Monday, 30th October 2017

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Humble thoughts

  • Published 12.09.09

Having lived a reasonably contented life, I was musing over what a person should strive for to achieve happiness. I drew up a list of a few essentials which I put forward for the readers’ appraisal.

First and foremost is good health. If you do not enjoy good health you can never be happy. Any ailment, however trivial, will deduct from your happiness.

Second, a healthy bank balance. It need not run into crores but should be enough to provide for creature comforts and something to spare for recreation, like eating out, going to the pictures, travelling or going on holidays on the hills or by the sea. Shortage of money can be only demoralizing. Living on credit or borrowing is demeaning and lowers one in one’s own eyes.

Third, a home of your own. Rented premises can never give you the snug feeling of a nest which is yours for keeps that a home provides: if it has a garden space, all the better. Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, cultivate a sense of kinship with them.

Fourth, an understanding companion, be it your spouse or a friend. If there are too many misunderstandings, they will rob you of your peace of mind. It is better to be divorced than to bicker all the time.

Fifth, lack of envy towards those who have done better than you in life — risen higher, made more money, or earned more fame. Envy can be very corroding; avoid comparing yourself with others.

Sixth, do not allow other people to descend on you for gup-shup. By the time you get rid of them, you will feel exhausted and poisoned by their gossip-mongering.

Seventh, cultivate some hobbies which can bring you a sense of fulfilment, such as gardening, reading, writing, painting, playing or listening to music. Going to clubs or parties to get free drinks or to meet celebrities is criminal waste of time.

Eighth, every morning and evening, devote 15 minutes to introspection. In the morning, 10 minutes should be spent on stilling the mind and then five in listing things you have to do that day. In the evening, five minutes to still the mind again, and ten to go over what you had undertaken to do.

Nathaniel Cotton (1721-1788) summed up my views on the subject in one verse:

If solid happiness we prize,/ Within our breast this jewel lies;/ And they are fools who roam:/ The world has nothing to bestow;/ From our own selves our joys must flow/

And that dear hut, — our home.

Humble thoughts

I am not a humble man. I am not cowed down by men in powerful positions or by men of great wealth. But I do feel humble when I meet people who dedicate their lives to looking after sick or needy human beings and animals.

On her death anniversary, I recalled the three days I had spent with Mother Teresa in Calcutta over 40 years ago. We walked through crowded streets, rode trams to visit her various hospitals, crèches for abandoned children and home for the dying. I wrote a humble tribute to her for The New York Times and put her picture on the cover of The Illustrated Weekly of India.

Until then she was little known outside Calcutta — after that more people got to know about her work. She sent me a short note of thanks. I have it in a silver frame in my home in Kasauli.

It was the same with Bhagat Puran Singh. I heard of his Pingalwara (leper home) in Amritsar and persuaded members of my family charitable trust to donate a block for boarding the patients. Manmohan Singh, then finance minister, inaugurated it. Whenever I think of Bhagat Puran Singh, I feel humble.

Although I have no respect for Maneka Gandhi as a politician, I give her full credit for being the first Indian to make her countrymen aware of their duty to protect animals. She has done more for them than anyone else I know.

There are quite a few people living near me who do their bit by animals and humans: there was Bheem Varma of Cooch Behar (nephew of Maharani Gayatri Devi) who spent his evenings going around feeding stray dogs. After he died, his wife, Rita Devi, took on the job. In addition she now runs two mobile clinics, one donated by Kapil Sibal, the other by Sir Elton John.

These clinics go around different parts of the city along with doctors, nurses and medicines to treat sick people free of charge. Rita Devi has been promised more such mobile clinics, one by the Poddars, another by the Ansals. In a couple of months she will be running four mobile hospitals treating over 2,000 people a day.

There is my niece, Veena Balwant Singh, who now spends her entire day taking packets of food and medicines around many parts of New Delhi to feed and medicate stray dogs. That costs a lot of money. A friend of hers has pitched in to share half the expenses.

In the evening, she runs into Parveen Talha of the Union Public Service Commission who also feeds stray dogs in Lodhi Gardens before she goes home for the night. I have known her for more than 20 years now, but never knew of her love for animals.

There must be thousands of such kindly men and women for whom taking care of sick, hungry humans and animals is a sacred duty. I don’t do any such thing, only write about them. But I do feel humble in their presence.