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During the first weekend of May, I visited an annual book fair. Being a bibliophile, I wait for this event just the way other people wait for festive sales on online sites or supermarkets/malls etc. I bought 11 books from the fair; ten of which were written by
Alexander McCall Smith. I had read his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years ago and had instantly liked it for its witty and original treatment. So, when all these books belonging to the same series were available at reasonable rates, I quickly bought them all. The eleventh book was Les Misérables.
The same day I made the purchase, I had an opportunity to chit-chat with two elderly gentlemen. They were childhoods friend now settled in different cities. They were catching up with other. I interrupted them by showing them my new books as I share my love for books with one of them. At that moment, the other said, ‘you are lucky you can buy books for reading pleasure. It was difficult for us to buy books for studies. We had to share our study books between four.’ He went on further by relating an incident in which he had went to his friends’ place at 1 O’clock in the night to pass on the book because it was exam the next day. And his friend had not yet prepared.
Now, book-buying is very important ritual for me. I value my purchases and treat them with utmost respect. But I never knew such a Big Blessing it was! I had to imagine what it meant to be unable to buy a personal copy of syllabus books and sharing them with four others. Students these days have two sets of books; one for their school and one for home. Can they ever understand the privilege they are having? I am a member of many libraries (different libraries for different purposes) situated in Ahmedabad. And yet I buy books whenever I want. But I have met and conversed with many people who fondly remember the library they have been utilising in their youth as the only source of books. Will I understand the privilege of owing so many library cards?
The university from where I am pursuing my doctoral degree is situated in Rajasthan. Climate of Rajasthan, is generally arid or semi-arid and features fairly hot temperatures over the year with extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. Major parts of this state face water scarcity. The area in which my university is situated, has salty ground water. So, those who are not local and accustomed cannot drink it. Thus, the entire campus is supplied with refined water in containers. So while I stay on the campus, I fill my water supply of the day at a senior’s place who lives on the campus. On one fine day I had filled enough water that would last for the day. When I was visiting my senior in the evening, I found out that there not a single glass of water left in the house!
She had happily filled my bottles in morning without letting me know that her supply had not yet arrived! It was due. But somehow it was not made available. At 9pm that day three of us; me, my senior and her daughter went out in the search for water. This campus was equipped with electricity, wi-fi etc. and yet water was scarce! When am I going to realise the value of pure drinking water available 24-hours through a tap in my city? After that night, it breaks my heart to see people letting the drinking water flow away from taps and wasting it all the time.
A year and a half ago, I had been on a month long camping tour. That tour taught me the lesson of valuing water for other purposes. At every step, the water was limited. It has to be filled in a bucket or a tumbler and used. There was no running water. So each drop counted. When the tour ended, and I was back to brick built structures, I froze when I saw a bucket filled by running water and not fetched. My hands trembled to touch such a privilege to have enough water. From then on, I never find the scene of ladies walking to and from water reservoirs with pots on their heads artistic. They are the symbol of scarcity. And yet, humans have found a way to celebrate moments in adversities. There are panihari songs!
Just like these books and water, they are innumerable blessings we are bestowed with. But we never realise them until we come across a situation in which they are absent. The safe environment, the freedom, enough resources, friendly society, family, friends, emotional support, financial security; the list is endless.
If I’d become more sensitive to feel the extreme difficulties people in different corners of this world are facing, then probable I wouldn’t have to wait for other such incidents to make me realise that treasure of gold and diamonds that I own.