13/01/2015 8:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

To Rajnikanth, With Love


Around 9am on a Sunday morning as I walked to my nearby slum where I teach yoga to superbly enthusiastic kids every week, I saw a three-floor tall poster hanging on an illegal, half-finished building opposite it. Rajnikanth's confident swagger burst out of the poster. Alongside were two words in English: Happy Birthday.

Before the class began, I asked the kids who put it there and what it meant. Was Rajnikanth coming to their slum? What was the connection? One of the kids, Pratap, who's the librarian in the area too, told me that they were celebrating Rajnikanth's birthday. They had gone around the slum, collected small bits of money from everyone, especially the ones that had money for the project. They had got this poster made and now in the evening they would have a full-fledged party, complete with an ice cream cake from Amma's and chicken biryani for the whole community. The cake would be lit up with candles, the birthday song would be sung, it would be cut, and his birthday thus celebrated.

Yes, they love Rajnikanth, and who doesn't? But that's not the only time they celebrate. Even though most of them barely have enough food on their tables (though a few of them are quite rich, but still choose to live in that area), they celebrate all festivals and birthdays together. They cut cakes, dance, drink, do poojas, celebrate festivals, laugh, all as a community. They had all migrated a generation ago from a small village in Tamil Nadu to this small slum in Bangalore, and have been there since. I am constantly amazed at how people in this community are so there for each other. Yes, there are fights, bickering and tragedies but there's also constant celebrations.

I am an outsider. I have no community. I belong to the middle class and in my building people nod and smile politely to each other, but they are too busy, with their televisions, or their phones, or their Internet, or their children, or worrying about their maids, or EMIs. They don't walk together, they don't laugh together. All they do is take their cars out and go to malls. They look at people on the roads suspiciously. They keep the cars and the house doors closed (whereas in that slum, all doors are always open).

So I wonder. Do walls and doors have something to do with us being alone? Does my feeling of being in a community lessen because I have a bigger house? Or does it happen because we have money and more stuff? Do the things we have collected around us: our TVs, phones, clothes, jewellery, make us suspicious of others? When did it happen that the things we collected took over our lives?