Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Being Alone and Happy


My mind was drawn to the present topic when the news came over the media that the visit of the music god Ravi Shankar to our planet has come to an end at the age of 92. Ravi Shankar was lucky that he found an intensely gentle and loving companion even in his late years.  He faced some of the social problems of our planet while he lived amongst us but loneliness was at least one impediment that he did not suffer from. It is something that at least half the humans on the planet will face sometime or the other during their lifetimes.

The Plains in Nainital District
The normal course of life for a human on our planet is that he spends his or her childhood with parents. This is followed by a transition period when the human becomes an adult.  This transition period is rarely a lonely one because the human is quite busy with friends and setting up a life and career. Soon enough, after that, most humans get married and have the company of their spouses and children. When the children grow up, the spouses have each other at the very least. However, a time comes when it is time for one of the spouses to bid goodbye to this life. The other person is then left more or less alone in this world. Rare exceptions aside, a male or female spouse leaves before the other hence the reason for my estimating that at least half the human population will face loneliness for a portion of their lives Usually this happens when one is quite old and least able to cope with the ensuing loneliness, unless, they prepare in advance for it. In a fairly significant number of cases, a person is also left alone much earlier in life because of early widowhood, separation or divorce that is becoming increasingly common.

When a person has been left alone at a very old age, one of the only reasonable options for him or her is to move into a facility for the old, if one such is available. For others, the need arises to move in with a son or daughter. Therefore it is important for married persons to maintain cordial and affectionate relations with their children even after they have grown up. This should include a visit to each others separate homes for at least a few days in a year - in summer for parents to visit the children and at Christmas time the other way around.

When a person is left alone at a much younger age, say forty or fifty, there are no problems of infirmity but there are a new set of problems that suddenly take birth that can add to the loneliness. Relatives tend to avoid such single persons and move away from them unless the single person is wealthy and distributes gifts to relatives regularly as one of my father's childless widowed aunt used to do until she ran out of her wealth. She was a very sweet and gentle lady and relatives competed to house her. Her name was Shanti Devi Mehra. She sold of several homes that her husband left her because she could not bear the thought of living alone. However, after her wealth ran out she was nudged away and relatives did not bother to inquire where she got lost. If a person who is single and not wealthy then relatives will usually tend to avoid such a person and this also includes close relatives such as brothers and sisters. The avoidance can be subtle and polite or in some cases it can include rude rebuffs from the insensitive and uncouth, a kind our planet is not short of. There is also the brother or sister that suffers from an underlying guilt in doing so and overcomes this guilt by a rationalization that includes disparaging remarks, assumptions and character assassinations that they begin believing in from repetition and sharing amongst each other. Usually parents, especially mothers and children do not fall in this latter category but parents move on to the next life before one's time is up and if the 'being alone' status has been caused by divorce the children living primarily with one spouse are frequently fed with propaganda about the other spouse so that they are distanced or even alienated from one of them. Many unable to face the situation go in for a second marriage. While this can be a blessing if one finds a true soul mate, it can be a pain in the barn if it is not so. As one grows older one gets more set in one’s ways and adjustment with a new partner is not assured unless fully assisted by true love. While it may be sad being alone, living with incompatible company can be hell. While there are beautiful solutions to loneliness there are few to incompatible or bad company except putting an end to it..

Against the backdrop of this sorry picture painted above there is also a bright one because as someone wise said (I forget who) that there is a silver lining to every dark cloud and an opportunity in every adversity a human faces.

Some of the greatest good to human society has come from persons who have been alone in their personal lives and the greatest amongst these were persons such as Buddha and Jesus. A highly respected social-worker in India – Anna Hazare - has recently become famous for his fight against corruption. He is fond of saying that although he has no personal family, his family is actually very large being the society at large. For sure these examples are exceptions and do not apply to the average human in the same measure. However every human who has less of family commitments can involve himself or herself in some social cause in some minor way at least. Then there are pursuits that require one to be alone such as writing or spiritual practices. It is because of this that The Mighty Buddha left his family, palace and kingdom at a young age. Everyone cannot write but anyone can start a blog on blogger and share a few words and pictures etc on blogger and facebook and thereby make friends across the world. True, the internet does not lead to an interaction that is as close as real life one but it leads to an interaction that is much wider.   Once again everyone is not oriented to spiritual life but many can learn to commune with nature. That also is a form of spirituality because ultimately the aim of spirituality is to achieve unity of the individual consciousness with the consciousness outside and beyond. Much joy lies on this path. The birds and butterflies, ferns, flowers and trees put up a lovely musical performance endlessly for such a person on a stage that lights up with the stars and the moon at night. While such persons are alone in the eyes of the world, they are ever in the blissful embrace of the Universe. In fact nature organizes such a destiny for those It loves most.

While I lived in the Middle East I had an Arab friend who said that if a man or woman enjoys neither music nor nature his or her soul is similar to that of a donkey :).

Hari and his Wife cleaning wheat

As a doctoral student in Canada I had found lodging with a Canadian lady – Olive Cuthbert – who being alone used to let out a couple of her rooms to students from the University of British Columbia allowing them to share some of her home and thus never faced the problem of loneliness. I too was left without a wife around two decades ago and my daughters who have their own busy lives visit only on rare occasions. Around twelve years ago I employed a young village boy – Shyamu - for domestic help. He was from a poor family in the village and completely illiterate at that time. But due to his devoted service I soon enough began to treat him like a son and now regard him as an adopted son. I also educated him at home so that now he is fully literate with a fluent knowledge in Hindi and a working one in English. He is now married and has a lovely son – Golu - whom I regard as my grandson. However he has agricultural land and a family back home in the village too and therefore has to divide his time between my place and the village. That has led me to do something else besides. My home is large enough to give out furnished rooms to village youth who come into the city for temporary work because the city temporary wages are massive as compared to those in the village and moreover there is a perpetual shortage of such workers in the city. They also assist me in domestic chores for an hour or two every day. One such boy – Hari - has been visiting for the last ten years. A few years ago he got married and now comes in with his wife. He grows wheat on his land in the village and therefore brings over a sack for his own use in the city. It has to be cleaned and then ground into a flour before it is kneaded and baked into delicious Indian bread on a wooden fire. Today, as I am writing this post, he and his wife are busy doing that in the front of the house and therefore I am including a picture of his with this post. His wife is covered in traditional attire, still common in villages of India. It is not that I have any special preference for village persons but they are most in need and there is no university very near my home to find students.

In conclusion may I say that when humans complain for what they do not have, then life becomes miserable but if they are grateful for what they do have and add to it whatever is worthy and can be added easily, happiness is found with ease in our wonderful universe.

3 comments:

हरि चंद said...

Sir
Your fertile Mind seems overflowing with energy. You come up with very soul invigorating thoughts and concepts and able to capsule them in essays, in no time, when you encounter such events. It is really a very nice article especially in context of modern age youth. As family unit has almost become nuclear in India and in rural areas also, the state of loneliness is acute problem facing the generation in the face thanks to money economy and diversification of occupations and education. It especially is more acute problem for those who face a radical change in their lives (like rural youth moving away from village background to cities for comfort or for job requirements). I have seen that very few people are able to come to terms with the state loneliness in their ripe age. Your suggestions to deal with such a situation are really ideal ones and more importantly easy to adapt. The only pre-condition is that the person must have realised the futility of accumulating material comforts.

ashok said...

Thanks Hari Chand ji for your very nice comments. The driving force behind my posts is so that I amy contribute in some way to the well being of at least a few persons in the world through these posts, it is just my humble way of making a contribution to the universe that has given us everything we have. I think perhaps the universe provides the energy for it out of graciousness because really when it comes to many of my personal works I find the energy missing.

You have put very appropriately that the loneliness of the modern age is a part of the modern economy and the social system it has given birth to. It is just one such factor because of which although material comforts have increased for many happiness has not.

ashok said...

Hari ji, I have updated this post slightly since your comment.