It has been quiet at Mops and Eudaimonia. I could say that I have not written because in the past two-three months I have been running around visiting wonderful exhibitions, attending funky concerts and attending lectures. Or because I have been attending parties, brunches. lunches and dinners with dear friends. Or because I had four weeks of visitors from Mexico, Australia and USA. Or because I have been mopping all too much, with the kids having birthdays and changing schools and going to coding and gymnastics and art classes and playdates and what the not. I could even say that I have spent time packing and unpacking for our new kitchen and bathroom, or spending time in fysiotherapy after I busted my knees in an attempt to get back into shape. But the most honest narrative is that I have just not prioritised time for reflection and introspection after working on my essay on Fauvism. I did manage to write an application to Oxford – which got accepted! – but that essay was not the product of hours of concentrated reflection. I confess – I have really been avoiding sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen.
I had a vague feeling that I was running a bit too fast – until I had a wake up call during Marina Abramović’s exhibition at the Danish Royal Library, titled Method for Treasures. To make an all too long and interesting story short, I ended up listening to the letters that Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Esther Faering (later Menon) with closed eyes, barefooted and lying on a shelf for humans (!). Having almost no background or context for the Gandhi’s letters, I had to guess myself into his relationship with Esther. Without a doubt, there was a deep, profound bond between these two, with Mahatma having a protector role. I fully engaged in the imagined dialogue, laughing out-loud while listening to some of the passages in the letter from January 24, 1920 (see below). But what really struck me was that Gandhi was writing these letters to Esther at a time of serious unrest in India. My world history is not totally fined tuned, but I could recall that around this period Gandhi was calling for a period of non-cooperation, and that there had been a massacre. When I came home, I researched a bit and I could see that Esther was not Gandhi’s relative. She was actually a Danish Christian Missionary whom met Gandhi in 1917, during one of her travels to Gandhi’s ashram. So here is Gandhi – writing a heartfelt letter to an acquaintance during what I can imagine was an outmost stressful and busy period for him.
It is all too sad that I did not continue reading more about the life and teachings of Mahatma after my visit to India in what feels a lifetime ago. There is so much to learn from him. In this case, the discipline to write non withstanding the situation one is in. And it struck me, when I surrender a frenetic pace, the first thing that I do is to stop studying, reading and writing. And without making space for these activities, I get even more busy. And I loose touch. With others, with nature, with myself. A dull pen – in my case – is a symptom that something has gone astray. Not that hedonic well-being at the beat of Bruno Mars is not VERY important (!) but I want to remember the importance of having a little of time for myself – everyday – where the purpose is not to fill my day (or the days of others) – but to make space. To find pockets to write, to reflect, to take a slow walk, to see with interest. To connect in a profound way.
Foto credit: The Royal Library Retrieved 28 June 2017.
My Dear Child, pages 47-49; Collected Works, Volume 16, pages 499-500
Gandhi to Miss Faering, January 24, 1920
January 24, 1920
My dear child,
I was delighted to receive your letter on my arrival in Lahore yesterday. I am glad you have opened out your heart. It is the truest test of friendship and affection. You enable me to help you when you do open out. I had no notion that you had already observed Mrs. Gandhi’s pettiness. I simply warned you, as I asked you to come in closer touch with her. As it is, my warning reached you just in time. God will give you wisdom and courage to do the right thing at the right moment. Only remember one thing, never allow your spirit of sacrifice to go to the length of making you sour and disgusted with yourself or your surroundings. This is one of the sorest temptations to which workers are exposed. They go on sacrificing themselves till they become disgusted with everything and everybody for want of response. We sacrifice truly only when we expect no response. It is well worth knowing the root meaning of the word. It means, as you might know, “to make sacred”. We make neither ourselves nor others sacred when we are irritated or angry. There is often more sacrifice – sacred making – in a divine smile than in so-called substantial sacrifice. The instances of Mary and Magdalene occur to me as I write these lines. Both were good but the one who simply waited upon her Lord without making any fuss was probably more self-sacrificing than the other. And so may it be with you. Do not overtax your spirit in trying to win over Mrs. Gandhi or anybody else. Immediately you find that you cannot get on with her, you must have a separate kitchen for yourself. You could still serve her but not be so intimate with her. Nothing that you do there should tire out either your spirit or your body. Do please ask for every convenience you may need whether for food or otherwise. Ask Maganlal or Imam Saheb or anybody who has come nearer you. Yes, Deepak is all you describe him. I would like you gently to get him to realise his responsibility and concentrate on his studies. Supervise his letter-writing. See that he writes fully and neatly to his mother every day. My heart is with you in your sorrow. I can understand your desire to be with your brother in Denmark. But you have chosen a different path, a path that does not admit of exclusive service. May God give you strength for your task. I agree with you about Mahadev. He is needlessly anxious about his health. He is prized not for his body but for his spirit. It must be a privilege for friends to nurse him in his illness.
With love, Yours, Bapu