The Little Big Acts

Dr Shirali Raina
April 23 is celebrated as the World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO.I happened to mention this to my friends, in a casual online conversation. The talk veered to favourite books and the books read over and over again. My friend Malik said that a book he likes to read at least once every two years is a story of a Kashmiri immigrant in the U.K and written by his friend. I mentioned that I had read some excerpts of the book and would try to buy it, if available on Amazon.
Malik offered that he could ask his author friend to send it to me.
Yesterday, almost after a month of this conversation, the book was delivered to me. The added bonanza is that my copy of ‘Sorrows of the Moon’ has been autographed by the author.
I was delighted of course and very thankful to my friend for remembering and coordinating this. Just to add, that while Malik lives in the U.S, the author, Iqbal Ahmed lives in London.
The point here is not only about the book or the across-the-continents coordination but the thoughtfulness and the warmth of this spontaneous gesture. I opened the book again and on the last blank page, I scribbled a quote attributed to Mother Theresa,’In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love’.
Our daily lives seem to be spinning more and more like an animated digital loop, repeating every twenty four hours and we ticking off our mental checklists as the hour hand too ticks on. In a rush to finish this and that something next, I am afraid that sometimes we fail to register, appreciate or acknowledge the small acts of goodness, affection and empathy that make our lives sweeter.
Yes, the acts without expectations. Acts that are not carried out due to any social binding, peer pressure or as an obligation but come straight from the heart of the giver. Acts  that are carried out to simply make somebody else happy.
In today’s world of me-I-myself, it is a joy to discover people who go about doing small things for others quietly. When I say small, I mean as opposite to something which catches instant eyeballs, becomes news, is a photo-op or plain hype.
As I sit down to reflect, a host of memories start crowding my mind, all those unexpected gestures from different quarters which have added richness to my days.
I once told a friend, ‘ You didn’t have to do this for me’ and Mita replied, ‘You are right, I didn’t have to or needed to do this but I simply wanted to.’ The difference is so subtle that it almost falls through. A moment of truth for me, if there ever was one.
All I can hope is that I have learnt something from each gracious act that has crossed my life and made me happy.
My friend Arni who lives in the U.S, learnt of the passing away of my close friend’s dad in the States. It is a family I have been very close to for several years now. Arni sensed my grief and called me up and offered to send some flowers to the family on my behalf. The flowers proved to be the conduit for an emotional connect, a small act in itself but a large symbolic one in the context of reaching out across several thousand miles.
Whether it is Ribha spontaneously buying a beautiful pink pencil for me , for the simple reason that I would like it, Nikki saving the newspaper clipping of my articles or Yusuf calling up Radio Sharda from London, to play a birthday message for me , there is a common thread running through all these thoughts. A little magical thread weaving ordinary everyday gestures into extraordinary acts of happiness.
If we were to sift through our lives, we would find many instances of random courtesies, bearing warmth and kindness, scattered around.
Remember the sister who took hours to hand pick up a gift for you, the brother who laboured over a handmade card when scores were available in the shop, a pep up call from a friend to cheer you up through a bad day, a thank you note from a patient to a doctor, a stranger sharing his umbrella till the bus came by, a friend’s encouraging words when you faced self doubt, somebody holding the elevator for you as you rush towards it… would still go on if none of these happened but somebody wanted to add that bit of extra sunshine to your day.
Unfortunately most of these tend to slip under the radar. Somehow we have evolved into a society with a false heightened sense of entitlement and a ‘So What?’ attitude. In our increasingly self involved world, every favour is looked upon suspiciously as to what is expected in return.  ‘ There is no such thing as a free lunch’ is a popular phrase heard in office settings, conveying that it is impossible to get something for nothing.  However, this may not always be true.
Caffè sospeso started as a tradition in the working-class cafés of Naples where a person who has experienced good luck financially pays for two coffees, but takes only one, the second being left free for and given to any person enquiring whether a sospeso ( pending) is available. This lovely tradition has been picked up by many coffee chains all over the world in recent times and is commonly known as the ‘Pending Coffee’.
To quote Leo Buscaglia,” Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring; all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Reminder to self , do I appreciate enough? Can I do something like this for others? Can I make a day beautiful for someone, touch their lives?
Pause. Appreciate. Reciprocate.
Yes I have changed the names of my friends for reasons of privacy but I know they will find themselves in these words. They will always stand out, wherever they are.
They are the real tall men.