I grew up listening about the book City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre from my grandmother. It was released in 1985, two years before my birth. My grandmother often quoted lines from this book and now I understand after reading it that it has played an important role in shaping her character.She is a giver. She never turns away any poor empty hand from her door. She gave away her part of land to the poor farmer happily without asking anything in return. I often found her compassion for poor, stupid. I was young but not wise. While reading this book mile away from my city of joy, Calcutta now Kolkata, I felt ashamed that I couldn’t understand their pain and suffering while I was midst of them.
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Almost a decade had passed since the release of city of joy, little has changed. From the book, at least I know that help is coming for the people from all around the world including the author of the book. This book has made many of us human in true sense. People who lives in slums don’t need our money, what they need are our understanding of their pain, suffering and struggle and assurance that they’re not alone. Aren’t we all afraid of the same thing? Being alone? Then why do we feel different or superior from them?
This book has surely opened my eyes. It has taught me to think twice before complaining about small things in life. In the past, I had announced many times in front of strangers, friends and relatives that I love my city most. But how could I claim that love without knowing about half the population living there? I wonder how I pretended they didn’t exist even when they are in every nooks and corners of the city.
I just want to say, “Sorry”, to my people. I should have done something for them. I visited a slum once in park circus beside the railway track for my college project. I was making a documentary film on child labor and a volunteer from a NGO called Calcutta Samaritan just opposite the main income tax office, took me there. I completed my project in one day and never went back just because I couldn’t stand the smell. I need to do something before I die. They don't need my help, I need it for myself. I need my soul to grow!
Few excerpts from City of Joy
1)“India! A subcontinent with exceptional potential wealth – yet where areas and social groups of overwhelming poverty survived. A land of intense spirituality and of savage racial, political and religious conflicts. A land of saints like Gandhi, Aurobindo, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and of political leaders who were sometimes odiously corrupt. A land that manufactured rockets and satellites but where eight out of ten of its inhabitants had never travelled faster than their oxen could pull their carts. A land of incomparable beauty and variety, and of hideous prospects like the slums of the Bombay or Calcutta. A land where the sublime often stood side by side with the very worst this world can offer, but where both elements were always more vibrant, more human and ultimately more alluring than anywhere else.”
2) “If you don’t find your joy in God, you seek it elsewhere”
3)“I’ve even come to learn the validity of a strange reality here, he said. ‘In a slum an exploiter is better than a Santa Claus…’ confronted by his father’s stupefied expression, he went on to explain, ‘ An exploiter forces you to react, whereas a Santa Claus immobilizes you.”
4)“You cant hide anything here – not even the color of your soul.”