Joanna Lawson: Poor taught me not to pity but to act

26 Mar 2008

By The Record

Mumbai has seen a lot of change over the last decade, and it is only as you prepare to leave this city that it strikes you: “it will be different here next time”.

The times I said “there are too many cars here”, or felt rising incredulity as a person stood and watched while their dog relieved itself on someone’s driveway, fade away when you’re preparing your departure.
Though I might have problems with city life, especially in this super sized berg of exaggerations, I always feel somewhat torn away when I leave.
It is more of the fact that my feet will no longer tread on Indian soil that causes the problems. I have been infected: not with “Delhi belly” or other ailments that Westerners seem to think will inevitably befall them, but with an affection that appears to have invaded me to a cellular level.
There are so many lessons still to be learned here, and the people I have met along the way probably have not realised that from their place in the margins, they have made admirable teachers.
The poor taught me not to pity, but to act, and to laugh while I am doing it. They show me, beyond a doubt, that it is not possessing but loving that creates true joy in the human heart. Neither they nor us take anything with us when we go, we only leave things behind.
My disabled friends in Kanniyakumari showed me that simplicity leaves time and space for people, and it is there we can make relationships that are worthy of our call to true communion, the way God intended. They show love unashamedly and want nothing more than love in return.
The animals showed me to be happy with what I have and to make the most of what you are given. Looking at a street dog curled up in small bed dug out of a warm patch of grit is more of a lesson in resourcefulness than any home economics class I ever attended. Sleeping there by the side of the road, balled up, tail over snout – no blaring horns or loud chatter of pedestrians could disturb their bliss of a good sleep!
And aside from these are the memories of just simply having a high old time. Where else can you pop your head out of your window to investigate the source of cymbals crashing, bands playing and other sounds of revelry, only to see it is a wedding celebration, and then run out to join in and be welcomed to the party?
Time marches on, and little by little the landscape drops pieces of this picture. Perhaps next time there will be no street dogs. Perhaps the Indian government will have erected housing and the slums will have gone. Anything is possible, especially in India.
So I will take these tidbits of lessons and guard them. I hope they stay with me when I return to Australia, and all of a sudden have a machine to cut vegetables for me, another to mix bread dough for me, and for some reason (long forgotten), another to walk with. There is, I am sure a machine for every job known to man!
But I have learned to love  independence, people and experiences that just come with being alive, and I thank the country that I (partly) belong to, Mother India for having me back time and time again so I can remain her student.
Read Joanna’s Blog on the internet at