On our way back from morning walks, my daughter I stop for a tender coconut at a regular roadside vendor. The owner with graying beard and balding head is graceful and full of life. Noticing us from far, he would select a coconut that is tender to our taste and would ready it for drinking without waiting for us to order. He has some pleasantries to exchange and occasional woes to share. His gait is full of energy and zeal, he is fresh and happy in the morning. It is a work of art when he chops the coconut with his sharp and heavy sickle. An interaction with him is more than business.
When his wife fell ill, he assigned the responsibility of the shop to his teenage son. The son with sleepy eyes drags himself near his wares when a customer stands in front of the heap of fresh tender coconut and calls out the boy. He is clearly not enjoying what he is doing. If an odd customer tries to strike a conversation, the boy ignores. When paid for the purchase, he takes the cash mechanically and stuffs in the box, gives out change without caring for an eye contact. “Life is not fair” is written large on his face and expressed in his actions.
About ten years ago I was trying to raise a neem plant outside my house. Passersby would pluck its tender leaves to chew and break small branches to clean their teeth; the plant would not survive long. After planting yet another, I requested an old couple who worked as casual labourers to build a fence around the plant. The man was giving finishing touches to the task. His wife came with a bowl of soft soil and poured around the base of the plant – but no, it fell on the baldy and profusely sweating head of her husband! The soil stuck on his pate and face – all muddy. The man gazed at his wife for a moment and laughed aloud like a child. The scene was uniquely wonderful. What I expected was anger from the tired man. But, he had enjoyed working on the fence, loved his work and loved his wife.
How can we love our family and friends if we do not love our work?
When I meet school students, some are already tired and bored in the forenoon. I suspect that parents and teachers have a role in rubbing this feeling on the children. There is no reason when an elderly casual labourer can be child like why children need to look resigned and spent.
A person working in a large organisation told me, “office is a torture” in the presence of his wife and son. Asked to elaborate why it was so, he did not find it worth the discussion and changed the subject. A large part of the population considers whatever it does to be unpleasant and unavoidable – something thrust on them. If what we do during the major part of our waking hours does not have meaning for us, does not give us joy, how can we be happy?
If we seek, there is meaning in whatever we do.
I remember a dialogue from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig:
“After a while Sylvia sits down on the wooden picnic bench and straightens out her legs, lifting one a time slowly without looking up. Long silences mean gloom for her, and I commented on it. She looks up and looks down again.
“It was all those people in the cars coming the other way,” she says, “The first one looked so sad. And the next one looked exactly the same way, and then the next one and the next one, they were all the same.”
“They were just coming to work.”
She perceives well but there was nothing unnatural about it. “Well, you know, work,” I repeat. “Monday morning. Half asleep. Who goes to work Monday morning with a grin?”
“It’s just that they looked so lost,” she says, “Like they were all dead. Like a funeral procession.” Then she put both feet down and leaves them there.
I see what she is saying, but logically it doesn’t go anywhere. You work to live and that’s what they are doing.”