Narayana Seva in Penang
In today’s world of ever expanding globalization, we have reached a point in time where everyone has a notion of what a comfortable standard of living is. Most of us are very familiar with the amenities and accessories of civilized life in the 21st century, which more often than not, we take for granted. If there is a breakdown of water supply, we telephone the Water Department, and things are fixed in a matter of hours. A malfunctioning switch and we are quick to call in an electrician. And for food, it’s even possible to order pizza online without ever even picking up the phone. While these descriptions apply to the lives of many, if not most, there is a counterpart to this life, which is much darker, and starkly different. On the 28th, while participating in the NarayanaSeva in NibongTebal, Penang, all of us saw a few outhouses.This was a significant symbol of the standard of living of a people living in the same affluent world, yet living life so very differently.
For the NarayanaSeva this time around, we delivered food not to the homeless but the very poor people living in estates in the mainland of Penang. Three estates we visited – Bayram Estate, Caledonia Estate, and Victoria Estate. We had over 250 food packets, some of which was nasilemak, meehoon, etc. As usual, before proceeding to the delivery points, there was a shortbhajan followed by Satsang in the SeberangPeraiSai Centre.
The first stop was Bayram Estate. Here a few of the village men passed the word round, and soon we had a line of people queuing for food. As with any village, there were a few cars parked in some houses, but to use that as barometer for the overall standard of living of the whole village would be unfair. Despite the little luxuries they had, it was still a difficult, uncomfortable life. In this village was also made an arrangement for the delivery of a wheelchair for one of its needy residents.
Leaving Bayram Estate, we moved to Victoria estate, which was where the outhouses were. Running from these outhouses were PVC pipes, but even those had broken and thus holed parts along its length, leading to what looked like an irrigation canal. Here too was a young, smiling dog in good spirits, but pitifully thin. We fed it, but it stopped eating after eating very little, leading us to speculate that the size of its stomach had shrunken so greatly over time from a lack of food. Despite it being quite literally skin and bones, it had a happy personality about it, staggering around wagging its tail. Here too there was a very distinct atmosphere of poverty. A grandmother screaming at a grandchild, old, faded clothes, and most sadly, a glow of gratitude in the eyes of some residents.
The young children moving about gave us more to ponder upon. This is an age where a ten year old can remark that an i-Pod is ‘soo yesterday’, and another ten year old can be wearing tattered clothing that have not been washed for days, not knowing what an i-Pod even is. We live in a time where while some people cannot afford even a two burner stove, some easily build and install designer kitchens.It is a time where some use outhouses, while some desire bathrooms with gold plated toilet seats. One cannot help wonder what went wrong along the way of our progress.Finishing with Victoria Estate, we drove off to Caledonia estate where we went to individual houses giving food, and also to some dogs, one of which was rather hostile. There too, the atmosphere was one of poverty. The smell from dung and animal excrement often filled our nostrils, and many houses were partially dilapidated.
This NarayanaSeva enabled us to get a personal perspective of lives we are lucky to not live. Malaysia is a reasonably wealthy nation, where we have almost everything to fulfil our fanciful wants. To be happy and enjoy life perhaps isn’t a sin, but to do so without feeling any gratitude for what we enjoy is indeed wrong. On the 25th of December 1991, Swami in His Divine Discourse said.
“The foremost quality every human being should have is gratitude. Without it, man ceases to be human. It is because people today have ceased to cherish gratitude that they have become prey to many ills.”
Seeing families living with financial, psychological and physical strain and hardship was a great eye opener. How many of us today can happily live for one day without wireless internet connection? We all extol hygiene but are we thankful enough that we are in a position to be able to extol and practice such hygiene? The importance of food, and the incumbent duty to never waste food, even when it seems to be a last resort, takes on an elevated understanding and appreciation when we see the plight of the poor. A facebook status by one of Swamis’ devotees I find particularly inspiring: “The river of gratitude immerses itself into the ocean of humility.”
We all know that none of what we have is ours, but for as long as we have them, for what we have, let us feel gratitude, let us be thankful grateful for.