On Sunday evening, as the sun set over the half-burnt fields of Divar, we took part in an unusual event : an Earth Kindness Picnic. Armed with old blankets and sheets, we spread them on the ground, under an old mango tree. The fields around us stretched up to the horizon. The sun made gentle attempts to go to sleep while the children raced around the bereft fields and kingfishers glinted bright blue in the fading light. Kites (the paper variety) buzzed hesitantly in the reluctant wind. The children didn’t care. A vulture or a big buzzard watched from a scraggly tree in the distance as little candles in earthen pots were lit and placed around the tree.
As darkness fell, a guitar hummed to the accompaniment of a toy drum. The candles glowed as talk turned to the land, to drinking water, to fallow fields and abandoned homes. Thoughts of Politics (and politicians) hovered like fog; the unpleasantness of the presence of the Election Commission officials at the picnic (on a ‘tip-off’) long forgotten. We had our papers in order; they had to leave empty-handed. We were not there to play the game of dirty politics; there was no money or booze being distributed. The women present were not there to join any mahila-mandals and our bags had fruit and biscuits for our children, not cash.
The friendly people of Divar who passed by the picnic on their way to and from the jetty were curious. Some, supported The Other Side. Others gave us the thumbs-up. What we were doing had resonated with them. The Kindness Manifesto of Fr. Bismarque Dias, independent candidate for Cumbharjua, was being put into action. We were celebrating the earth, our land, the unbelievably fuchsia sky. This was our Act of Kindness, the first of many we are consciously going to do this week as part of the audacious attempt to garner 10,000 pledges of Kindness.
Fr. Dias’ unusual campaign has captured the imagination of many not just for its innovative means of spreading the word (Facebook, Twitter, the Kindness Manifesto, the 10,000 Acts of Kindness pledge), but for how different it is from the other manifestos that are paraded before the constantly-gullible public at election time. Fr. Bismarque is not promising grandiose employment schemes or the end of our broadband woes (that goal seems like an dream as improbable as ending mining in the state). Instead, he is apologising. Yes, a would-be politician is actually saying sorry to the children of Goa for what we, the adults, have done to the state.
The critics have called the campaign naïve and most un-political. The praise, though, has been more generous. A report on NDTV likened the campaign to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, centred on change and hope. The curiosity of priest-turned-aspiring-politician has turned to interest in kindness – does it matter to us today?
Kindness is at the root of everything we do. Lack of kindness manifests itself in all our problems as well. Traffic Jams? Gone if you are kind to your fellow drivers and drive by the rules. Rampant Mining? Kept in check if we are determined to be kind to the earth and our children. Malnourishment? Refuse to accept the unkindness meted out to the poor and get the government to ensure that no child dies of hunger. Violence against women? Speak out when you see an unkind act taking place – even if it somebody at a street corner making a rude remark about a female passer-by. No drinking water? Watch your own water habits and do what you can to conserve the rapidly dwindling supply. The Kindness principle can be an over-arching rainbow under which simple, elegant solutions to our everyday problems can be found. Try it this week and see.
Whether you are in Goa or not, read Fr. Bismarque’s moving Kindness Manifesto here. You will not find another example like it in India, perhaps the world. This is an example all politicians should follow.
Then, go to the 10,000 Acts of Kindness website and take the Pledge which could be promising simple things like: On March 3, I will be kind to my children by not giving them soft drinks or junk food. Or, on March 3, I will shut the tap while brushing my teeth. Or, on March 3, I will not bring home a new plastic bag. Or, on March 3, I will spend an hour with a senior citizen. Simple acts of kindness can change the world. It can certainly make our society a nicer place to live in. So why not give it a try and also tell your friends to take the pledge, while you are at it?
The Earth Kindness Picnic was an unusual way to spend a Sunday evening. Long after the elections are done with and the ballot boxes packed away, may we continue to have such gatherings to honour our land and celebrate this incredible natural beauty that Goa is blessed with.