Tag Archives: kindness

The Venus Flytrap: Other Types of Joy

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Several months ago, I finally put my innate maternal instinct to good use, and began volunteering with children. Roped in by another artist with a community-minded bent, I started spending a little time every week with children between the ages of three and five in a slum in Chennai, mostly telling stories and introducing the vocabulary of emotional nuance to them. At the moment, they’re getting ready to perform a short play I wrote for them.

I’m not going to lie about my motives. Deeply disillusioned by events in my career, I needed something to renew my faith in human goodness. I did not, at the time, have the capacity to work with preemie babies, the orphaned, the ill or the disabled, but I knew I wanted to work with children, and the opportunity to teach was perfect. Their backgrounds are inconsequential to me: to treat them as disadvantaged when their spirits shine and their bodies are able is to condescend. A friend of mine told me shortly after I first began this work that it would be good for me to see other types of suffering. I thought about how gleefully I am grabbed and kissed hello and goodbye by those little ones, and I knew that what this work does for me is the opposite: it allows me to see other types of joy.

Soon, I was also conducting sessions for older students at a lower income group matriculation school, teaching them spoken English and, again, emotional awareness. Teaching was rewarding in multiple ways, my love for children aside. I felt I’d found a dimension to my life that was independent of my artistic work, which otherwise defined my identity. This has been my struggle for over a year now: finding stability that will ground the volatility of my nature. As I enter my mid-twenties, the need for a steady foundation has become my primary endeavour.

One afternoon last month, in order to observe and learn, I accompanied another trainer to her session with primary school students. During a particularly noisy few minutes, she told the kids to take a free-drawing break. At the end of the class, a little girl brought her drawing to me. “It’s my gift to you,” she said. Two boys tore their pages out and did the same. I protested, asking why they didn’t want to take their artwork home to show their parents – they were truly beautiful pieces. “But I have so many drawings at home!” said one. “This is for you”. None of them had even met me before.

I did not expect that what I needed for my jadedness, my disconnect from my own creativity, would come from this work. Yet there it was – the most profound insight, so simply evident. Art for its own sake: not for legacy, not for honours, not to make a statement or to buy a more comfortable rung on the ladder. Art for the sake of love.

At the end of what feels like a hopelessly difficult year, it is the kindness of those toward whom I had the conceit to think that my kindness could make a difference to that restores my faith. I had never imagined I could become a teacher. I am humbled, even more so, by what I have been taught.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Hoping For A Revolution

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A friend of mine says you either have a soul, or you don’t. It’s a dispassionate way of looking at compassion, as contradictory and yet as perfectly truthful as when Tori Amos sang, “I believe in peace, bitch”.

Faith in humanity, in the face of the obvious proof that some people really are that irredeemable, is hard to maintain. Real faith, not what we profess at fashionable fund-raisers and through email signatures. Anonymous altruism is the real test – can you send love out into the world, with no expectation of acknowledgement?

Take it a step further. Can you send love out into the world without knowing who its recipient will be?

The love I speak of here is not romantic, but love in the Buddhist sense of metta (loving-kindness). Love that comes from the wish for the wellbeing of the world. Impersonal, all-encompassing benevolence that takes within its stride the fact that to hate and to be hated are inevitable, but that compassion for people beyond their actions is an achievable ideal.

A woman in New York decided to do exactly that earlier this year, initiating what she calls The Hope Revolution. The idea is simple – leave “love notes” in public places. Notes that say kind things to complete strangers, because in the times we live in, a little more thoughtfulness could go a long way.

Imagine it: the discovery, the intrigue and the joy of finding encouragement. Something left on the seat of an auto, or tucked between the pages of a browsing copy of a magazine. Consider the thrill of finding a message that seems almost heaven-sent, written as though it was meant for no one but you, a marker on your personal journey. That reassurance is something we probably don’t get enough of ourselves, and how good it feels to be able to bestow it!

Of course, there is one practical limitation: not everybody can read. So here’s a thought – what if those who can read them are gently nudged about this reality when they stumble on a love note? Whether it’s a reminder about literacy issues (a more basic humanitarian concern than many people realise), or a simple line about taking a moment to be grateful for the opportunity to have the written word in one’s own life, it’s another way of setting into motion the ripple effect of the message itself.

Maybe I do believe too much in the inherent goodness of people, when there’s plenty of contrary evidence around. But is twenty seconds to scribble a line on a napkin and put it back in the stand asking for too much?

I have a theory I hold on to very naively, willfully ignoring the damage I have seen belief in it cause, but here it is: love is a boomerang. You get what you give, sometimes not for years, sometimes seemingly never. But it comes back.

So today I will go out and leave handwritten notes. I will tell someone I have never set eyes on that they are beautiful, and someone whom I may find insufferable that they are on the side of angels, and someone who may have a propensity to hurt me that they have the power to heal the lives of others.

Because sometimes all we need is a little reassurance to grow into that which already sleeps within us like a seed, dormant but alive. And someday, somewhere, at a moment when I need it more than ever, I could find the perfect love note too. The one that seems as though it was written for no one but me.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.