Gratitude In Lockdown: Story From A Slum Colony

This story is telling how people are fighting with the pandemic

“Tai, kashe aahat tumi?” (sister, how are you?) I heard the soft, dignified voice of my part-time helper ask me on the phone. Bela has been with us for last 6 years. She resides in a small two-room kholi nestled in a slum in the Western suburbs of Mumbai. Every afternoon she comes to our home to cook and stays till evening. This petite Maharashtrian woman begins her tasks at hand daily by lighting the lamp in my small mandir in the kitchen corner followed by tucking her palo into her saree. Now familiar with our needs and tastes, she more than often tends to pamper my kids with their favorite snacks, plays with our dog and winds up sharing a cup of tea with me before leaving for the day. 

While her face holds the scars of many hardships in life, there is always a calm demeanor about her.  I put this down to an apparent acceptance of her life.  During these tea sessions, I enquire about her well-being. She sometimes shares her problems. She is the bread-winner of the family. Her husband manages to occasionally keep a job for a few months before he takes to the bottle and eventually gets fired. Her son has not worked in two years since he got pulled into drinking and gambling with the local boys. She got him married a year back hoping he would mend his ways. But instead, his wife left him after another fight. Her daughter is of marriageable age and works in a beauty salon to help her mother run the house. Despite what life has thrown her, I have rarely seen her break down. And in those few times, she always pulls herself together with a smile and a “kai karaicha” (what to do).

Just the other day she made her customary call to me. “Tai, kashe aahat tumi?”.  She had been paid her full salary in advance and asked to stay at home since the time when social distancing had been recommended under Covid-19 threat. I asked after her.  She said she wasn’t in need of money but had just called to ask how the kids were doing. I asked the same of her and her family, specifically of her son. She sounded happy this time. Surprisingly, I could detect a different, lighter tone in her voice. 

She told me that her husband and her son, both being confined because of the lockdown, had not had a sip of alcohol in a month. Her daughter-in-law had returned home just before the lockdown.  Her son couldn’t leave the house to go gambling and was now spending more time with his wife. Since her husband was not drinking, the verbal abuse had stopped. In a situation like this, I figured that five adults cramped in a small space, for a substantial length of time, would pose serious problems to the healthy functioning of the family. But instead, inside her small home such confinement offered her a chance to see the family build their relations with each other. The two men were finally sober and fully functional. She re-discovered in her husband, the person who used to be kind to her. Her son was laughing again and helping at home. Her daughter-in-law was often found humming softly while she cooked in the kitchen.  Bela was grateful for the return of good times in her family.

This conversation made me reflect on what gratitude really was all about.

I remembered reading an article in a Harvard Medical School Publication, which suggested a logical link between gratitude and an acceptance of something larger in life. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives. It helps people acknowledge presence of goodness in their lives. People usually tend to recognize that the source of that goodness lies outside of themselves.  That there is something larger than themselves, be it other people, nature or a higher power. 

In 2003, an experiment by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, suggested a strong correlation between gratitude and positive outcomes. After 10 weeks in the experiment, those who expressed gratitude were more optimistic and felt positive about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians. 

There is a definite argument for linking gratitude to positivity and acceptance of the presence of an external, higher power. One may also look deeper and appreciate that gratitude can be felt in any context. In Bela’s world, one could say that she may not have much in terms of creature comforts, but she has found her own slice of happiness. Perhaps it is born out of an acceptance of life and a grateful acknowledgement of every positive incident in her life. 

In my relatively affluent world, I have had moments when feelings of hopelessness have brought my motivation down. It perhaps comes from a strange sense of entitlement based out of notions like ‘I am a good person, therefore good should happen to me’ or that ‘I have made the effort, therefore I must get the results’. Often, I see people trapped with the question of ‘Why me?’. It is a difficult question to answer and it can eclipse any positive gestures that come their way. Instead of focusing on the positives, one could end up focusing only on what is lacking. Hence the need for acceptance. It helps in moving on and gratitude helps in amplifying the good in life. A daily, silent acknowledgement of the smallest of positives received with heart-felt gratitude, can be a small step towards a happier outlook in life. 

Perhaps a graceful acceptance stitched with a deep sense of gratitude can change the very fabric of living. 

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