Meagre needs but boundless desires

Raghavan was jumping from one online portal to other in order to arrange groceries and vegetables. Meanwhile, his wife Meenakshi was putting their daughter Srinika to bed. Soon after the little one was fast asleep her mother tip toed out of the room. While closing the door her eyes fell on two pairs of snowshoes and bags that were packed with winter essentials like jackets, woollen gloves, caps.

“These are of no use now.” Meenakshi thought to herself taking a deep breath.
“Any luck?” Meenakshi asked her husband and headed straight to the kitchen.
“No, not yet.” Out of frustration he flunked his hand in the air and replied.

She walked silently into the kitchen and combed through the pantry cabinets in order to take a stock of groceries.

“Half a container of rice, around three kilograms of pulses, wheat flour seems okay, but oil won’t last more than five days… ”, promptly she got into an assessment mode.
“None of them are accepting orders. Don’t know what to do.” Raghavan came in to inform.
“Leave it for now. You could try again tomorrow morning.” Meenakshi suggested.
“What’s the situation here?” Raghavan inquired looking at one of the empty pantry cabinets.
“Well, I think this stock would last for five to six days at the most.” She replied pensively.

Stocking up items that are essential for basic survival did not occupy their mental space till this moment as they were preparing for a trip to Europe that would have commenced shortly. However, life is known for throwing surprises. As a pre-emptive measure to check the spread of covid-19 virus the Government of India had imposed lockdown in the country. Hence, being trapped in an unexpected turn of events compelled them to put the trip on hold for now. Interestingly, in no time they adapted to the changing scenario. So instead of crying over spilt milk or getting in touch with the travel agency for postponing the date of travel or refund of their booked tickets, they got down just to the basics… survival. After all, challenging situations makes one realize what constitutes the core and what was the peripheral crust in life.

“Don’t worry, there will be a way out. There are so many shops nearby. Once the mad rush to hoard things settles down, we can go and buy things. We have some staple to last us a few days.” Meenakshi reassured. Although she had provided solace to her husband, but deep inside she had apprehensions regarding the hidden facets of the coming days that would unfurl eventually.

“And what if we face grimmer situation like food scarcity during this period, what are we going to do? All these years we have toiled hard accumulating wealth for our future needs but when the need came knocking at the door, no amount of bank balance came to our rescue. Even after having buying power in good proportion, the currency notes look mere paper and bank cards are useless pieces of plastic.” Raghavan asked helplessly.

That day their efforts went in vain but three days later Raghavan ventured out to buy essential goods. He felt no less than a soldier donned with a mask shielding his face, clutching a hand sanitizer as his only weapon and with fear in his heart cautiously avoiding as much touch points as possible, thus taking baby steps forward. With humanity waging a war against this dreaded pathogen, the dynamics of warfare has changed in a blink of an eye. Now, it is widely understood that a war is no longer fought at frontiers alone and an enemy could be a microscopic organism too. Though Raghavan came back home with groceries and other essentials successfully, yet he was far from feeling victorious or claim the mission as accomplished.

“Keep everything in the balcony, discard your mask and take bath. I have kept everything ready in the bathroom.” Meenakshi announced as she proceeded to toil with fruits and vegetables, cleaning and sanitizing them for an hour. After they were done with their newfound rituals, they sat relived for a few minutes before dispersing to their respective make-shift workspace. As their trip got cancelled, they thought it was sensible to resume their work straight away. Luckily, their nature of work supported work from anywhere concept.

“How was everything outside?” Meenakshi enquired.
“Okay… it looked okay as most of the people were trying to maintain a safe distance from each other. Of course some of them acted callously too. But there is a lot of confusion outside.” Raghavan replied.
“Yeah, it is better to stay at home.” Meenakshi added.
“Hmmm, indeed. Just thinking of it for some time… our home has become Noah’s ark of present times. Isn’t it?” Raghavan sighed and continued, “As if we are all floating in a deep, dark ocean of uncertainties but once inside our tiny abode, we are still safe from this torrential virus. In the same way, every creation of God who had boarded Noah’s Ark were safe despite whatever was going on outside of it.”

While contemplating about God’s design in maintaining an equilibrium in the universe, she looked around the abandoned construction site from her window. The place was hustling and bustling with activities just a few days ago, but it is sparsely populated now due to lockdown.

“Don’t know if this virus has originated naturally or in a lab, but nothing is possible without God’s consent. There must be a bigger picture, a greater purpose than what meets our eyes. If you observe properly you would realize, this incident has made everyone to stand in a single line. Anybody or everybody can get effected by this virus irrespective of their class, status or financial ability… no exemption, no favoritism whatsoever.” Raghavan added.

That afternoon, after slogging for a few hours at work she thought of reheating the food to be consumed for lunch as it was prepared in the morning. While keeping vegetable curry and rasam on gas stove she felt a sense of relief as they were able to arrange enough food for coming days. For a moment, her heart sank as she drifted away to their maiden trip to Europe. To be at the safer side they had postponed it to the third quarter of the year as the situation does not look conducive any time soon.

“We should give a call or send a mail to the travel agency to get a confirmation. They should give a clear picture, but they are just not at all responding. Oh! sometimes I feel life is a series of uncomfortable situations with a bit of relief in between.” she thought.

Strange are the ways of a flickering mind, as after her home got stacked with essentials for basic needs, it wandered to more peripheral needs such as following up the travel agent or the trip. She was brought back by shrill screams of a dog. She quickly rushed to the balcony thinking, “Why is this dog crying?”

To her surprise, a little boy and his sister were giving bath to a stray puppy at the same construction site adjacent to their building. And the puppy is in turn reluctant to get drenched in water thus screaming his lungs out. The innocence and the excitement with which they both were going about their job brought a smile on Meenakshi’s face as she knew the thrill of bringing home a pup from the streets. As kids, many a times she and her brother use to bring stray pups home, bath them or wipe them with antiseptic liquid, give them milk and even name them before getting stern orders from their mother to leave the pup outside.

“Life was so simple yet satisfying back then.” she thought to herself.
“Rasam was boiling so I have switched off the stove. I have filled water bottles and put plates on dining table. Shall we sit for lunch?” Raghavan said from behind.
“Yeah, coming. Could you please call Srinika for lunch?” She replied.

Later that evening, when she got up from work, she checked on Srinika and headed straight to the kitchen to get some milk for the kid and prepared some tea for themselves. She also kept some murukku on a plate to be savoured with hot beverage.

“Raghav, will you have tea with us, or shall I keep the cup at your table?” She asked.
“Yes, I am coming in five minutes.” he replied

All three of them sat with tea, milk and snacks. With great excitement little Srinika was showing drawings and paper crafts which she had made during the day. They were spending good time together… eating, talking and laughing. From this sight who could gauge that they too have their own share of concerns. Lakhs of money stuck with travel agent, uncertainties at work front, mammoth-sized home loan. In the current situation everything seems like an albatross hanging around the neck.

“After ages we got some time together, life has become so hectic.” she said to her husband.
“Yeah, as if we are all running… a never-ending race. We did not even have the luxury to sit peacefully.” he replied.
After some time, turning towards Raghavan, she asked “Let me start preparing dinner now. What shall I prepare for dinner, tomato rice or Idlis?”
“Anything would do.” he replied.

While going back to kitchen she felt like checking on the kids at the construction area. She had developed a soft corner for those children. They appeared excited as they played hopscotch. The little puppy looked amused too as it jumped in synchrony with them. At some point, the three musketeers huddled together, and boy raised his hand up in the air pretending to take a selfie.

“Now, this is pure joy. Oblivious to the situation around they seem to be living and cherishing the moments together. Childhood is so carefree and unadulterated. I have bought a high-end camera for this trip, considering it highly essential. Is it because I wanted to relive those moments years later or is it because I wanted to flaunt our trip on social media? Somehow, in a quest to click that perfect pose in an exotic location we would have missed out on experiencing the moment. And later, we would have become so busy in our lives that looking back at those moments would have been a far cry.” she thought.

Meenakshi looked around the construction site minutely, amidst well-constructed villas their tiny shack stood upright on a framework of bamboo logs where tarpaulin and bamboo sheets were used both as roof and walls. A few cloths neatly hanging on a rope, totally dried up under the sun by now. A net basket full of onions and tomatoes hang from the roof. Aluminium utensils washed and kept in a plastic basket, a simple Kolam (floor drawing) adorned the entrance. Interestingly, a few shrubs were planted in discarded paint tumblers too. A man, supposedly their father, was sitting on a foldable charpoy and eating something. While their mother sat under an open sky near their hut and was occasionally talking with amusement with her husband. At the same time she was preparing dinner on a stove made of mud and bricks.

“There seems to be an order, a rhythm in an otherwise disorganized and temporary arrangement. They seem to be so composed amidst the turmoil all around.” she thought to herself.

Raghav was crossing by and saw Meenakshi standing by the balcony thus he joined her. On seeing him she asked abruptly, “If material opulence alone can give us happiness then why does this family looks happy with meagre resources? And why is it that even after attaining so much, a void still lingers in our heart?”

“By and large we are suffering due to polluted aim in life, namely lording it over material resources. We have become far too mechanical in chasing our dreams…desires. All our lives we stay trapped in an illusion thinking designation, position and material comfort makes us happy or defines our success but ultimately, we become slaves of our own desires. Ironic it may sound, we work hard to accomplish them, which in turn invites stress and then we go around searching for peace.” he lamented.

“True, when lockdown commenced, we were only worried about basic needs for survival. We did not think about superficial desires such as the trip. In a way, this pandemic reminds us that our needs remain limited, but we have made our desires boundless…” Meenakshi said drifting deep into her thoughts.

Humans have increased their needs far too high, but life is never made comfortable by artificial needs but plain living and high thinking. We have become so busy caring for our body and mind that we have forgotten the needs of our soul.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Competitions – A double edged sword

 

As a school going kid I thoroughly enjoyed participating in competitions and performances. Never did I understand the importance of such things in a child’s life until the time my daughter started participating in them. These events have played such a vital role in developing her personality. But I feel that competitions are like double edged swords. They can be beneficial in providing a child ample exposure so that they come out of their shell and gain in confidence. At the same time if the child doesn’t get desired result (which is quite likely) they can possibly lose confidence and self-esteem. Recently Akshita my daughter won a gold medal along with few others from her painting class in a national level painting competition held for children. But I don’t want to discuss her success story. Instead, I find that it is the story of her failure that is worth sharing.

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Couple of months earlier I had got a message from Usha, my daughters painting teacher, on WhatsApp. It was to inform the people in that group about a national level painting competition for children which is to be held in Hyderabad. She wanted all her students to participate in this. We needed to send entries latest by 28th of June. There were topics to choose from as per the age criteria. After reading the message my thoughts drifted to a similar situation in which we were in a few months ago. On a Saturday afternoon I went to Usha’s Studio to fetch Akshita home. Within seconds, I realized it wasn’t a usual day at the painting class. The students were engrossed with the work assigned to them. Usha informed me of a painting competition which was supposed to be held at a preschool located near our society. The topic for the competition was ‘save the earth’. Akshita was informed by her teacher about this and she was excited to go for it. She was just out of a splendid dance performance which she along with other girls had given during the ugadi celebrations in our society. As a result, she was basking with self-esteem. I was delighted to see her enhanced confidence, but at the same time was sceptical about the topic. I thought the topic was too much for a five years old to handle.

Next one hour I sat silently watching her in admiration. What I like the most in her is the fact that in spite of quite a few shortcomings, she exhibits great zeal to take up challenges that the life throws at her. Even though Akshita looks quite timid and delicate to the world outside her home, but deep inside she is pretty gritty and strong willed. This was very evident from the very beginning. For instance, when she was in my womb this tiny soul had to play a tug of war between life and host of medical issues which could have occurred. But fortunately got avoided due to the intervention of a good team of doctors… and God’s will. Amidst the pre and during delivery complications, she was holding on to the twig called life. She was born in the month of August, exactly two weeks before the due date. Thus being a Leo cub she is a fighter to the core. Akshita is one of those children who started speaking late. When she joined preschool she saw a whole bunch of her peers talking, screaming and communicating in so many languages. On the contrary she could barely speak a few words. But still that did not deter her to love going to school. She was the youngest of all girls at the dance class when she had joined. She used to give a confused look and was totally fish out of water. But neither did she show reluctance to go there nor did she ever asked me to hang around at the dance class. In fact, after coming back home she use to spend next half an hour teaching me Bharatanatyam steps. Believe me she is a tough task master; because no matter how much my thighs use to pain she wouldn’t leave me.

In order to master your shortcomings/fears you need to confront them, running away from them can never be a solution. If you choose to do the later, you restrict your growth as a person. The fear of failure will always be there but that shouldn’t deter you from facing challenges. I took fifteen years to realize this, but I am glad to find that this quality is inherent in her. During this time, while I was busy in retrospection, she was diligently following instructions and replicating her teacher’s drawing. I causally glanced at her drawing notebook. “Plant more trees” was written in bold letters on top of the sheet. It depicted a scenery with lush green patches, trees, blue sky and a small hut in the middle of nature. It looked beautiful.

Next day my husband dropped both of us at the school. We were received by Renu, one of the teachers at the preschool, who also happens to be a neighbour. She took Akshita to a room where all the kids were busy drawing or colouring. I could see three more students of Usha there, apart from Akshita. I feel it is God’s grace that we have facilities like music class, dance class, painting class etc in our own society. During growing up stages children are in constant pressure from all quarters. As a result, they have lot of pent up emotions. These activities are just a medium through which these emotions get released, their social skills increases, self-esteem and confidence enhances. And this in turn helps in overall development of the child. Akshita is far more obedient and manageable now then what she was before we sent her for these classes.

After about an hour and half, Akshita came out totally satisfied with whatever she had done in her painting. We were asked to wait as there was Prize Distribution Ceremony within 20 minutes. I immediately called up Anirban to let him know that she was done with the painting. I asked her how was it. She said ‘superb’. In the meantime, within minutes a makeshift stage was set up and prizes wrapped in coloured papers where kept on one side of the table by the organizers. Akshita was all the more excited after seeing those prizes. From her exuberance it was very clear that she had high expectations from the event. Considering the fact that Akshita was probably the youngest participant, I had genuine apprehensions of her chances of getting a prize.

The first prize went to a girl whose painting depicted a scene controlling air pollution. Her painting was shown to the audience, who in turn applauded her for the painting. Akshita was disappointed for not getting the first prize. I on the other hand was surprised to see that she actually expected the first price. Isn’t it too big an expectation? I thought. She is here to participate; get some exposure. For us the main purpose for sending her for different Co-curricular activities was that she would get ample opportunities to mingle with children of her age, which in turn would help her to learn social skills and also time would be utilized in a constructive manner. We felt that this purpose was being served. We didn’t expect her to bring laurels for us at all. We just enjoyed the baby steps that she took in her journey of development.

In order to soothe her restlessness, I said accolades don’t decide our love for her. Instead we take pride in her zeal to participate and compete. I could sense that my little girl was not convinced. Deep within I dreaded the situation which we might have to tackle if she does not get recognition for her painting. We might have to get into a crisis management mode sometime soon. Much to my solace my husband was on his way to join us.

In the meanwhile, second prize went to one of Usha’s three pupils Sai Charan. My daughter had started losing patience by this time. So far we have never pushed her for anything. The fact that she chose to participate was more than enough to feel good about. But kids of her age can’t really understand this. The child needs something to hold, to feel. Something to show to their parents. In my opinion they are too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. According to them, a small Candy is better than a certificate. Parikshit, another student of Usha got the third prize. Akshita was all teary eyed by then. I thought to myself if her confidence dips down, that would probably be the last thing that I would want from this competition. I gave her a quick hug and said “I love you”.

My husband had reached the venue by this time. Akshita jumped with joy and wiped her eyes instantly, seeing her father. She shared her curiosity with him about what could be there inside the gift wrapped boxes. In next ten minutes few of them received consolation prizes and each one of them got participation certificates. Akshita received only a participation certificate. She felt dejected and sad, actually she is too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. I cuddled her and kissed her forehead and said Maa and Baba is simply proud of what she did. Our love for her is not dependent on her successes or failures. But we certainly appreciate her willingness to work hard to achieve a goal.

I glanced at my husband and he immediately understood what I wanted to convey. He took over the task of motivating her. Over the years both of us have learnt the art of communicating through eyes. It was so heartening to see Anirban’s softer side. He lifted her and made her to sit on his lap, embraced her and planted a kiss on Akshita swollen cheeks. These gestures are so essential to repair a child’s broken heart and spirit. She in turn put her arms around his shoulders. Anirban whispered in her ears: “You are a winner in our eyes as we value the attempt that you made and will definitely get a gift from us”. I wondered if she really understood what we were trying to tell her but I am sure she understands the warmth we shower on her. So on our way back home we took her to the nearest supermarket and let her choose things that she wanted to pick from there. We have made conscious effort to bestow her with our precious time but not freedom of demanding loads of toys and gifts as a compensation. She understands this very well; thus she rarely demands anything. We on the other hand make sure that we provide her with all necessary things and give her surprise gifts even without asking for it. Except for special occasions like this, when we give her liberty to ask whatever she wants, we generally don’t fulfill her demands immediately.

In the supermarket while Akshita was busy selecting things, I said to my husband “She is finding it difficult to digest the fact that her painting didn’t fetch an award”. He nodded his head in affirmation and said “Sometimes it is good to get a taste of failure. This a very important lesson for life. Don’t worry she will be fine”. So true… if you don’t see failures and setbacks in life, you would neither learn to gracefully deal with it, nor you would experience sense of accomplishment after toiling hard for success.

Akshita’s mood started to change while picking things from the shelves; and we felt so relieved to see that. I started feeling confident that together we would overcome this phase. As parents we just need to be available for them, to support them when their chips are down.

Coming back to the present, we have to gear up for yet another painting competition. As far as my little girl is concerned, my gut feeling says she must have learned a few lessons from her previous outing. Let’s hope it would be easier to handle the situation this time around. And if with God’s grace she wins accolades in the process, it’s always a bonus but certainly not the ultimate thing.

Aradhana Basu Das