The other day I faced a situation when my mindset about someone was changed when I had to compare their attitude with that of someone else. It happens so often. We form an opinion, usually it is not a good opinion, and then a situation arises when we discover that our opinion was mistaken. Most of us change our opinions over the course of time. We make comparisons about people or places or things and keep asking ourselves, “good or bad, better or worse?” Thinking about comparisons, my mind went back many years in time. Some of us were conversing with my husband’s aunt. She passed away last month at the age of 86. She was a very gentle soul, one of the sweetest persons I have known
She grew in the first half of the 20th century in a hamlet as part of a joint family. People of our community were usually agriculturists. They had settled down in valleys were there was a good supply of water. Agriculturists in my country depend a lot on monsoons for all agricultural activities. Parents, their sons, their wives and children and other relatives all lived under a single roof.
My father-in-law used to say people in the villages were very self-sufficient. The members of the family had to work very hard. It is very difficult for us to imagine that life. It was a patriarchal society. Girls studied only till they completed primary school. Then they got married. They had to live according to the customs and traditions of their house. There was very little scope for them to go against those rules. The family was important, not the individual. A cousin used to say most girls never got the opportunity to discover their talents or even express them. Household work and other chores kept them busy from morning to night. As I mentioned above, families were extremely large then.
We were talking about how girls and women of the family managed during their monthly periods. They had stay away from other people. Very often they used to sit in a separate room. In a way, those days were a period of rest for them, a break from their household duties. But they had to work outside the house. Maybe it was difficult for them to sit idle. Such a situation seems very strange to us. We are used to having time for ourselves, to follow our own interests. We do have house work but this is not time consuming. Moreover we no longer have large, extended families living together in our part of the country. We remarked to my husband’s aunt that life must have been very difficult for them. She said, “We did not think it was difficult because we knew only that life. Everybody lived the same way. We never compared because there was nothing to compare our lives with. Of course there were difficulties in life. Life was difficult due to the existing conditions and not because we looked at the lives of others and compared.” Her words made so much sense. There was wisdom in those words. They have always been a part of my life.
I remember reading these words long ago, but I don’t remember whose words they are: “Never judge a person by standing in your shoes because your problems are different from their problems. You will be able to understand that person only when you stand in that person’s shoes.”
(This photo was taken by my father-in-law’s younger brother in early 1950s. He took the photo from inside a tunnel in a hillside, between two fields.)