Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I stood there, drenched in sweat waiting for the line to move, this Sunday. The prospect of being late for a crucial meeting was bearing heavily on my perplexed mind. I looked at the watch, concentrating enough to stop the “second hand”, just for an hour maybe. He walked up to me then, a gruffly looking man and asked me if I could buy him a ticket. I looked behind me, the line was endless. In the next few seconds, “urgent” and “emergency” were the only words comprehensible. I asked the man to get in line, like everyone else, to get his ticket. I looked away, I could not see him in the eye you see.

I thought about this incident, seated on my complimentary railway massage chairs (if only they could buffer the noise) and I felt terrible, my conscience sticking a dirty fork in my calloused cold heart. What if it was a genuine emergency, he looked sincere enough? It couldn’t have hurt me, just another ticket right?

I thought of the time my friend was in a similar situation and he was denied. “Insensitive bastards” I had said, spewing bile on their outrageous behaviour. I was outraged at then, as I am outraged now. But this time, I am on the other side of the line. I shifted focus to my watch again, hoping to turn back time. I had another reason.

When did I become so cynical? Why is it so easy to expect the worst out of people? Like every one is out to get us, take advantage of our “good hearts” and be proud of their miniscule con. The root of my lack of faith in humanity came about two years ago when I gave an old man with two very vulnerable children by his side, some money, to be told later by the railway canteen guy (the good Samaritan watched silently as I plundered my money, only to scoff at my intelligence later) that I had been conned. The old guy did this every alternate day and probably would make 200-500 bucks a day. Wow, unemployed gullible fool – 0, street smart entrepreneur – 1. This is when I decided no more reckless charity. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

I have had some good experiences too, where someone helped me out in my time of need. With a faltering road sense and absolute ignorance of Bombay’s topography, I am very much dependant on the expertise of chaiwallas and PCO, to find my way around. I am thankful of their generous nature. But I am sure that most of us are happy to give directions as opposed to doing unsolicited favours especially when it is at the cost of our time. The view that every one who approaches us has a hidden agenda is probably gnawing at the root of our little left, long-forgotten trust.

The barrage of salesmen, telemarketers, baniyas and bhajiwallas that we have to deal with can make anyone relinquish their sanctity in human honesty. The violent collage of vested interests, murderers and ill-natured impotent officials, tempered and concentrated to their minute flaws and aptly but over zealously represented in the media, can make anyone shudder and reaffirm their belief in the monsters that reside in all of us, waiting to strike. Of course, I don’t suggest that we manically start accepting every thing that we are told. But once in a while it wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of pure rational good while not expecting anything in return, the kind that is supposed to boost our karmic points. Like giving up train seats for pregnant ladies and little children, maybe for anyone else after a fair distance, instead of gluing our bottoms to the beloved kursi ala sticky politicians. Help a person who looks lost, a visually challenged individual to cross the road or any other person in obvious need of assistance. It is time we shrug away our indifference and get involved, in mohalla committees and as citizen volunteers. It is easy to be cynical, but difficult to make a difference.

I had gone to Sophia’s on my umpteenth admission-form-filling spree and was asked to go to the next gate, about 100 yards at least, from the first where my cabbie had dropped me. As I walked in scorching summer heat, cursing my luck, I heard rude honking behind me. Stoking the fire in the belly of the beast, aggravating my low threshold for loud horns, I turned back in fury with my best glaring eyes, squinting in the sun. The cab guy asked me to get in, diligently swearing at the “chu…” watchman and dropped me at the next gate, for free. I was taken aback by this generous gesture and his parting words put a smile on my face, “Beta, sambahlke jana, yahan koi kisiki madad nahin karta.” (Take care son, nobody helps anyone here) I felt it to be imperative that I conclude with a semblance of hope. It is desperately required.

p.s. I do not intend to preach, just hope to remind.


captain crunch said...

if it wasn't for the post-script you would have gotten an earfull...i liked your writing better when it was dark and depressing...where's all this hope comming from...cut it are freaking me out...

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