The art of living

They seemed to know that two meals a day was all the luxury they could aspire for.

The elite stream of our society expends quite a bit of time, energy and money in quest of techniques to master the ‘art of living’ in order to discover the fascinating layers of our existence in the fond hope of achieving peace and happiness. With all the spiritual wealth available to guide us and with all our dedicated efforts at practising them, I wonder how many of us have achieved our goals.

This brings to my mind the daily wage labourer and his little family that lived in a hut on the huge vacant site next to our house. Whenever I think of the happiness and sense of satisfaction that radiated on their faces, I have wondered who taught them the ‘art of living’. He worked at a construction site somewhere and his wife worked in a couple of houses around as a maid, while their son (5) and daughter (4) played around in tattered garments looking after their meagre belongings. That completed their little world.

The young ones never asked for bright-coloured toys to play with, simply because they already knew that their parents couldn’t afford them. They seemed to know that two meals a day was all the luxury they could aspire for. It was a treat to the eyes to see the joy with which they played with dolls sans limbs and cars without wheels which had been discarded by the well-to-do children of the neighbourhood. During Diwali, they would run from house to house, collecting mis-fired crackers and flower pots and light them up using their ingenuity.

There were days when their father returned to the hut late in the night, fully drunk to ‘de-stress’, which would invariably be followed by scuffles between parents. It was left to the crying children to drag them apart before peace prevailed. The next day would dawn as usual as if nothing had happened the previous night.

This blissful scenario, however, was abruptly invaded one morning when the owner of the site arrived with his architect. It was learnt that a huge commercial complex would come up on that site.

Soon, a construction team arrived and the serenity of the place was shattered by the noise of the smoke-belching earth moving machine. The occupants of the hut were asked to come out with their belongings which filled nothing more than a gunny bag. As the four of them stood looking on in stunned silence, the huge bucket of the excavator swung and in a single swipe razed down the hut.

As their little physical world collapsed in a heap of rubble, the excited children clapped gleefully totally unaware of the sorrow that must have gripped their parents. They in turn did not make any attempt to deprive the little ones of their innocent pleasure derived from witnessing, what must have been for them, a thrilling spectacle.

As they moved slowly out of the scene in search of another vacant place, a brief streak of pain flashed on their faces, which soon turned into an expression of self-resignation—like a whiff of fragrance in the desert!

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