On an early spring day much like yesterday, my mentor (late) Professor Singh and I sat on the front patio of his house one afternoon in 2009, enjoying a cup of tea. It was a bright, sunny day with not a single cloud on the clear, pale blue sky. While bright sunlight washed over us, every now and then a gentle but icy cold breeze would spring up, swirling the remnants of dried leaves left un-raked from seasons past on the thawing lawn, much like forgotten, dispersed memories. We sat there, arms crossed over our chest, pressing cold palms under our armpits to retain warmth, with neither willing to move and break the spell. Eventually, noticing that he was starting to feel cold I went inside and returned with a light shawl that I draped across his shoulders, for which he blessed me. I declined his offer to get a blanket for myself, opting instead to move my chair and wedge it further back into a corner where I could avoid the draft while continuing to lounge in the tepid warmth the sun was able to offer. Those of my readers who have experienced the cool – almost cold – breeze while basking in the warmth of toasty sunshine will know exactly the feeling I am trying so hard to describe. As Zen master Lao Tzu had said in a different context, “Those who speak do not know; those who know do not speak”.
“Puttar (son)” gently said Professor Singh, sipping his tea, “How does one put a price on a single teardrop that lingers on a child’s cheek? Can we even begin to evaluate it on a hypothetical scale of emotions?” He added such priceless treasures are beyond the scope of any appraisal and then went on to softly muse over aspects of life that he found difficult to explain. Growing up in a village he recalled being intrigued when a cow would abandon foraging for food and amble quickly over to her calf, even before she heard its lowing. She would then gently nudge her little one, snorting, sniffing and licking its body all over, providing loving reassurance. Professor Singh wondered what prompts a mother to instantly awaken from deep sleep in the middle of the night, sensing rather than actually hearing the barely discernible change in the breathing pattern or the mere hint of a whimper by her babe, even from another room? Only a mother’s instinct tells her whether the tears are caused by hunger, discomfort or the need simply for a loving cuddle. He wondered if it was unconditional, total love that provides mothers such a capacity for empathy and understanding.
At what stage of our lives comes this inflexion point when, while ready to sympathize we condition ourselves such that we are unable or unwilling to be empathetic? Why is it that we start to impose conditions when called on to demonstrate our love or be compassionate towards others? Is my child more precious than another’s? Who defines the borders beyond which a child belongs to another and is therefore not deserving of the same love and care that our progeny warrant?
It is easier I guess, to go back to sipping one’s tea before it becomes cold, like our hearts.
The value of tears is very delicately illustrated in Shaairaa (poetess) Sabah Afghani’s lines below from her famous ghazal that was immortalized by Jagjit Singh’s singing:
“Jo aa ke ruke daaman pe ‘Sabā’ vo ashk nahīñ hai paanī hai
jo ashk na chhalke ā.ankhoñ se us ashk kī qīmat hotī hai”
[Those tears that (fall but) are trapped by the hem (of the dress), are not (valuable like) tears but water
Tears that do not overflow from (are restrained by) the eyes, those tears are invaluable]