Dear reader, I was at a restaurant the other day when the evening skies took a turn after the heavy rain and burst into bright, fantastic colours, enveloping the town in beautiful, atmospheric blue mists that made it seem as though we were floating. It was spectacular!
The people in the restaurant naturally began taking pictures and filming excitedly; to which, my friend there and I were no exception.
We picked a corner where there was no one but the oldest employee in the restaurant, probably in his late sixties (or early seventies, it’s hard to tell), who always greeted everyone with the warmest smile and was known to have requested to continue to work there (since he didn’t want to retire, and enjoyed being there).
As he saw us approaching, he moved aside, and with twinkling eyes, smiled, motioning us to take pictures. Believe me, I’ve never seen anyone more pleased and eager to help, and be filled with almost childlike happiness on getting the opportunity to; not to mention at being able to see others excited and happy.
Once we’d returned to our seats – he quietly went to the same corner, took out a really small camera phone from his pocket, and positioning himself upon the window sill, opened the ventilator above it to capture a picture, all the while trying to keep his hand still and smiling with warm excitement at the thrill of it all. He seemed so content and happy upon taking the picture, that there are no words to even remotely describe it.
Our hearts couldn’t have been fuller in that moment, seeing that little, old man become a part of the enthusiasm and his effort to cherish that moment by sharing in it. I read somewhere that we tend to feel for the aged because we see our grandparents in them, but something about this was bigger than that. This man seemed to have more joy in his heart than the entire room combined and it radiated as brightly as the colours in the sky in that moment.
Suddenly, the lumps in our throats upon feeling a sense of guilt, empathy and deep compassion for the happy old man who represented Lord knows how many people who live without pretence or the pursuit of validation, felt all encompassing and even mocking – as though asking one… Who, here, should really be shed tears over? Who, here, really, does deserve pity? Suddenly, our phones with their big screens and good quality cameras that we still found plenty of reasons to complain about seemed to pale in comparison to the old man’s phone. Suddenly, the clothes and shoes we were wearing, the food and drink on our tables, the conversations and complaints about life in the pandemic ‘sucking’, the peppy live music didn’t seem to matter at all. Everything had taken on an air of pretence and shallowness…and a deep, dull heartache.
If I even attempted to write about the lessons that that moment taught me, or the impact it had on us that witnessed it, I wouldn’t be able to justify it, partly because language can only accomodate so much and party because I know I’m yet to discover new facets of that impact, like ripples in the water that exceed the moment…
I’ve thought of it so many times since because it doesn’t leave me, and there have been times, I won’t deny, I wished I could unsee it, or not let it unsettle me so. But then I realize that staying away from the news (which I began doing a few years ago since I tended to get really affected by it) or reality, living in a perfect world or la la land doesn’t really shield one from what’s out there. There may be progress and privilege and waste, but there is a more poignant, stark side to that coin for anyone who cares enough to see. It is a shame to have to be reminded of it. One shouldn’t have to be reminded of it.
If anyone’s reading this, let it unsettle you and wake you up to that reality even if you have momentarily forgotten it. Fate cannot be human, but we can. I know it’s a cutthroat rat race and everyone needs to provide for themselves and their loved ones first, but let us not forget the global human collective. Let’s give more reasons to those that smile with their hearts to do so because I don’t know what purity is left in the world if not for kindness and kind, joyful smiles.
Next time you go to a restaurant, smile with your heart, tip larger, buy food for the homeless outside. Next time someone is low, take a moment out to cheer them up or simply listen. Next time the old ask for help or repeat a story, do it without groaning or listen with enthusiasm, greet them with the love they greet you with, or even if they don’t.
Next birthday or Diwali or Christmas, when you have a little extra, remember that there’s a responsibility that comes with it which you could choose not to overlook.
None of us are perfect, or masters of emotion, but let’s try. We’re never too old to.
I don’t even know what else I can say, or if I even successfully narrated the moment to whatever little accuracy words can achieve; perhaps it might not even seem like much to most who read it, yet even if one person does something – one good deed for someone out there who could really use it, this post will have served its purpose; and I promise you, dear reader…to say the very least…it will make your entire heart smile. If nothing else, if you’ve found yourself unable to get through the day without being disappointed or complaining or waking up grumpy, you might just get the eensiest perspective on life.
© Isha Garg