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I have often thought about whether or not my life has been worth it and meaningful but soon a question comes up. Meaningful to whom?
To me or to others? It is far easier to determine if it has been meaningful to me but then meaningful in what sense? Does it mean that meaningfulness refers only to material wealth or in addition something else? Have I been able to achieve great goals?
Materially I was now comfortable. I provided for the education of the kids and a good new home. I paid for their education abroad and brought them to many countries where they lived or visited. I take care of Jasmine and provide her with the best medical care when she has a problem. I shall leave her with enough money to last her the rest of her life in case I die now so she will never be dependent on anyone.
I have learned very early that there is no greater curse than poverty in anyone’s life. It isolates a person more thoroughly than the most secure jail. Brothers and sisters and relatives avoid such a person. The parents feel let down if you don’t succeed in getting a good job and earn a decent living. Friends become unfriendly and everyone looks down on a failed person.
So having achieved freedom from pecuniary needs has certainly been a blessing for me. But is money everything in life? I had learned although money does not equate happiness, it comes pretty close to it. It allows you to be independent and do things that you want to do. It gives you the freedom to choose.
But having money never really meant a great deal to me. I gave it away when I had little like one time, I gave away my entire savings in Algeria to Nirmal. In Vietnam I shared with others what little I had so having money now does not impress me a great deal. This had caused a lot of misunderstanding between me and my relatives who still think that it is not worth having money if you do not show it . You have to wear fancy clothes and your wife should be loaded with gold jewelry.
But Jasmine and I had chosen a simple lifestyle because we are simple people. We live within our means and do not take credit anywhere. We have taught our children to always save a part of what they earn and never take credit. We are happy being what we are and do not pretend to be someone we are not. We do not attach sentimental value to material things. Jasmine can easily give away her pearl necklace if she wants without thinking twice. I love her generous nature and pure heart. She is my blessing. So, in that sense my life has been meaningful to me.
Spiritually I cannot say that I have been wiser or gained anything. After all these years I have not changed my views on religion that is supposed to lead a person to spirituality. Organized religion has not played any role in my life although I consider myself a Hindu in every sense of the word.
I have always felt that the religion should guide a person to improve himself and give him a sense of direction in life but I never needed to be guided by any ideology or religion because I have a built-in compass in me that has always guided me to take the right road. I have never needed to be persuaded to believe that some things are right, and others are wrong.
It was wrong to cheat, to lie, to steal and to be dishonest and neglectful in duties. It was wrong to be irresponsible, to be insensitive to other’s feelings, to be disrespectful of elders, or other’s culture or traditions. No religion needed to tell me that because these are the basic tenets of the civilized world. You are told about some of these things as soon as you learn to walk and talk. These are the commandments that are common to all organized religions and even primitive societies.
I always knew what to do when the time came and did it without hesitation. I have been no saint and surely, I have had my share of fibbing once in a while but white lies never hurt anyone’s feelings but rather protected it. It was far more humane to tell a person that I was busy and could not see him than to tell him that I disliked him and did not want to see him.
I tried not to be neglectful in my duties to others. But spiritually speaking, I became more cynical than before and started developing a strong dislike for those who for whatever reasons always tended to expound their religious beliefs on others. I had earlier mentioned about the American missionaries who offended me the most but there are many such people everywhere. I had a right to believe or not to believe in anything, so it really was no one’s business.
Jasmine was brought up differently, so her beliefs are strongly guided by the Catholic church, but she is not a fanatic. She agrees that fanaticism is a disease and should always be treated as such.
She respects Hindus and has visited most of the holy shrines in India where she has offered money and prayers. The Swami of Adya Peeth in Kolkata was so impressed by her pure heart that he called her “mother”. I bring her to church every Sunday because it is my duty.
I have always believed that one can serve the humanity by deeds, so it is far more religious to be honest, diligent, respectful, conscientious, humble, truthful, forthright, industrious, prompt, compassionate, kind, gentle, knowledgeable, free from superstitions and blind beliefs. Such a person to me is far more religious than all the Bible thumping people who are mean.
Jasmine is such a person with all the qualities I mentioned. She is a gold mine of such marvelous qualities that are so hard to find in one person.
Now to analyze whether others have been equally satisfied with my life, I have to first consider the Sri Ram Pur folks. It is fair to say that mom was disappointed that I had chosen to marry a foreigner and outside our faith but she more than anyone else had come to appreciate the sterling qualities in Jasmine and she was generally speaking happy that I had succeeded in getting a good education and made a good living. She was the liberal in the family.
But to others I have been a source of embarrassment because they did not like me being a non-conformist and a non-traditionalist. They openly said that someone with my wealth was expected to show it and derided my faded blue denims. Their values collided with me in every turn which made them angry. They believed in show and not substance in a person, but we believed otherwise.
To me the inner qualities of a person were far more important than external show. Our children were simply dressed but had admirable manners. They were also the most generous by nature, a trait they shared with their mom. So, my life has not been very meaningful to my brother and sisters and relatives although they all benefited from our generosity to them.
Now I have to consider if the people I tried to help in so many countries appreciated my efforts and whether my interventions had been meaningful to them. These are the farmers I had worked with. I can proudly say that they all told me at one time or other they benefited from my work with them.
New high yielding crop varieties, new ways to grow them and many such things had been taken up by the farmers. The seed multiplication project in Bruny in Haiti where I got them a brand-new tractor, seeds and a warehouse to store the seeds were appreciated.
It is true that in some countries like Mali and Sudan I was not able to do as much as I wanted due to reasons beyond my control but my time there was not totally wasted. To set up a big project from the scratch and get it going is a challenge in any country but more so in such countries where people put their vested interests first and take advantage.
I do not regret going to those countries but only the missed opportunities there. A plant grows healthy, and blooms one day given the proper environment to grow. Many people gave me that environment in which I grew and showed my potential. I am grateful to them for believing in me. Even the FAO people believed in me.
No one can claim to be self-made. One needs the helping hands to grow. At first those are the hands of loving parents. Later they are the helping hands of people who at every step stand by you and believe in you and in your potential. I was helped by so many people in my life that I cannot express my gratitude to them sufficiently enough. Many are dead now but are lovingly remembered.
My only wish at this point is that our children practice some of the values and become useful in their lives. Perhaps when they read this memoir someday, it will help them in some way understand the human nature better and learn to cope with life better when I am no longer around.
Life can be full of surprises. The charm is in not knowing what the future holds but be prepared for whatever comes. Always try to live a useful life, both to you and to others. My only advice to Ashis, Jayanti and also to Jasmine is as follows: Whatever you do in life, do it well and do it with love. Only then you will begin to enjoy living. Cheers.
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