Usha
I have these sudden awakenings of memory and all of a sudden something long forgotten comes alive fresh and vivid and I can almost see it as if it happened a few moments ago. Sometimes it comes with side effects like memory of the smells and sounds. This morning I woke up thinking about what constitutes "dignity" and suddenly I remembered one of my mother's short stories. My father ran a publishing house and he and my mom were writers of sorts although my mother's love for writing got lost in her struggles to balance family life and her own serial illnesses that plagued her all her life. My father had published her short stories in a book which I had read when I was about 10. Recently when i looked for a copy of the book , I felt sad to realise that we did not have a single copy of the book in the family.But today one of those stories came back to me.
She wrote mostly from what she saw rather than from her imagination so I am sure this was something that actually happened:
When we were young, we used to have these travelling street performers coming to our streets. They were called Thommankoothadis.The group consisted of a man, wife and a brother or sister , a few kids of assorted ages and a monkey. They spoke a funny slang of Tamil, played the drums or sang songs, balanced on ropes held tight by bamboo poles, the monkey somersaulted and obeyed orders and the highlight was when the man would tie his infant on top of a pole and balance it on his palm or his stomach. They would come , set up the props and the whole performnce would last about half an hour; people would stand around in circles or in their balconies to watch the show. At the end of it, the lady would come around with a bowl for money or for clothes from the people watching from houses. Apparently one afternoon there was one such show outside and my mom was watching from the balcony with my younger sister who was about 2 years old while the rest of us had gone to school. My mom was engrossed in the show while little lalitha ( my sister) decided to get a closer look at the whole thing and slipped on to the street unobserved. When it was all over and the infant had safely come down from the pole, my mom realised the absence of lalli. She could find her anywhere in the house or in the crowd which was slowly dissipating. She panicked at the idea of her child being kidnapped for performing on the streets. She was about to call the police when she heard footsteps outside the front door. It was the thommankoothadi woman holding little laitha's hand. She scolded my mother for having allowed the child to walk away into the street. My mother was overcome with relief and gratitude as tears streamed down her cheeks. She was also ashamed about having suspected them of kidnapping. She told the lady to wait and when she came back with money she was shamed a second time by the woman's reply: "Ma, we are so poor that we have to make our children perform to earn our food. But please do not pay me for saving a child, If you want to give me something, give me your children's used clothes to keep my children comfortable."
Now I think this is what dignity is all about. It is not about your comportment, your manner of speech, your attire or your gait. It is not about keeping a stiff upper lip or keeping your feelings to yourself. It is about an acceptance of your lot and not letting anyone make you feel inferior for that. It is about not being self-pitying or making excuses for what you are or being bitter about your circumstances. It is about not putting your basic humanity, kindness,grace up for sale irrespective of what you wear, what you eat, where you live or what you look like.
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7 Responses
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  3. Paavai Says:

    You have defined dignity very beautifully with this post Usha.


  4. Wow! And never knew your mother was a writer!


  5. beautiful post... in the mad frenzy we chose to let our lives get entwined with, we fail to realise many seemingly trivial things which can make a world of difference. this performer has given a spark to these thoughts.


  6. Vaish Says:

    Such a beautiful post, Usha.


  7. Usha Says:

    Thank you all.