"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

She wore gems and crystals,
She used gold to show off her style,
I wish She had realized that
All I wanted Her to wear.. was a smile.
A smile is the most widely, easily as well as cheaply available jewelry that one can wear. Its available on the spot, on the go, drive-through, however you prefer it to be delivered. And what's more - Nature has already custom designed it to suit your face, your attitude, your nature! God's Nature shines all around us, our nature shines through our smiles. Man created countless ornaments to decorate the body with, but all of it fall dull if not backed by the afterglow of a smile.

Your smile is not even a burden that you need luggage to carry it. Unlike market prices, its value never fluctuates or diminishes. It travels with you invisibly, following you like a shadow, accompanying you with every breath, always ready to appear at your summons. By using no energy at all, and engaging just a handful of muscles, its one of the least demanding of bodily actions. Even sleeping or sitting uses more body energy than smiling.

How many times have you smiled today? Not just a perfunctory or forced smile. A natural and frank one.

Smile carries a magic in it. Its a universal language. You can 'speak it' in any part of the world, and you don't need a script for it. In that respect, its synonymous with music, which transcends the limitations of spoken tongues and dialects. Learn to smile frankly, and you carry the music of your soul with you.

A philosopher once said, "Life is a sexually transmitted disease." Well! If life be a disease, then Smile is its most infectious symptom!

The language that we speak changes with times, slangs develop, but nobody ever came up with a 'slang-smile'. There is no dictionary for smiling, yet everyone understands its meaning. If everyone spoke the language of smile properly, there would be no illiteracy in this world, as I would call it. There are no puns, no vulgarity, no satire, no double-meaning, no misunderstanding in a smile. Its meaning can't be expressed yet it carries all the emotions single-handedly, from the innocence of an infant to the charm of an grand-parent.

Go out on an early morning, choose a silent place, stand tall in the chill weather, face the rising sun, close your eyes, open your arms wide, take a deep breath... and smile. You will feel something smiling back at you.. try to guess what it is!
"He was hot! The most eligible bachelor of my college. When we  both joined the same office, I was the happiest girl on earth. I could make some excuse and talk to him everyday. In a few days, he seemed to be attracted to me too. I was a single mother but he never really seemed uncomfortable with it. Why not? I too accepted him inspite of all his countless affairs and break-ups..."

"Then one day, he invited me to his house for dinner. I would have expected him to come to my house first, to meet my kid, but anyways.. I let him accept me totally first. He would, some day, accept the kid too. At his home, we had the most fabulous dinner and then he made the move.. he kissed me! I felt a warmth of acceptance in it.. so I didn't stop him when he lifted me and carried me into his bedroom.."

"Since then, he started making excuses to meet at his house. As often as almost every alternate day. I should say he was quite a wild man. I had the same passion too. When he was close to the climax, he would start singing songs of love. I loved the way he held me, gave me all his attention. Now that his love for me was at a peak, I suggested he come to my house and spend sometime with the kid"

"That night, his tone had changed. He had started giving confused answers, sometimes sounding like excuses. Was he trying to say he wanted me, but not my kid? How cold of him. Lusty bastard... says he would have proposed to me if I didn't have a kid. I can never live with a man who ignores my kid..."

"I couldn't see his useless face anymore, so I quit the job and moved down south. Stayed with my sister for a few days, and then found a new job... where I met this man..."

"At first he appeared cold. Only stuck to his job and not interested in any ladies at all. Where was all his testosterone gone? But then, one day it all changed. We had a family day at the office and I went there with my kid. You wouldn't believe how this boring man all of a sudden changed into the most interesting one. He may not be a lover-boy but he was the perfect father-material. He played with my kid all the time.. and for the first time, I saw my kid hugging him like a kid hugs a father."

"I started making excuses to talk to him, and one day I invited him home for dinner. At home, we had the most fabulous dinner and then he made the move.. he ran into the kid's room and started playing ball. My kid had a whale of a time but the dude never even noticed that I was there too."

"Since then, he started making excuses to come to my house. As often as almost every alternate day. I should say he was quite a parental guy. But he seemed to forget me when the kid was around. He never invited me over to his house. I started wondering if the guy even knew how to show love to a woman. One day after the kid went to sleep, I suggested that we meet at his house the next time."

"That night, his tone changed. He started giving confused answers, sometimes sounding like excuses. Was he trying to say he loved the kid, but not me? I can't live with a guy who shoves me aside like that... never!"

"Why can't I just find a man who's hot enough to give me that warm hug when I feel cold, hot enough to not get cold feet looking at my kid, hot enough to not give my passions the cold shoulder.. but then I don't want a hot-headed guy, he should be cool too.."

"I quit this job too.. and I am moving again.."


The intention, here, is not to evaluate the attitudes of single mothers, but rather an attempt to bring some focus on their condition and vulnerability.

When I say 'single mothers', I would also include those married women, who take care of their families single-handedly and whose husbands are given to reckless and irresponsible behavior.

As long as there are single mothers in our society, we can never claim salvation as a community.
[While traveling in the bus]

The Dad: I have seen really bad days. Gone without food, no money to pay for school. We had a very underprivileged childhood. I will never let my children face any of it.
The Friend: Yes! thats what makes us responsible men, when we fend for our wife and children.
The Dad: Not just fend, I even sacrifice all my comforts so my children can enjoy a comfortable childhood and they should be proud of what their parents did for them..

But more than his children, he was proud about it, and he had the right to be. Why not? Many people in India have similar stories of rags to riches and his was no different. My dad! Biological father! Daddy dearest.. born and brought up in an extremely poor background, but today owned well valued assets. He did not ride any wave of luck nor did he accept any favors. Whatever he achieved was through decades of sheer hard-work. 

[At a marriage function]

The Dad: I have earned so much money that my children could sit at home and eat. They dont need to work and slog and ruin their lives like we did.
The Relative: Wow. what a great parent you have been!

"My kids can sit at home and eat" - that is the sound made by the trumpets of most Indian parents, I guess

[At a family get together]

The DadMy children do not have to worry about their survival. Its all set and done for them. Their lives shall be cozy. They can sit at home and eat all their lives.
The Uncle: Your children are really lucky. They should be so proud of you

[Over a coffee table discussion]

The Dad: You know? I am going to give the most royal life to my children. They will never need to dirty their hands like I did. They can sit comfortably at home and eat all their lives.
The Neighbor: You are a super-star man. How nicely you have planned for your children's lives.

Then one day I completed my studies and came home with my degree.

My Dad: So son, from tomorrow your campus interviews will start. Are you prepared well for it?
Me: No Dad. I am not interested in working. I slogged so much for this degree. I am tired now. I just want to sit at home and eat, all my life.
My Dad: Shut up! Are you out of your mind? You lazy bum. If you want to sit at home and eat, then don't stay in my house and embarass me. Get out!
What if humans were blessed with such long lives that it 'nearly looked' eternal? What if we didn't have a short lifetime (of just 60-100 years) to worry about? How different would our attitudes be if death was never on our minds?

These were the 'side-effects' of reading the history of Jainism, where it is claimed that each of the early thirthankaras lived for thousands of years at a stretch. Maybe in the ancient days, everyone lived a thousand years - so long that the end of life may never have occurred to their minds. Death was probably looked as a punishment from the Gods rather than a logical end of life.

If we lived such ageless years today, would we still have pursued transitory fancies that last but a few years? Would we have even recognized a time period of years and decades like we remember today? Would the happiness that we get in cherishing memories still be with us? Would we still have celebrated our birthdays and anniversaries every year? Would mobile companies have offered lifetime validity plans or appliances come with lifetime guarantee? Would we have invested in an apartment knowing its structural life is only a few decades? Would there be any sense in 'long term' stock investments? Would anyone sell life insurance plans at all? If each of us were to live a thousand years, would we still rush in our things like we do today? Would traffic be less strenous and rules be more relaxed? Would crime disappear totally? Would life imprisonment make any sense at all? Finally, would we even be interested in daily chores like bathing, cooking, ironing the clothes, etc knowing we have to do it a thousand times over?

'If you look too long into the abyss, the abyss starts staring into you', said Neitzsche.

Maybe the ancients transformed over a period of time. When life does not seem to bend in any direction, it starts bending the sense of time itself. Maybe the ancients gradually got 'bored' of relentless pursuits, and eventually lost the excitement of doing something new or even doing the same repetitive things over and over again. Over time, maybe their natural outlook metamorphosed into a contemplative insight.

At that point, some of the wise ones may have decided to stop doing all action (as it leads nowhere but only to more actions) and just spend time in silent inactivity, riding through the tunnel of a still and endless life, looking for the light of something worthwhile and meaningful.

In this pursuit, they may have sat down in meditation and lost themselves into a trance. Their bodies, subjected to the vagaries of weather, may have gradually changed into shapes that can withstand the harsh climate. Some may have changed into mountains, some into trees, and some into the rocks. Maybe the long-lived ancients are still amongst us today, merged into the landscapes of our world, which however hard we try to shape, still essentially remain the same and far from our humane grasp. Maybe Nature is nothing but humans whose life became long enough for them to go beyond being mere human? Maybe the seemingly static world around us is actually seething with our own ancestors and elders, who have transcended the iniquities and exigencies of time.

My forefathers are surely buried beneath, but maybe, just maybe, my ancestors are still around me, still looking for the light at the end of their tunnel. Well, if a mountain gets up one day and starts talking to you, don't say that you weren't prepared for it.. :)


Addendum (16-Jan): If you have meditated on a mountain and felt voices speaking around you, If you have hugged a tree and felt a warmth touching your heart, If you have slept next to a rock and felt protected, then you know what I am trying to say!
Its a day I shall never forget. Every minute of it is still as fresh as the dew that fell that morning. It was a day I felt closest to God; a day when a sharp witness of destiny trampled the fiery dance of death.

Just like any other day, I had woken up on the brink of sunrise and was climbing to our terrace for my usual rounds of surya-namasakar (venerations to the most fiery one). As I passed by Naren's room, I threw a customary peep inside his window and what I saw inside, froze me instantly. Naren, our middle-aged tenant who stayed alone in the single bedroom upstairs, was perched on his stool, sobbing profusely, and with his head firmly inside a noose tied to the ceiling fan. My first reaction was to shout for help but I realized Naren was just a tug away from dangling to death. I had to think calm and think sharp. I could not over-react and trigger a panic.

By the way, It wasn't shocking to see Naren in this state. The last night he had visited a seriously ill friend at the hospital and the doctor had given very less chances of her survival. Along the way, Naren had seen old people begging on the streets, moaning in hunger. Incidentally, he had also witnessed some girls being harassed in the bus and all this had depressed Naren too much. For an introverted man, who lost his parents at a young age, whose dreams of family were shattered by a debilitating divorce, last night's incidents was probably a tipping point.

That morning, from behind the window bars, Naren looked like fiery grilled chicken. His mind had witnessed fiery incidents, his heart had been grilled by it and his soul had chickened out. But there was nothing demeaning in it, for his soul had crossed the bridge of compassion and was looking for that fire of passion. I felt he just needed to be shown the right way.

Naren was like a brother to me and I couldn't let him slip away like that. I was determined to talk him out of that noose. Though he had totally broken down, Naren still had his senses intact. I gathered my wits and gave my first and probably a bad shot at engaging him in a conversation, "Brother, I don't think that's the right way to remove a fan from the ceiling.". For a moment, the sobbing stopped but Naren was definitely not amused... not yet!

A ray of hope soon came forth, when Naren vomited the question that was eating at his heart.

Naren: Why did God create so much suffering in this world? My friend is dying. There are so many suffering in the hospitals. There is so much pain out there.

Me: Naren bhaiyya. I am not so old as to advise you but I definitely know that hospitals are not such a sad place. People go there in pain but they come out smiling. Hospitals are temples that give the blessing of life. Maybe a little suffering helps control our pride. Also, the staff that works at the hospitals does such a dedicated job sometimes. Didn't you read about the heroic deeds of nurses Remya and Vineetha who lost their own lives while rescuing sick patients from their burning wards? Their sacrifice didn't go waste, did it?

Naren was softening now, or maybe his heart was hardening... the noose was definitely loose, as he proceeded to his next question in a more clear voice.

Naren: Then what about the evils in the outside world? There is so much inequality, discrimination, and abuse.. Decent and god-fearing people cannot live in self-respect. Innocent girls can't even walk freely without being harassed.

Me: That is not totally true bro. There is injustice in this world but there are also forces that fight to restore peace and equitable life. I agree that eve-teasing is a problem but we are also fighting to oppose it. It was you who told me the tragic but brave story of Keenan and Reuben, who put a bold face against the teasers. They paid with their lives but then didn't the whole country stand united over it?

Naren's head was out of the noose now. He still stood on the table though. I sensed another question coming so I decided to let him blurt it out before I shouted to my parents for help. I was still nervous about the whole affair, you see...

Naren: What about the old and helpless people? Nobody takes care of them. They are left to die of hunger on the streets...

Me: I can't let you fault on that one, Naren. Old people have the utmost respect in our land. In fact, their guidance is the need of the hour. Just look at who has been the talk of the town for the past few months? Isn't Anna Hazare the grand old man of India who is leading us in such a big and powerful movement? And aren't we following him just like we stood behind another wise old man who gave us independence in 1947? Old people are the wealth of our nation and we are certainly not going to let them down.

I had run out of ideas and had to stop abruptly. There was silence for a minute and then Naren duly got down from the stool and walked towards the door. I did not need to shout for anybody's help anymore. God had heard me...

It is only under very high temperature and pressure that raw carbon turns into diamond. With all his life's experiences, Naren's heart had been into that furnace, and when he was properly cooked, God had chosen me as the chef to pluck the fiery grilled chicken finally out of the oven. Naren had the most refreshing look on his face when he stepped out of the room. He seemed somewhat.. enlightened! Over the next few days, my parents observed a marked change in Naren's behavior. They had never seen him so saintly. They brought up the topic with me, but I feigned ignorance as I had decided to keep that incident a secret.

A week later Naren packed his bags and left. He didn't tell us where he was going, for he probably didn't know that himself. As a thanks for making him smile, he gifted me a small mantle-piece of the smiling Buddha. He had left, just like another great soul had gone searching for truth 2600 years back. Was it just a co-incidence that Naren was driven by the same sights of aged, diseased and suffering, which had compelled the great Buddha? When Naren left, he had promised to write to us but we never heard back from him.

I wondered if, generations later, my family would finally hear about Naren, on some light that he may have shone on to the world...

When the fuel of one's passions,  finds its spark one day,
His life becomes a torch, so others can find their way...

Image credit : Images as well as factual information obtained from Indian news websites. Last image from website - mastermindwithjames.com

n.b. : The main thread of the story is imaginary but is weaved around true events of our times. This post is also submitted to the KFC Fiery Grilled contest on Indiblogger. A note of thanks to the  KFC-Indiblogger team for triggering this thought process in me...