Thoughtfulness

“I have seen many persons coming and presenting you with boxes of mithai (sweets) to thank you for some work that you’ve done for them. Most of the time, you keep the box unopened. But, sometimes, you open the box immediately, have a small piece of mithai, and then keep it. Do you do this at random, or is there some logic behind this?” I asked the social worker.

The social worker replied, “If a box of mithai is presented by an affluent or a middle-class person, I don’t open it. However, if it’s presented by a poor person, I make it a point to open it and eat a piece. That’s because of two reasons. Firstly, while the cost of the mithai is no big deal for an affluent or a middle-class person, the poor person has probably spent a significant portion of his daily salary to buy the mithai, maybe he and his family have had to skip a meal or eat less food than usual, so I want him to have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve eaten at least one piece of the mithai presented by him. Secondly, while affluent or middle-class persons buy the mithai from a premium confectioner, poor persons generally buy the mithai from a local shop. I do not want any poor person to feel that the mithai presented by him is not good enough for me.”

Matrudevo bhava (Mother is God)

My colleague was scheduled to visit a factory in an industrial town about 300 km away on Friday to discuss the customer’s requirement of equipment for their expansion project. He was to leave by an early morning train and return by an evening train.

Three days before the meeting, the customer’s General Manager telephoned me and cancelled the meeting. He told me that their team would meet us in our office the next Friday since they would be in our city for some other work. I informed my colleague and requested him to cancel his tickets.

The next day, my colleague applied for a day’s leave on Friday, stating he had to attend to some personal work.

At the meeting the following Friday, the customer’s Purchase Manager told my colleague that he had seen him in a taxi near their factory the previous Friday. He enquired whether the elderly woman with my colleague was his mother.

My colleague clarified that the woman was not his mother, but his neighbour, who had a brother living in that town. When she had heard that my colleague was travelling to that town on work, she had told him that she wanted to visit her brother for a few weeks, and hesitatingly asked my colleague whether she could travel with him to that town. She was extremely apprehensive about travelling alone because, till her husband’s death a couple of years earlier, she had always travelled only with her husband, never on her own. My colleague had readily agreed, had booked her onward ticket along with his, and had offered to drop her at her brother’s residence, which was located quite close to our customer’s factory.

When the meeting at the customer’s factory was cancelled, my colleague realized that his neighbour would be disappointed about her visit being cancelled and would feel extremely miserable about her inability to travel alone. Since he didn’t want that to happen, he didn’t tell her about the cancellation of the meeting, but only changed his return booking. They travelled that morning as scheduled. After dropping her at her brother’s house, he returned to the railway station and returned to our city by the afternoon train. His neighbour was blissfully unaware of this. In fact, if the Purchase Manager had not seen him that day, nobody else would have known.

My colleague explained, “Most people think ‘Matrudevo bhava Pitrudevo bhava’ means ‘My parent is God’. So, while they have a lot of respect, love and concern for their own parents, they are indifferent to other elderly people or are sometimes disrespectful towards them. I believe ‘Matrudevo bhava Pitrudevo bhava’ means ‘Every parent is God’.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.20 says: “matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava.” It literally means “be one for whom the Mother is God, be one for whom the Father is God, be one for whom the Teacher is God, be one for whom the guest is God.”: Wikipedia

Please also read Paid in Full (With High Interest), a truly touching post written by a mother.

Empathy

A friend sent me the following true story:

One day, a schoolteacher assigned each of her 5th Grade students a simple task e.g. bringing chalk pieces from the store, bringing a book from the staff room, bringing a glass of water from the water cooler, etc. The student was blindfolded, while a classmate would walk behind him to ensure that he did not injure himself. After performing the tasks, everyone realized how simple tasks became so difficult when one was blindfolded.

Next day, when they visited the School for the Blind along with their teacher, all these students were really appreciative about the work done by the blind students – the handicrafts, written books etc. They did not pity the blind children or look down on them; they empathized with them and respected them!

What a simple and lovely way to make young children empathize with the differently-abled! If we all tried to empathize with people who are in some way different from us, the world would be a better place.

Before we pass judgment on persons who have behaved in what we consider a foolish or abnormal manner, we must ask ourselves how we might have behaved if we had been in that person’s circumstances.

Dignity of labour

Vijay, who lived in our neighbourhood, ran a tourist taxi business. One morning, all his taxis had been booked, but one of his drivers had not reported for duty. The last taxi had been booked by a local customer to pick up an elderly couple from the airport at 9.00 am, take them to a temple around 120 km away and drop them at the customer’s residence after they had attended a function. Vijay tried to arrange a substitute driver, but was not successful till 7.45 am. Having run out of time, he decided to drive the taxi himself.

At the airport, he stood outside the Arrival hall, holding up a placard bearing the customer’s name. As soon as the elderly couple identified themselves to him, Vijay greeted them, requested them to follow him and started wheeling the baggage trolley towards his taxi. He took care to speak in Hindi. He was afraid that, if he spoke fluent English, the customers might suspect that he was not a taxi driver, but the owner, in which case they might hesitate to allow him to do manual work like handling their baggage.

They reached the temple at 11.30 am. The customer told Vijay that they would be back at around 1.30 pm after attending the function and having lunch, asked Vijay to have his lunch at the nearby restaurant and handed a Rs. 100 note to him. Vijay initially refused to take the money, but since the customer insisted, he accepted it.

After the couple came out of the temple, Vijay asked them if they wanted to go directly to their host’s residence or if they had any other place to visit. They asked him to drop them at their host’s residence.

At the customer’s residence, Vijay carried the guests’ bags to the door and left after they were let in by his customer’s wife. Since she did not know Vijay, and the customer was not at home, Vijay’s secret remained a secret to the guests!

That evening, Vijay narrated the incident to a few of us, and laughingly said that he would carefully preserve the Rs. 100 note as a memento!

How to become rich! (‘GIFT’: a short film)

I was tempted to skip this week’s WoW prompt, but then I came across a lovely piece on NDTV. I’m sharing this link to a short film called GIFT. Please watch this short film. You will have to spend less than 8 minutes of your valuable time, but it’s worth watching.

I’m pleased to confirm that I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge.

In the April A to Z Challenge, participating bloggers post every day except Sundays during April, with the topic on April 1 starting with A, the topic on April 2 starting with B, and so on, ending with the topic on April 30 starting with Z.

My A to Z posts will generally focus on positive, truly heart-warming incidents involving ordinary persons whom we can all emulate. My A to Z Challenge Theme is:

26 Positive Takes on Life

The topics of my first five A-Z posts are:
April 1: Appreciation
April 2: Benefit of doubt
April 3: Customer delight
April 4: Dignity of labour
April 5: Empathy

I welcome you to read all my April A to Z Challenge posts and comment on them.

Have a nice weekend!

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda (Prompt: the post must contain ‘I was tempted’.)

Be the change

Politician-bashing is at its peak these days, with Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP making all kinds of allegations against all politicians, insinuating that all politicians are corrupt. Many of us are happy to agree with these insinuations. After all, by pronouncing politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen) guilty of corruption and other sins, we give ourselves the status of ‘poor victims’.

My question is: how good are we, the people of India?
1. Have I always paid Income Tax in full, declaring all my income?
2. Have I never bought/used smuggled goods?
3. Have I never bribed a policeman or a government servant?
4. Have I never spoken on my cellphone while driving?
5. Have I never engaged child labour?
6. Have I never used official facilities (car, telephone, etc.) for personal use?

I have listed 6 questions, but there are many more. We should ask ourselves these questions. If we can answer YES to all these questions, we have the right to criticise politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen). If not, it’s high time we all try to change ourselves.

While almost all, if not all of us have indulged in small and big acts of corruption, most of us will claim that we did not do so voluntarily, but only because the system (to use Rahul Gandhi’s favourite punching bag!) forced us to do so. Is that true? I don’t think so.

I believe we voluntarily indulge in small and big acts of corruption because:
a. We have an aversion for hard work. Hence, we always look for shortcuts.
b. We believe that the end justifies the means.
c. Our society respects wealth, irrespective of the manner in which it was acquired.

Politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen) are only the face of the problems facing India. The body of these problems is we, the people of India. Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. If people are good, government (politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen) will be good. If people are bad, government (politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen) will be bad.

If we want the country to change for the better, each one of us must change for the better. If we change, politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen will change. If we do not change, politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen will not change. Change has to begin with us.

As Gandhiji had said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Selective Discrimination

On International Women’s Day, there were many discussions about women who were/are a source of inspiration to other women. On the sidelines of one such discussion, a family friend described how her mother-in-law, who had passed away over 3 decades back, was very particular about caste segregation. For example, a certain domestic help, a young woman, was not allowed entry into the kitchen or the ‘Pooja Room’ (Prayer Room) in their house because she belonged to a lower caste. If, by chance, the same domestic help happened to touch any item of clothing on the clothes-line, that item of clothing would have to be washed again.

Strangely, however, whenever a large quantity of green chillies had to be chopped, the work was assigned to the same domestic help! The mother-in-law explained to her daughters-in-law that any person who chopped so many green chillies would have a severe burning sensation on the fingers. Hence, she assigned that task to the domestic help!

Our friend had never mustered the courage (understandable since this happened over 50 years back) to ask her super-orthodox mother-in-law why the domestic help’s touch made an item of clothing ‘impure’, and why the same domestic help’s touch did not make the chillies ‘impure’!!

My tongue-in-cheek response to my friend was that she should be thankful for the fact that her mother-in-law did not want her daughters-in-law to suffer by chopping large quantities of green chillies! Not many mothers-in-law would have been so considerate 50 years back!!

All around us, we see people who practise discrimination very religiously (pun intended) temporarily suspending their beliefs when it suits them.

In many religious institutions, widows are not permitted in the presence of the pontiff because it is considered inauspicious. Even wealthy widows are not exempted from this discrimination. However, many of these pontiffs are extremely enthusiastic about granting audiences to politically powerful widows! Obviously, political power carries more weight than ‘divine’ power! Unfortunately, these politically powerful widows apparently do not even try to put a complete end to the discrimination from which they are exempted.

On a private level, people impose discriminatory restrictions on their daughters-in-law, but do not impose the same restrictions on their daughters.

Why do a person’s beliefs/practices change depending on who is affected by these beliefs?

When a belief/practice can be suspended for a few persons, can’t that belief/practice be suspended, nay abolished, for all persons?

Isn’t it ridiculous to say that all other cars must stop when the traffic signal shows RED, but BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars need not stop?

Selective discrimination is even more ridiculous. It’s like saying that the maximum speed for all other cars is 10 kilometers/hour, but there is no speed restriction whatsoever for BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars!

Why is India not yet a superpower?

I was in the process of drawing cash at an ATM when I heard knocks on the door. I turned to look at the door. A young man, who had been knocking on the door, opened it slightly and, with a worried look on his face, said, “Sir, please finish your work faster. I’m in a hurry.” His words surprised me because I had not wasted any time. But I assumed he had some urgent work which was causing his impatience.

Normally, after withdrawing cash at any ATM, I put the cash into my wallet, keep my wallet in my pocket and then come out. But this time, out of concern for the young man’s urgency, I came out holding the cash in my hand.

As I was putting the cash into my wallet and keeping my wallet in my pocket, the young man was speaking on his mobile phone, looking quite relaxed. I realized he was engaged in a conversation with a friend about their plans for the weekend. His urgency seemed to have vanished into thin air!

‘Urgency’ seems to have become a way of life in India. However, the sad truth is there’s no real urgency.

Why do so many people jump traffic signals? Is it because of urgency? No. It’s probably because they’re behind schedule. Why are they behind schedule? It’s probably because they did not start their journey on time. Why didn’t they start their journey on time? It’s probably because they did not plan properly? Why didn’t they plan properly? It’s probably because they don’t care to plan!

Whenever I travel, whether by train or air, I see many people engrossed in their laptops. I used to be impressed by how these people put their travel time to productive use until, one day, I happened to notice a person playing a game on his laptop. After that, I realized that many of these people were not working, but were either playing games or watching films on their laptops! So much for productivity!

I’ve been kept waiting at shops, offices, banks, etc. by counter staff who cannot attend to their work because they’re speaking on their mobile phones. Most of the time, the conversations are not about anything urgent, but some personal matter that can wait till after office hours. Why do they do this? Simply because they can get away with it!

If the young man at the ATM, the people jumping traffic signals, the people ‘working’ on their laptops while travelling, the counter staff who keep customers waiting while they speak on their mobile phones, and all such ‘busy’ people were actually engaged in productive ‘urgency’, India should have been the world’s greatest superpower by now!

Rules are for the ruled, not for rulers

A European manufacturer and I were at a medium-scale automotive parts manufacturer’s factory.

The Receptionist requested us to proceed to the Managing Director’s room. There was a board on the door stating:

PLEASE REMOVE FOOTWEAR

Both of us removed our shoes and entered the room. I observed that the MD was wearing his shoes and wondered whether the European visitor had noticed this.

After we completed our discussion, the MD invited us to see the factory. We first visited the Quality Control Department. Again, there was a board on the door stating:

PLEASE REMOVE FOOTWEAR

Both of us removed our shoes, but it appeared the MD had not read the board.

As soon as we entered the Production Department, the MD offered us cigarettes, which we declined, despite both being smokers at that time. The MD started smoking. I noticed the European visitor was concealing a smile as he saw the prominent NO SMOKING sign!

As we were driving back after our visit, the European gentleman stated that he was shocked to see the MD openly breaking rules in his own factory. How did the MD expect his employees to follow the rules that he himself broke? I replied that, unfortunately, this was a common occurrence in India. Bosses created rules for their juniors, but did not themselves follow the rules. Strangely, the juniors seemed to take this situation in their stride.

The European manufacturer and I had similar experiences in a few other factories. The European gentleman could not digest this. I explained to him that we had no choice but to put up with this if we wanted to do business with these customers.

We see this happening everywhere.

Bosses expect their juniors to follow rules, but do not themselves follow the same rules.

Parents expect their children to follow rules, but do not themselves follow the same rules.

You and I are these bosses.

You and I are these parents.

As bosses and as parents, we think it’s normal.

But, as citizens, we are outraged when we see politicians breaking the rules that we are expected to follow.

Rules are for the ruled, not for rulers.

When we are the ‘rulers’, we think it’s normal.

When we are the ‘ruled’, we are outraged.

Will we ever realize that rules are for all, the ruled and the rulers?

Or will we continue to believe that, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

Doesn’t affect me?

Recently, a friend who has been living abroad since a couple of decades, stated that he was shocked and disgusted to know that some relatives in India were not inviting his recently widowed mother home as it is ‘inauspicious’.

Quite a few friends expressed distress about this matter. However, all were relieved after one of his family members clarified that, of the persons who had called on his mother after his father’s death, many had invited her to visit them. Some had not explicitly invited her, but that did not mean she was unwelcome.

I completely agree with him that such behaviour (treating a widow as ‘inauspicious’) is disgusting.

However, I am surprised that he said that he was shocked. While he has been living abroad for over 20+ years, he did live the first 20+ years of his life in India. Surely, he would have observed this kind of behaviour among his relatives, if not his family. At the very least, he would have read about the lousy status of widows in certain communities, including the one he was born into.

One may claim it is possible that a person is actually unaware of certain kinds of discrimination (or social situations) simply due to lack of exposure. For example, people who have always lived in cities and have never been to remote villages would have absolutely no idea there are people living in places without electricity, tap water, toilets, roads, etc., which are taken for granted in cities.

I don’t agree. Even before the advent of internet, well-read people in India were aware of the discrimination faced by coloured people in countries that they had never visited. The term ‘apartheid’ was known. So how can we claim we don’t know about various forms of discrimination that have been going on for centuries in our own backyard?

There are many forms of discrimination being practised around us. Often, when we see some form of discrimination being practised and we know it is wrong, we don’t act or speak against it.
Sometimes, we are indifferent because we think it is harmless.
Sometimes, we are indifferent because we think we cannot make a difference.
Mostly, we are indifferent because we think it doesn’t directly affect us.

But, we are shocked and disgusted when the victim is one of ourselves. That’s when we realise that it’s not harmless and that we should try to make a difference, even if a particular episode doesn’t directly affect us.