By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
Another beautiful narration on my Facebook. Author unknown, so I am not able to give the credit. But a well-read and well-heeled hermit to afford a private hut!
What is my life’s purpose? How do I find my purpose? These two questions I get asked most frequently from people who have got everything going well in their lives.
When your tummy is as full as your bank balance and you can’t fall asleep, you naturally sit back and wonder (or worry) about the purpose of your life. It almost seems as if we want to have things that help us remain pensive and introspective. Those battling with life-threatening diseases, under heavy debt or busy fighting court cases have never asked me about the purpose of their life. They are too engrossed in dealing with its harsh realities. In the last six years at the Ashram, no villager has ever asked me about the purpose of his or her life.
But, what is the purpose of your life? Is it something anyone can give you? Let me share with you a real life story:
In 2011, I met a man called Sunil. He took care of my meals for one month during my stay in West Bengal. He was a simple worker, a caretaker, on a meagre salary. For one month, barely ever stepping out, I stayed in my small room — meditating and writing — while Sunil would bring me tiffin twice a day. Having a room with electricity and an attached wash-room, set in beautiful hills at an altitude of 8,000 feet, was a welcome change after a year of austerity in caves and woods in the Northern Himalayas.
Sunil was an average-built, soft-spoken, short man, no more than 5’4″. Looking at his round and youthful face, you would think that he would be no more than thirty-five when he was in fact, 53 and just 5 years away from retirement he told me. He was of Nepalese descent, born and raised in India though. It would occur to me later that his kind heart and inherent goodness had a lot to contribute to his pleasant countenance.
One day, he sought my permission to bring his son for blessings. “You just put your hand on his head,” Sunil requested. “I’ll not take any more time.”
I wasn’t keen on meeting anyone else during that one month but something in me made me say yes.
The next day, when he brought my tiffin, I opened the door to see a man standing next to Sunil. Taller and stockier than him, he must have been at least 40 years old if not more. Ample grey hair adorned his temples. He was autistic, probably at the lowest end of the spectrum. The cause of autism has always been very dear to my heart and I instantly started thinking what I could do to help this man.
“Please bless my son,” said Sunil. He tried to get this man to bow whom he introduced as Sandesh.
Though, I blessed him, I was truly intrigued.
“You don’t have to answer this, Sunil,” I spoke to him later that evening, “but, Sandesh looked a bit too old to be your son.”
“Yes, Babaji,” he replied. “Twenty-five years ago, one evening I had gone to a sweets shop to buy samosas for an officer who was staying at our guest house. There I saw Sandesh gazing at the sweet-meats. He was touching the display counter and the shop-keeper was telling him off. Sandesh came to me and pointed at the samosas I was holding. I looked around but saw no one with him. I enquired with the shop-owner.”
“He’s been standing here for the last three days. I gave him something to eat on the first day and yesterday but I can’t do it everyday. He’s been sleeping outside my shop. He’s stinking like a dead rat and his presence here is not good for my business,” the shop-keeper replied a bit irritated.
“I tried asking Sandesh if he knew anyone around or if he knew where his family was, anything he could tell me about his address,” Sunil told me.
Sandesh just couldn’t communicate. He would just mumble and wail. I checked his pockets, they were empty. There was no tag around his neck or wrists. He was actually stinking beyond bear. It was clear to me that he had been lost for days. I fed him to his heart’s content at the shop and then I brought him with me. The officer gave me a big scolding for delaying his samosas.
“Without telling anyone in the management, I cleared a small storeroom and set his bed there. I gave him a thorough bath and put on fresh clothes on him. We managed to fit him into my clothes. I felt he was my son and that I had to take care of him. He slid in the quilt and slept for more than 16 hours the first night. I named him Sandesh, for he was God’s message, I felt.”
“After a couple of weeks, I spoke to the management,” Sunil continued, “They gave me the permission to keep Sandesh with me and feed him from our kitchen. I’m trying to get him a paid job here because now he can water the plants and clean the pathways completely independently. He can even bathe and dress up on his own. Whenever I go home, which is in another town, I take him with me. He loves it even more at home.”
Sunil shared that he had a daughter and a son but he wanted to do something for the world, so he adopted a girl when she was four-years-old, the daughter of their maid who died of cancer. His adopted daughter was a very good artist, he added, his chest swelling with pride. “She’s in fact better than my other two children and really helps around the house too.”
“After I got Sandesh, I put posters everywhere with his picture. On electric poles, on the back of trucks and buses, outside shops, at the bus-stand, everywhere I could think of. I filed a report in the Police Station. I placed an ad too in the newspaper to help me find his parents or any link to his past, but no one stepped forward. I took it as God’s will and decided to be his father and take care of him.”
My eyes welled up. While I had spent months and years in meditation and finding out some abstract truths of life, here was a man grounded in reality, someone who actually breathed and lived divinity. I respected him deeply.
“And three years later,” Sunil continued, “one day suddenly, I was called in the office where a couple had come to meet me. They claimed that Sandesh was their son and told me his real name. I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He was deeply attached to me. They showed me his old pictures with the family. I took them to his room. When they saw Sandesh and his room, they broke down. Their tears didn’t stop for a good few minutes. The couple fell at my feet. ‘Even we never took care of him so well. You have done what we could never do as his parents,’ they said. ‘He’s never been so happy.’ They asked him if he wanted to go with them but Sandesh grabbed me tight and wouldn’t let go of me. I did take him to visit his family twice after that because his grandmother was dying and she wanted to see him. Sandesh recognised her instantly.”
“You are one of the most beautiful persons I’ve ever met, Sunil,” I said. “You are lapping up all this good karma. How desperately we need people like you in our world. I’m very happy that Sandesh found you — his real father.”
“Babaji, my life changed after I got Sandesh. He’s so innocent and completely untouched by the cunning ways of the world. To look after him and my family is the sole mission of my life.”
I have always held that I can’t tell you what your purpose of life should be or could be, each one of us has to find it ourselves. I can tell you though the two most common mistakes people make when they think about purpose. First, they feel it has to be something grand. Something that’ll enable them to leave some kind of legacy behind or make them help a lot of other people (sometimes from the outset). Secondly, once they find their purpose, they’ll be flooded with peace and bliss.
If that’s your definition of purpose, you are unlikely to ever find one. The common challenges in life, its irritable nature at times, the disappointments, all that continues even after you find your purpose. The only thing that changes is your degree of motivation. If you are serious about purpose, start small, like very small, with one person. Do something more than you’ve done before, maybe different to whatever you might have done in the past.
Don’t wait for your purpose to approach you. Purpose is not a debt-collector or a credit card offer to come to you uninvited. It’s more like a Nobel Prize. You have to earn your purpose. In the autistic Sandesh, Sunil found his purpose whereas the shop-keeper perceived him as a nuisance.
Once you find your purpose, working to fulfil it makes your life worthwhile. It gives you that madness we all need to pull through this world.
Add up your good deeds. One tiny act of kindness here, one gesture of affection there, a word uttered out of compassion, some help you extended someone, assisting an old person or a disabled person cross the road, or just letting the lady with a child behind you to check-in before you at the airport, all these make up the purpose of our lives. These acts give us the strength to be good when everything around us may nudge us to be otherwise.
After reading this, I started to contemplate, what is the purpose of my life? No answers. Ninety percent of my life is routine. I am sure that there are thousands of “Sunils” in this world, who make the difference. The rich wipe out their conscience by giving handsome donations to charities and also vanish into some lonely place to meditate and try to find out “the purpose of their lives” but what about the majority of others?
A major problem, of course, in India is the attitude “Log kya kahenge?” A recent video of a man crying for help on a highway and the people around taking selfies is still fresh in my mind. Be nice, be human. Think, what is the purpose of your life? If you get an answer, do let me know.
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