I’ve had this incarnation of my blog since 2006 and nobody has ever asked me what the name means until this past month (September 2010), which I find quite interesting. I wonder what conclusions people have drawn. It’s basically a word I stitched together myself from two Hindi words, shanti*, meaning peace, and wallah (or wala or walla) meaning a person who sells or peddles something. For example, a chaiwallah is a person who sells chai/tea. But translating it word for word to peace peddler doesn’t fully capture what I mean.
I believe a lot of what makes up our being comes from the people we come into contact with. Every day we see others doing things and then make a decision to either adapt or reject the behavior or value. Sometimes the decision is conscious on our part and sometimes it is unconscious. Sometimes the actions or behavior of the people we see are conscious, and sometimes not. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many people who have inspired and affected me positively. It may be surprising that many of these people, including my heroes, are just normal people trying to do their thing in the world. They are people whose effect on me has been occasionally subtle yet always profound. Here are a few examples:
My mentor who showed me that the skills I’ve been learning my whole life can actually be put to good use outside of the classroom as well as inside. He showed me exactly what I was looking for and changed my life’s direction without even knowing it.
Korean parents who give up their personal life and live apart from each other to bring their kids to New Zealand just so they can get an education that will put them a step higher.
My Samoan literacy students who live in basic conditions away from their families indefinitely so that they can send little brothers and sisters to school back home.
Close friends who have their own dramas, but would drop everything to help me out if I needed it.
A Japanese professor I met who went to live with an elderly man in northern Australia who was the last speaker of his language. The Japanese professor learned the language from him and, after the man died, taught it back to the next generation in order to keep the language alive.
Countless people who have either been examples to me or helped me directly with changing my livelihood to writing for no personal gain whatsoever.
My teenage Tongan student who resisted the pressure of joining a local gang in order to play alongside Samoans (who would’ve been in the rival gang) in a rugby team (This is the thing that fascinates me about sport in general, even though I don’t play or even watch much of it).
Witnessing positive actions such as these is like being handed a cup of chai from the chaiwallah. With tea, you take it and drink it. The spices nourish your body and the caffeine sharpens your awareness. By the same token, the “wares” handed to me by these accidental shantiwallahs nourish my mind and open my eyes. So, what is the meaning of shantiwallah? It’s really about how I see people as teachers and all the amazing lessons I’ve learnt and continue to learn from them.
*Shanti can also mean ‘slowly’ as in the popular Indian phrase “Shanti, shanti” .When someone says this to you, they are basically saying “Slow it down. It’ll happen when it happens”, or “chill out”. Incidentally, this is my Flickrname and I thought about using it for my blog name, but it was already taken.