“For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in "The little Prince"
In the book, "The Little Prince", by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the little prince meets with a lamplighter on a planet. The lamplighter's occupation calls for lighting the lamp and putting it out when the sun sets and rises, respectively.
The planet, however, keeps growing tiny, and the lamplighter has the increasingly onerous task of lighting the lamp about a thousand times a day because the planet has one thousand sunsets!
He does this progressively challenging task with the utmost, sincere dedication.
It has been two weeks since we set up a Covid-19 ICU at Kokilaben hospital, and everyone in the hospital- doctors, nurses, laboratory staff, therapists, security staff, housekeeping and healthcare workers backed by steely and inspiring administration and leadership - has rallied around with this dedication, to make a commendable and tremendous difference in this effort to contain the disease.
There are similar stories from many places. And people are mildly surprised about why India does not seem to be experiencing a humanitarian crisis yet.
India lit the lamp a lot early.
Today, at 9 pm, we saw a beautiful display of lights, where many parts of our country followed our prime Minister’s instructions to show solidarity by lighting a lamp/ candle. The thought of a united force gives courage to many in these times.
There WILL be a change in our lifestyles.
Sacrifices have been made and we will be expected to sacrifice some "luxuries" to ensure that we and our loved ones remain healthy. And we will have to make it for each other.
We will have to change a few things about ourselves in order to improve public health.
We have our strengths- there are my friends in medicine, engineering, finance, politics, architecture, in teaching, in the arts and many diverse professions and homemakers building the nation.
All of us would need to plan in the coming days. We have to contribute to the changes that will take place by focusing on our work, by our actions to the betterment of those around us.
And like the lamplighter from the Little Prince, our work will have meaning to those around us.
We have lit the lamps- let us plan on the next steps in our lives, while ensuring our health remains safe.
The symbolism in human narratives - this obsession with fire, with light and darkness is primal.
The Chinese call to productive action with their proverb, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.
In ancient India, teachings were 'given in the stillness of some distant retreat, where the noises of the world could not disturb the tranquility of the contemplative life'. These teachings then came to be known as Aranyakas, or Forest books. These are the Upanishads. One of the quotes of the older, or primary Upanishads : Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad goes as follows:
"Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya"
From darkness, lead me to light.
So as we post pictures on our feeds about lamps and lights, it may be symbolic- but more importantly, we awaken!
Know that we emerge from this darkness.
And we lead ourselves to light.
Ref: 1.Swami Paramananda. The Upanishads. 2. Antoine de Saint Exupery. The Little Prince 3. The lamplighters. Pain and palliative care in India. Blog: algosdoctor.blogspot.com.