been affected by floods. I'm writing this because among that thousand, there are children who cannot and will not sit for the exam, who probably might never sit for it again.

And it's not just this. There are other things that move me. Things that worry me.

I'm worried, for one thing, that very many sit behind their windows. They are content, smug, self-righteous. They whine whenever what they want isn't given or gifted straight away. They let the things they get through birthright, be it with education or toys or gifts, pass by without being grateful for them. It's a land of birthright, people, and not just in this country. We are open to the things our mothers and fathers bestow on us. Nothing wrong there. We are here, we live, breathe, write, read, talk, all because of our parents.

But there's something that bothers me here. There are stories that never get told. Stories of men, women, and children who have to battle odds. Were it not for those birthrights we got courtesy of our parents, we'd lose battling these same odds. Now's not the time to list them all out here, of course, but the point is that with your eyes open you will come across them. Easily. And I'm not rambling here. I'm being serious.

All this is for another article. Another time. I look forward to writing it. For now, this will do. There's an open window out there. It's the season to look beyond it. Unless we open our eyes, ready ourselves for what lies out there, and rid ourselves of that indifference our upbringing fills us with, that division I talked about will continue. Sadly.

Written for: Ceylon Today ESCAPE, December 10 2014