Empathy is love, I pronounced, carelessly. I sliced the word into three and reiterated its parts to me, softly:
em — pa — thy
em — pa — thy
em — pa — thy,
the amputated word died with the release of a breath each time.
I thought of what I love, truly: books, trees, coffee, my brother, and jasmines. I know all of them: how they are, look, feel, taste, or smell. I also know what they require of me.
But, with faint lines on my forehead, I asked, doesn’t love demand knowledge, then? I don’t love the books I haven’t read or the people I haven’t met. Awareness is both a prerequisite and an eventuality of love, I hypothesised.
Memories preserve evidence; I rummaged through mine. I recalled the chilly winter of December 2019, lit with candles, revolutionary with our slogans. I was, like the rest of India, at the CAA-NRC-NPR protests. I knew nobody there, yet we chanted in chorus.
In April 2020, I thought I witnessed the biggest roadshow of cruelty: migrant workers, with their toddlers, perished on the same metalled highways they constructed. Just like their paved roads, big cities showed these innocence-bearers a mirage, too — only fatal.
April 2021 arrived with a national déjà vu. Again, only ‘a few’ people were turned into statistics — the rest vanished like vapours. All were left to fend for themselves.
In all these instances, I, like the rest of India, did not know whom we were standing up for. Yet, we connected intimately each time — we sang together, held each other’s posters and candles, fought, asked questions, demanded accountability, arranged breaths for one another, over and over.
I do not believe in the greatness of nations, only in the greatness of its people. Mine showed me, at a very young age, something which transcended unconditional love. So many of us conversed in the same way repeatedly each time help was needed. It mired us into one another.
Empathy must be a language, then. And some languages exist sans grammar or structure or even words — they only demand nativity.
I become a replenished well of hope as I declare all of us native speakers of empathy. I hold out the past few years as our collective evidence.