Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Life Looks Up

Uma Chandrasekaran

There’s a coconut tree in my backyard. I fought to plant it more than eleven years ago. Everyone, who wasn’t an expert on coconut trees or about anything auspicious, advised – should not plant a single one as its not good for the house. Very practical objection from spouse – where’s the space? A psychiatrist, he gives everything it’s wingspan and doesn’t like Bonsai! I made the decision on the clear household rule for autonomic decisions taking the entire responsibility for the actions and fruits thereof!
I bought a sapling from the nursery (even coconut trees are born there – what containment!), found a fella who needed money for his next drink and recited the technical advice doled out by the staff at the nursery while he planted it. My tree grew so well, the fronds so green, the trunk thick and strong – let me name her– “Life”? Life continued adding more fine greenery to her as many years rolled by. Everyone came – why is she not flowering? Have you got one that takes fifty long years to mature? Will you be alive to taste the fruit or nut? (Come on I’m not in my dotage!) Teams of tree-climbers broke my confidence. Said the tree needed help to mature – we’ll get to the center of her and put some stuff there that will induce flowering. Have you noticed these guys – come in pairs, one drunk and the other wiry older guy will do the climbing? Your regular gardener does not handle coconut trees, if you please.
The pair of climbers came with more big men and they got to the center of the tree, brushing off her protests when she tried to use her foliage as fig leaf. I can’t forget to this day the violent rape of that tree in broad daylight. Some ash-gray chemical, some iodized sodium chloride and some red soil forced into her heart to ‘help’ her flower. We’ll never know if she might have come of age on her own but these guys crowed with triumph when after a couple of months of this horror, Life showed five beautiful fluorescent yellow flowers as though wanting to please us fivefold for all these years of silence. The fruits matured on my daughter’s eleventh birthday and we offered the first coconut to the Lord in true Indian style. The feeling of really having celebrated her birthday was so lovely and pure. The fruits and the water inside were unbelievably sweet. Reaped about ten of them.
Despite the flowering, I hated Life’s violators and banished them. Then the haunting began. Another guy who knew coconut trees happened by. You could see from the way he touched her with so much respect and affection that he worshipped coconut trees. A sad look on his face, he told us that the main shoot had turned direction and Life would start growing sideways. He pronounced mercy killing. Also said she wouldn’t bear fruit – not with that huge gash that would appear with turned head. Nothing doing. Kill a woman if she cannot bear a child? Let my Life live never mind the fruits. We’ll keep trimming the foliage if it gets into neighbour’s territory. He was bang on target. We found her lower fronds drooping downward and upper ones sticking upward instead of fanning out. Like an inverted L or the bright brittle little tinsel fans mounted on thin sticks of chiseled bamboo that children buy at temple fairs and run about to make them twirl.
How did Life react? She just decided to look up. In a quiet simple majestic move, she started reaching out to the Sun the Giver as though she knew her life depended on it. Slowly but surely, she has reversed the downward trend and is now laughing at our worries. The tree-lover climber came saw the wonder and shared in our happiness. She had conquered all in less than a year.
I have seen people behave much the same way as my tree.
A truck knocked down a young carpenter, about thirty, married, with three children, on a fine morning when he went to the teashop for usual round of tea and daily news. I saw him in hospital both legs amputated at the knee, right arm gone too, angry lacerations all over his body. He was ready to be sent home as the treatment was over and he was clinically recovering. His young wife beside him, he had healed himself beyond imagination. They were talking about how they would start life afresh, find a new occupation, wife would find some houses to work in, and continue to put their children through school. A matter of fact acceptance: no emptiness, no bitterness, and no anger, just plain positive sunny hope of making it again. Where many would have sobbed, they had seen it as a mere sniffle! He wouldn’t pass the screen test for Baywatch but so what! His family had given him eight legs to glide.
Recently, an elderly person who wanted to institute a gold medal to be given to the best student of management met me in the university. Only great teachers or researchers and the administrative genre are around in a campus during vacation time. I teach – get the picture! Father of an alumnus, he asked if I remembered his son. But of course I did and the last occasion he was here, he spoke so excitedly about his business venture that had started showing results, was happily married and we admired his new car. The father now said this only son died in a motoring accident a couple of years ago. The tears had dried but the pain had not. The family wanted to keep the memory of their son alive by making meaningful contributions to education. The gold medal at the university and a scholarship at his school were their way of doing it. His wife is doing her MBA and working too. We, the living!
What I recently heard about a friend made me wonder. A doctor couple with a brilliant computer whiz-kid pre-teen son, their car had crashed and taken away her husband and son in a trice. My friend had a head injury and did not know any of this till after many weeks. Now recovered and back to full-time professional work, although mobility restricted, she lives in her flat on her own near her parents’ but prefers her independence, her many hobbies and two children whom she cares for as her own. I dare not offer her anything more. We had once shared the fun of being seventeen, off-class jaunts, visits to the pani-puri joint, so many books, the stimulation of idealism and intellectualism that is at its best at that age. Now she has risen way above in stature, a study in courage and the reason perhaps, why (wo)man is the highest known living stage in evolution so far.
Padmasri Dr.G.Venkataswamy, the Founder Chairman of Aravind Eye Care System and the chain of Aravind Eye Hospitals located in five places in South India. A promising medical professional, serving in the army during World War II, he was struck by a rare form of arthritis that twisted his fingers and toes. A young man with all the usual expectations of life, he drew on reserves of inner strength to fight the acute pain, the social distancing, and the forced bed-rest to train in ophthalmic surgery and dedicate himself to the cause of eradicating needless blindness. Today his hospital chain performs the largest number of cataract surgeries in the world as a single entity, to the largest proportion of patients getting free care. In 2004, they performed 2,27,435 surgical and laser procedures of which 1,41,689 were free of cost to poor patients. Their sister unit operated under a separate Trust, AuroLabs makes and exports Intra-ocular lenses to many countries around the world and supports ongoing eye care research activities. Dr.V as he is popularly called, is an enthusiastic and responsible user of IT for service to humanity. Actively learning, still seeking for newer and better ways to bring light to more eyes he launched CARE – Creating Access for Rural Eye care – a chain of Internet kiosks for aiding consultation and empowering the patients from hitherto unreached villages. Born on 1st October 1918, he is now 87 years young and lives in Pondicherry and Madurai and in the hearts of millions he has helped see.
Life deals each of us our hand, to work around the dents and win. Helen Keller, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Hawking – they have all done it. Instead of asking “why me?” many like them have shot back with “why not!” Repairing a dent can be as simple as kissing away the hurt when your little one comes with a tiny bruise! Or it can mean a huge incision that has to be sutured up. An application of TLC a.k.a. tender loving care can cure or soothe. The healing takes steely inner resolve to keep going sunny side up. A few march way ahead and make things better for humanity.
The coconut tree in my garden is flowering again. Like a proud war veteran, Life has made a comeback with scars and a hunch left by the dent, but the fruits are going to be the braver for it! Ever wondered at the beauty of a face lined with life's experiences? It doesn’t turn you tizzy like the twenty something, but dawns on you. A beautiful dawn.
(Visual by Ambika Bhatt)