I usually work from home most of the days. But on Mondays, I make the commute to Bangalore’s Church Street to visit an office I do consulting work for. I also usually take the Metro, squeezing in with a book amid all the hundreds of office-goers who look suitably grim on a Monday morning.
This time though, I took Toopi as I had several other places to go to after my visit. Church Street is all swanky and cool now, but there is absolutely no place to park my tiny car. I finally drive down to Museum Road, where I pay a security guard Rs 20 for the privilege of parking on the road in front of an apartment complex. This happens only in India, doesn’t it? You have to pay someone to use the road because when you buy the house, you also buy the part of the road in front of it.
It was past 1:30 PM when I made my way back. The sun was now scorching, and I was hungry. On this road, you will find the awful ‘eat what you can’ buffet place called Chutney Chang or the old legend of The Only Place. I dislike both but ended up spotting a cute little cafe called The Little Green Cafe. As I entered, the crew were busy cleaning the tables, and there wasn’t another customer. I ordered my salad, and waited, looking out at life outside.
We weren’t the only customers for long, however. A woman in her 30s walked in, her arm around the shoulders of a 10-year-old child. Following closely behind was a young man. They walked over to the table furthest from me, at the corner. I wouldn’t have given them any more attention were it not for what the man said while pulling out a chair to seat himself. “This is pure torture.” I glanced up. From where I sat, I had a clear view of the three of them – the man with his back to me, the woman in front of him, obscured slightly, and the girl, who was directly in my line of vision. This girl, I noticed, was crying. “Yes, it is torture. How can they do this?” the woman agreed, her voice so loud that I could hear it all the way where I sat. She hugged the girl, who only whimpered more. “You know that we love you, don’t you? All this is my fault, not yours,” the woman continued. The girl nodded, resting her head and sobbing on the woman’s shoulder. She turned back to the man. “You know I can take anything, but I can’t take this. This kind of meddling with my daughter’s life,” she said. I couldn’t hear the man’s reply.
For a while, they contemplated the menu, trying to cheer the girl up. “Let’s order the dessert first, ok?” the woman said, and I smiled. That’s just what I do. I was the voyeur into their private moments, I knew, but I couldn’t help overhearing.
The man walked over and ordered a blueberry cheesecake. The girl kept looking out of the window, anguished. “I am going to cancel all visitations,” the woman said. It’s then that I understood I was witnessing the other end of a broken family. “You know that your father is slightly insane, don’t you?” she asked the girl, who didn’t respond. “What else did he say? Did he talk bad about my family? Me?” The girl mutely nodded her no to the questions.
And that’s when I felt the unbearable lightness of pain. I was but an intruder, a stranger, but as I glanced at that girl, I felt only her pain. I kid you not. I am not trying to be some apostle here. I am far from it. I know the follies of my heart all too well. But after having read Pema Chodron, practising Vipassana for an hour every day and implementing the Tibetan practice of Tonglen, I felt this girl’s agony as my own. It was just an instant. But for that moment, I wished I could take it all in, and give her some light. So, I did just that. I breathed in her sadness, the open raw pain that caused her to cry in a cafe, and I breathed out peace. I don’t know if it helped her. I left the Cafe soon after, but over the course of my meditation, I continue to send her warm pinpricks of light.
At times like these, I wonder if I am weak. Or if I am strong. When I am hurt by some people’s actions or words, I often almost automatically find myself turning to their side. I breathe in the hatred and hurt they must feel for me, and I breathe out my wish for them to find joy and peace. I then find that my own hurt recedes. Not all the time, but many times. I vacillate between anger and hurt and then this pain of compassion. I want to remove it – I want to retaliate too. I want to tell people off too. I want to send screaming emails of anger. I don’t. And there I find is the beginning of finding yourself. That tender spot of utter love, anger, pain is coalescing into a pulsating cosmos of meaning. What is that meaning? I don’t know.