Shortly after the whole city and half the country shut down twice is perhaps not the best time to urge people to be grateful. But if you are reading this, it’s probable is that you do have tons of reasons for gratitude, certainly three: you are literate, not facing sniper fire and have a little disposable leisure.

After the rains, I have been feeling a strong inclination to gratitude. This hippie well-being is a precarious state of mind. I am currently pro-yoga, yet embarrassed by the phrase “downward dog”; pro-oats, yet suspicious of sunflower seeds. I don’t believe the stars are God’s daisy chain yet, but that may come –  who knows?

My gratitude has embarrassing origins. For reasons we won’t go into here, I recently found myself with two broken mixies. I wandered around my neighbourhood until I found a kitchen equipment store. My nervous enquiry about repair was greeted with calm. The MNC mixie was taken in for a quick fix. The brand no one had heard of was referred to the store next door, which specialises in the injured desi consumer product. Looking around, I was moved to ask, “Do you fix everything?”. The shopkeeper, hearing the bleating base note of existential crisis, laughed and said, “We try, madam, we try.” I left pumped with the sense of being in the heart of civilisation. It is a feeling I otherwise have only when I go to a cobbler. The thought that in case of a shoe-emergency, I need only hop on one foot for half a kilometre in any direction makes me genuflect. Somewhere close by is a man, armed like a surgeon, who will deploy precision sutures while I stand crane-like. Five minutes later I’m ready to go. The gratitude is dented only by the guilty knowledge that in a better-ordered world, I would have to pay him the princely sum I gave the bandits who sold me the badly made shoes.

In The Possessed, Elif Batuman’s memoir of life among the Russian classics, the author has a characteristically strange adventure in Samarkand learning a hundred different words for “crying” in Old Uzbek. She thinks longingly of Borges Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. “The Chinese encyclopaedia has different words for animals drawn with a fine camel’s hair brush and animals that have just broken a flower vase, which dramatises the impossibility of devising any objective system of classifying knowledge.” Batuman, Borges and other faux taxonomists would have fun at the NGO Goonj in Sarita Vihar. Here a roomful of children’s roller skates, there shelves lined with spectacles; here shelves made of old beds, there a lone, brave prosthetic leg.

This organisation reserves its energy for what it does best – making something useful of anything people dump. An old grey suit turns into a fashion-forward handbag, underwear turns into rag dolls, odd scraps of fabric turns into the cheapest, softest, most colourful sanitary pads supplied to villages all over the country. Goonj is a steely-eyed response to the people we are becoming – people who throw things away. We are not yet throwing televisions and fridges into trash cans outside our houses, as a Dutch friend assured me her fellow countrymen do. We will get there, perhaps, but holding this barbarity at bay is the man who repairs shoes, the one who only fixes desi mixies, the one who only repairs suitcases, the woman who turns old newspapers into nice bags. (And could I also squeeze in the woman who knows the exact saawan song about a nose-ring that a woman should sing to her brand new sister-in-law?)

It is in this spirit of living in a non-kaafir land that my household called Friendicoes last week. A dog had taken to skulking  on our landing because she just wanted to sleep away her giant tumour. Two young men from the wonderful animal shelter arrived and took the very resistant dog away without causing it any more pain. After the dog healed from surgery, she was politely returned to base. The neighbour, who is convinced that this dog is a reincarnation of the stray who used to go to satsang with her for years, will probably be more impressed when I tell her than no money exchanged hands.

I am rapidly moving from gratitude to the kind of person who uses the word “awesome” and means it. This does make me annoying to be around, but oh, the glory of urban living with less paranoia. If you are broken, take heart, someone might mend you.

(Published in Timeout Delhi)

image from The Gloss