A story worth reading:
My parents live in newly constructed flats in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The flats surround a ground consisting of beautiful greenery, a park full of slides and swings, an open area for the neighbor kids to play cricket in, a volleyball court and benches for everyone to watch the daily activities of fun. It’s an ideal place for activities and getting the latest gossip.
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Ahmedabad greatly. The lifestyle is very relaxed, neighborly, carefree and full of social interaction. Work usually starts late and therefore daily night activities consist of drinking the different flavors of teas at the tea stalls, munching on late-night snacks, going for long drives or simply sitting and talking to friends without a worry in the world about next day obligations. It’s extremely tranquil.
I booked a ticket to visit my parents in January. The days leading up to the trip entailed numerous skype and phone calls with my parents for the obvious reasons of them providing me with shopping lists from close family members. I was overjoyed to go to India: the thrill of seeing my parents and 92-year-old grandma, experiencing uttarayan (kite flying festival) and the beautifully-lit surreal lanterns that fill the night sky, attending a good friend’s grand wedding ceremonies, rejoicing in home-cooked meals and celebrating my parents’ marriage anniversary. The thought of a seven-week fully care-free vacation enthralled me.
One of the countless phone calls was a little different than the rest, however. My mom had finished her shopping-list shenanigans and then proceeded to tell me about her day, as per the usual. I expected to hear the typical routine but this time she told me a story much different from the rest.
The story was about a man in his forties that I will refer to as “M” whom she would see sitting outside in the flats open area often and whom everyone would ignore as they pass him by. He was the brother of another man who lived in the same flats as them. M had depression and some mental disorder, which went completely unaddressed. Depression, stress, anxiety or any other type of mental disorders are, unfortunately, taken very lightly in India or at least, conservative parts in India such as Ahmedabad.
Some days M refused to shower or eat. Other days he threw tantrums. But most of the days, he was fine. Due to this behavior, M’s brother wouldn’t allow him in the house except for the basic necessities: food, restroom and sleep. The times he was in the house, he was beaten, slapped and kicked for his behavior.
From the time my mom had told me this story, I thought why isn’t something being done about this? Why isn’t he getting treatment? Why is brother not being shamed?
So I had made it my goal to spend some time with him this trip, however little it was.
I reached Ahmedabad on January 4th and became overwhelmed with the number of events I had to attend and family members I had to meet. I would see M sitting on his plastic chair out in the sun whenever I would go out or come home from some event or another. He would be there when I would go out in the morning and be in the same area when I came back in the evening. His interactions throughout the day included people-watching and getting the ball when the neighborhood kids kicked it far. There was no adult interaction despite the fact that everyone knew him and saw him daily. He was perfectly fine in public, capable of all normal social interaction so I wondered why people still refused to chat with him. The only real interaction I had with him was a casual smile or greeting such as “kem cho?” (how are you) but that’s all. Each day there was some function to attend or an outing to go to that spending time with M became less and less of a priority. And each day I would tell myself to make it the day to speak with him and get to know him as I cared to know this man but somehow, someway it didn’t work out. Eventually, it ended up being February 19th and I was on the plane back to San Diego.
Then I got the news he passed away.
This summer of 2016 in Ahmedabad the heat reached a peak. Regularly it was 115 degrees and some days it got to 120 degrees. So many people had heat strokes from the blistering heat yet, still, M was forced outside, sometimes even without a chair. He would sit on the ground the entire day out at 120 degrees. Excluding the heat issue, what does one do outside the whole day with nowhere to go, no transportation, no money, no phone and no social interaction? Can you imagine yourself in his situation?
As a result of being out in the blistering sun all day, without consistent access to water, M got diarrhea. Due to dehydration and diarrhea, M would be in his brother’s house more often. In turn, he would get beaten regularly for insignificant actions such as speaking back, refusing to shower one day, dirtying the bathroom, etc.
After a few days of having diarrhea and being in the house, M’s brother became more and more angry. One day M refused to go shower and his brother refused to accept that. So, again, the bashing started. M’s brother attacked him, while his other family members witnessed and encouraged him. He kicked him, slapped him and beat him in front of several other people while M was suffering from the heat and had diarrhea. The heat took a toll and M slowly became less aware of his surroundings. He was then thrown to the bathroom floor to force to shower and his head hit the ground directly and immediately went unconscious. He was later pronounced dead.
A religious ceremony was held for him two days later, by his own brother.
When my mom told me the news, I had a breakdown. I didn’t know this man but the fact that an innocent and misunderstood person died in such a severe and horrible way and that too by the hands of his own brother petrified and angered me. M’s death was proclaimed an accident, his brother was NOT shamed by the society, his brother held a religious ceremony for him two days later and went back to routine work immediately thereafter. I was extremely ashamed and astonished.
But there was also another feeling,= I couldn’t identify at first. The feeling of guilt.
Though it possibly wouldn’t have made an immense impact (though, it could have), I couldn’t help feeling guilty about the fact that I didn’t make any effort to speak to him and get to know him or even possibly brighten his day just a little. I was shaming the neighbors for not stopping for a second to have a conversation with him or even greet him but I did it myself. And that thought and feeling I couldn’t bear. Why didn’t I just stop for a mere two minutes out of my seven-week-long vacation and initiate a conversation? What if that brought a smile on his face, even for a short period of time?
Do you know what your calling is in life? I always felt mine was that because I can empathize with people and therefore understand their feelings without any judgment, I can somehow project positivity into their lives. I believe in the good in people and in this world, despite the bad, because I truly trust that with enough love and care, people are capable of being better human beings. I strive to be a better person but this time I missed my calling. I felt that I failed as a human being because I knew better. It took some time to get to terms with it, but it was a good lesson: if you know better, do better. This is my calling and I hope to inspire.
Just one gesture, one kind word, a simple hello can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Be that change.
What’s your calling?
Rest in peace, M.
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