Insurrections are not pretty affairs. Even if we call them revolutions and even if there’s a transformation of the social order that makes for liberty, equality and fraternity (or land, peace and bread, if you will), they are seldom smooth. Blood flows. Depravation descends suddenly and it hits those who are most vulnerable.
Ideas, ideologies and idealism drive people relentlessly and in the process, sometimes, what inspired insurrection in the first place can get buried. Hence the observation, ’revolutions begin with love and end with the abandonment of poetry.’
They go together, it can be argued. One can argue also the ‘going together’ or rather the strange relationship between love/poetry and social transformation is best examined in the movie Doctor Zhivago, based on the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name.
A snapshot is offered in the scene where Doctor Yuri Zhivago meets his half-brother Yevgraf, a Bolshevik and a policeman.
‘You are my political conscience!’ Yuri tells his brother. Yevgraf, the narrator informs us that he asked Yuri if he had one of his own.
Yuri responds, ‘You lay life on a table and cut out all the tumors of injustice…marvelous!’ And when Yevgraf suggested that if he felt that way he should join the party, Yuri makes the pertinent observation, ‘Ah, but cutting out the tumors of injustice, that’s a deep operation; someone must keep life alive while you do it, by living..isn’t that right?’
We are not in the middle of a revolution and yet we could be on the cusp of situations that are typically produced by the clash and surge of powerful social forces. There are tumors, so to speak, that we need to cut out. That’s a deep and delicate operation.
Who keeps life alive by simply living, though? I am sure there are many. I don’t know all their names. I know one. Liaashya.
She’s just 10 years old. That’s old enough to know that things have taken an unexpected turn. No school. No trips. Stay-at-home times that stretched from minutes to hours to days. Old enough to know the reason. Old enough to know that if life is to be kept alive, certain basic rules need to be followed. Protective measures like washing hands and wearing face masks. Old enough for all this, but also endowed with enough heart to sense that one could do all that and a little bit more which Zhivago or rather Pasternak might call ‘living.’
Here’s what she did. She took two ply tissues and sandwiched them between two kitchen paper towels. The used two paper clips on top and the bottom to take the shape of the nose and jaw. She used cello tape to hold these and rubber bands so that this mask could be fixed on the ears. Her younger sister, Reishaarya, 8, helped by supplying materials.
There are probably dozens of YouTube videos that show how to make face masks at home using easily found material. That shouldn’t take anything away from Liaashya’s efforts. It’s what she added that makes it extra special. The beautiful lines and colors. Didn’t have to, but did anyway. Not just for herself, but the entire family, names and all.
Zhivago’s poetry and indeed his humanity as a general physician helped keep Russia and Russians alive through those terrible days when the country was attacked from outside even as the old order fought desperately to subvert the revolution.
There’s poetry here, in Sri Lanka. There’s love. Liaashya spreads it around. Keeps us alive.