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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rumination of a Fantasist

Ours have become a boisterous and insomniac world. There is always that one deadline looming large over our heads that make us go into frenzy.  The world has become so fast paced that we are now in the habit of anticipating our entire future at every moment. There is no time for politeness or niceties. You bump into someone and then scowl at that person; it’s not your fault at all. He should have turned around and seen you approach; after all you were busy on your Blackberry, the last e-mail had to be sent. But if you introspect, you will apprehend that the situation is getting scary. The world is becoming aloof and frigid till one day you wake up to a world which you do not recognize at all and realize this was not the world that your ancestors left you to preserve and safe guard.
I have discerned a little secret: it does not take much to be nice to other people, complete strangers be it may. I have seen that when I take the initiative to be polite and respectful, I get quite the warm and cordial responses in return. I remember once I met this really nice auto driver, who took it upon himself to drop me safely at my destination since I was new to the city. I handed him the fare with a smile and thanked him, and in return he gave me his biggest grins and said “Farz hai mera. Aap mehman ho.” (It was my duty since you are a guest.”)
Once I recall, I was on my way to work on a lovely, bright spring morning. I am not a morning person at all; the usual me has a scowl on her face on her way to work, but that day was different. I was humming to myself while walking down the road when I came across two middle aged ladies, who seemed a little lost. There weren’t too many people around, and those who were, were busy ogling at them, simply because they were non-Indians. I went up to them and asked them if they needed help. They looked a little relieved, probably because I look like a harmless docile soul. They told me they were invited to a school nearby, but didn’t quite know how to get there. Realising that the school was on my route to office, which was a short walk in itself, I offered to walk them to the school.  They looked reassured and followed me in silence for all the five minutes of our journey. When I left them at the gate of the school, one of them put her hands on my head and blessed me and then bade me a good day. I think I gave them a perplexed look; because where I come from no one just gives away free blessings, you have to earn it through lavish ritualistic ceremonies.
I remember the kindness of a police woman once, who caught hold of my hand and helped me inside the train compartment just as the train started moving. It was a very dramatic and film-y moment, akin to the scene ofDilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge. I had a late start to the day which meant that I had missed my usual train to work. I had to hurry to the platform so as not to miss the next one. I was running down the platform and even with my break-neck pace I thought I would miss the train by a fraction. As I reached the first-class compartment, I was all ready to jump in, when the train started moving, which is when a powerful hand took hold of my outstretched hand and pulled me in the compartment. I mumbled a thank you, because I was all out of breath. The police woman gave me a stern look and told me, “Iski baad wali train lene se kya job chaali jaati! Agar gir jaate toh?!” (Would you have lost your job, if you had taken the next train? What if you had fallen down?!)

Another incident that further inculcated my faith in the benevolence of strangers, once again took place in the train. It was the monsoons, which meant trains were running late all around the city. The ones that were running were hugely crowded and I barely had enough leg space to stand; I basically accomplished the perfecten pointe; any ballerina would have been jealous of my posture. It was a precarious situation for me, I had my laptop bag on me, was standing on my toes and barely hanging on; any false move and I would fall to my death from the moving train. And just when I thought the situation could not get any worse, it started raining again. There was absolutely no way that I could squeeze my way inside the compartment, so I let my fate catch hold of me; the worse that would happen was that I would be drenched even before I reached office. But then all of a sudden I realized there was a shift in the energy inside the compartment. The women who were inside, took charge of me and two others who were hanging by the door. I along with my laptop bag crowd-surfed to the interior of the compartment. Once inside I started panicking a little because I had lost sight of my bag. Sensing my panic, one of the women who helped me in, assured me in a soothing voice, “Tumhara station aane se pehle bag mil jaiga.” (You will get back your bag before you get down at your station) I got down at my usual station, only slightly damp, and with my bag intact. I stood slightly gaping at the receding train, which slowly vanished amidst the mist and the cloud and the rains.

One of my grand aunts passed away two weeks ago. And like a good, pious Brahmin family, we followed the entire strict funeral ceremonial regime that was expected of us. As was the ritual, the regime was supposed to come to an end with an extravagant banquet. Abiding with the tradition, we did the same. It was a lovely lunch; our neighbours from the society came all dressed up, completely oblivious of the fact that the occasion was probably not quite right to deck up in all the gold ornaments. After the elaborate lunch we saw that we were left with a lot of food from the banquet. Everyone started contemplating as to what should be done with the leftovers. To my horror, I even heard that throwing out the leftovers was also being discussed as an option. I finally stood up and said that whatever other things we might do, one thing that I could not let happen was, let all that food go to waste. Finally, our driver spoke up and said that there was a slum nearby, where we could go and donate the food. To my relief, everyone readily agreed and we packed up the food and headed for the slum. Once we reached, word spread quite fast that we were donating food. Kids as young as three lined up with eager faces, their eyes shining brightly at the prospect of being served an unexpected treat. The young faces, holding on to their bowls in their grubby little hands and digging in lavishly to each one of their portions broke my heart. We take a meal for granted, but that is not the case for these little children; every day is a battle, a challenge for them. And the fact that we could do this little bit, and brought smiles to their hungry, little faces was a memory that will be indelibly etched in my memory.
Recently I have realized that I smile at random strangers while on the road. It doesn’t hurt to be polite to people, right?! Some returned the smile, some scowled, while some shuffled away quickly, probably thinking that I was serial killer, trying to befriend my next kill. At the grocery store, in the cab or a bus, when I get back my change, I smile and say thank you. I know I’m owed the change, but why be so grim and foreboding about it?! Once in a while it is quintessential to get far from the maddening crowd and try to find ourselves, try to find how much we can give. All it needs is the will to care, which is the first step; because after that the rest just falls into place, like a well fitted jigsaw puzzle.

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