Tolerance

Soon after we moved to the UK, I started working with an ad agency where I was commissioned to write a limited-edition book, to be produced and published by a high-end brand. They wanted a book that would embrace people, celebrate individuality and differences.

James Stroud photographed the project, and I was left to respond to each image as I wanted – with a single word, a sentence, a page, an instinct. The photographs were stark, intense portraits of people. I worked from home: shut myself in a room with the photographs strewn all over the floor, and just wrote. Ma and Baba were visiting us that summer, and I remember Ma knocking on my door, putting a cup of coffee by me and slipping out again. I love that memory.

Last week Chotto-ma was sitting and flipping through the book and it made me think of how, since that time, so much, and so little, has changed. We became parents, I left my job to mother a little person who consumed my thoughts, we traveled, made friends, I wrote the first blog post, opened my Etsy shop, Chotto-ma started school, I started writing fiction, went back to work. Life expanded in directions I had not foreseen.

But there was something that, unfortunately, has not changed: the need for a book that urges people to accept others, to live and let live. In fact, there seems to be an even greater need for it today. It’s heartbreaking, it’s frightening, yet it spreads on and on. This cancerous intolerance everywhere you turn, in every newspaper you open. Sometimes subtle and under the skin, sometimes searingly overt. People dying for being different, being shot for the colour of their skin, or cursed for the religion they follow. Last month, a man was lynched to death in India for eating beef. What’s holy for me must be holy for you. What I know to be right can’t be wrong. On Friday night, so many innocent lives were lost in Paris, lives ended in a single evening. And days before that in Beirut. Baghdad, Kenya, India, what does geography matter? It seems like the darkest of times in many ways.

My heart has been heavy. And I’ve wondered many times this weekend what we’re unleashing, and leaving for our children.

I had written a poem for that book seven years ago. A book more commercial than literary, but with truths that still hold. And I thought I’d share it with you today.

TOLERANCE

I see you.
You’re foreign
Yet strangely familiar.
I may not understand you
I accept that, I accept you.

You are interesting
Because you’re different.
You have your own truth,
Sing your own anthem,
Follow your own tribe.

But our roads meet
Our stories merge.
We dance the same dance
Laugh the same laugh
Die the same death.

It seems so simple,
This thing called tolerance.
Funny how there isn’t more of it
On the street, in the shops
In our sitting rooms,
in our blood. 
 

© Pia Ghosh-Roy

7 thoughts on “Tolerance

  1. Ksenia, thank you for responding to this post. I'm touched by your words. I thought much before sharing the book and poem here at this time (for that matter, at any time; putting up my own work will forever make me cringe a little).

  2. Thanks so much! The writing of it is a lovely memory for me too. Such special luxury to have your parents do stuff for you while you shut out the world to write.

  3. Thank you, Emma. You're right – most people have their hearts in the right place. After something as dark, and as close to home, as Paris, hope drowns for a bit, then comes back up for air.

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