With the arrival of winter, the air is rich with the delicious aroma of freshly baked plum cakes and scones mingled with the hill fresh fragrance of Darjeeling tea. The citrus afternoons, sun-baked and laid back in the balcony, lazily peeling oranges is often a post-lunch ritual. The frozen coconut oil officially announces that the year is now going to be attired in woollens and yes, in my hometown — Calcutta, the monkey cap plays a lead role even at the slightest dip in temperature. Very often I feel winter has a bipolar tilt to it, it tends to ‘solidify’ water to snow (even oil) on one hand and ‘melt’ hearts with the advent of the season of good cheer, of Christmas and merriment on the other.
This winter is turning out to be the ‘winter of containment’, with travel restrictions and social distancing. However, it cannot be called a winter of our discontentment. Rather, it’s going to be a season of gratitude for being able to steel our resolve to stay alive and strong, to count our blessings and to move on with positivity. The pandemic probably is a lesson for us, like the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, that transformed the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ novella — A Christmas Carol.
Every year, anecdotes of good deeds, marinated with love and benevolence tend to catapult me to being a better human being. This particular year, practising kindness needed an exceptional degree of inner grit. One such story remained with me, and I’d say that the subject of the story was almost akin to the ‘three wise men’-the Magi, who were led by the ‘star of wonder’ to demonstrate their kindheartedness, for a baby born in a manger.
A few days into the pandemic lockdown, in Bihar (India) a judge pronounced his verdict. The courtroom was overwhelmed, as the words poured out. The accused, a sixteen-year-old boy had stolen a purse at the market place. He told the judge that he couldn’t see his mother and younger sibling perish in hunger, the sole reason for committing the crime.
The verdict said that the boy was free to go. The judge also ordered the court staff to buy some food grains, vegetables and clothes for the family, as he paid the money from his own pocket. When the police went to drop him off at his house, they saw that it was just a thatched room with brittle walls. The room was conspicuous with its acute starkness. One would shudder to think how could anybody survive like this, for so long. The officials who went to inspect the home said that the family cooked food on the leftover fire on the stoves of other households or in terracotta pots over fires lit outside on better days. After his father died a few years back, his mother almost lost her mental stability, the boy shouldered the responsibility of looking after the family. He did odd jobs. They managed somehow, till the pandemic struck, followed by the lockdown.
Due to the lack of medical care, his fractured leg never healed properly and he was left with a limp. With no job, no food left and the pandemic to beat, people began shooing him away. The theft was a desperate attempt to see his loved ones survive. Well, for him, the judge emerged as an angel. He directed the local administration to ensure that the family never went hungry and received the benefits of all the welfare schemes that the family was eligible for.
Fettered by the virus, we could at least unfetter the channel of compassion in our hearts -- just a kind word, a mere compliment or even an assuring smile can do wonders at times as such. This is the season when, without fail, I gift at least one person the book called “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. The message that it undeniably conveys is, “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @VpNavanita