The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Projecting “Beautiful” Ideas

Conversation between a mother and her eight-year-old son:

Darling, we need to move our car because it is blocking Nimmi Aunty’s car.

Mom, who is Nimmi Aunty?

She is an Aunty who has just moved into the city. She is very beautiful.

A pretty innocuous and regular conversation, no? Right.

I think it’s all good too, except the “beautiful” part. Let me explain.

In my family, we are somewhat hair-obsessed. We notice hair all the time. As a child, I heard a lot of “Ooh, what lovely hair!” from my mother, aunt and cousins. So, it became obvious to me at a young age that good hair was golden for a woman. Straight or wavy, black or brown or grey, long or short… It didn’t matter. All you needed was lots of it, and you were set. Thus, the covetousness was born. Now, I am reasonably blessed in the hair department. But I always felt like it wasn’t enough. I remember praying earnestly, God, please give me 15% more hair on my head, just 15%.

I was naive enough to think that people with good hair had it set in life, and that losing hair (or having scanty hair) was a major misfortune. Yes, I was somewhat misguided.

As a student of communication (and life), I am fairly cautious about stating my opinions to young children and teenagers, especially when they revolve around beauty and attractiveness. The absolute last thing I wish to do is project my ideas on to their tender minds. I’d hate for them to take on my ideas as their own, consciously or not. If a youngster is sensitive, searching and impressionable, this becomes a real possibility.

No, I don’t want to create an impression on you. Neither do I want to lend you any of mine.

(Nimmi Aunty is truly a beautiful woman, I can vouch for that too.)

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Most Burdensome of All

I have a friend who keeps his car stocked with water, fruit and snacks, so he can hand them out to homeless people on his way to work. One day, he gave a bottle of water to a homeless man. The guy looked at him askance, as if asking, c’mon, this is all you can give me? He took the water and walked away.

As he related the incident, my friend laughed. “You cannot expect gratitude even from a homeless man.”

My friend is a wise and compassionate guy, and I like to think he was half-joking when he said what he did.

It is truly burdensome to believe that you (or I) did a good deed, performed an act of kindness. There is a kind of oppressive weight to the idea and thought of it. In fact, I find it highly patronizing.

Service is a pure (perhaps the purest) form of self-expression. Millions of people perform acts of service on a daily basis without likely even being aware of it. They act on a whim, in a moment of complete spontaneity, responding to a need from someone somewhere. It takes an instant, the act is done, and everyone is off to their respective places.

It leaves everyone free: giver, receiver, bystanders.

I cringe a little when I hear well-meaning parents and teachers encouraging kids to think about “others,” “do something for others,” and so on.

So long as you think that you are doing something for others, you are going to be bound to the act, harbor a sense of expectation, even anticipate gratitude. I’d really like to walk away from it, be free of the typical trappings that come with “doing a good deed.”

Perhaps this comes across as fake modesty but it’s a little more than that.

It stems from a simple desire for freedom. To be released from expectation (of gratitude or whatever), to be free of the burdensome notion “I am helping another,” to be free of this terribly grand picture of self.

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For my Wise, Young, Beautiful Cousin who Loves the Woods

She was happy to leave New York (does that happen to anyone at all?)
she loves animals
and mountains
And the land her father grew up on
where she tramped days as a child
quiet and alone and tanned
tall trees laden with jack fruit and cashews and peppercorns and mangoes
dark homes with cool floors and pillars
she left the noise and dust of our home in Mumbai
went North
found a hillside town
(I thought it romantic)
she worked long and hard
made a name for herself, met friendly folks and ate homely dinners
met dynamic men, fiery and passionate
loved, lived, left

came back to Colorado, the hills beckoned again
friendliness, passion, compassion and desire
to learn and grow
and preserve and protect
to drink in the beauty
sip away the sunrise

and tramp all over the hills again

finally to gaze at the land her father built a home on.

 

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