Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Little drops

Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty Ocean
And the pleasant land

There are approximately 1.6 million species of living organisms on this planet. It is estimated that within each human being there are between 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria. Which makes the balance of power between bacteria and humans something like this. The bacteria outnumber human cells at least by ten times, a vast majority of them populating the large intestine. And in case you are going, “Pshaw, of what consequence are a few trillion trillion silly bacteria other than scurrying around carrying nasty diseases and infections”, consider this. If many of those bacteria did not colonize our innards and live there, we would have difficulty digesting potatoes, rice, chapaties, dal, fruits and vegetables and milk….let’s just say most of our daily lunch or dinner. We would succumb innumerable infections and allergies, our immune systems would crumble and we would have no Vitamin K and many of the B vitamins.
Which not only makes the human race of around 6 billion an infinitesimally miniscule fraction of the wondrous and copious life on earth, but also in some measure dims our arrogance that we are the most superior and important species on this planet. (Some would even say the universe!) But, my point is telling you all this is only this. That in the grand scheme of things, in the cosmic pond, every single living being has been assigned a role to play. For some, it may be making Vitamin K inside someone else’s gut. For others it may be to discover uranium and win a Nobel prize. Or to collect garbage. Or be the world’s richest human being. Or a cook in a canteen. And for still others it may doing nothing more than living out life one day at a time in as decent a manner as possible.
Which makes it time to tell you a little incident that happened a few weeks. One of the great joys of living in a small town is that almost everything comes right up to your gate. Fruits, vegetables, rangoli powder, vacuum cleaners, bedsheets, encyclopedias, even ladies’ “unmentionables” And flowers. For the average South Indian, life without a daily supply of flowers is like a bath without water. Unthinkable. And my household is no different. Now most people buy their flowers in the morning when, along with liquid bird calls and the shrill cries of “soppu” (greens), the air is filled with the cries of flowers sellers. Jasmine and marigold and kanakambara and chyrsanthemum. Others buy it the previous evening, wrapping it in damp cloth or even popping it in the fridge to last the night.
Like we do. We also bought our flowers in the evening because this particular flower seller is one of the few who sells a local variety of jasmine called “jaji” which is my mother’s favourite flower. Which, while researching for this column I was astonished to discover, is the French jasmine used to make some of the most famous perfumes in the world. Anyway, to cut a long story short, of late the flower seller’s appearances had become erratic and one fine day, he simply vanished. So I started buying from another flower lady on my way back from yoga class. Then, about a month ago, the regular flower man surfaced again. But the new flower lady’s flowers were excellent and liberal and she was also a very nice lady. So, we bought from the evening flower man only on the days that I did not go for yoga or took a different route. He knew about it but he didn’t seem to mind because apparently the flower lady was a friend with whom he would often be chatting when I landed up to buy the flowers, sometimes even measuring and cutting the flowers for her!
A few days ago, it was a no-yoga evening and I was buying flowers from the flower man. He is a taciturn, impassive-faced young fellow and normally our interaction is strictly business, limited to me silently placing the money on his flower platter and him measuring out the flowers and putting them into my basket. Occasionally a smile may be exchanged or a brief mumbled conversation about the price or quality of flowers – nothing more. No pleasantries, nothing personal. The purchase over, I turned to go back into the house when suddenly I heard him burst out, “Amma, the day that you don’t buy flowers from me, they just don’t seem to sell!” The voice wasn’t loud but the intensity of the emotion made it seem so. I whipped around, taken aback. “I have been noticing this, Amma. Yesterday I had to go up to (he mentioned a slightly distant locality) and even then I couldn’t sell any flowers.” The eyes were wide and as intense as his voice, his normally bland expression replaced by something that stunned me. “Yours is the first house that I come to and do “boni” (auspicious first sale).” Which is when I remembered that whenever I handed the money to him instead of putting it on the straw platter, he’d cup both his hands and take it in a way that I thought was odd.
I was speechless, stunned beyond words and I just smiled weakly at him and went back into the house. As I told my mother about the incident, I felt my throat constrict with tears and my hair stand up. And I remember thinking - why am I so moved, so affected? Maybe because it was so completely out of the blue. But it was also because it happened at a time when I was questioning a lot of things in my life – the meaning of success, the loneliness of walking the path of one’s choice, the purpose of being a writer, of life etc., etc. And suddenly, here was my answer. To a complete stranger, one with whom I had no connection but the occasional commercial interaction, my existence mattered. My being or not being there made a difference in one whole human being’s life.
Self worth is very important thing because it breeds one other very important thing. Contentment. Because self worth is the realization that just as you are, just as your life is, you are of value and that value has nothing to do with your net worth. I have met people who, by the usual yardsticks of measuring worth, are nobodies. Yet their sense of themselves, their sense of self worth radiates around them like a force field. A few days ago a news item appeared in the papers about a new index of progress called the Happy Planet Index. Using 3 factors of life expectancy, human well-being and ecological footprint of a country, it has found that the happiest place on this earth is a tiny South Pacific nation called Vanuatu. When told of the news, a representative of the country’s online newspaper said, “People are happy here because they are satisfied with very little. Life here is about community and family and goodwill. It’s a place where you don’t worry too much. Most people here live day to day the only things we fear are cyclones or occasional earthquakes.” Incidentally, I don’t want to be a party pooper or anything but in the list of 172 countries measured by the index, America came 150th and Britain 108th. India? We came 61st….

A few days a beautiful prayer arrived in my e-mailbox, sent by a friend. It is attributed to St. Theresa who is also called the saint of Little Ways because she believed in doing the little things in life well and with great love. So, dear friends, I end with by sharing this prayer with you….
May today there be peace within.
May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of you