BANGALORE: What is it that binds one human-being to another? The thread of empathy, recognition that the other is not the other after all but part of the same human experience? Their pain is not theirs alone? That their joy is also yours? Because as poet Shahid Kabir once said poignantly, “Galiyon galiyon jiska charcha hai..woh afsana tera bhi hai mera bhi” (That din, that story you hear everywhere? That is yours and mine too).
And yet when we see something as devastating as an earthquake or a terrorist attack, it doesn’t really register as something that could happen to us. Because we are on the other end of the television set. Because we were not swept away by a ferocious river, a landslide or an act of violence. We can go to bed at night, feeling safe and because our homes and our loved ones have not been taken away in one life altering instant.
But then as we saw during the Uttarakhand tragedy, there are the underpaid and overworked jawans who think nothing of strapping little babies on their chests and crossing a river with the help of just a suspended rope and a prayer maybe.
They unthinkingly make a human shield on the edge of an mountain so that nervous survivors can walk to safety without falling down. What makes these men so heroic? Is it training, discipline. work ethic? And on the other end of the spectrum, what makes certain people feast on tragedy like vultures? And ask trapped survivors of a flash-flood and landslides, to pay extra money for a bottle of water, a pack of biscuits, a helicopter ride out of hell? What makes certain people for instance, walk past accident victims, or strip dead bodies of valuables?
The other day I saw a story on TV where a young boy was kidnapped by an acquaintance for money and then murdered. What makes some of a us so driven by greed that we can do anything to gain what we want and hurt anyone who comes in the way? We are all made of the same elements and yes, the human story of pain, survival, life and death is universal and yet some of us choose darkness, some light, a few choose grey and all of us at some point or another, choose self-preservation over the preservation of something bigger than us. And what is this that is supposed to be bigger than us?
So many of us choose a natural calamity to prove the absence of a benevolent force that oversees the business of the universe. Ironically, it is the disbelievers who have the most issues with God when a tragedy occurs. “See,” they say, “If there was a God, would He, She, It, allow this?” As if the misery of a few thousand human beings can only serve one purpose. To feed their cynicism and their belief in their disbelief.
Beyond the institutionalised regimented Gods and belief systems that divide people across religious lines is what we began this whole story with. The thread of humanity that binds us all. That should make us want to protect each other, stand by each other and in a broader sense honour the privilege of being alive on an abundant planet where every living being must live in harmony with another.
The state of the world however tells us that we do not recognise ourselves in others, we do not honour differences, we are either indifferent to others or are judgmental or greedy or violent or self-seeking or fashionably cynical because being cynical puts the onus to do something constructive on someone else, maybe on an absent God but absolves us of all responsibility to do the little good we can.
The truth perhaps is just this. That there are three forces at work in this universe. The force of constructive energy that builds, connects, heals, helps, inspires. The energy of destruction that loots, plunders not just other people but natural resources and every element that the earth is made of. And the force of apathy that jeers and mocks or shrugs and stays disconnected and indifferent. When we take too much and give too little to the earth, to nature, to each other, there is imbalance and chaos, both inner and outer and maybe we cannot all be heroic and save the world and everything in it but we can start with what we can change in ourselves, and around us.
Little steps that unite us with our own spirit and with others and with this planet because nothing can exist in isolation. It is when we honour our connection to the joy and grief of the other that we become a bit more human, a bit more aware of why we are one family and why this planet must be repaired and replenished.
Natural calamities like Uttarakhand as any news channel will tell you are the result of human unpreparedness, deforestation, heedless greed of builders, absence of intelligent urban planning in an eco sensitive zone and political disconnect and at a micro level, we see similar disasters around us.
The unattended patient, the street child, the animal in distress, a tree being cut, a piece of land ear marked for the poor being swallowed by a mall, the unheard, unacknowledged disparities and because nothing is done to change things, so many things go wrong. Is it a fundamental human need to disengage from unpleasant realities or is it just our national character to see distress and ignore it?
Finger pointing is a national pass time too but at some point we must look within and ask if we have done enough to change what we cannot endure. And if we haven’t, maybe it’s time to reclaim that story of pain, loss, love and redemption that belongs to all of us and where some people are bystanders and others heroes because they choose to be. We have the choice to be an answer to someone’s prayer, the power to help. And if we do not exercise this choice, we deserve the world we live in.