A few weeks ago, a motor home appeared next to my apartment building. It looked like it has been in disarray for months. I didn’t think of it much, until I noticed the man who owned it; Lean, in his late sixties, rocking an old-timey rugged moustache. He was slowly wiping away the dirt, pouring a bit of cleaning fluid at a time, at times changing the wipe, sometimes switching to a mop. My immediate thought when I saw him cleaning, was that at that rate it would take him quite a few weeks to clean the whole unit. He was, from my perspective, slow.
The next morning, I looked at the motor-home, only a little corner was spick and span. The rest was still gunked up. “Yep, it’s gonna take a long time!”, I thought to myself, oddly glad that I’m not that old yet. Since I have been working from home for the past year, I have had the luxury to watch people from my window. And so, I got to watch him clean his motor home. On the second day of the cleaning operation, I noticed something that I am not very used to seeing these days; A sense of deliberation. Each of his actions was purposeful. First moping, then applying some liquid, wiping, going back in, getting another liquid, wiping with the new liquid, and then wiping the surface dry. He had these deliberate, slow strokes, almost like he’s enjoying — from my perspective — a mind-numbingly boring task of cleaning a whole mini-house. And it never went out of my mind that it would take weeks to finish the whole motor-home.
On the fourth day, I was up at dawn. As I was brewing my coffee, I looked out the window and I saw the motor home. It was so clean, even ol’ Gill the salesman would be able to sell the unit second hand. I was grinning like a kid until I realised my coffee was getting cold. The man had finished cleaning the whole unit in three days, which I thought would take weeks.
Yann Martel wrote in his novel “Life of Pi”,
I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go
Cast by Ang Lee and beautifully monologued by Irrfan Khan, albeit, in a slightly different context, the sentence stuck with me since I watched the movie. I watched the movie with S on a breezy Bangalore evening in 2012. I still remember the soft shadows on her Kurti over her slender shoulders as we were walking through the theatre’s softly lit exit corridor — I had a pointless crush on S at that time. At that age, I couldn’t imagine myself ever getting over rejection, which is now – fortunately, or unfortunately – a little harder than your average video game. It used to an impossible task – and it’s debatable if we ever completely move on, or let go of our desires or fears or anything... But there’s something to be said about borderline-pointless deliberations against apparently insurmountable challenges. The trick is to forget that it’s a challenge in the first place.
Once, back in India, I was travelling fairly long distance on a train and ended up in the baggage compartment, usually attached to the end of the train (yes, we had to run behind the train). It was comfy and such, with plenty of space to lie down on strangers' luggage but it had no toilet. When the need for a civil toilet became very pressing, a friend of mine mused, “The trick is to forget that you have a body”.
It was funny at the time and did not help my situation at all but in retrospect, he was hinting at something quite fundamental. He was by no means suggesting not to go to the toilet for hours at an end — but that most things in life are challenging because of the existence of a challenge. That is not to say things aren't difficult, or that anyone can succeed at anything. However, the notion of a challenge might as well be a storytelling device. A convenient way for storytellers to elaborate on actions of people who have managed to unlearn the notion of Challenge itself.
The motor-home was gone by the fifth day. I like to think of the moustachioed man sipping half-burnt coffee at dawn from a white enamel mug, watching the sunrise over the mountains, camping out next to a lagoon somewhere deep in Croatia. It was probably quite a task to get hold of a used tattered motor home and then shape it up to a liveable standard – he pulled it all off. We humans are so inept at wrapping our heads around scales beyond our general day-to-day, we almost always underestimate ourselves and – by extension – the people around us. I am quite certain that parts of my lifestyle have spoilt me so much with instant gratification that I would be hard-pressed to undertake any endeavour beyond my comprehension. And I think all of us to a degree tend to do the same. But the motor-home owner got me thinking; when he saw the amount of dirt he probably didn’t think to himself, “That’s a lot of gunk to clean up!”. I suppose he just started wiping.