Every once in a while, an author comes along and makes you stop and think. It started with this one:
Link to another blog of mine where I referred to Miss Read:
From then on, life is a sweet song as you crave for every work of theirs. I like uplifting material in general, and Miss Read provides just that. She has a sunny, optimistic outlook on life and chronicles life as it unfolds around her in the English country-side. She does not shy away from the harsher realities of life such as alcoholism or poverty. She manages to capture her characters with wit, sometimes scathing social commentary, but she is always charitable toward them and grants them the benefit of being human while navigating life. Every character is endearing in their own way.
Who was the author who said that, we all make a great effort to see how different we are from one another, yet, it is not how different we are from one another, but how we are like one another that shines through? Anyway, that is how I feel when I read Miss Read’s books. She may have written about a small village in the British Isles. Yet, I feel I know people like them. People who I willingly or otherwise encounter in my life. People I can pop in to have tea with and people who will be there for me when I need them. For that, I am always grateful.
Her books were written in post-war England through the 60s and 70s. There are a few novels that she set in an earlier era and I was reading one of those when a particularly poignant piece of prose moved me enough to let a tear-drop fall. She had captured, once again, like numerous others before and after her, the heart-wrenching impact of lost lives and severed limbs that is the effect of war. She had written about a cold morning in early 1915 when the family residing in the village town of Caxley was affected by the War.
There I was sitting and reading about it on a cold morning in early 2015 and it sent a shudder through my heart.
My uncle passed away a few days ago. He was 101. I sat there thinking that he was born around the time the First World War started. He served in the Second World War ( A fact I did not know about him till after his death). He rarely spoke about his time in the War, for he was a gentle soul and war jarred on him. I fervently hope that our Earth will not have to endure any more wars, but that is wishful thinking. As long as there are human-beings, there will be conflict. We can only hope that we gain enough tolerance to settle down together, minimize our losses and learn to live happily. He lived through India’s fight for Independence, (including hard times in his own fortunes), and a half-century of post-independence history. We all remember him as a sweet and gentle soul with a ready smile, a good encouraging word to share for everyone, a tower of strength to his wife, sister and daughters and a lover of knowledge.
A few days later, an aunt passed away. She was 82. She may not have had the worldly outlook that the uncle had, for she was busy battling a tough life. Stricken with polio at the age of ten, I think her life was one hard song. Yet, when I think of her, the first thing that my brother and I can remember is when she came and stayed with us for a few months during a particularly rough patch in our life. She was there limping her way with enthusiasm never wincing to take on an ounce of extra work, never complaining that her leg impeded her. She was happy amidst the fruits and vegetables that were aplenty in our home and showed her gratitude by cooking sweet rice (pongal) and offering it to the Lord everyday. We begged her to go easy on the sweets, for they were not going easy on our waist-lines and she said, “As long as you make the offering to God first, you will not put on weight!”
My father, a compassionate man, told us not to stop her, for she had never seen plenty. ‘We will lose the weight easily enough, but can you see her this happy?’ (I don’t think the father lost the weight easily enough, but that is a side-point)
That had been our little joke for years. It morphed into various statements:
Tuck into the chocolates – if your heart is good, you won’t put on weight.
Plunge into the rasgollas – if you are happy, you won’t put on weight.
Bite into the almond cakes – if you are grateful for it, you won’t put on weight.
Wade into the payasam – even the Gods drank nectar, and they never put on weight.
You get the gist.
Both of them lived long, rich and diverse lives spanning a century. They watched lifestyle changes, outlook changes, political drama, technological advances, personal challenges – good and bad. How often we don’t stop to think what the person next to us has undergone? How often we think of ourselves, our voices and our motives alone, without stopping to think about another person’s perspective?
We can learn from everyone’s example and everyone’s mistakes . I hope life brings with it a certain wisdom while retaining the enthusiasm to learn and try new things.