Art by Elizabeth Catlett
As the wintry chill swum across the village and engulfed its inhabitants in yet another wave of iciness, our grandma beckoned us to come sit around her in the verandah where she had lit the fire. The seven of us raced to reach her first, and be the lucky one to sit nearest to her and the fire. This had been our evening tradition during all the winter vacations for as long as I could remember. We surrounded our grandma like the planets surround the sun. She used to be the centre of our universe for the two hours full of childhood tales, legendary stories, amusing and terrifying anecdotes followed by morals and bits of advice that used to follow...
That evening, however, was extraordinary. The teachings imparted that day would continue to guide me through all difficult moments in life. Grandma introduced us to the concept of individualism. "There was once a little boy who grew up to be a brave, kind-hearted, and compassionate warrior", she began. "He became famous among his fellow men for possessing all the qualities that people associated with "the ideal man. He fought and won many battles and soon became the General of the army. Proud and honoured though he was, what he lacked was a certain satisfaction, which came to him neither when he was happy nor when he was sad. Neither did ecstasy excite him nor did melancholy shake him."
Grandma continued, "When he was alone, he sought company. When he was safe, he sought danger. When he was prosperous, he sought poverty. When he was calm, he sought anger. When he was at peace, he sought distress. When he was shaken with loss, he sought the assurance of fullness. And when he was full with gain, he sought the melancholy of loss. Great though he was in the eyes of his fellow men, never was he actually satisfied. Great were his years spent as a warrior, as a son, as a husband, as a father and grandfather but never as self."
To this, one of my cousins asked, " So what is it that we should seek in order to be satisfied?"
"To live in the today, to remember yesterday and to welcome tomorrow, without fearing what it'll bring. That is what you need to reach your end, to be satisfied," explained Grandma.
"But isn't seeking ambition, power, dreams and people a means to seeking that same end?" asked another cousin.
"The end that we all are seeking requires no means at all. When you start accumulating these means to reach your end, you start burdening your soul. With every addition that you make to this list, you become a slave to those means that you think determine your end. Do you know why that's so?"
We tried to conjure up some extraordinary answer to this. Unable to do this, we just shook our heads and silently anticipated the words that would come out of our grandma's mouth next.
"...that's because the means are always determined by what other people think of us. We think that prosperity will buy us respect and loss will buy us sympathy. That is exactly how we decide that to be satisfied; we need those certain reactions from people towards us, and to bring about those reactions, we need prosperity and wealth, loss and distress. The warrior was never satisfied because when one of the things that be had sought in the past would come true, he would begin seeking something else. That is how the chain extends, never-ending. The day you stop seeking your satisfaction in those means, you shall see your end."
That night, I stayed awake till the early hours, thinking about all that grandma had said. I witnessed a change in myself as I annulled the fantasies I had created in my head, and slept peacefully.
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