Monday, December 27, 2004

Smiling in the face of tectonic shifts

Mohan is still smiling today because the huge Boxing Day 2004 tsunami stopped just short of the house of his family in Sri Lanka. But his village is a washed away, gone. His hand moves to one side in a dismissive wave. His mouth is still smiling - he almost never stops smiling, I like people like that, I always remember the muddy smile of a scrum half at medical school as he emerged from the bottom of pile of bodies - but the smile is gone from his eyes. It has not hit him yet.

Fifteen thousand dead. Huge. That is as many as the smallest estimate of casualties caused by the BushBlairTsuanmi in Iraq. But it cost the British and American taxpayer billions to do that. Nature does it free of charge, at a snap of its fingers.

What can we say? I murmur sympathy; he says some Hindus thought something like this would happen back in 2000, raising his eyebrows to show he does not necessarily believe that kind of stuff; I hand him a brass pound, saying we are all mortal; he says we can do nothing and gives me 40p change; I pick up the flimsy Guardian, and mentally make a resolve to give a little money to the aid effort; one of us says Happy Christmas and the other says same to you.

In the end, the only real measurement of life is not in quantity but quality. And one of the surest ways of generating quality is by smiling.

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