Light and Shade

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What is light? As I lay on my bed turning the pages of my physics book, a decade back, I read the well-known definition of light. It defined light, but if I closed my eyes and pretended that I didn’t know what light was, the definition didn’t matter to me anymore. So now, when I walk the streets and wear a sunglass protecting my eyes from the ‘light’ of the sun, it seemed to me one day, did I really find my answer to the question” What is light?” With years comes experience and with experience comes perspective, with perspective comes maturity and we gradually grow until one day someone suddenly pauses and looks back. Suddenly it seems to be a necessity to bring out the unanswered questions from the dusty old memories and answer them, now that we are all grown up.

But when I tried to search for an answer to my question, it confused me. Light is what dark is not. There was a blind beggar in our neighborhood where we used to live as a child in India. He used to sing songs of Gods and Goddesses, some he made himself, some from folklore. He had a beautiful voice. I saw him in his mid-sixties always wearing the same humble clothes that people gave him, always singing. I never saw him beg though. He sat under the huge banyan tree in a nearby Shiva Temple and sang hymns of the God. Sometimes I saw him chat with the elderly, who came to visit the temple every evening with their playful grandchildren. There used to be coins scattered around him, given by those who came there, sometimes there were sweets given by the temple. He used to sit in the same position whenever I saw him, the left leg folded and the right knee pressed against his breast.

I didn’t know whether he was blind from birth or not. What made me wonder was whether he knew what it was to be on the other side of his blindness. One day when I was coming down the stairs of the temple, I heard him speak to one of the devotees. I didn’t hear, what he was asked, though I heard what he was saying. He was saying, “I don’t need eyes to see the light babu* , it is inside my darkness. There is light all around me, I know and that makes me happy, that makes my blindness go away.” I paused for a moment to hear him speak and without much thought hurried back home. I forgot that incident right away. It stayed in me somehow though.(*Indian wordA respectful title or form of address for a man, especially an educated one.)

Sometimes when I walk the streets now, I remember the words of that old beggar I heard as a child and I just keep wondering. It makes me thoughtful, how, a person who is denied the sight of the world outside, who can never see the sunrise or the sunset, the rain, the spring-bloom, the sight of people around, how can he feel happiness? Every little thing that we often take for granted are the things that he could never see, still content, still smiling, still singing.