The Gift of Words

Life is basically an integration of little moments. Your lifetime simply an area under a curve. So that two lifetimes can have completely different equations to represent them but somehow end up with the same area, the same conclusion. However, not every infinitesimal moment is the same as the next one. Everyone will go through one that will forever change the person they are, and their outlook on life. These might seem like the most important ones. Maybe they are. There is another type though.

A brief window in time. Like a wormhole, where you forget all about yourself, and your troubles seem so very insignificant. A moment of truth, of reflection, of introspection. These are the moments when your soul grows. The different thing about these moments is that you can have heaps of these in a lifetime, or not even one. These are random chances of occurrence, and they are never the same for two different people. As they say, a man’s junk is another’s treasure.

As I stand across the tandoor waiting to buy naans (a kind of bread) I had one of these. One would expect to have it someplace more serene. Like an apple orchard overlooking a lake with snowcapped mountains in the background. Life however rarely works that way. There I was at dingy, corner tandoor watching one naan come out after the next and the vendor neatly stalking one on top of the other. A youth of some twenty five, broad of shoulders showing that he had endured physical hardship to go with the emotional turmoil that is living in poverty in a third world country like Pakistan. People like these at home are aplenty. There are at every corner of the street, each story sadder than the one before it and soon you become desensitized to all the suffering that this consumer culture has put us into.

So, as the youth stacked the naans, I saw him struggling to read the English newspaper on which the stacking was being done. I could see him clearly mouthing the word, “Stop.” It was that little moment for me but it stopped abruptly, so very cruelly. Admonition came from the owner sitting behind an office desk in a heavily starched cotton shirt, trying very hard to look important. I had smelt it too, some of the naan is the tandoor were starting to burn. The youth muttered a hasty apology and left the words to get back to the task that was all his life.

Here was a man whose life was embedded in the struggle to survive in this harsh world, so much and so that learning to read was a luxury he couldn’t afford. As I sit down to write, I can’t being to imagine how it would feel like having words written in front of you with their untold promise and not being able to read. He might feel like everything he ever needs to know, that he ever hopes to learn, the answers to the secrets of the seen and unseen universe can be written in front of him yet it won’t matter. He simply can’t read. Being a lover of words, it the most heart wrenching things I can imagine.

This world is cruel. People die of hunger every day. In this unforgiving world it might seem like education is too much of a luxury that it can’t be offered to all people. How I wish it weren’t so. That every child that opens his eyes in face of the turmoil of this life would learn to read as he comes of the age just as he learns to talk as he grows old. How I wish it was so.

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