Thursday, December 9, 2010

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950), "The Devil's Disciple" (1901), act II

One evening while I sat enjoying a leisure cup of Mocha at a café, I spotted a young man, barely in his teens, selling cheap maps. He was dressed the way most young street vendors are; a bright pink shirt, old blue jeans two sizes too large, and blonde, streaked hair. He had been trying to catch the attention of customers at the café, through its glass panes.

He was thrilled at one enquiry made by a man in his early 40s, who, through the glass panes, inspected the map of Pune and asked him the price. He said Rs.40, which the man inside the café found too steep. He bargained and finally the deal was made at Rs 30/- a piece. The conversation took place on either side of the glass window through gestures. The man inside the café instructed the vendor to wait for five minutes while he had his coffee.

Soon this man was joined by another friend; and as it always does, a conversation over cups of coffee can just go on and on. However, this young man was waiting on the other side of the glass window, leaning against a lamppost when he could, refusing to let the man go out of his sight for fear of losing his customer. After 15 minutes of patient waiting, he tried to attract the attention of the man inside the café, to no avail. Obviously, the conversation was very captivating and the coffee, for 55 bucks a cup, truly enticing. In the meanwhile, the young man looked about him, and we made eye contact. I saw a strange sadness in his demeanour...as if...as if, he was ashamed.

After 20 minutes, he was about to go, when I made eye contact with him and gestured him to come to the entrance of the café. I asked him the price of the maps, and bought four. He thanked me and added, “ghar mein bahut pareshaani hai.” Until then, I’d assumed this was going to be my good deed for the day.

But his statement left me ashamed. How can one human treat another this way? What irked me the most was that the seemingly educated and surely economically-sound man from the café made a deal and then ignored the young man as if he did not exist! Ignoring a beggar at a traffic intersection is different, but this young man was merely trying to earn a living. It just wasn’t fair!

It seems to me that the more educated we are, the more insensitive and uncaring we become. Are kindness and humanity virtues lost forever?
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