Make Kindness your Shadow

Maya Angelou’s words found their mark in me when she said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Once, as a newly married young girl, I reached home from work only to find that I didn’t have the keys to the house. My husband would get back after a couple of hours. I was pregnant and hungry. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and it was now four pm. There was nothing I could do at that moment so I sat on the porch steps and waited for my husband to arrive. There were no mobile phones in those days so I couldn’t call him. We hadn’t really had the time to socialise with the neighbours as we were both working and too busy spending time in each other’s company.

Out of the blue, my next door neighbour arrived with a plate of two delicious aloo parathas. I looked up at her in surprise. I saw a lovely kind face, wearing an even lovelier kind smile.

“I saw you from my window and guessed that you’re locked out. I imagined you must be ravenous so I got you a meal.”

I thanked her profusely and relished the parathas she had brought me.

The moment passed. My appetite was satiated but my neighbour’s kindness has remained with me forever. I suppose that’s what Maya Angelou meant. I might have forgotten whether a bowl of curd had accompanied the aloo parathas that my Angel Aunty had brought. Or if there was pickle on the plate, but I will never, never forget the warm glow of goodness that her actions flooded me with. That’s what kindness does - it makes the world a better place.

From kind neighbours to kind partners, kind social workers to kind bosses, kind relatives to kind friends - they all enrich the world. They mitigate the toxic negativity that seems to have permeated society. For me personally, my favourite ‘kind people’ are the ones who care for animals. Who feed stray dogs, show them love and do not abuse them. Animals need our love and compassion the most because they cannot speak for themselves and their capacity to feel pain is just like us humans.

This issue of Usawa is on kindness. The extraordinary poems here look at kindness from various perspectives. Each viewpoint is evocative. From Vidya Shankar’s husband who wants to make the first ride after her hysterectomy, special to Nithya John who thinks of ‘a word which is left unsaid/so that the parting/ remains anaesthetised’. From Adil’s sensitively penned ‘forgiveness', 'compassion',/the crown we were not meant to wear alone/ but pass from person to person’, to Sampurna Chattarji’s poem that is a benevolent literary sermon on kindness - ‘To be kind you must turn into a tree…’ These are poems that you can wrap in soft muslin and hold close to your cheeks, inhale their inspiration and rejoice at the message.

From Danish Hussain’s ‘grey strips’ days to Geetha Ravichandran’s ‘giving in silence’, the message that comes through is not to make a noise about being kind. The left hand should not discover what the right has just given away. Silence and anonymity are extremely important in the act of kindness.

Ankush Banerjee’s powerful piece on care givers, Bhaskar Pitla’s exquisite anthem for his unborn child, Kris Kaila’s gut-wrenching piece on abuse (If I show you my vulnerability will my trauma be valid then?), all fortify this issue of Usawa.

Indu Parvathi’s plea not to amalgamate trees into walls, rather let them grow free, is a unique perspective. Tejinder Sethi’s piercing diary-like entries on mental illness, Basudhara Roy’s deep understanding that the sea hoards nothing. Sukrita’s oxymoron poem about the jingle of the mute carries a cavernous message about the act of kindness.

Srila Roy’s Birthday poem stood out for me. It’s subtly penned and you might have to read it a couple of times before the meaning sinks you and brings tears to your eyes. So too Smitha Sehgal’s poem - Hymn to the Enemy - has much to take away and implement from it.

Uma Gowrishankar’s tender ode to the tiny habits that often go unnoticed in our loved ones, Amlanjyoti’s powerful piece on mythology, his reverent psalm for Mother Teresa all enrich this issue with their amazing tonal qualities.

Before I end, I am compelled to quote lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s memorable poem on Kindness by the same name.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

Vinita Agarwal