My maternal grandmother came from aristocracy and she married into a family similar in stature, yet, there came a point in her life where cupboards filled with gold and silver cutlery were replaced by four annas.
An anna was a currency unit formerly used in British India and afterwards in sovereign India upto the 1960s. Four annas is equivalent to 25 paise—that’s not even a cent! It’s actually 50 paise short of a cent (one cent is ~75 paise at current exchange rates). Yet, not once did her five daughters hear her complain.
She had the choice to go back to her maternal home, lament over or denounce her husband’s ill-founded habits of speculative trade that had brought them misfortune, but she chose not to utter words that demeaned her dignity: For her, dignity came from acceptance and trust, trust in the laws of the universe.
In that moment of choice, she decided not to be fortune’s dice. She could have, and the world would have sympathised, because for one who had so much, the pain of loss is felt vicariously by all, while for others it may be ignored, because ‘we are born into our fate’, a phrase that justifies our preoccupation and our systemic flaws.
Her choice to retain her dignity through acceptance and trust meant that she continuously had to rise to the highest potential in humans. And each time she did, life provided support. Four annas were substituted, without asking, by a sum of money that would last for a while.This was a present for Rakhi, the festival where sisters and brothers recognise the purity of the relationship, expressed by a vermillion mark on the forehead and a string tied on the wrist, both symbols of the blessings and protection that relationships of purity bring.
When she was an octogenarian (in her 80s), her spine deteriorated and she lost the ability to walk and gradually even to turn in bed. She had the choice to be bothered by this physical discomfort that lasted for about three years, but she chose instead to keep her equanimity, and when she breathed her last in her 91st year, she did so with a gentle mind. A final exhalation after her evening nourishment told us she had moved on silently, with the same dignity with which she lived.
My grandmother’s life taught me that choices are available to everyone, those who lose their endowment, but gain privilege through strength in character, and those who have neither endowment nor privilege because they simply need to develop their character to make advantageous choices.
Advantageous is that in which the mind is at ease with its own truth, where it doesn’t need to use its will to straighten fortune’s twists and curls. Choice begins with a simple question, about the kind of person we wish to be in that moment.
Recently, Shalaka Sisodia, friend and founder of Seeds of Awareness (SOA), a non-profit that addresses the delicate topic of choice and agency with children who come from challenging backgrounds shared a promo video. Ajay Devgn (one of the finer movie stars in Bollywood, India) was introducing the possibility of choice in a run-up to SOA’s recent release of short films that show the journey of two children, and make us pause and reflect on the moment when they made a choice. The choices naturally lead to a series of consequences that mould their life, however, what stood out for me was that regardless of the mould they created, the choice to remould was still theirs to make.
Life’s incredible benevolence became evident to me through these films—there is always a second chance! However, it’s not all upbeat, because a second chance is often hard to take, it requires tremendous courage, and more importantly it requires support. This takes the personal journey of choice-making from the individual to society.
I think for the most part people are happy to help, however, in situations that may save someone from personal ruin, hesitancy seems to be a more common response. And asking for help is hard when you’re caught in a whirlwind of broken dreams, domestic and emotional violence, and destructive behaviour.
This makes Seeds of Awareness’s commitment to help and support that much more worthy of admiration. Shalaka comes from much endowment and privilege, and yet she has put herself and her organisation in a place where many would dare not go, mostly because tough realities lay there; and it takes generosity and strength of character to stand up to them. Her team and her group of facilitators share equally in this acknowledgement.
These short films (Hindi with English subtitles) can begin important conversations with children that we might find difficult to have otherwise. It may be best to remember that a conversation of this nature is not about pushing our own bias. It is a way to understand the child’s reality and to empower the child, as well as support them so that they can make advantageous choices with the least amount of friction.
If you’re an educator, a parent, or someone who interacts closely with children, and are interested in facilitating such conversations, reach out to the team at Seeds of Awareness and understand the best way to direct these conversations. The situations and the backgrounds of the children in these short films may differ from the ones that your children encounter, but is that really pertinent?
Sireesha Dasaka, ex-banker and a full-time mother of two children (boys of twelve and eight-years), trained as a facilitator with Seeds of Awareness, and was privy to a dialogue at an International School. She witnessed 6th and 7th-grade children vocalise empathy for and sensitivity towards the children in the film, despite not having exposure to the particularities of their situations and background.
Their moral radars were quick at catching the injustice of repression, stereotyping, unhealthy body image, and gender disparity. ’It seems,’ says Sireesha, ‘From what I observed of these children, empathy comes naturally to us humans.’ And all that needs to keep that circle of empathy from disintegrating is a conversation, a pause, and a moment of reflection that helps us make advantageous choices.