Billions of years ago, life started from nothingness. A tiny spark, a chemical reaction between otherwise dormant atoms and molecules, and the chain of events took off. Can you imagine this sudden birth of conscience among the huge darkness where stars are born and destroyed? This speck of a planet, the third rock from the sun is so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, the grandeur that is the universe itself, that as a species, our lives seem to not matter.
But most of us are blessed enough to not think about these things at a cosmic scale. We are content with our lives, the picture that we and others draw around us. A lot of memories shape our future; and we select the significant ones like trophies and polish them and preserve them in nice showcases. I remember the first time me and my dad went out to buy a showcase for our house. It was the biggest thing after our almirah, and when we bought it I was overwhelmed with the thought of how many things we could put in there. Years later, the showcase is still there, with its top now adorned with clay statues of deities, a defunct tape recorder, dad’s things – its internals filled to the brim with books and diaries and toys and me and my sister’s accolades. Cleaning it is always fun, because you never know what you may find in that mess. A forgotten memory suddenly comes into significance.
I remember train stations and the hullabaloo associated with it. Generally, in India, train stations are surrounded with a thriving market, possibly the biggest in that town or that village. Since most people travel by train, it makes obvious choice as a center of business. From a full-fledged vegetables and meat/fish market to clothes, shoes and food, the sprawling shops offer things at cut-rate prices. The town where I grew up in had this remarkable transition in front of my eyes. It had, and still has a big nursery right next to the station, where I used to wait for my mom as she traveled back from the city after a day’s work. Usually I would be with my grandfather who used to go for an evening stroll to buy flowers for the next day’s Pooja. On Saturdays, my dad would bring me and my sister in; that was a great thing for the both of us. Then there was this big shop that used to sell tea and fried kachories, right next to the little shack that used to stock on magazines and comics – a treasure trove for me. Coming out of the station, there was a temple that used to be filled with devotees every Saturday, and beside that were two shops selling delicious parathas, ending the trail with a flower shop and a shop that sold sweets.
Then on the other end of the platform, the slender roads by the railroad tracks were flanked on one side by an array of shops, mostly selling clothes and shoes at throwaway prices. That ended in the level crossing with a few tea shops and fast food joints. This concoction made sure that the roads were always crowded, and on festive seasons it was impossible to get past.
Insignificant memories play a big role in our lives. We often don’t consider them to be part of the picture, but when is a picture complete without a background? Remembering my childhood days spent in my town, every station had a different market, a different set of shops – a different background. The town where I used to travel to for my school for twelve years had quite a big fish and vegetables market. Me and my dad used to go there often after my tuition, just before catching the train back home. My college town had two big shopping malls by it (big by town standards), and often me and my friends went to the top floor restaurant of one of the malls – with as little has fifty rupees (less than a dollar) in our pockets and then make calculations about what to order in that limited budget. Years later, that still amuses me. But that’s the best thing about insignificant memories – they are never alone. One memory leads to another, just like a painter brushes the background with a myriad colors.
I started this note on life. The millions of animals and plants and bacteria and whatnots that have lived and continue to live are each bearing the same signs of consciousness that we have within us. Call it a cosmic consciousness, call it stardust – it is there. That is what connects us all. And everyone doesn’t need to be the center of the universe. The universe is within us, in its entirety. The particles that make comets and nebula and stars are the ones that evoke feelings in us, make us write long posts like these on a very cold day. Our memories are little paintings that we put on shelves, with characters and backgrounds : a full picture. Assimilating that grand idea takes time, but when you finally realize it, it is marvelous.
So here I was, having my dinner really late in Waffle House, looking at the still working crowd and thinking about how life treats each one of us differently, and in came a person in his forties. He made everybody smile, because everybody knew him. I didn’t. Then he approached the jukebox, and put on a song.
That put a smile on my face. Louis Armstrong sure knew how to touch a heartstring.
It’s a wonderful world.