By Suma Varughese
Living by values may not be easy but it is deeply meaningful, says Suma Varughese
It was a maddeningly hot and humid night in Mumbai. Despite the wide open windows and the fans on full speed, everyone was sweating freely. Mom had served up the coolest possible meal – salads and aam ras, but appetites were low and the mood was fretful. “My friend’s housing society has a swimming pool. I don’t understand why we cannot have one,” said Alka pettishly.
“At any rate, Dad, we should have an a/c in the house,” grumbled Avijit. “We must be the only family in this building that does not have an a/c. Are we really this poor?”
Dad and Mom glanced at each other. They had often had these discussions before. It was not easy bringing up children while living in the eye of the consumerist storm of Mumbai.
“You know it’s not only about the money, kids,” said Dad., “There is so much more to it.”
The kids sulked. They knew they were in for a lecture.
“Alka, about the swimming pool. Do you know that Maharashtra is going through such a severe drought that there is not enough water for cattle and they are dying by the thousands?”
”Hundreds of families are relocating from their villages in interior Maharashtra to the city only so their children can have enough water to drink,” added Mom. “Do you think it’s fair that we should waste water on swimming pools?”
Alka looked shaken. Not one to read the papers, nor very fond of hard reality, talks of the drought had flowed past her.
“Really, Mom?” she asked.
“But how does our not using the swimming pool change the situation?” asked Avijit. “We are just one family. What impact could we possibly have?”
“Our not using the swimming pool may or may not make an impact, though I believe in the power of one, but don’t you think living by the principles we hold dear will at least impact us? We can do anything we want to do, but it is good to make our choices based on our values,” said Dad.
“But, Dad,” said Avijit, “What if we do not abide by your principles? Why should we abide by your principles instead of abiding by our own?”
“So what are your principles?” asked Dad.
“I-I don’t know! I still have not figured it all out. But I really cannot understand why I have to swelter in the heat. What good is it doing to anyone?”
“So until you figure out your principles, can I request that you abide by ours? And I will be happy to tell you why Mom and I have taken a principled stand against having more luxuries than we can possibly help.”
“You guys are so quaint. Dad still drives a Maruti 800 (well, I guess we should be grateful he at least owns a car!), we don’t have a microwave or a washing machine… you are just so not with the times,” scoffed Alka.
“Maybe that is deliberate, sweetie,” said Mom mildly.
“Look,” said Dad, “Mom and I long ago decided that our lives are not going to be dictated by money. We decided that our priorities are going to be happiness, doing work that we loved, bringing up our kids by ourselves and not through an ayah, contributing to society as much as we can, and focusing on the larger good. By this last, we mean doing whatever works in the larger interest of society and not doing what does not. Why should societies have private swimming pools when there is widespread water shortage? Can we instead have more public swimming pools where everyone can go? A/cs are terrible not just for the environment – they affect the ozone layer – but they are also really harmful for the body, especially for the respiratory system. There is no justification for the a/c.”
“But it feels so nice!”
“Everything that feels nice may not be wise,” said Dad. “In chasing after comfort, convenience and pleasure, we have brought enough suffering on our heads. Microwaves damage and destroy the nutrition in the food, and why have a washing machine when we have our Champabai?”
“But Dad, it feels really odd to always be against the crowd,” protested Alka. “What do you say, Nisha? You’ve been awfully quiet. Don’t you agree?”
“I am convinced that Dad and Mom are right and I totally subscribe to their views,” said Nisha, quietly but firmly.
“But Dad, don’t you think we run the danger of becoming awfully judgemental and holier than thou? Thinking that we know better than others or that others are bad to do what they do?” interjected Avijit.
“There is no way I am stopping others from doing what they want to do. I don’t have the right to do that. But I do have the right to do what I want to do and I am exercising that,” said Dad. “As for being judgemental, I know that I do get judgemental sometimes, but am working on it. But fear of being judgemental is not going to stop me from living according to my principles.”
“Wow, Dad, I must say I admire your courage of conviction,” said Avijit reluctantly. “I am actually proud of being your son. Living like this may not always be easy but I guess it is worthwhile.”
Dad and Mom smiled. “Yes, Avijit. It is really worthwhile,” said Mom softly. “And kids, we don’t lead deprived lives, do we? One of our constant efforts is to have as rich, creative and beautiful a life as we can possibly have.”
Alka put her arms around her, “Yes, Mom, we do have a wonderful life and I would not exchange it for all the swimming pools in the world.”
“That’s my girl,” said Mom happily.
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