I couldn’t write a blog last month. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to write one of those self-deprecating takes on a life experience and fill it with wise-cracks. I was struggling for ideas.
I was actually struggling for words to describe the state of my mind.
Situation in India
Everyone seems impacted by COVID, not just counting the unfortunate ones invaded by the virus. The visuals on TV last month were striking – ailing men and women standing in long queues to secure hospital beds, oxygen cylinders or anti-virals. Haunting scenes of bodies that lay queued up in front of a crematorium. Social media, especially twitter was abuzz with cries for help, but in equal measure, with quick and life-saving responses from strangers. The state of my mind tasted like a cocktail of despair and hope.
As I talked to my parents, friends, uncles, cousins, ex-colleagues, almost anyone from the land that birthed me, I tried to listen more, but found nothing helpful to offer. My wishful words sounded empty. I watched all this nervously from a safe distance, within the safe comforts of a western country that has a much lower population, a better system, and lucky. Also, cocky. Australia conveniently closed its borders and threatened – with a jail term and a ridiculous fine – anyone trying to come back to the country. The state of mind : angry and helpless.
I am one of the 18 million Indian diaspora spread around the world. What can one individual do, after all ? Of course, I try to support my immediate family and friends in any which way I can – mostly monetarily, given travel restrictions.
What else could one offer, beyond money and empty words ? I saw Indian-origin doctors offering virtual services to ailing patients in India. I saw millionaires sending flights-full of useful materials. I read about corporates vaccinating their employees. I came across inspiring stories of nameless individuals helping out strangers in dire need.
I realised then, my craft as a software engineer is not directly useful to my people at the moment. Or maybe i don’t know what to do with my skills – beyond earning a monthly salary.
What can i do or make?
Eventually, I joined a small group of the Indian community here in Canberra, who organised a South Indian vegetarian food fair in the temple, to collect funds for a hospital in Coimbatore. We all prepared idlis at home and sold it at the temple. A decent collection resulted that should be helpful. Well, something necessary if not sufficient. As I did my bit around the kitchen, I wondered if this was all I could do.
The state of mind: feeling inadequate.
Though my family is largely unscathed (fingers crossed), my parents are yet to be vaccinated. I fear we are sitting on a time bomb. Meanwhile, life goes on; work consumes my days, leaving the night wide open for dreadful anxiety. Often in the middle of the night I wake up to check whatasapp, hoping not to catch a text or a missed call.
When no actions are possible, I turn to distractions. Movies, sports, trivial news in social media, celebrities, anything. And books, especially on philosophy.
Kural and Senaca
I turned to Thirukkural – the Tamil classic text from 300 BCE, written by an unknown author (we call him Thiruvalluvar) who has written 1330 non-religious yet sacred verses or Kurals (couplets), seven words each. These kurals are like morals and commandments covering three key aspects of life: virtue, wealth and love.
There are 10 kurals that cover how to deal with sorrow and despair, each offering a unique coping strategy. A few explain the nature of sorrow and suggest being realistic. A couple of kurals advise us to defend against the incoming trouble. But, a few kurals insist fighting back: trouble the trouble to make it run away, or something of that sort. But this kural below has the best strategy of it all, and I remember being surprised when I first learnt it:
இடுக்கண் வருங்கால் நகுக அதனை
அடுத்தூர்வது அஃதொப்ப தில்.
If troubles come, laugh; there is nothing like that, to press upon and drive away sorrow. (Translation, courtesy valaitamil.com)
Laughter is indeed the best medicine. But, the state of my mind ? Not funny.
The Stoic’s take
In the end, I got a better medicine from the greek stoic philosopher, Seneca, who is now getting more popular after 2000 years.
Light griefs do speak; while
Sorrow’s tongue is bound.
I figured, my mind was at a state where no words or thoughts could spring.