Once upon a time, all mankind looked alike. We were little then, when we knew this. We drew stick figures with circles for heads and straight lines angling into bodies, arms and legs – usually a family of four and always in a ‘Hurrah!’ position. As grown-ups, we have not just lost our talent at drawing but also forgotten what we knew once, that we are one big family walking this earth without drawing borders of difference, of any kind.
I took this picture some years ago in Jew Street, Cochin. After unabashedly following these two happily chattering ladies, I finally got an opportunity to go click. And here it is today, standing for a lot many things. Whether the younger of the two is the old lady’s house help, nurse, friend or just a stranger helping her to the other end of the market I know not. What I do see is that in the second that my point-and-shoot caught these two, they were sharing a moment that cut across borders of race, colour, caste, age, class and a handful of -isms thrown in.
If you were to sit and make as many number of labelled boxes on a piece of paper as the points that differentiate you from say your neighbour, chances are it’ll look like a big shoe store stacked full. That many boxes of distinction and that much self shoe-boxing! We have names pointing to our religion and surnames defining us as from a certain caste – high or low or not worth mention even. We have our class stamped all over us, in our clothes and on the cars we drive, or on the cars and the clothes we will never ever afford. There are some of us eating plants only and others eating animals as well, and still others eating animals we only want to look at in zoos or keep as pets. Some of us are women, others men. And then there are a host of defining hues – black, brown, white, blonde, brunette, red and so on, and accents and stations in life and sexual orientation and geography and creed. And I’m tired!
And I’m glad some others are getting tired too!
I love this picture because it shows me a definition of ‘Possible’ on days when I feel I carry more public labels than I carry the Me that I really am. The picture speaks to me and says - it is possible to dissolve man-made walls of defining and become one with the other colours on the palette of life. It is possible to not just live for the difference in sameness but the sameness in difference too. Uniqueness is perhaps not what makes you different from the other. Uniqueness is perhaps in understanding that difference and yet looking for and respecting the stream of commonality running beneath us all, a commonality simply based on being human. In that moment of recognition, you will be one out of the two people in this picture – truly standing out in the crowd, and really happily so, while those around you merge into a sea of life and living based on shadow lines of difference not worth capturing!
Just a thought.
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