Every so often though, I am reminded of one of its songs. I play it on a loop a few times and let the lilting music soothe me. While the song plays, without being conscious of it, I absorb something more from the video- something too subtle to put into words. Here’s the song:
I must have been a tiny tot when I saw the movie. It is strange how deep an impact the movie made on me though I hardly remember it. Apart from the song, there is just one other scene I remember as vividly as if I saw the movie yesterday.
Simi Grewal lies exhausted after giving birth to her child all by herself. She hears someone trying to break into her house. She takes up her husband’s sword to fight the man even though she is weak as a cat. The man is forced to flee, shocked by the ferocity of the unexpected attack.
I don’t remember who the man was, or how she came to be all alone. I do vaguely recall that the time was afternoon, with scorching, dusty winds blowing and that the village was deserted. Why it was deserted, I have no idea. Perhaps because of the drought.
The movie has been filed away in my memory as a glowing example of the grit and determination of my resource-strapped country as she struggled, not only to survive but to thrive. Three centuries of colonial rule had bled her dry her of wealth- material as well as of spirit. But something in her doggedly refused to succumb. She was determined to rise- come what may.
I cannot imagine the hardihood of that generation, especially of the women. With so little to celebrate, they yet managed to sing happily as the trudged over twenty miles of burning sand dunes, balancing five to seven pots one on top of the other, to fetch water for their families. And this is not all they did. The water fetching was just a small part of their everyday duties.
Before you jump down my throat for taking a movie as an example of real life, let me remind you that in 1971, when this movie was released, the women of Rajasthan did fetch water exactly as is shown in the movie. Their lives were every bit as hard; their spirit every bit as buoyant.
There are isolated pockets all over India, even today, where life continues to be difficult. When a failed monsoon creates drought-like situations, life must again turn into a devastating challenge. The tenacity and heroic fortitude of people, must then, rise to the fore and help pull them out of the abyss.
This song always makes me wonder: have we got too comfortable? Has the lack of hardships diluted our ability to stand steadfast and persevere? Has material ease sapped our gumption?
If you would see a man’s heart, knock him down. Then observe how he rises. If you would see his soul, do it a thousand times more.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating physical and existential hardships of the same level as those depicted in the movie. That would be rather too drastic. I doubt if any of us have the hardihood to survive even a week of that life.
Having said that, I must confess I am dismayed at the ease with which people get overwhelmed nowadays. A very sad incident comes to mind to demonstrate what I mean.
A couple of years ago, we were shocked to learn that a neighbor’s seventeen-year-old son had committed suicide. The reason couldn’t have been flimsier.
It turns out that the boy had demanded a new smartphone of his father. The boy had lost his third phone in less than a year. All his phones had been high-end smartphones. The father was deeply annoyed to see that instead of feeling sorry for his carelessness, the boy demanded another phone with absolute confidence. There was not a trace of contrition in his demeanor. He had in fact, taken it for granted that he would not only not be scolded but a new phone would be given him just for the asking. Obviously, the father refused.
The boy threw a tantrum. Apparently, he had boasted to his friends that they would see him with an iPhone on the morrow. When he forwarded this idiocy as an argument to convince his father, the father dug his heels in, little suspecting what lay ahead. The child was too fragile to withstand even a stiff breeze, let alone a storm. He broke.
His parents sold their house and disappeared from the neighborhood after his demise. The boy’s inability to handle a minor bump on the road wiped out the entire family.
There are men who become impatient and angry at the least discomfort when their habits are incommoded. In their idea of the next world they probably conjure up the ghosts of their slippers and dressing-gowns, and expect the latchkey that opens their lodging-house door on earth to fit their front door in the other world. As travelers they are a failure; for they have grown too accustomed to their mental easy-chairs, and in their intellectual nature love home comforts, which are of local make, more than the realities of life, which, like earth itself, are full of ups and downs, yet are one in their rounded completeness.
The challenges of our world do not compare to those faced by people of the last generation. We have immense resources to let us live in comfort and luxury. If we do occasionally suffer a lack of basic amenities, we know that the shortage is temporary. And yet, even a temporary inconvenience is enough to derail people totally.
I do not claim that there is a weakening of gumption across the entire human spectrum. That would hardly be accurate. The other end of the spectrum is not numerous, however, it does exist. They make up in quality what they lack in quantity. The giants of spirit who demonstrate tenacity and fortitude might be few and far in between. To them, then, falls the task of making up for those of poor gumption. The majority, meanwhile, sit on their precarious pedestals and play the victim.
Surely you too know people who are convinced that their life is not worth living if they don’t get the promotion they were expecting? Or because some ill-mannered lout was rude to them? Or because something did not work out exactly as they had hoped planned?
You must surely have met people you’ve wanted to hold by the shoulders, give them a sound shake, to ask them what their angst was all about and to tell them to grow (the hell) up! Their devastation threshold is awfully low. You can always depend on them to come undone at the drop of a hat. Then someone has to rush and pick up all the mess they leave as they lurch drunkenly through the velvet-lined corridors of their life.
You wonder why the Age of Gumption died- and what killed it.
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