I paused in the street for a few seconds on my return from another college drop-off.
The lady who sweeps and cleans the streets was working in front of our drive. Just as she does every day, for the last 3 years.
She glanced up. Noticed my car. Hurried up a little.
I waited until she was finished. Opened the gate. Drove in and parked.
We didn’t acknowledge each other. Not even a smile or nod.
A nebulous socio-economic divide insulates ‘classes’ of people almost completely from each other, more so in my country than others. Apart from transactional interactions, ne’er the ‘twain shall meet.
Yet natural disaster has an equalizing effect.
It rips asunder this false shell to expose – and connect – the human heart that beats under us all.
Unites us in an all-encompassing embrace.
When a terrible storm flooded our city for a fortnight some years ago, this same lady and I had a lengthy conversation about the damage in the area where she lived.
She shared horror stories of shanty towns washed away in the deluge. Of families who lost everything. And of being rescued by lifeboats.
For a few precious moments, we connected – as fellow sufferers of an act of Nature, as co-passengers on the journey of life, as human beings.
And I wonder… why is this connection so rare?
I ask myself:
Should it need a disaster to make us recognize our mortality and connectedness?
P.S.: On December 8th, 2015, I had posted this after chatting with her:
“The lady who sweeps the roads had her colony submerged in Vadapalani. Relief workers provide food that is meager in quantity. Only yesterday, she got a tasty plate of biryani. All her clothes are wet and unwearable. No place to cook, even if she had rice and pulses. And the mosquito menace is intolerable. Just a conversation, lasting 5 minutes, threw up these priorities – clothing, food, mosquito repellant, cleaning up houses. Go out and TALK to people. See what they need. Then do what you can to help. #ChennaiSpirit”