Living Lightly on the Earth

Light of truth

Prema Jayakumar

Let pleasure be ever so innocent, the excess is always criminal.

The recent floods have taught us a lot of lessons, most of which will be forgotten in the next few weeks. Most of the lessons after the disaster struck gave one hope in humanity. The aftermath taught us that human beings could work together for the common weal, that they could forget narrow sectarian divides and live together in harmony, share space, food, thoughts and fun as well as sorrow. Of course, once the grounds well of water receded, this groundswell of compassion and fellow feeling have also receded. Just as the rivers seem to have grown even thinner and more emaciated than before the floods, humanity also seems to be at an ebb.

Another of the lessons was how little is really essential to our day to day lives. I’ve heard this story that the kitchen of the Ramakrishna Mission headquarters in Calcutta is washed clean by the Hooghly at high tide leaving nothing for the next day. Since all visitors are offered food, there is usually very little left. Similarly, these floods have washed away a lot of the extra baggage, both physical and mental that we had carried all these years.

A walk-in closet full of clothes, a refrigerator stocked to the brim with eatables, books that overflow from desks and cupboards – most of the contents of the wardrobe, the almira of books, would not have been touched for the last two decades! As for the goodies in the refrigerator, they had probably been forgotten for weeks on end. Don’t all of us, even those of who did not have to abandon such things to the waters, have them? Since we have not even looked at these for such a long period of time, we obviously don’t need them.

If, like the group of people in Japan who have taken a pledge to live with just a few things, (I think it is a total of a hundred things including tooth brush, pen, soap, spoon, clothes etc.) we too could learn from the way we have managed in the recent past how little is really necessary for living fairly, comfortably, we would be so much better off.

Kerala was once known for the almost ascetic lifestyle practised here. Even our kings and princes did not wear expensive clothes or huge amounts of jewellery. Our palaces and places of worship were built on simple lines and contained very little ornamentation. The climate being benign, we needed very little in the form of artificial cooling or heating. When did we become the marketer’s dream, the consumer society that gulped down anything brought before it, whose gargantuan appetite could swallow sufficient things for a whole country? After the floods, the clothes thrown out, the vehicles that were abandoned, lay on the sides of the roads as though they asked whether we had needed them. And why we had bought them if we did not need them?

The climate here is no longer benign, nature no longer smiles on this God’s Own Country. We now have to learn to live with unseasonal rains and heat enough to bring on sunstrokes, with danger from floods, from landslides, from drought. It may be necessary to remove ourselves and our belongings from the path of natural disasters all in a moment. Would it not be much simpler if we had to take only a few things with us, enough to live on for the moment?

If one can’t resist buying the newest thing on the market, perhaps one could learn to see that space is made for it by giving away the thing that it replaces, instead of acquiring another cupboard or wardrobe to keep it in, be it clothing or a vessel or a book? Because one has learnt with the sweeping away of all excesses that mindless acquisition only makes losses larger and these are losses of things you didn’t really need or even want.

Isn’t it time we learnt to live lightly on the earth, not to burden the earth with our greed? Isn’t it time, we realized that even clean air and water cannot be taken for granted, but have to be preserved, so that we can use it in our lifetimes, and leave some over for the generations that are to come?

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