In search of strength
Nearly four weeks back, shades of green, yellow, purple, and red started to disappear from our refrigerator, to reveal the cold glass of empty shelves that reminded us of translucent ice sheets. We began to long for colour, like those living through a monochromatic winter long for the onset of spring. Frantically, we called local vendors to organise fruits and vegetables.
Our resolve to be content with what we had, changed quickly into doggedness to make sure we get what we need. We needed fresh produce that would be delivered to our doorstep every week. In a city, where humans reside like penguins in a rookery (colony), stepping into a marketplace was not desirable or sensible.
Penguin colonies show that strength in numbers is a reflection of unity. Where then does our strength lie?
A question asked, begins with an assumption that there is a definitive answer—one that is absolute. In our search for the absolute answer, we traded solitude for socialisation, only to learn that we must separate ourselves from each other. We made economic activity our purpose, only to discover that our pace of life is killing us. We allowed for inequalities to feel more powerful and secure, only to realise that we are as strong as our weakest link in the chain of co-dependence that we call life.
We tried to make urban habitats our penguin colonies, without the unity, but with the numbers. Now urbanisation is staring at us—the vacuous stare of a child with mangled hair and face covered with snot, squatting alongside the railway track with no bushes to hide the nakedness.
Our doggedness and our fast disappearing produce made us stare back, looking into unregulated food markets, at faces of marginalised workers that have become familiar. At faces of people, who have the right to vote but not the right to be heard: A unique combination, where your life counts but it does not matter. This social and political reality affects their life but not their attitude—their resolve proved stronger than ours: the resolve to disallow discontent from creeping in. It is different from being content with what you have. Both are of consequence in the game of roulette that we call fortune.
Living in homes, where there’s room to turn from the left to the right for a change in sight—the face of one roommate to the face of another—did not deter them from welcoming new roommates. A practical solution to unaffordable city rents at a time when income is scarce, and a human gesture that acknowledged their common predicament.
The scarcity of joy in their situation did not stop them from sharing the joy of small things: four clarified butter, flour, and sugar laddus (Indian spherical confectionary) shared amongst ten people. And the unpredictability of their daily routine did not stop them from being dependable. We tried to help them during a market crackdown by the police, and they reciprocated by delivering our orders despite a long day of uncertainty at the police station.
Maybe life doesn’t require us to be strong; it requires us to be generous. The question then is can generosity be learned? There is an answer—absolute or not, we shall only know when we find it.