Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stuff that heroes are made of...

Now, I am the kind of person who carries a box of tissues even to a comedy movie…just in case there is some mush or teary moment. Been told a thousand times by embarrassed friends and family who have to listen to my sniffs and sobs “It’s just a movie…it’s not true. STOP crying!”

With Satyamev Jayate, it’s all true! The kind of truth that's stranger than fiction. But while I shuddered at the sight of dowry deaths and medical malpractices …..wept profusely at horrifying stories of ill-treated aged parents and female foeticides….shook my head in disbelief at the way we were treating our natural resources and some communities, I was mainly overwhelmed by the greatness and the goodness that still exist in our society. To me, the show was a celebration of people who have taken compassion to a whole new level…and have lived by the only thing that makes us different from other forms of life - our conscience.

This post is not about the epidemic of malpractices that seems to have crippled our nation. The show has covered that well enough. It’s about trying to analyse the how and the why behind those who are able to look beyond their immediate selves. In short, I am curious to know what heroes are made of….
While I haven’t personally come across female foeticide, I have seen/heard real instances (in varying degrees) of  dowry claims, untouchability, alcoholism, medical malpractices, domestic violence, resistance to inter-caste/religion marriages and sexual abuse. I am myself guilty of three things shown in the show – not conserving water as well as I should; not buying organic food (an indirect way of raising my voice against toxics in our food); not being able to support my Ma in her old age, as much as I would have liked to (being in different continents does not help). I have worked with children with disabilities….so it’s another subject close to my heart. That sums up my involvement with the 12 issues that were highlighted.

 Needless to say, I have mostly come across people who live privileged lives. That includes people from various socio-economic backgrounds. Mashi, an elderly lady who helps my Ma with her chores, has battled with poverty all her life…but I think even she is more privileged, when compared to most people interviewed on the show.

 We spend our entire lives as though we were made out of a template. Myopic with personal aspirations and problems, generations have come and gone living their lives in a certain pattern – chasing good scores in schools/colleges,  pursuing certain professions, paying off mortgages/loans, buying that dream car, saving for the occasional vacations, providing the best care and facilities to kids…and the cycle goes on.

But how do some people manage to break free from this self-centred pattern? What gives them the strength to have different dreams…dreams that will benefit not just themselves and their immediate family, but society at large?  What gives them the optimism and courage to do something about a problem….instead of taking the easy option of blaming others/government/infrastructure and saying “India will never change” or “What can I do?” or worse still “Why should I do it…it’s not my problem.”?

How does a Subasini Mistry dream to build a hospital for the poor, when she has just lost her husband to poverty and sickness? Doesn’t she have other things on her mind…like how she’s going to get the next meal for her little boy? Isn’t she a bereaved widow left with the huge challenge of raising her kid on her own, on the mere earnings of a roadside vegetable seller? Why does she think she needs to make a difference? What makes her think she can make a difference? Why not leave it for the government or the NGOs or the rich people, who clearly have the resources to do so (if not the intention)? Isn’t that what most people in her situation would do?

 What makes a Sunitha Krishnan dream of rescuing other rape victims like her? Isn’t the little girl of 16 scarred for life by the brutality of a gang rape? Shouldn’t anger and hopelessness be the predominant feelings tormenting her for the rest of her life? How does she detach herself from those feelings...or channel them for doing something positive? How does she overcome the temptation to “give up”? What makes her think that anything positive can possibly come out of her experience?

Why does a Sanjeev Kumar leave a promising MBA career to fight for the rights of unknown people in a distant village? When his colleagues and friends are perhaps fleeing the country and relocating to foreign lands that hold a better promise for the “house-car-vacation” dream…what makes him relocate to a village and spend the crucial years of his life there? Untouchability and caste system were not even “his problems”. Why not just shut his eyes to the suffering of strangers and chase the next “onsite” opportunity at work? Why does he want to be involved?

What makes a Naseema Hurzuk see beyond the helplessness of being a paraplegic and dare to help others with similar problems? She confesses how at one point in her life, she just didn’t want to live anymore. From there, how does she get to a point where she inspires others with disabilities to live happy, self-sufficient lives? Her words at the end of the interview provide the answers to a certain degree, “When you don’t feel like living for yourself, you must learn to live for others”.

This concept of “living for others” is almost alien to us.

For most of us, “others” consist of our own immediate family. The biggest sacrifices we are capable of making are the ones for our own children (like not taking a promotion that comes with a transfer or giving up a career to spend more time with them).  Sometimes, even making small life adjustments for our own parents seem too hard! At the most, we’ll lend some money to a friend in need…or sponsor the education of a few kids through our preferred charity. And we think that’s enough work-out for our conscience. We go to bed feeling happy that we’ve done something good for “others”. But we take care not to do anything that puts us into any sort of inconvenience.  Nothing that disturbs the pattern of our lives. While any sort of good is good, as the saying goes “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

For our heroes, “others” could mean total strangers... people who were far removed from their own lives. It does not matter that they are themselves often in worse situations than those they are trying to help! Yet nothing deters them from their mission…not personal benefits, not inconvenience, not even big threats to their own safety and well-being!

What gives them this peculiar empathy that negates all their personal aspirations? Is it the balance of chemicals in their brains? Something in their DNA? Something in the environment they were brought up in? Something their parents did differently than ours when raising them? A life-changing incident that shook them from their very core?

What exactly is this strange, strong, beautiful species of real-life heroes made of? Can it be taught? Transferred? Inspired into others?

I am not sure what studies and surveys say about this…but if it’s something that can be taught or transferred, I want it included in our school curriculums. And guess what, for this one thing…am ready to go back to school.

 P.S. Apologies  if I have hurt anyone by using "generalisations" like "most of us".


Saroni said...

18Thank God your writer's block (if any) is gone. Another great read as always. Keep posting.....i really like reading your blogs. :):)

Shweta Sharma said...

Very nice post. I am sure most of us exist in dilemma all the time....the choices between good and bad. We tend to exist on a very low (self centered)level, when we are blessed to make difference in our lives as well as others.

I really enjoyed reading your post. Keep the spirit alive.

Anonymous said...

Touched. :-)
I can so relate to your thoughts. I guess we get so comfortable in our zones and create our own world in which we think our problems are the biggest ones. You need to come out of your zone to do something and it takes courage.
We become so superficial, almost all of us crib about going to work on Monday and complain that we need more time and we (IT ppl) work only for 5 days. Then I see maids helping us with household chores in India and most of them don't get even a day to rest. How is it fair? I think we just don't know how to be in someone else's world.
We don’t know how to give. We just know how to take. I wish we can create a balance.
After any Buddhist meditation, you dedicate all the positive energy for well being of this world not only for yourself and it feels so good. :-)

Scribbler :) said...

Saroni - Thanks for being a great support, always :).

Shweta - As long as we are sensitive to the troubles that other people go through, all is not lost. Having compassion is a good starting's taking it to the next level that most of us struggle with.

Rima - Very good point. We are so busy complaining that we hardly take note of the fact that our lives are better than most others. Medidation sounds good...and am glad to know that you are continuing your spiritual journey.