It all started with a simple enough statement from a friend when he and I jumped across an open sewage hole on a footpath.
“Do you know what we lack the most in India?” my friend said.
“Covers for sewage holes?”
“Bummer, we lack respect for human life.”
“Ah! We are back to bitching about India?” I chided my ‘phoren returned’ friend before he could start his tirade against the Indian Government.
The conversation ended there but for the next few days all I could notice were open sewage holes that could become a death trap at the slightest instance of a human slip.
Then I began counting the potholes in the road. Could they kill too? I never learnt to drive and I never heard or saw anyone dying coz’ they crossed a pothole in the road. But it did lead me to notice how almost everyone driving on those roads seemed to be regarding everyone else.
I spoke to a few colleagues in office who drove around in the jungles full of wild cars and bikes. The echoes I heard were – Government doesn’t care enough to make good roads and people don’t have a traffic sense.
While I was talking to my colleagues and hearing those echoes again and again in their conversation, we crossed the reception area of our office. The security guard lifted himself just a little above his chair to pay regards for our walk around that area. I saw him, I smiled. He smiled and stood upright. I told him there was no need to stand every time someone came to the reception, or else, he will be exercising the whole day. He smiled, told me he was new.
My colleagues called out my name and I went with them.
You can talk to an animal if you would find one, said a colleague who didn’t like to wait for seemingly unnecessary conversations between colleagues and security guards who didn’t matter.
I can’t say what I felt bad about, but I lost my usual gregariousness and couldn’t speak to any social animal over lunch that day. All of them demanded to know why I was quiet. I couldn’t say. They finally jumped to their conclusions and even suggested remedies for my mood.
Everyone had a good laugh. After all, a good laugh over lunch is the real purpose of it all.
I felt bad because I didn’t respect my colleague’s time. I felt bad because he didn’t respect my choice to talk to the security guard either.
Who was I kidding till now? Where is respect in life that we live? Do we have the right to blame government for bad roads when other people on roads exist as intruders in our speed and on our way?
Do we have a right to want friends in our lives when we treat most people around us as inanimate, things we can use to further our interests?
Don’t believe me?
How many times have you greeted the security guard of your building when you didn’t have any task of your own that you wanted to get accomplished through him?
The security guard may be as good or bad as the iron door he opens and closes for you.
Forget the security guard. Have you ever thought of someone, a colleague, a senior or a professional associate as someone, knowing whom, might be good for your career?
Have you ever made friends with someone with an agenda of your own, the agenda maybe unconscious but its still there?
Have you ever developed good or bad feelings for someone on the basis of the money they were making, the state they were from, the language they spoke, the food they ate?
Do you still think we respect human life just as human life and not as rich or poor, this region or that region, this religion or that religion, and so on and so forth?
Let’s accept it. Anyone apart from I, me, myself is just not human enough. Of course we care for people who love us and whom we love but they are still our world, aren’t they? What about anyone apart from that I, me, myself world?
Ever greeted the girl at the billing counter before she billed your groceries at the Supermarket? Of course she exists just for the billing, right? You have every right to shout at her for her mistakes and if she is taking time but she doesn’t have a right to be smiled at when you approach her.
Ever said ‘Hi’ and smiled at the guy who gives you the lunch coupon in the office cafeteria before you blurted out your choice of food for the lunch? You see him everyday, don’t you?
Ever shouted at anyone from a call centre, any call centre?
Do we have the right to expect quality and a great attitude in return of our money when we don’t regard the other person at the forefront of a business we are dealing with as a human and not someone who exists solely for fulfilling our need for great service?
That’s just we being inhuman but expecting humanity in return. Of course, we can demand great quality in return for the money we pay but how does that give us a right to regard humans working for the business as people we have bought off the shelf of a supermarket?
Ever spoken to someone who you consider as a ‘bore’ in office or someone who you consider to be your competitor, or even your boss who you hate, just to know more about their perspectives?
Do we have the right to blame other people when we don’t really think that their needs, there dreams, their rights are equal as ours?
You don’t think you are that kind of person? Maybe you are not.
Ever thought that we don’t even realize it how we become extra nice to people who we consider as financially, hierarchically, socially advantaged from us and from whom we want something for ourselves?
Ever thought we make hue and cry over the world, shout out how unjust the world is without ever remembering the face of an autorickshaw driver who drove you from one corner of the city to another? You remember he overcharged? Of course you do. It pinched you, didn’t it? But, was that the first time you took any person, who you regard as less of a human by the virtue of him being born in less favourable financial or communal surroundings than you, as granted?
Ever peeped down this hole in your consciousness and realized how empty, how devoid your life is of any humanity?
Ever commented on your Facebook account or agreed with someone else who did that our government and legal system didn’t do justice to Bhopal victims but that hue and cry was over for you the moment people saw your comment?
Ever blamed Godhra on either of the religions or a political party or a single man?
Ever blamed the system, the government for corruption coz’ everyone talks about it over breakfast, lunch and dinner, anyways?
Watched IPL? Couldn’t get enough of the cricket, the cheerleaders, the parties and the superstardom of cricketers even while bitching about the corruption that was rampant even before it hit the newspapers?
And even while leading the inhuman, irresponsible and hypocritical lives, ever thought about how much of a show-off of a nation have we become?
We shout coz’ we feel bad. And the next thing we do is we are on Facebook telling our friends how bad we felt.
We talk incessantly about the system, relying on the news from a media that seems to be in the business of creating celebrities and anti-celebrities like Sania Mirza and Lalit Modi. How reliable is the news that is produced but may or may not be the real thing?
What does it give us? Our own little window to fame on Facebook? A false notion of a momentary satisfaction that we are conscious humans and responsible citizens?
We are a nation with a huge hole in human consciousness and that hole keeps us apart from acknowledging other humans as equal to us in their needs, hopes, dreams and environment. This hole is at the base of everything, our flawed legal system, our government that is ‘by the people, for the people, of the people’, our infrastructure policies, our crime ratio, our unbecoming and unjust to poor – consumerist culture. It is at the base of parents gunning their kids for a degree that will earn them social status and big bucks. It is at the heart of kids demanding more when their parents can’t afford it.
This hole in human consciousness is at the base of every human conflict that I can think of. And this hole made up of lack of respect of another human being is what leads to what we see and abhor today in our marriages, homes, kids, relationships, offices, societies, religions and governments.
And just because I wrote all of the above it does not make me any less inhuman or irresponsible, only maybe less of a hypocrite in trying to clean up my small life of blindness with which I used to treat people.
I tried but I didn’t have any solutions for corruption, government, infrastructure or the world issues. But I did have a solution for respecting people. I did have a solution for acknowledging that they had a presence in my life which was beyond being people who I paid to get my needs fulfilled.
I took my first step last year, when I began to wish ‘Good Morning’ to every person whom I interacted with but wouldn’t normally care for on my way to office. That included the watchmen of my building, the grocery shop owners, his milk vendor who drove a small delivery van, the driver of the autorickshaw/bus I would be travelling in, security guards, the cafeteria guys etc. I also began to greet every person who I would be interacting for getting any daily chore done. Any person with whom I would interact would get greetings straight from my heart first and then my request for whatever I needed from them and while going they would receive a prayer in the form of a greeting again.
I began to value the smiles and the prayers I received in return and the stories I heard. I think somewhere those people too began to value me. If I would miss saying ‘Good Morning’ to the milk vendor, he would ask me if I was alright, if I needed help with anything. If I would be lost in my space, the security guards in office would smile and nod, as if they understood and greet me later in the day whenever they could.
I began to talk to my colleagues as humans. That sometimes meant listening to their woes and sometimes their simple joys. It also meant that sometimes I would be standing by what I believed was right for the team, the people, for business, even if the person who believed in the exact opposite thing would be my boss. But we would fight and we would find a way because I was not willing to give up either on him or the best way to do things.
Love and respect are not a prerogative of your class, money, family, community or whatever you count as your ‘world’. It is a prerogative of life itself, of the world we live in. The day we give up on humans who come from different places, who falter, who win, who love and who hate just like we do, is the day we create the hole in our consciousness.
I know there is a much larger difference to be made somewhere than just greeting people. But I took my first step in acknowledging humans as humans, nothing more and nothing less.