Beyond Labels: “What do you do for a living?”

By Pankaj Debbarma

In a world where introductions are often distilled into a mere job title, the life of my grandfather serves as a profound testament to the richness that can lie behind a single question: “What do you do for a living?” His existence was a symphony of roles, a kaleidoscope of activities that painted a portrait far more intricate than any single label could capture. As I reflect upon his life, I am reminded that the essence of a person’s being extends beyond the confines of a conventional response.

In his prime, my grandfather was a jhum cultivator, a steward of the land who laboured in harmony with nature’s seasons. Yet, this role was but one thread in the intricate tapestry of his existence. Beyond the fields, he donned the mantle of a distiller, crafting beverages of high alcohol content that mirrored the ebb and flow of life’s celebrations and tribulations. His hands, accustomed to the rhythm of labour, became equally adept at constructing traditional huts that stood as both shelter and legacy, woven into the very fabric of his growing family’s story.

In the quiet intervals between planting and harvest, my grandfather’s creativity found expression in the pliancy of bamboo. With meticulous skill, he wove essential items that adorned his home, seamlessly blending function and artistry. And as the bamboo whispered beneath his fingers, his voice would often rise in self-composed melodies, the echo of which still lingers in my memory. When visitors graced his doorstep, his feet would occasionally find their way into a dance, a spontaneous celebration of life’s pleasures.

Yet, his life was not confined to these physical manifestations. The ritual of his solitary baths revealed a soul that cherished both communion with water’s cleansing touch and a quiet contemplation of self. With the mantle of a healer passed down through generations, he possessed secrets of restoration and wellness, standing as a beacon of hope when illness cast its shadow over home or village. In a world that clamoured for attention, he built his own well of solitude, a sanctuary of introspection.

Mundane routines were but opportunities for him to venture into the wild. Joined by kindred spirits, he embarked on hunting expeditions that yielded more than just sustenance. Through the exchange of tales around the campfire, he nurtured the young minds that hung on his every word, weaving stories that illuminated both imagination and reality. These narratives formed an indelible part of his legacy, a treasure trove of lessons and wonder.

Though my time with him was fleeting, the essence of my grandfather’s life has left an indelible mark on my understanding of what it means to truly live. In a world driven by specialization and compartmentalization, his multifaceted existence stands as a reminder that human beings are not defined by a single role. Rather, we are the sum of our experiences, passions, and contributions. He personified the idea that a single label could never encapsulate the boundless depth of a life lived with purpose and zest.

As I navigate my own journey, I find myself drawn to the lessons embedded within his story. The notion that life is a canvas waiting to be painted with a myriad of hues, each representing a different facet of our being, fuels my desire to explore, create, and connect. My grandfather’s legacy serves as a beacon, guiding me towards a life rich in experiences, compassion, and the pursuit of knowledge—an existence that transcends the limits of a single response to the age-old question: “What do you do for a living?”

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106 thoughts on “Beyond Labels: “What do you do for a living?””

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