Last week onwards, I have started an initiative called the detox day. On a predecided day of the week, I stay away from mobile, laptop, and all social media apps. For these two weeks, it has been Saturday. I spend all my time with my family. Now, I’m the kind of person who promptly responds to a phone message, a DM or a WhatsApp message but I am a little lazy in making and receiving calls. Most of my family members keep complaining about my non-accessibility over the phone, especially the bad habit of rarely returning the calls.
But this week was different. I’d really been affected by the news of the flood-hit Kerala. Quite a few of my B-school batchmates were from this state. After my detox Saturday, I started my Sunday searching for a Kolkata based NGO who were planning to carry relief items to Kerala the coming week. Three numbers were listed. Finding the first two numbers busy, I called the last number.
“Hello Sonia,” a deep voice answered.
A few years back getting addressed by name by a stranger would get me worried. But these days True Caller made that look plausible.
“Hi. Apologies for unable to address you by name because Facebook only had the numbers mentioned. Actually, I have called to ask about the process for contributing to the relief items. I have clothes that could be of help to someone there”
“That’s a noble thought for a good cause. But you need to call the volunteers for this”
“Oh, aren’t you a volunteer?”
“Well, I am expecting some funny reactions to this but I am God. You can choose to call me anything – Bhagwan, Allah, Wahe Guru, Jesus, Almighty.”
“Oh really! Good to see that at least the names belonging to different religions can co-exist. Here we do have a tussle at intervals to figure out whose God is the greatest.” I said sarcastically. This man was wasting my time.
“You still don’t seem very convinced about talking to God.”
“You should have known. Mankind has been trying to get in touch with you since eternity. So what special have I done to enjoy this privilege of conversing with God? Or are you following the footsteps of Akshay Kumar from Oh My God movie?”
“Strangely it was one of those rare movies that showed me in the right perspective. So how do we clear your doubt? You had always wanted to ask me about taking away your mother so early in life. We will address that but I give you the option of asking a question that is bothering you the most currently. But please be honest because I know what you are thinking of right now.”
I wasn’t sure who was this person was on the call. But it was a little spooky that he knew about my grudge against God for letting my mother die. Yet I was in a mood to humor this conversation to see how far this can continue. I asked him,
“Why do you punish mankind through natural disasters? Odisha, Assam, Chennai and now Kerala and Kodagu. So many innocent lives have been lost in the floods and so many are at stake now. You are known to be supremely powerful. Then why can’t you just stop it and spare us this torture?”
He laughed, “You are holding me responsible for a man-made disaster. Is this the earth that I created. I gave greenery and means for survival. But it the greed of humans that have made them destroy natural resources or exploit them for money and power. Yes, there are countless hapless lives stuck in this loop of greed. Unless human beings take responsibility for their actions, sustainable living is never going to be possible. Tell me, what have you done as a fellow citizen until now?
Let me remind you of a couple of incidents now. The year was September 2000. You were a second-year graduate student then. The Durga puja vacation was due in about a weeks time before your state was suddenly hit by floods. Your hometown Berhampore happened to be situated in one of the worst-hit districts of the state. For three consecutive days, you couldn’t get through your house land-line. Do you remember how your hands used to shake during your practical classes because you were always anxious about your parents’ safety? When you had gone to get your practical notebook signed, the lady Asst. professor rebuked you for those silly mistakes. You appraised her of the situation back home thinking that she would probably give some assurance. Instead, she questioned your parents’ decision to send their teenage daughter away from home for higher studies. As per her, you should have been satisfied with the colleges your ‘small town’ offered. You had come out controlling the urge to cry.”
I could still visualize that young lady who also happened to be one of the most qualified faculties in the department. Her toxic statement had left a permanent scar in my heart. Until a few years back, Kolkata to me had been synonymous with heartless people like her.
The person on the phone asked,“Would you like to share what happened next?”
I had no problem in recollecting them, “I finally managed to speak to my parents that evening after three long days. It was a relief to find them safe. Our house along with a few others in the locality had opened up to accommodate people who had lost everything in the flood. That year the home trip would have never been possible if one of my fathers’ colleagues hadn’t been kind enough to accommodate both me and my father along with his daughter in the car. It took us 11hrs, double of the usual time to reach home. We were witness to heartbreaking sights throughout the journey.”
“Good. But is that all you remember about the floods that year or was there something that stayed with you for life? “
This was getting uncanny. This man, whether he was God or not knew a lot.
I said, “The water level decreased eventually but the rehabilitation took a lot of time. A few months later I had returned home over an extended weekend. The next morning, I saw a boy handing over five birds made of sponge and cotton to my mother. He couldn’t be more than ten years of age. She paid him some money. In a while, I found out a box full of such birds in our store-room. I came to know that the boy Pintu and his five-year-old sister had been rescued during the floods. But they had lost their house, their cows and their father in the flood. Pintu had eventually returned to the village hoping to be reunited with his mother. He had started making these birds for livelihood. He walked twenty kms every day to sell them to any kind-hearted soul. When he had visited my house one afternoon, Ma had heard his story and wanted to give him some money. But the boy had refused. His parents had taught him the right kind of self-respect. So, Ma bought all the ten birds that he had made that day. Whenever Pintu came home, Ma fed him sweets and purchased his entire stock. A few weeks later, he told Ma that an NGO was taking them to an orphanage. That was the last we heard of Pintu.”
I had teared up by the end of this conversation.
The voice spoke with a strange kindness, “So tell me, one or more states have been affected by a natural disaster every year. This year it is Kerala. In a crisis situation that requires humanity to rise beyond religion, caste, language, and politics, what is the emotion that defines you? Is apathy like that of your Professor or is there a hope of empathy like that displayed by your father’s colleague or kindness through action like your mother?“
I stood transfixed. For years, I had stopped believing in God. I lost my mother overnight to pancreatitis. My father kept comforting me about the limited time that all of us had on this planet and how it could never be changed. He is the kind who believes in gratitude and giving back to the society. But I could never stop blaming God for being unfair to me over the past seven years. It felt scary to be on the other side facing His questions now. He wanted to know what was my contribution to ensure that others don’t meet the same fate as me? I realized that there might be a mother in Kerala needing urgent medication or a newborn needing diaper now. In the journey of being self-centered about my personal losses, I had forgotten to look at the grieving souls around.
“I will fix it right away,” I said but the call had already been disconnected.
I opened the PayTm app and made my contribution. And then I thought of calling the number again because the clothes still needed to be handed over to the volunteers.
Despite numerous attempts, I couldn’t get through this number. A recorded voice kept telling me “This number has been temporarily disconnected.”
I don’t know if I spoke to God today or was it somebody else who helped me look within. Honestly, I am not going to probe it further because whoever it might have been, managed to remind me about the circle of kindness having that lasting effect on life. I could rise above the apathy and indifference because empathy and gratitude taught me to prioritize my cause.
Authors note – The conversation might be fictitious but the incidents and the story associated with Bengal floods is true. Today Kerala is reeling under a major crisis owing to devastating floods. Through this post, I would urge each one to please come forward and contribute in whatever way possible. Every bit will make a difference. You can transfer the money to CM relief fund, use PayTm to transfer funds, purchase from Amazon for donation to Kerala floods or buy meals for the victims through Zomato. Additionally, there are a lot of NGOs and volunteer groups working in your city towards this cause. Please get in touch with them if you have materials that can be donated. I’ve done my bit today. I am hoping to hear your kindness story here.