I had always been moved by the plight of a shabbily clad limping man who worked as a maali in my neibhourhood. Though not a trained gardener, he could be seen wielding his khurpi (trowel), working in lawns and tending to flower beds in the locality.
However; after lockdown was imposed, I did not see him for months together. It was only recently, when I was walking down to a park nearby that I saw him working in a neighbour’s lawn. I stopped to have a small talk with him and learnt that the poor fellow lost his livelihood during the lockdown and had to return to his village.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has been a big blow to everyone, but workers in the informal sector have been among the worst affected. Strict lockdown restrictions have gone but not the pandemic. Ordeal of the part-time workers continues as they have not been able to regain all their work.
With honest curiosity and pure intention to help the poor man, I asked him if his earning was sufficient to meet his expenses. His composure surprised me as he raised his five fingers to suggest he was able to make five thousand rupees. He looked content, but I felt distressed. I wondered how he was managing with his meager earnings. After all there was rent to pay, money to be transferred to his folks in the village. “What about your food expenses.” I asked with genuine concern. His answer left me completely stumped. With a glee apparent on his face, he shared his secret: three food packets comprising chapattis, pickle and a seasonal vegetable to serve him for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Rs 10 per meal.
While I applauded the noble effort of Chandigarh Administration and Red Cross Society in providing hygienically cooked nutritious meals at affordable, subsidized rates to the poor and needy, I could not help being amazed at the contentment of the poor man. The satisfaction that I saw on the face of the man in getting just two (nay three) squares a meal, reminded me of a proverb from Judaism: all the days of poor person are wretched but contentment is a feast without end. And actually, I realized a simple meal was no less than a treat for the poor fellow.
Introspecting, I realized how we keep hankering after more and more riches and acquisitions yet remain disgruntled. And here was a man who had absolutely nothing, no possessions worth the name but for a rickety cycle, yet he was so content. Without any trace of envy, jealousy, ambition or greed, he was calmly confronting hardships of life.
Look at the irony: I stopped to extend help to the poor man; never knew I would be the one receiving from him- a lesson in contentment. The serenity on his face, despite his physical and economic challenges, was enough to remind me of the virtue of ‘santosh dhan’- contentment is wealth, an asset in itself.
What better way to end the piece than in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”
(Published in Hindustan Times, Sunday Read on March 28, 2021)