Friday, May 02, 2008

Keeping one's foot down

It was five minutes to noon on a hot sunny day in Hyderabad. My uncle and I were seated inside an auto, which was racing through crowded streets in a bid to catch a train to Trichur, Kerala, which was scheduled to depart in precisely ten minutes past twelve. I was on an annual vacation from UK to India for a couple of weeks at that time and wanted to meet my two grandmothers and to get their blessings. One of them is in Hyderabad and the other is in Kerala.

I had a few important rituals to complete earlier that day in Hyderabad which gave me less than half an hour to pack things and get ready for my 24 hour train journey. I knew that I was running dangerously late and I only had fifty percent chance of catching the train. Now, I found myself running behind my uncle on platform number one where the train had just started. My uncle is a sprinter and I found it difficult to keep up with his speed. As we reached my coach, he threw my bag in and asked me to jump inside. I promptly did that, with great caution and difficulty, and waved goodbye to him and entered the coach.

De-coloured torn half trouser, old T-shirts that are discarded by my dad and hawaii chappels are my favourite wear when I go out anywhere other than to my office. Today is not an exception as I was wearing the most ugly T-Shirts of all I had. Good shirts of mine normally look ugly to others, so you can imagine how my ugly shirts look like. As, this is a long day journey, I booked my ticket in an AC coach so that I can rest a bit before I meet my grandmother.

As I entered my cubicle, I found a big family already seated there. Two women, of middle age, and three kids. They were occupying the entire cubicle. Having a small bag in my hand, I asked them to give me some space to sit. One of the middle aged women looked at me and my costume top to bottom for a minute and finally said with dismissive arrogance "This is a reserved compartment" I looked at her for a minute and asked, "Yes, can I have a seat?"

The conversation went for a couple of minutes and for the sake of stopping it I had to show my ticket to her to get a seat I reserved for me. They scanned the ticket, more than the examiner does, and reluctantly gave a seat. I heard her murmuring that all kinds of people enter into AC coach these days. On hearing that, I stared at like for a while.

She then asked, with a touch of arrogance, "What you are doing in Hyderabad" in English.

"I came to meet my grandmother,” I said politely.

"So, are you a student" she asked

I waited for a few seconds and said, "No, I work for British Airways in London" savouring every single word that came out of my mouth. I could have told her that I work for TCS and was on deputation, but I thought those words I said were the best for the given situation.

They were taken aback for a moment and finally said they thought I was a ticketless passenger. That irritated me to the core and I found myself saying, "If I ever understand you, I would find you are the most pathetic, insenstive, ignorant person in the world" and went up to my birth. There was a horrible silence in the cubicle for a while after this incident.

I had been thinking about this when I was in the upper birth. I wanted to say the exact words I wanted to say in front of insensitive people. Whatever I said is never going to hurt them, as I was only a little pest to be crushed from their point of view. But, what if it did? I was cruel and i am never cruel. I have no excuse for behaving in such a way.

I came down and apologised to them for my behaviour after a couple of hours. They were still staring at me for what i was. I then said, " I am a horrible person, so i dont have any options other than to be horrible. So, kindly excuse me"

They burst out into laughter and we started talking freely after that and I even shared dinner with them. The next morning when I woke up, they offered me coffee and confessed that they not only expected me to be from the UK but also that I would speak to them so politely. Only then I started realising that the more you grow as a person, the more calm and respectful you need to be. At the end of the day, they were happy and I was happy that we travelled together.

When I got down at Trichur, at noon the next day with the same costume, my aunty starred at me for a minute and then burst into laughter. She just cannot control herself from laughing and came towards me and stroked my hair to make it even untidy. She had another look at me and said, "I can never imagine you coming out of a train with decent clothing. I am seeing you for ten years now. Your job or the amount of money you earn never changed you even a bit". That, for me, is the best complement I can ever get from my close friends and relatives.

I met my uncle and grandmother back home and we had a lovely day visiting temples and other relatives. For them, working in a big company and going overseas is something out of the world. They always expect people to change their attitude towards people when they return from foreign countries. But, when they found that I am exactly the same person I was, they couldn't hide their happiness. They took me to their friends' house and were proud to introduce me to them.

I learnt a lot of things that day and the most important of all is, whoever you are and whatever you do, at the end of the day, it is our friends and relatives that matters the most to us. When people grow faster in life, they tend to use their wings to fly early, just as I did in the train, which is very dangerous. There can be only one advise for this situation. Keep your foot down and never let events around you, influence you.

And remember that you are always who you are!