Harmony and non-violence are not just empty words; they are the fabric of many real lives.
For over a year now, we have been exploring different ways in which we can live an ahimsa life. Recently, my brother Ramesh died suddenly. As we reeled with the initial shock and pain, I realised that death — whether through war, violence, sickness or just suddenly — is a final act of himsa. Himsa shatters and destroys lives and causes much suffering. Ahimsa restores and reinforces life…always.
Ramesh ran a small restaurant named ‘Amala's', after my mother. He came to India after living in England to be near his family. After struggling with language, customs and culture he settled down to making his own brand of burgers and pasta in Vellore.
Lessons in courtesy
His main customers were students from the Vellore Institute of Technology. Ramesh soon realised that these boys and girls did not need just good food but also warmth and affection and someone to listen to their problems. He became “uncle” to them.
Many came from wealthy families and were used to being served at home. Initially he was shocked at how some youngsters treated his staff rudely. He scolded anyone who called his staff “oy”. His regulars soon learnt everyone's name and began saying ‘thank you' and ‘goodbye'.
On one visit to Amala's, I saw a group of street kids happily munching chicken burgers and French fries. These too were his regulars, as were a group of old people whose families refused to look after them. Sometimes the rich ones had to wait while these kids were fed.
Our scriptures teach us to treat the poor, needy and vulnerable with respect and generosity. The ahimsa way begins not just with respecting the other, but also by acknowledging that the other may be more disadvantaged than you and that they too have the right to a good life and the good things in life.
He had problems with his staff. He fired one boy who stole. I knew that he had been very angry, as he had specially trained the boy with his secret recipes. I was surprised to see that boy at Ramesh's funeral. A few days later he came to see me. “Uncle fired me because I did something wrong. A few months ago, he heard that I had started a shop of my own selling the burgers he taught me to make. He wished me good luck and said, ‘Come to me when you are free and I will teach you to make some new things. You can't make much money selling only burgers. He taught me more than just to make burgers.”
Ramesh and many like him show that the ahimsa life, though difficult, is possible and is the way to lasting peace and harmony both for ourselves and others.
One of the great himsa behaviours of our times is blatant dishonesty. Ramesh got fed up with students asking him for change for bottles of juice.
So he asked them to take their drinks from the fridge and leave the money in a bottle. I was aghast. But, almost always, the amount was correct.
The ahimsa way is one where we bring out the best in others and encourage them to be true to themselves, however difficult that may be.
A simple life
Simplicity is a hallmark of the ahimsa life. There was a time when Ramesh owned a flashy Jaguar and a big house in the rolling Sussex Downs. He gave it all up for a simple lifestyle. All that he had were his music, his books and a few clothes. As I gathered his belongings, I could not believe how simply he lived. His door was always open. “There's nothing to steal,” he would joke.
The pain of sudden loss and the grief of losing a beloved younger brother are soul-destroying. Death has not succeeded because the ahimsa life he left behind is still alive and so much stronger and influencing many others to be like him. Although at times it may seem that violence wins, I would like to say that peace, harmony and ahimsa are not just empty words; they are the fabric of so many real people's lives. We can honour these lives by living the way they did and truly believing in the ahimsa way ourselves.
If you believe in an ahimsa way of life and wish to share your story, email@example.com or visit www.ushajesudasan.com