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  Opinion   Columnists  08 Apr 2023  Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How to leave home a cynic and return an optimist

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How to leave home a cynic and return an optimist

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, novelist, columnist and screenwriter
Published : Apr 9, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Apr 9, 2023, 12:00 am IST

Buck up. We have a world to save


People walk for health. People walk to relax. My walks, alas, are battles, with me playing patient mediator between two equally stubborn tenants of my head: the cynic and the optimist.

Yesterday, as I walked briskly along my still humanly bearable neighbourhood, a man nearly ran over me. Walking. As I jumped out of his way, I caught a glimpse of his set face – rimless glasses, furrow lines on his brow converging to a point just above where his nose began, and a mouth that looked like it was allergic to laughter.

And — pa-ting — a date popped into my head. 27th June, 1996. Sorry, but that’s how the cynic fellow in my head operates. He throws misanthropic cartoon thought-bubbles above the faces of strangers, passers-by and acquaintances, giving me a short, comprehensively reductive bio of that person.

With regard to this reckless stroller, it was a date. After the near-hit (or is it near-miss, I never know), I found myself in the man’s wake. He walked rapidly, neither his belly nor the profoundly deep wedgie of his branded shorts hindering his velocity or single-mindedness in the least.

Abruptly, the man came to a screeching halt at a street corner. To begin a high-speed prayer to a god who rules street corners. During the course of his tatkal devotion, I managed to overtake the man. But not for long. A minute later, instant invocation done, the man zipped past me like my uncle Avadhani at a buffet, to favour me with yet another fast-receding view of his polyester wedgie as I trembled like a leaf in his contrail.

Again without notice, the man came to another screeching halt. To get into a parked car and whip out his ringing phone simultaneously. As I passed him, I resisted the temptation to enquire whether it was the neighbourhood god he had just cold-called apologetically returning his call. It wasn’t. Because the man was telling whoever was at the other end that he would like coconut chutney with his dosa, not tomato!

27th June, 1996. Going by the pop-up graphic proffered by Resident Cynic, that’s the date this gentleman stopped allowing music, literature, reason or puppies to interfere with his life. In short, the day he decided to stop evolving.

At parties, on street corners, in hospitals, pubs and crematoriums, Cynic works overtime, supplying me indefatigably with dates, captions, taglines, short bios, all with apparently the same message: not much hope left for this world.

As the man zoomed off, to go home and berate whoever wasn’t making his dosa exactly so, I turned a corner. I mean that literally. I turned into a street that was at right angles to the one I’d been walking on. And what I’d been seeing without registering the last three days caught my eye: a small stick leaning against a tree. 

It was a piece left over from some carpenterial job, perhaps, or an electrical reaper that had come undone, and found its way, as it always does, into the hands of an enterprising kid. (Or so I told myself.) And had ended up resting against a tree trunk because, well, kids. 

Finding the flimsy thing steadfast for three full days, seemingly immune to the elements, a thought struck me. What if it wasn’t just an abandoned plaything, its current position against the tree not just a random occurrence? What if it was entirely intentional? And what if it was the other way round? What if it was the tree that was leaning on the stick? What if the kid who’d done this was the only one who realized that the big, strong, unshakeable neem was tired, couldn’t do it all on its own any more, and needed support? 

That made me wonder some more.

What if, in fact, the balance of the entire world depended on that little stick put there by a thoughtful kid to support the tree, the roots of which held our locality together which in turn was the glue that held our landmass in one piece? 

What if that tree, the one being held up by a child’s timely, perfectly placed stick, was like the most important nut in, say, a bridge, the undoing of which would make it all come crashing down?

How unimaginative we are. How silly it is to put the words ‘conventional’ and ‘wisdom’ together. How disproportionate our belief in all things ‘serious’. How wrong our understanding of big and small. How weak we are in our own eyes.

For every thousand men who stopped growing on 27th June, 1996, who believe they forever have right of way, have a direct line to god, can run over us with their seeming force and conviction, insist that it has to be coconut chutney with dosa, that one language is better than the other, that we all have to love the same colour, just a few of us need to find that child in ourselves, the one who saved a big tree with a little stick. And resist with the seemingly ineffectual twigs and sticks of art, poetry, humour and play.

Buck up. We have a world to save.

Tags: dosa, coconut chutney