By Suma Varughese
We are meant to flow with life, to follow its inexorable twists and turns without asking why.
Even as Mumbai heroically struggles to its feet after suffering seven devastating bomb blasts in its local suburban trains, many Mumbaikars may well be privately wrestling with fear and anxiety. In a city that has grown increasingly unsafe, where there is no guarantee that loved ones will return, or that one will see the light of day, where does one gather the strength to keep going, to keep dreaming and to keep positive?
What enables me to confront and go beyond this quandary is my conviction that life is about going forward and not backward. No matter what life throws at us, I believe that we are obliged to unfalteringly move ahead to receive it. And when we do that, a passage will open for us that will take us safely forward.
I happened upon this wisdom during another traumatic phase in Mumbai’s history. The Babri Masjid imbroglio that had such a brutal impact on Mumbai. First, the Muslims went on a rampage and in retaliation, the Shiv Sena unleashed its fury. In its usual browbeating way, it clamped a bandh on the already wounded city.
As I woke up the morning of the bandh at my sister’s house in South Mumbai (returning to my suburban flat was impossible), I chafed against the compulsion to bow to the Sena’s dictates. I did not want them to decide my actions and thereupon made up my mind to go to work that day.
I recall that the streets were deadly quiet. No traffic on the road, save army patrols; there was hardly a human being in sight. The first hurdle I had to confront and defeat was my own fear. It was spooky walking down empty streets, open target for any goon who wished to manhandle me. Gulping down my fear, I walked to Churchgate Station, and encountered my second hurdle. The local trains, Mumbai’s heartblood, had also succumbed to the Sena’s command. What was I to do? I looked around among the handful of commuters standing aimlessly on the concourse and made contact with a man who was also going in the same direction. We decided to join forces and walk, if necessary, to Prabhadevi, which was a good 10 to 15 miles from Churchgate.
This time the eerie streets did not seem so intimidating, for I had company. In the most amazing way, we progressed without let or hindrance from anyone. A rare car driver gave us a lift part of the way, and we walked the rest. I reached the office, tired and triumphant, at around noon.
In the course of the journey, I realized that if you challenge your fear and keep moving, not only does it melt away, but life itself conspires to take you to your destination. And the process builds you and gives you strength and confidence. On the other hand, if you turn back or stall, entropy will creep in and your life force will dwindle. The longer we hold back from living, the more the loss to our vitality and enthusiasm.
The Bible hints at this in the story of Lot and his wife. Sodom and Gomorrah were two regions, which, as their names suggest, were notorious for sexual deviancy and other forms of corruption. Eventually, the Lord decreed that they should be destroyed. However, there was one good man in one of the towns called Lot. An angel went to him and his wife before the destruction and bade them to flee. There was only one rider: they must never, under any circumstances, look back. The two did as they were told and rushed away. However, Lot’s wife could not resist one last look behind at the burning city. It was one glance too many for it turned her into salt.
We are meant to flow with life, to follow its inexorable twists and turns without asking why. The greater the faith and surrender we can bring to the enterprise, the smoother the journey.
So let us move on, regardless of our fears and deny the terrorists their victory. Yesterday, traveling in the local train for the first time after the blast, my heart went out to the gallant snaking machine, the gallant engine drivers and all the gallant passengers sitting within. Each must have waged a silent struggle within in order to be there. Life asks for the very best in us. It will not be content with anything less.
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