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Cut the mustard

After a post-lunch walk, I returned to my office with a spring in my steps and a glimmer in my eyes. The experience was surreal, and the moment was perfect to write down a tale of grit and glory.

On this bright sunlit wintry afternoon, I felt as if a tiny part of the sun had descended to the ground to take a stroll and collided with my feet. The yellow mustard plant I had miraculously missed stepping upon had just begun to bloom and was waving at me. Defiant and alive, it was oblivious to the hostile surroundings and managed to sneak past the tiled pathway without being choked by the mortar and cement all around. Unaware of the oddity of its existence and unperturbed by the lack of companionship of its fellow tribesmen, it grinned broadly at the bright red and yellow tiled passage. I, for one, got butterflies in my stomach, excited and amazed at once!

It was a strange bonding at first glance. The naughty mustard plant realised that he held me in awe. Mischief was evident in his gaze as he gleefully danced under the soft sun. His yellow cap moved to and fro as we conversed, “Boy! You look so good! So how’s life?” He replied, “It can’t get better!”

Though my workplace offers various outdoor spaces to engage in pleasant wintry walks, the backyard is my favourite haunt. For one, it is shady, so I can avoid getting a tan. For two, just a fortnight ago, I fell in love with this pretty little thing that survived the blows of stomping footsteps. While construction activity was in full swing in this part of the campus and interlocking tiles were being laid rigorously, I had my secret society with this lively being determined to experience life to the full. I clicked a picture to post on Facebook with the caption, “Grit and determination to survive where life rarely blossoms.”

Each day after this, subsequent photos of the mustard sapling blossomed in my phone gallery. I was curious to record its growth. There was an array of wholesome and healthy plants just where the pavement ended, but I had little interest in them. Even at home, I just took a casual look at the sunflowers growing wildly tall and handsome. The gardener had been fussing over them and doling out manure and food, so I was sure they would bloom in full glory.

But the attention garnered by this little darling mustard plant was incomparable. “The sunflowers are being pampered all the time and ought to flourish,” I reasoned. But this forgotten tiny plant rushing out from the mortared gaps is a joy to behold! Isn’t the unexpected, unfathomed more intriguing and joyful? It’s like quenching thirst with water from an oasis, discovering Mowgli in the wilderness, Cinderella finding the Prince.

I remember the life of José Salvador Alvarenga, a Salvadoran fisherman who spent 13 months adrift at sea. The first person in recorded history to have survived on a small boat at sea for more than a year, Jose is an example of hope where there can be none. J.K. Rowling, the beloved writer of our times and responsible for making Harry Potter a household name, was a single mother battling depression and struggling to pay her rent. In this vast world of accolades, those who rise despite oddities and hopelessness are the real heroes. It’s they who bring faith, cheer, and meaning to the otherwise mundane and quizzical existence.

The walk was succour. I was busy contemplating the survival strategy of my little hero. He was a tiny seed that must have travelled along with the winds and planted itself firmly the moment he was dropped. An unexpected child sans love, sans nurture. So, it took charge of its destiny. Tiny petals huddled close to each other as if providing peer support and assistance. The entire plant was nearly five inches tall and still growing.

Much of what we see and hear around us creates bubbles of doubts, sorrows, and misgivings, so much so that towards the end of life, we are posed with more questions than answers. The pinnacle of spirituality and knowledge acquired with years of penance by the human civilisation was being offered free by this bundle of joy and innocence. I could see that survival for him was not easy, yet his movements were effortless and relaxed. He just seemed to enjoy his day, making the most of his resources, regardless of what the coming dawn may offer. That day I realised it is so essential to feeling alive in all the years before death knocks out the air within.

This saga lives to invoke hope in the lives of innumerable men, women, youth, and children who, at any point of their lives, have contemplated suicide. The overbearing world weighs us down, and we surrender without resistance. According to World Health Organization, nearly 8,00,000 people die from suicide every year, one person every 40 seconds!

Suicide attempts are a cry for help, a way to demonstrate to the world how hurtful it is. Sadly, these cries for help most of the time prove to be fatal. The lethality with which a person attacks his being is scary and scarring. The moment I saw the mustard bloom from unexpected quarters, I was reminded of horrific suicide stories. I wish I could have brought them out for a stroll and introduced them to this daring survivor.

Ten days passed swiftly, and on the 11th, I saw that the green stalk existed, but the flower was gone. I felt a pang, skipped a beat, and started feeling lost. The flowerless plant was still shaking gently to the tunes of the wind. The lost flowers seemed to say, “Well, just because you miss my blissful companionship, you decided to embrace sorrow? You are so typical. Just because you have fallen into a routine of chatting with me, walking back and forth the same track every day, you desire a permanent association. Can you differentiate between love and possession? You can continue to love me with the same enthusiasm long after I am gone, but you will be lost in sorrow if you attach yourself and wish permanence in our relationship.”

And this saga is for those lovely people out there who have lost their dear ones to death. A simple story cannot mitigate the loss of someone dear, but it can definitely make us cherish the love that existed.

As I write this, the memory of the mustard flower’s yellow earthy blush teases me and brushes past my eyes. I cup the yellow petals and feel a strange vibrancy and joy.

alka28jain@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 11:54:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/cut-the-mustard/article34004608.ece

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