by AM Aravind
The eastern sky was painted with vivid yellow, orange and purple colours at 5.45 am. It was a lovely Saturday morning. Rajani was taking a stroll at Elliots beach, with her son Kamal. Walking in the wet sand with waves kissing the feet once in a while, catching whiffs of the salty sea breeze and watching the sunrise – all of these helped her unwind after a hectic week at office.
As Rajani sat down watching the sunrise, Kamal was running about playing in the sand. He then found someone’s footprints in the sand and started walking on them, making sure each of his steps landed into each of the footprints. Being a small 8-year-old, he had to jump and hop to be able to land exactly on the footprints, which were not close to each other.
“Look ma, the footprints of someone who was here before us. It seems to go on and on; Doesn’t seem to end! I’m walking on it to make sure it doesn’t fade away,” he said with an innocent smile.
This innocuous response from the kid kindled her thoughts about the previous day’s incident, which had rendered her sleepless.
Rajani was the CEO of a company, and she had interviewed two people for the post of her Executive Assistant just the day before. The discussion that happened during one of the interviews was the reason for her disturbed state of mind.
Aditya, the brighter of the two candidates she interviewed that day, was her favourite, till the interview took a turn. After testing his analytical skills, business-intellect and temperament, Rajani posed a few questions on ethics. It was no longer like an interview – it became a discussion, with both Rajani and Aditya engrossed in it and passionately arguing. It slowly meandered from ethics to culture and then digressed into superstitions.
When Aditya mentioned how meaningless rituals and superstitions impact the entire country, Rajani shot back: “So, you say we should throw away the rich cultural heritage which we’ve preserved for centuries?”
“I never meant it that way, Ma’am. My point is this – centuries ago, there was a hunger for knowledge among our people. Asking questions and finding answers was part of our culture. This curiosity is what fueled the growth of our culture and made it so rich. It was built on a strong foundation of logic and reasoning. But over time, the hunger was lost. We’ve become content. We are okay about remaining stagnant, while hiding safely behind our forefathers’ knowledge.”
Rajani gave a very audible sigh, but Aditya was too engrossed in his argument to notice it. Either that, or he was too engrossed to stop, despite noticing it. He just carried on.
“I’m not against following our culture. I only regret the fact that we’re so busy in following rituals and superstitions blindly, that we never bother to stop and think if they are relevant, and never wonder why we should be following them.”
Aditya didn’t realise it, but he’d touched a raw nerve there. Rajani was a very superstitious person, with a few of her rituals bordering on absurdity. She took Aditya’s comments personally. She felt that his arguments made a complete mockery of her daily routine, which was never complete without her checking the Panchangams several times a day to find a “good” time for even trivial activities.
She was fuming inside. But she masked it all with a fake smile and got up from her chair. Extending her hand for a handshake, she said, “Thanks Aditya. That’d be it. We’ll let you know if you’re selected.”
Aditya seemed to be the perfect person for the role, but one part of her brain kept telling her to reject him. This conflict was what troubled her the whole day, and even during the night. The beautiful sunrise made her forget it all, but looking at her son following an unknown person’s footsteps without any reason other than keeping the footprints alive, made her uneasy.
She left Kamal to play and sat down in the sand. She started thinking about what Kamal just told her and what had been troubling her since the previous day. Didn’t Kamal’s action of walking on footprints just to keep it alive, reflect what she was doing everyday? Wasn’t she following rituals just to keep centuries-old traditions alive, without pondering on what they actually meant or symbolised?
She was so lost in thoughts that she didn’t realise it was past 7.30 am, till Kamal came and told her, “Ma, it’s getting hot. Shall we go home?”
She patted Kamal on the head lovingly, and asked him, “Kamal, do you ask a lot of questions?”
“Questions? Like what?”
“Like… um… Do you think we should have an urge to know how or why things happen the way they do? Or, is it just better to follow what everyone says, because they must be saying it for some good reason?”
Kamal was, now, totally confused. He was wondering why his mom was asking these questions all of a sudden. But noticing the seriousness in her tone, he listened carefully.
“Kamal, back in those days, hundreds of years ago, people had a hunger for knowledge. Asking questions and finding answers was part of our culture. People wanted to learn and understand everything. For any occurrence, they wondered how and why it happened, and did not take it for granted. But now, we seem to have lost that urge to learn. So, if someone asks you to do something and you don’t know why, ask them. If you don’t understand anything, ask questions. We shouldn’t take anything for granted, you know?”
“Nice one, ma! I’ll have this in mind. Paati told you this?”
She smiled and said, “No dear. It was Aditya, my new Executive Assistant.”
AM Aravind, who was a marketeer and a product manager in a Telecom company till last year, quit the job to do things he loves – music and photography. An ardent AR Rahman fan, he has also composed music for short films. Bird-photography really excites him as does baking. AM Aravind blogs at http://arrahmaniac.blogspot.com