An edited version of this appears in the Newindpress Sunday.
The 21st of February or Ash Wednesday saw millions of Anglicans across the Sceptered Isle give up something they truly love. The day flags off a period of abstinence known as Lent. For those of you who up till now associated lent purely with the past tense of the word lend (and it’s not lended as a mathematics tutor of mine once insisted), then allow me to educate you. Starting Ash Wednesday, for 40 days and 40 nights people are encouraged to forego a pleasure and focus on self examination, penitence and thoughts of God until Easter. (Now where else could you read up on Theology and grammar in one go?)
So, in keeping with my grand ‘When in Rome’ scheme, I felt it was important that I too give something up. The list of options was endless, but I didn’t want to make a hasty decision and sacrifice chocolate hob nobs or cheesecake (the retro dessert du jour). As Lent is a time of self examination it felt right that I take time to weigh my options carefully.
Now I’ve known friends who have abstained from meat, alcohol and smoking during this time, but I wanted to do something different. (Also I don’t smoke, drink or eat meat. Really ma! God promise.) So I decided I should give up something I really loved. Something that made my toes curl and heart sing. Something like cooking. I mean really, nothing gives me greater pleasure than tearing myself away from reruns of Friends, Richard & Judy (think Vanakkam Tamizhagam but without the tacky sets) and
E!Fashion Police to make dinner. I love cutting butter nut squash, the tight assed or should I say arsed cousin of the red pumpkin (funny how vegetables in this country bear a startling resemblance to some of the locals) in to edible chunks for sambhar. I’d so much rather be chopping a hundred different kinds of vegetable for aviyal than trying on some new shoes. And when compared with my other passions – washing dishes, vacuuming, dusting, ironing – cooking is a clear winner. Looking over the list made me realise how spoilt I was – all these wonderful things just for lil ol’me? Especially when my poor husband has to make do with making the bed and taking out the garbage. Shame on me.
As being self-centred didn’t seem to be in keeping with the spirit of Lent, I decided to take interest in what everyone else was up to (this is not to be confused with nosiness). 23 year old Katie Austin who works for a women’s charity is giving up shopping at supermarkets over Lent (and managed to get in to the papers by doing this. I have reservations as to whether my no-cooking plan will get me very far, but hey it’s worth a shot). The Gujurati Aunty who owns our corner newsstand and the volunteer at the council library both said they were eschewing chocolates – a difficult choice, if like the newsstand aunty you’re surrounded by Mars bars and Twix all day.
In contrast to all this denial is the campaign launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Willams called ‘Love life, Live Lent’ (try saying that fast 10 times). Instead of giving something up the campaign asks people to ‘be generous to themselves, their neighbours and the world.’ (I can do at least one of those. The first to be precise) A book has been published with a list of simple acts of kindness to perform and just to show how tech savvy the church is these day you can even receive one act of kindness every day as a text message on your mobile. God really is every where.
The acts prescribed are indeed simple, though not all will be met with universal approval. For example, my husband didn’t particularly like the ‘hug a stranger’ one, no doubt imagining me wandering along Sloane Square lunging at every Hugh Grant look-a-like in a Burberry trench. So I decided to take up some of the other suggestions that weren’t sure fire ways of finding yourself in Britney-KFed land (plus, I would look awful bald). So I paid for the next 5 strangers’ purchases at the newsstand satisfying the ‘buy something for someone anonymously’ tenet. Had a very long chat with the Italian grandmother who works one of the tills at Tesco (who told me we were practically related since Sonia Gandhi was Prime Minister of India. I didn’t have the heart to correct her) which let me strike off ‘have a conversation with someone from another generation’ from my list (her bad highlights didn’t fool me).And spent some time in silence today (talking to myself was getting a bit boring).
Now I think Lent should be made mandatory in India. Auto drivers could give up fleecing customers and calling motorists ‘savugrakkis’. Soap operas could make all their mother-in-law characters super nice for 40 days and then switch them back to evil, conniving harridans – thereby lulling daughter-in-laws in to a false sense of security and providing enough drama for at least 100 episodes. Pepsi Uma could kindly offer to go off air. And never come back.
I’ve personally decided to opt for a mix of self-denial and Dr. Rowan Williams’ spirit of generosity by hanging up the oven mitts and handing the better half the washing up liquid. It’s true you know, random acts of kindness do make you feel better.