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Saturday, March 2, 2013

On Kindness

"Kindness is a distemper which is soon cured by experience"
 - Abraham Miller 

The weather that morning wasn't pleasant. It wasn't uncomfortable either, just unremarkable. As I wheeled out my bike out of my driveway, I wasn't as happy as this person (yes, I am quite shameless). I wasn't sad too, just indifferent. Brushing a speck of imaginary dirt from my relatively newer shirt, I started my bike and headed towards my office. The first person I came across on the road was staring at my shirt. I immediately looked down. Was something wrong? Perhaps a couple of buttons were undone? Nothing seemed out-of-place. I readjusted my belt with my left hand and continued driving.

When the eyes of the second person who crossed me lingered on me for a moment longer than necessary, I felt quite awkward. This time, I adjusted my rear-way mirror to focus on my shirt, but still couldn't find anything wrong. With a mild shrug, I rode on. I tried to put the thought out of my mind, but my eyes were unconsciously checking every passer-by to see if they found anything wrong with my atire. In another 10 minutes, I reached Medavakkam Main road. In case you haven't traveled by this road, it is a two lane road, one lane each for vehicles travelling on either side. There is no median-separator.

I was going at a reasonable speed through a plain stretch of road and there were no other vehicles around except for a bus ambling on the opposite lane. A shabbily dressed aged man carrying a shoulder bag walking on the opposite lane did not attract my attention. At least not until he fell down flat on the road with a thump just as I crossed him. I had already crossed the spot where the man fell, and I had every reason to keep going. Moreover, the man's appearance indicated that he was quite possibly poor. Haven't we all been taught that a poor person falling on a road for no apparent reason at all is most probably drunk? I mean, if he had been dressed like the millionaire in the movie Pushpak, I might have immediately rushed to his assistance. His appearance made me hesitate.

But I was reminded of a reader's editorial I had once come across on The Hindu (for those of you who aren't aware - "The Hindu" is an Indian  "newspaper" that has some news and a lot of opinions) which talks about the apathy of our society towards such incidents. The bus on the opposite lane braked cautiously, but no one seemed to get out of it. Not wanting to set a bad example by ignoring a person in need of help, I took a U-turn, stopped my bike and hesitantly went near the fallen man. Another motorist travelling in the same direction as I had stopped his bike, and came forward to help. I was still suspicious of the man lying on the ground, but both of us tried to lift him. He was heavier than expected, and my thin frame was not able to support him fully as he leaned on my shirt. By now, a third biker had appeared from somewhere, and he took over from me and moved the man away from the road. Momentarily left with nothing else to do, and spotting that the shoulder bag still lying on the road was probably blocking the bus, I moved it aside. Probably happy at being freed of the burden having to help someone, the bus driver rode on.

As is the case in such situations, our first thought was to provide water to him. I asked the other two people, but like me, they didn't carry any water bottles with them. I ran to the only two houses in the vicinity, only to find that both of them were locked. Meanwhile, the man had regained partial consciousness, and was whispering something about not having eaten anything for the past two days. Having done little to help until then, I was about to suggest that each of us contribute around 10 to 20 rupees to the aged man, when I noticed that the biker who had arrived immediately after me had already drawn out his wallet. Before I could speak, he just took out a few bills marked Rs.100 and offered to the man, turned to me and asked me to flag an auto. An auto driver was curious enough to stop, and we bundled the tired man into the auto.

By now, the shabbily dressed man had regained full consciousness. As we instructed the auto driver to take him to the nearest restaurant, the man who had drawn his wallet randomly took out some more currency notes and forced it into the auto driver's hands. Just as the auto started, the shabbily dressed man shouted "Innum oru 50 ruba kudunga sami". The man with the wallet glanced at us, and noticing that we were too slow to provide any suggestion, took out another note. The man in the auto happily took it as the auto left us.

I turned with admiration at the man who had, without a moment's hesitation, acted so generously. He shrugged off my glances, and hurried away from the place. I could put myself in his shoes and imagine how he would have felt. He would have felt plain uncertainty and an inability to decide if he had really been of help to someone in need, or had been duped. He would have wondered if he had been generous enough, or if he had been too generous. He would have pondered on why he wasn't feeling as happy, as one is supposed to going by popular opinions, after having performed a genuinely kind act. It is ironical that after having helped someone quite possibly in need, the first emotion that strikes us is self-doubt. Certainly, something is wrong. Either with us, or with a society that more often than not exploits  kindness, or with the people who teach the greatness of being kind.

As I wheeled around my bike, I wasn't as happy as this person (yes, I am shameless enough to pimp up that link twice). I wasn't sad too, just indifferent. Brushing a speck of (not imaginary) dirt from my relatively newer shirt (where the poor man had leaned) , I started my bike and headed towards my office. Strangely, no one seemed to stare at my shirt anymore.

Do let me know what you think..