When I was young, I remember my grandfather frequently saying, either sardonically or with genuine gratitude, “Thank god for small mercies”. It’s a phrase and habit that I’ve inherited from him without much conscious thought, although I admit, given my more caustic tongue, that I say it acerbically far more often than I do with thankfulness. But if you think about it, you’ll see that it really IS the small things that make or break our lives. The gentle, reassuring touch, the quick happy smile, the little kindnesses. Or the straws that apparently break camels’ backs in deserty parts.
The secret to serenity lies, at least in small part, in realising this.
My dear friend D, who is something of an urban philosopher and a skylines’ poet, tells me every now and then he loves me dearly. Perhaps he does, but it isn’t a patch on the love I feel for him. This, below, is why. That boy spreads joy wherever he goes. It’s a habit we could all do with a little more of.
In the DLF Place Mall at Saket, New Delhi, there is this restaurant which calls itself Yo! China Cafe. They know exactly what they are doing with food.
I recommend the sliced pork in chilli wine with steamed rice.
I went dining there some time back with a friend of mine, and I discovered the place by accident, without plan- as one tends to discover the best things in life. Of course, I had walked by that place possibly tens of times without considering actually stepping in— the tasteful clean-lines decor looking prohibitively expensive, and the wacky name not entirely communicating what was on offer. The menu is limited, but if our dinner was any indication, the food is made with great care and precision.
The reason I bring this up is because the food was so lovely, I made it a point to write a brief note, bordering on poetry, for the chef, on the back of our bill. I do not remember exactly how it went, but it began with “Dear Chef” and ended in a “Thank you.” Both salutations were sincere.
The chef, an evidently Chinese man, took some time to absorb the fact that there was practically a love-letter directed to him by two strangers, and then read the note slowly, word by word, from looking at his eyes. A second or two later, I think as the event slowly settled in, I saw the man’s eyes light up like the sea under the setting sun. The smile spread to his lips, and broadened into a grin, uncertain at first, but absolute by the time I waved him goodbye.
In this world, it may be entirely possible that he has fed thousands of hungry mouths. He has slaved and toiled in the kitchen— yes, I agree he’s paid to do it, it’s his job— but don’t we all get paid for something or the other, in the end?— but it may also be possible that no one has ever stopped by to write him poetry. To have that silent moment of admission.
Why did I, then? Yes, it was a nice gesture, but more importantly, it is in this light, it is in this unspoken love, in the currency of small exchanges, of unsaid kindnesses that I thrive. That we all thrive.
If my life is my instrument, that is one of the notes I play.