New Year’s gratitude

The stunning beauty of Victoria Memorial in Ko...
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6th Jan 2010

Yesterday I put together a large raft of resolutions, and then set to thinking about what they meant. Since the ones that really matter (i.e. not the “eat less chocolate” one) are ones relating to some aspect of my behaviour or thought patterns, I suppose that is one step towards fulfilling them.
This method doesn’t however seem to work with the resolution I think is the most important. It is “Be thankful for all that you have, rather than dwelling on all you have lost”. After briefly thinking through how many nice things I’ve done recently, and the friends I love, I of course started thinking about the things I used to do, and got all wistful.

In particular one tiny, meaningless afternoon cropped up – an afternoon in Calcutta.
We had arrived the previous night, checked into the Oberoi and spent most of the day lounging around the hotel. In the late afternoon we wandered around Eden Gardens, and watched some kids playing cricket by the tramlines. It was my first visit to India, and pretty much everything was in some way amazing, even the piles of rubbish stacked up by the side of the road, and the beggars lying in the street with a disconcerting stillness. People stepped over them without apparently even noticing they were there. We walked back towards the hotel, along the main street, full of various street stalls and rather interesting looking food.

It was dusk, and we were being pestered by a particularly persistent salesman. We walked up a side street to escape him, and he did indeed give up. There were various ramshackle huts with corrugated iron roofs and strip lights shining out onto the pavement, illuminating the dubious damp rivulets running down the middle of the street rather too well.
We turned the corner, and saw a hand-drawn rickshaw. It was one of the really old, wooden things with giant wheels, being pulled along by this incredibly thin, beaten-looking man who looked at least 60. He was bare-chested, and his skin glistened with sweat under the neon lights. I could see every one of his ribs, and could follow the line of his collar bone as it attached to an unfeasibly bony shoulder. It was probably the last time I would ever see such a sight, since they were being outlawed the following year. The most depressing thing about the picture was the almost comically Dickensian sight of the two rather fat men that he was pulling along, who were laughing away, slapping their thighs, apparently oblivious to their servant. From their point of view, I suppose that was the natural order of the world, in which they were paying for his physical graft, as indeed used to be the case in this country not so long ago.

Somehow it managed to be a romantic moment, which sounds wrong, but I think the definition of romance is knowing that you both share the same perception, without ever discussing it. It was an oddly comforting sight, in the sense that it illustrated just how tenacious and resilient people can be when faced with awful hardship. It sounds terribly trite, but it inspired me that someone with so little to live for was clinging to life any way he could, and also embarrassed me when I think that people in this country won’t even take a job that is “too far” from where they happen to live.

We walked on, and John held my hand. The rest of the people on the street immediately started whispering and staring at us, so we swiftly stopped holding hands and linked arms instead, which seemed to be acceptable.

How I do miss being part of someone else’s life – and how thankful I should for the life of privilege that I lead.

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