Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Beautiful 'Banyan' Experience

When I made up my mind to visit Banyan this past Saturday I was excited and at the same time felt  a pang of responsibility throbbing in my mind. It must not be a one-off frivolous act of sporadic kindness, I told myself. I wanted it to have some meaning, meaning so profound that only I could comprehend it.

With an amazing companion, a friend, a fantastic human – S, I travelled to Banyan! We looked around a little bit but could not find the venue right away. Google maps then came to rescue – NOT; it guided us to the destination traversing myriad streets, almost circular in nature and indicated we have arrived. It was a cinematic moment, when we went past a few buildings and the voice said “your destination has arrived,” we only saw an empty land! Google has never failed to amaze me with its extraneous instructions. That’s when I got skittish and he my friend was reciprocating my restiveness.

Then we resorted to the hackneyed way, atleast according to S, of asking around but there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. We went to a petty shop and asked the shopkeeper where “Banyan” was. He looked clueless and so we said “it’s a home”. To my surprise, the taciturn shopkeeper asked us “Are you asking about the mental home?” He then guided us to the place which wasn’t actually very far from there!
When we reached, it was drizzling and the azure sky had turned grey and overcast! I instantly suddenly had a lump in my throat at with the thought of what is was going to ensue. We were greeted by a friendly receptionist and were asked to wait at the reception so that she could try and give the volunteering coordinator a call. We were waiting and many inmates were walking about, lying down and just sitting in the same room. There was an air of quiet resignation in the room.

Some of them were lost and aloof and some were voluble. I interacted with about 8 of them and each and everyone was quite pleased to have had a listener for themselves. I think it is these deeds, though they seem trivial, are the foundation of giving them a better life, a fulfilled life.

Of the lot, three refuse to get out of my mind. There was this petite, elderly inmate who walked into the reception area clapping and singing some unfamiliar songs, possibly religious. She walked up to me and extended her hand that held a peeled orange, I only smiled at her and she carried on asking everyone else around me. She sat in front of me, still singing some songs. She asked me what my name was in Hindi and the only thought that immediately struck me was that she probably does not have company to have a friendly dialog in that language so I decided to jump at the opportunity. She told me about how Allah sings in her ears and she just mouths them, how her many siblings have settled in various parts of the country and so on. She seemed like a very compassionate person, offering people her oranges and making them sit next to her.

Then the extremely cheerful and vociferous friend arrived. She had a very pronounced folk accent. She was constantly telling me that I was beautiful and that I was the only who was more beautiful than herself in all of banyan. She was quite upfront in expressing her dislike towards my short hair and my ‘boyish’ appearance. She offered to take me to her house once she was okay, and promised to cook chicken as a treat. My hand was strongly holding hers and I was ecstatic when she offered to sing a whole Tamil song (Maya Machindra from the movie Indian) for us. I was moved, quivering mentally at how life can be quite unfortunate sometimes. She insisted that I should wear sarees and flowers and jewellery and what not! I readily agreed and we parted with a my promise to visit again. She went away to enthuse more people!

While all this was happening, there was a face peering at me from outside the window. She constantly kept shifting positions to favour her view. I noticed her intent eyes quite clearly. I did not try to gesture to her as she was slightly afar and may not be able to see me. There were more people at the reception by then. Some hugging and holding me and asking about me, showering all the love that seemed suppressed. This lady then walked up close to me. I looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.. I extended my hand; she nodded gesturing a ‘NO’. I pointed the seat and gestured her to sit beside me – she nodded negative again. By then I had to attend a phone call and talk to the receptionist and I could not spot her again. After a while there she stood again, by the window with those intent eyes.
I will remember to talk to her next time.

S and I then had some basic chores of colour coding the donated clothes and segregate them logically into wearable sets. After we were done we felt quite contented. We took off back home with an unsaid promise that we will be back here again soon.
They need more listeners, those lovely people. And they need friends. If you have the time and even if you have not, you should experience this to know what unconditional love really means. Give them your time as that’s all they need! And at the end of it, I promise that you will come out having gained a lot more than what you actually gave.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My road to self-discovery

"We start out in highchairs, we end up in wheel chairs, and somewhere between the two, we all have to figure out where our happiness lies and then start marching in that direction.” – Prof. Dan Gilbert
For all practical purposes, figuring out where our happiness lies is the key. It isn’t an easy find. Many lives are lost seeking this grail; some do not realize there is life between two chairs, and some just give up.

To think that I may run out of time, and get lost in this mercurial happiness race drives me to cherish every other day as a novelty and strive towards being a human – a happy human.

I have had an intractable childhood, filled with flaws. Just like most of the children from this country, I had no ambition, no clarity of thought and just about no source to figuring out where my happiness lied. And just like that 20 years of my life went by and am engulfed by a sudden surge of inordinate misery. I refuse to look back at my failure; I refuse to learn from it and move on; I refuse to believe that it isn’t the end. I refused…

Another couple of years bid my austere life goodbye while I vainly tried to recant my mistakes. Friends were not bidding much hope as my egalitarian harangue drained their energy. They would rather be ignorant of time that’s running out and seek solace in televisions and pop culture’s esoteric prolixity. A perfect testament to the all-pervasive claustrophobia this plutocratic society bestows upon us unfortunate.

So I run away as far as I can from this cynical, maligning, pseudo robotic society, in search of one that is meaningful, unassuming and giving. Giving – I might have just struck my gold there. And as a friend so rightly said, “you can do whatever you want in life, engage in any form of learning; but sooner or later, you have to drop your anchor when you have identified what you are good at”! He could not have said it better albeit in a career perspective but it is just as pertinent for life. What is it about giving that I feel so strongly about? Why does it seem to me that the self-inflicted human divides cause more hurt than happiness? Why do I feel responsible for leaving behind a world worthwhile for the next generation? The deeper I ponder about it, the simplified my life became.

I moved on, well, trying to, from the autocratic, self-obsessed rat race of a life to one that leaves behind a better tomorrow. A life or life’s deeds that significantly contributes to the wellbeing of the under privileged (economical, physical, mental, racial, gender, caste / class), who for no fault of theirs live a life of solitude and oppression. So in this pursuit for happiness, I have involved myself in activities, which for a long time, I used to shun from mentioning. Not anymore. I now strongly believe that compassion begets compassion.

It started out with community service that was attached to academia. Teaching kids to sing and dance, explaining various concept of science - never ceased to amaze me.

Visiting children at the cancer research institute, celebrating ‘happiness day’, play, laugh, and be merry.

Working with the British Red Cross is worth mentioning. Especially during the latest tsunami, every single penny that went into the kitty was valuable. There is no joy better, than to see that my efforts could make an individual’s life slightly better.
‘Epilepsy connections’ in the UK is so very dear to me. I have worked with people across age group and diversity who suffer from some form of epilepsy and in the process, befriended some lovely bunch of people. A friend with epilepsy said he’d miss me when I moved back to India – I am happy alright!

Through theatre, making people aware of issues such as gender bias, sexual assault, atrocities in the name of caste and many such divide, is now my dream. I shall not stop. 
Recently started visiting Banyan to interact with the inmates, and I carry with me fond memories to be treasured for life. 
Through Nirmukta, voicing for videos is a ‘dream come true’!

Just being aware of the privilege, questioning biased behavior, bringing to fore the dark side to using ableist / sexist remarks at workplace / social gathering. 

One might think what difference it makes that I choose to or don’t engage in these activities! One might speculate if this can bring about any change at all? One might conclude I am wasting my time.

The beauty of giving is not sacrifice; the beauty of giving is profusion and once we identify it as a collective, there is enough for everybody to coexist in harmony with no need for prejudice! Utopic? Hardly!