How close we really are to the edge of the precipice – Thomas Paul

How close we really are to the edge of the precipice
Thomas Paul THE HINDU, June 02, 2019

(with kind permission-emphasis added)

There’s no gainsaying what the next hour or second may bring; it will take just a moment for the bottom to fall out

November 23, 1956. My date of birth was eventful, not just because I was born on the day the Tuticorin Express derailed near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu killing over a hundred and forty passengers, but because my dad had booked to travel on the train that day. But since I was born that day — a couple of days prematurely — he had cancelled his ticket and stayed back in Madras, now Chennai. And, in the event, escaped death.

From here it is conjecture which raises goose bumps whenever I think about it — the ‘what if’ kind. We were a hair’s breadth away from disaster, and had it struck, had my dad taken that train, I can imagine how life would have turned out for our family: mom turning single parent overnight; juggling job and household. And how the level playing field we had had till then would have turned rough, the environment would have turned hostile, and so on. We would have inhabited a parallel universe of struggle for decades.

That gets me thinking sometimes.

We never know how close we are to the edge. Accidents ranging from getting hit while just crossing a road, to a bewildering array of natural and unnatural causes, can change lives in an instant. Currently our lives might be relatively incident-free — relative, that is, to what one sees daily in the newspapers. Heart-rending stories reside there.

Besides what befalls us accidentally, there is also the very station in life we are born into, which places some of us at a serious disadvantage from which it is difficult to emerge. What many of us take for granted — family security, financial security, knowing that the next meal is certain, the social status, access to opportunities — are not available to a huge percentage of the population.

Whenever I feel that life could have been better, I tell myself it could actually have been worse, too — unimaginably worse.

Just a casual browsing on the Net for ‘Human Diseases’ throws up tens of thousands of them. The human body is so vulnerable, causing us to doubt whether the divinity that designed us had any clue, throwing in so many diseases ranging from the debilitating to those that are just needless nuisances. If we are afflicted with only one or two from the 30,000-strong list, we should still feel thankful we are left to tell the tale.

There’s no gainsaying what the next hour or second may bring. Sant Kabir’s ‘Pal mein pralay’ comes to mind. It takes just a moment for the bottom to fall out of our world, with some sudden flood, a tsunami or an earthquake, a fire in the building that catches us off-guard, some falling masonry, or a road accident, in their thousands per second, all over the world. What we take for granted today might simply not exist the next day. Apart from natural disasters, social or financial disasters can arrive from nowhere.

Kindness is needed, one to another.

We don’t know other people’s struggles, the brave face they are putting on despite their problems, the mountains they are climbing, against odds. Every time we cause hurt, especially by means of our brilliant ability to communicate in harsh words — our ability to surgically strike in fancy English or whatever language we are clever at. It gets passed on to others as the chain of pain. Communication skills may just be hyped.

Let us not take offence at slights, real or imagined. A grim-faced person could be dealing with serious personal problems, or it could be that the expression is but a manufacturing defect. He may not be upset with us at all. Half our ‘easily offended’ attitude will disappear if we realise that people have their own issues and may not be thinking of us at all.

We exhaust our lives proving points, and ‘showing’ others who we are, forgetting that we too are standing on the cliff’s edge, just a step away from oblivion.

sagitex@gmail.com

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