Unlearning to Learn
Here was a man. Straight out of the blue. Narrating his woeful tale to me. A Tamil man from Mylapore. Owner of many riches. Embittered by family. Encircled by the snare of horoscope. Who once spent 18 years in London and now, following his flight from home, 18 days on the streets of Matunga. Now a poor man. Homeless, penniless and starved. Desperate for help. For employment. For someone to listen to his story.
This was an unexpected encounter. Since I was here in Mumbai for the week I thought I’d visit Matunga and hope to stumble upon something that I could write about for this piece. There was a fair share of predictability to the things I expected to find to write on. The acquaintance I made wasn’t one of them. It caught me unawares, off my guard and clueless as to how I ought to react to it. What business did I have conversing with this man and listening to his tribulation? How would it help me? Did I come looking for this? But I decided to listen, for the experience of engaging in an unplanned Tamil dialogue away from home hasn’t yet ceased to be a novelty. It must have helped that the exchange took place for the most part in Tamil, for the emotional prosody of his narrative in his mother tongue seemed more charged than it would have been otherwise. But beyond this, I felt his pangs of helplessness, despite all this being quite foreign. This was a language that I wasn’t quite sure I knew, that I struggled with for a while but managed to somehow pull it out of me. One of empathy.
I realized that I’ve long been part of the crop that’s been lapping up the language of sameness doled out in such generous quantities. We’ve never known another for we’re told there’s ‘us’ and there’s the ‘other’ and the twain ought never to meet. The schizoid tendencies this parlance engenders is but expected. How can I ever hope to be moved by this man’s narrative if I hang on for dear life to this inherited language of privilege? I can see that it’s wearing thin from its constant refrain. Why should I settle for its dull, flat, monotonic drivel? So I proceed to unlearn. This willingness is all it takes for there will then be a language of dissent, a language of compassion and a language of inclusion that will all make themselves visible and accessible to be learnt and practiced. To not just say what you feel, but feel what you say before you say it. To be able to change and comprehend change, in not just voice, but body language too. To shed some of that abundant hypocrisy and live a lighter life, if not one that’s size zero. To not only go in search of stories but also allow and welcome stories that come looking for you into the folds of your own life.