As we meander in our life, we follow specific ways. These ways are based on traditions. The meaning of tradition is handing over of customs/ beliefs or even thought process to the next generation. Many times, we continue to do things in a certain way without attempting to find if what we are doing could be done differently. Norms are fixed in our mind such that we are surprised if we find something is said or done differently.
In Australia years back there was an incident in a Kinder Garten school. The teacher was teaching the children to sing the song “Rain, Rain Go away”. It appeared that the children did not enjoy it, or they could not understand the meaning of the song. During the lunch break, she shared her experience with other teachers. She was surprised to know that children in that area had never seen the rain before. For the previous five years, that region had received no rains. The children had never seen the rain!
We eat ice cream in summer, and for the children, the ice cream is the treat for which they eagerly wait. We had gone to someone’s home and saw their child enjoying the ice cream in a bowl. I asked the child, “How is the ice cream?” He said, “Yummy and warm!” I was surprised, but his mother said that the child had food allergies so he could not eat regular ice cream. In the US where they lived, they had started getting the ice cream made of rice, for allergic children. His father had brought the ice cream on the way back from the office for the first time. The child had a cough and cold. Since the child was going to eat the ice cream for the first time, his mother decided to warm the ice cream. Hence the ice cream was “Yummy and warm!”
Both of these stories show us that we go away from the norms occasionally. We are surprised when there is variation in the behaviour. But in the current situation, when it gets over, is it going to change the norms? If not, at least here is my wish of things that should happen.
To begin with, let us go to Leo Tolstoy’s short story “How much land does a man need”? At the end of the story, he has concluded that everybody needs 6’*3’ of land to bury. All the rest is craving, and it is superficial. In Hinduism and many sects, even this is superficial. We only need a crematorium. Let us not go into the usual discussion of our culture is superior to their culture. It is possible that in the culture where cremation was done, it was easy to create, maintain and control fire. Period! But now in many burying cultures, they are switching over to burning of bodies due to pandemic. In some western countries, the casket, land for burial and the overall cost of funeral service are going out hands; cremation would be a better option.
How much of clothing, footwear and such accessories do we need? If you do your washing regularly, three sets are more than enough. Friends, go and check your cupboards. How many suits and ties, wedding dresses and sarees do you have? Principally, I have nothing against this, when people who have excess money buy these it is okay. But what about those with a shortage of funds also emulate rich people. I had a colleague who used to manage my office work. He bought more sets of shirts than I did in a year; his shirts were costlier than mine. One I asked him about it. He said, “There was sell going on, buy two get one free. Hence I bought the shirts.” He had spent a big chunk of his salary that day; he has been working with me for twenty years. I gave him an option. I said, “If you stop spending foolishly on clothing, I will take full responsibility for your two daughter’s education till their college degree, including coaching classes.” He did change somewhat, but I am not sure. I have not gone back on my commitment.
It is the same about inviting people to various functions. From the naming ceremony to marriages, to 60th birthday’s we welcome many people. For funerals, too many people come on their own (they are not “invited”). Is it essential? A friend died recently during the lockdown. Only four members from his family went to the crematorium. Others could not attend does not mean they did not love him. A few days after his death, I spoke to his son for about half an hour sharing memories with him. Can we not change our “culture” of inviting hundreds of people for joyous occasions like marriages and birthdays? I have been guilty of this. Again, the logic is the same. Those who can barely afford expenses for the marriage ceremony, end up inviting hundreds of people. Finally, the loan sharks are after them leading to some suicides.
These days I hear that the pathology testing labs have suddenly stopped getting patients. The hospitals have stopped their OPD’s (outpatient’s departments). Many doctors have switched over to telemedicine. Does it mean that people do not fall sick? How can they manage without getting treated? But I understand that in large hospitals, with one patient, four or five people are accompanying. Is it essential? I am sure that those who “need” to see the doctor get themselves treated anyway. But does it mean that people did not need the treatment but still crowded the clinics? I am not sure about this phenomenon! But where possible, patients/doctors should switch over to telemedicine.
My wish is don’t go overboard in anything. (Definition of overboard? – I have been to a marriage where about eight thousand guests were invited!) Those who are financially comfortable will be left with a significant corpus which can be used for things other food during marriages. But is it essential to invite so many? Those lesser endowed people try to emulate the rich and run into issues.
I am by no means a socialist or a communist. Enterprise is a must to make this a better world. But the accompanying wealth generation can be better utilised for many things in this world. There will be some families whose needs may be different- like perpetually sick children or their children are not doing well in life. But when such an issue is not present, what is the point in “wasting money” on optional things- Jaya and I are sometimes amazed when we introspect and see how we have spent (wasted?) money. For example, we have three gadgets or four/five; I don’t know why we need so many devices to listen to music!
Pandemic is an excellent opportunity to improve our social behaviour. Standing in queues is essential for discipline as well as health. Will we continue to do so, post-pandemic? Have we understood the meaning of migrant workers and their requirements? Now we know that their only requirement is to survive on the day-to-day earnings. Once they think that they cannot fulfil this requirement wherever they are, they will walk out and go to their native place.
Do we really need to socialise the way we do? Is alcohol a must in our lives? Do we need to go to restaurants so many times?
The pandemic has shown us that we are addicted to many things. Does it matter if there is no coriander in your favourite dish? We should enjoy life, but nothing is a must! Have we finally understood the importance of maids in our lives? Those who are financially better off, hopefully, will keep on paying the support staff even though we do not use their services. Could we continue doing this even after the pandemic is over?
As usual, I could go on and on! But when we start doing everything on our own, we know how much wastage is done by support staff. How much water do they waste? How much fuel do they waste by misuse? It is not about money, but it is about efficiency and resource wastage! If all families become more efficient in these small things, we will have more water and electricity available.
Use these times to meditate and think in solitude. It is a once in a lifetime chance to rethink about life, the ways of life and the way we look at life. Following lines may be appropriate at what I am trying to say!
I don’t want to run away from the world – I want to rediscover myself within it. I want to know what happens if we again take doses of solitude from inside our crowded days, along our crowded streets.