As a child I would accompany my parents on their shooting trips every opportunity I got. We would travel by bullock carts in a remote hot village one day only to fly off in first class the next to the most exotic place; enjoy breakfast at a roadside cart with our crew and experience dinner with the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan; discuss policies and politics over lunch, dissolve into ethereal music by midnight; plan advertising strategies, elaborate industry economics and visualise philosophical stories for religious heads – simply experiencing everything under the sun! The bandwidth of exposure my parents have gifted, has truly created every aspect of me.
On one occasion, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I accompanied my parents for a filming at a home for abandoned children. As we entered the premises I saw several children out by the front playing in the grounds and park that looked very inviting. The minute we got down, my parents got busy with the work on hand and I was left to my own devices. Soon several children came to see the visiting crew and one girl about my age made bold to ask me if I wanted to play with her in the park. I took my mom’s permission, which she gladly gave, and ran off with my new found friend to start exploring the grounds and play. The swing has always been my biggest attraction. The sense of freedom I derive on a playground swing is almost unparalleled. Happy to have the swing to myself, I began playing with my new friend. Soon a small gathering of children had joined and all of us were happy to be involved in our own world of imaginative play. I felt so comfortable and welcomed by them, it didn’t seem like I was meeting them for the first time.
A little while later, another girl came running to join us at the play ground. I smiled at her, almost sure we were going to be friends. She smiled back, but had a question in her eyes. She softly asked my first friend ‘so who is this?’, pointing towards me on the swing. Well, it would have been ok if she hadn’t known my name, after all we had just met; it would have been ok even if she didn’t know why I was there – no one including me knew why I was there; it would have been perfectly OK even if she had pretended not to have met me or spoken to me, if she had fully ignored my very presence or even if she had been possessive of the swing or taken me to task for using it; or if she had been rude, unkind, haughty, stupid, crazy, physically fighting – anything else actually. But she chose to introduce me as – ‘the new girl who has come to live with us!’
I ran… I don’t think I have ever run like that before… Through the lanes and beyond the park… Evading a chasing dog and a puddle of dirty water… Faster… Just round the bend… The van had been parked just a few yards away… And I stopped! It was no longer there! I ran in to the house I had seen them set up the first shot… Nobody was there… Some noise from the back yard… I simply rushed… The house lady was cleaning vessels… They had introduced her to me when I had first arrived – or was it the other way? Had they introduced me to her? They had said children were made to live in a ‘family’ atmosphere so every child had a foster parent and a home inside the premises. She smiled at my tense face and asked if I was hungry and looking for food. I started to whimper – it was hard to breathe. She knew something was wrong and gently came to take my hand. I flew out of the house banging against everything…
I ran… I don’t know in which direction… I don’t know what I was running away from or towards what… But I ran… And in the distance I saw the van parked in front of another house… The lights were on – which means the shot was being filmed… I didn’t care… I ran right through the scene across the setting, in front of the running camera… She was standing at the far end not even looking towards me… I literally hugged her from behind and sobbed my life out… She tried to loosen my grip, bring me around. The whole crew was now watching… I just didn’t care… I started screaming ‘why did you leave me there. How could you not tell me that you were going to move here…’ On and on I screamed. She grabbed me by my hand and took me to a corner. In a quiet firm voice she asked me ‘what is going on?’ Still sobbing I told her ‘That girl I went off to play with, she is introducing me to the others as the new girl who has come to live with them!’ Now that I was clinging to my mom, the first hint of anger was peeping beyond the momentary trauma of feeling orphaned. But she never let it even surface. She held me firmly by my shoulders, looked me straight in my eye and said firmly – ‘you know daddy and I are right here and yet you are feeling sorry for a passing comment from a child? Do you even realise that this is their living reality! How do you think they feel about it?’
I froze! Yes what she said was right! It is their reality! And gratefully I acknowledged it wasn’t mine.
The tears were still running but the steam was no longer there. I kept looking into my mom’s eyes. She would know what I should do. In a firm voice she continued – ‘It’s not always about you! You have to learn to see from the other person’s shoes! Wipe your tears this minute now and go back to be the good friend you can be to them!’
She didn’t cuddle me or promise to make my pain go away. She didn’t beat around the bush or act as if I was the victim. She did not weaken me with unnecessary emotions nor make me frigid with apathy to others. She neither validated my pain with reiteration nor wasted all that energy into a mindless cocoon of inaction. I have always felt blessed to be her daughter but more so for this one incident than any other, for in those few moments she gave me the direction to transform from being so self absorbed in just myself, to begin relate to the world with a desire to feel through the other’s perspective. It was just a trigger – but one so potent that it kindled the spirit of adventure to always want to know from the other’s shoes and not be content with just mine. A seed was sown that day to always strive to see from the other person’s shoes.
I don’t really remember the rest of the day but it was a long one. Late into the night when I was trying to sleep, my dad came in to be with me. Gently patting my forehead he remained silent not really wanting to say anything at all. But sleep was eluding me and the reason was simple – I was now feeling guilty! Silent tears started rolling down my cheeks. I had (still have) the bestest mom & dad. I had food to eat and clothes to cover me. I had a home, a brother and sister to play. I could read and write and went to the best school. I simply had it all and the tears were refusing to stop. My dad gently wiped them and asked me, ‘Are you afraid, kanna?’ I shook my head. Through my tears I asked in a whisper ‘why is God partial to me? Why do I have it all when others don’t seem to have any?’
The next few moments were also very crucial in the making of me. I could have been made to feel extra special and entitled, negating all the lessons I had learnt that morning. Or I could have been left to carry a guilt for being blessed for the rest of my life – in the very process denying the very blessings that keep me alive!
My dad was silent for a moment. There was a small night bulb burning in the corner of the room. He pointed it out to me and said ‘you see that bulb there?’ I nodded my head in the dark.
‘That is meant to give you light in the dark. It is a night bulb.’ Of course I knew that! Why was he telling me about the night bulb?
‘Do you remember the stage lights when you dance?’ He continued. Again I nodded in the dark. ‘Those can light up the entire stage.’ Yeah and they glare into my eyes, I thought…
‘During filming, you must have seen those huge HMI lights that can light up an entire street. Or the even bigger light trees that light up an entire stadium… But do you know something? The electricity that flows to each of these is the same. Electricity doesn’t change. Based on each of their capacities the bulbs illuminate their world.’ He lifted me on to his lap. I remained reflective. The electricity is the same yet the output was different…
‘You have been given everything so that you can share the light to many. You don’t have to feel guilty for being a 1000 watt bulb. Nor can you feel entitled, because remember the electricity is the same! You simply need to make sure you spread the light you are capable of illuminating into as many lives as you can reach!’
He gently rocked me to sleep. The guilt disappeared and the striving began… All in just a day…
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in August 2016