I took the bunch of basil carefully out of the package and started making my pesto – this, along with jam-making and baking, are my “go to” happy activities. Someone must have watered this basil, made sure it got the sunshine and nutrition it needed to grow, and harvested it tenderly so as not to damage the delicate leaves. And here it lies….fragrant in my hands, ready to become pesto for my family, filling my kitchen with its aroma.
I remembered the Tulasi plant of India, also known as holy basil. It has some similarities to the Italian one, though it is more pungent in taste, has a different fragrance, and medicinal properties. Many families in India have the Tulasi in a special raised pot, watering it, ensuring it has good sunshine, and having a prayer ritual built around it. The Tulasi, as per Hindu beliefs, is a special being blessed by Lord Vishnu, who has come down to earth as a plant to heal us. It is offered to Lord Vishnu in prayer, and used in several herbal home remedies.
The Tulasi will probably wither and die in the harsh winters of the US and northern India. When I think of the Tulasi, I remember a distant aunt of mine, who is no longer in this world. Her husband is related to us in a very distant way. She was a very pious lady, so generous and warm of heart. Every person who crossed her threshold was greeted with warmth. We called her “Chitthi” (maternal aunt or wife of father’s brother is called thus in Tamil) and I have never thought of her as anything else. She wore jasmine flowers in her hair, had the most radiant smile, and no matter how busy, a kind word for everyone. Village farmhouses in India were large sprawling affairs, with a large backyard and cowshed, for fresh milk. Along with her family and visitors, Chiththi lovingly tended to the cows in her backyard as well. Her only son had inherited her sunny temperament, and was our childhood playmate. Such sweet human beings, both.
Her husband though, was made of different material. Stern and unsmiling, he would literally shout at us when we entered the house. “What? Why are you here? Who invited you?” etc., and as children, each word would send us backwards one step at a time, until we were a safe distance from him, and then we would turn and run.
Chiththi didn’t seem all that bothered by it, and so we did not let him bother us too much. Village streets were open spaces to play, and we had a large ancestral home too where her son could join us. But the son rarely came to our house (perhaps if the dad found out, there would be trouble)?
When we wanted to play with him, one of us would gingerly walk past the house to see if Mr.Iceberg was there, and if so, the person would pretend they forgot something, and retrace their steps. The days he went out of town were great for us, we could make as much noise as we wanted, and Chiththi would laugh right along with us. Some days she played cards with us, and we really didn’t mind an adult joining us. She was like another mother, and every child in the village and every visiting child loved her. She made the best homemade south Indian filter coffee, with milk from her cows.
We often wondered what made Chiththi so sunny, and how she could live with Mr.Iceberg, day in and day out. Wouldn’t that drive a woman crazy? Maybe Chiththi was so sunny a being that she was immune to his temper and his coldness. Maybe he wasn’t cold to her (but his behavior suggested otherwise). As we grew older, we rationalized that her son must have been the saving grace, his laughter and antics the solace for my beautiful aunt.
The son went to college, completed his education, and moved abroad. I did not get to visit Chithi after I finished college, we rarely went to the village by that time. Few years after the son moved, I heard she passed away from cancer. My vegetarian, pious Chiththi, who lived in a village with clean air and clean habits, full of love in her heart, died of cancer when she was in her late forties/early fifties. Relatively young!
I wonder how much the absence of the son may have caused the illness – perhaps she missed her son. All the more, because he was the one saving grace in that cold house with Mr.Iceberg, where all she was, was a being who cooked and kept the house, ironed the clothes and made sure Iceberg got what he wanted when he needed it. She was Tulasi in the Tundra, a thinking feeling smiling vibrant human being – denied the most basic of needs, human affection. She scattered her affection like pearls….and filled people’s lives with joy….until she was left with only the proverbial swine. The stress must have killed her silently.
Why would somebody ration this freely available resource, called Love? Why the stinginess with imparting this most basic of emotions?
Some close their hearts after a bitter experience. Perhaps someone broke their heart, and they are fearful of trusting again. So they lock themselves in a loveless prison, and build high walls. Some others ration love, using it to gain control over an unsuspecting person, as a “carrot and stick”: display of love is used as a reward, and withholding this love is punishment for the person. Such rationing makes them feel powerful and smart, yet they do not know this: when the relationship is a close one, and the person is conscientious, love and freedom give better rewards. They think control will get them what they want in life, and for a short while it does. In the longer term, the person they try to control would either wise up and learn not to rely on such conditional love, or they will lose the person to illness.
Some act loving when they need something, but then disappear after they get it. They trade in love, like a commodity: need something, give love; need is done with, no need to be loving anymore. Some even deem this behavior “practical” or “street smart”. As if they are managing a limited resource with care!!! Some deem more loving, caring beings as fools.
On the one hand, we read and hear that God is love. Pure love is indeed a most peaceful and happy emotion if left to itself. It makes the world go round and life worth living. But the lovers, healers, and caregivers of the world are deemed fools and used and abused at will……This is a baffling world indeed!
Then there are the gate-keepers of love – who “own” their loved one and decide whom the loved one can interact with and how. A friend of mine used to exclaim that such people dictate “whom to love, how to love, how much to love and when/how to express this love. F*** this sick love that sucks one’s life breath out of a person!” (his words, not mine)
Granted, exclusivity is the hallmark of some relationships, such as spouse. One cannot, in mainstream society have multiple spouses, or partners. Even with such social norms, there are people who decide to “possess” the loved one, and prevent them from interacting normally with friends and family. The possessive person can be anyone – a best friend, a spouse/partner, a parent, or even a child – a significant relationship in one’s life that one does not want to lose, but that is binding them with these terrible chains. If the loved one acts loving towards anyone else, all hell will break loose, and the person either has a choice of playing by the possessive person’s rules, or lose other significant relationships in life. A choice will be made of course due to the difficult circumstances – but the choice will not be a happy one. “அன்பிற்கும் உண்டோ அடைக்கும் தாழ்?” – is there a door that can block out love? Can the holy Ganga be stemmed by a dam?
Yet, shutting off the free flow of love from/to a significant relationship is bound to adversely affect the person, disturbing their peace and turning them into automatons in some way…..They might become hard as a result…. A living, thriving, vibrant portion of them is forever lost, and the possessor can only possess the rest…..It is a hollow victory!
Love is a precious resource, but also a plentiful resource. We can choose to open our hearts to love and laughter, sunshine and soft breezes. Or one can choose to ration the sunshine, allowing small amounts in case they will “be taken for a ride otherwise”; one can be afraid of the sunshine and fresh air, shut oneself in a dark room, possibly lock others in it as well. They can use the sunshine like a resource, putting solar panels on the roof to power the house – yet, never step out in the sun and let the light fill their being, or the breezes blow away the dark, dank air in their shut-in spaces. Their loss.
Sad though, is the Tulasi that is left to grow in the Tundra.