Just as you find a certain level of confidence about people, someone comes in and totally upsets all your convictions. I mean, here I was feeling quite wonderful about the fact that I was a good person after all, despite the fact that I hardly ever even thought of doing a thing for anyone else, since everyone in the world was quite like me and, then, these people pop into my life and mess up all my confidence.
You hardly expect to find goodness shoved into your face on a train journey and that too from among a bunch of youngsters full of sound and laughter. Yet, there was this pesky girl who pushed my face into the idea that there was more to goodness than I thought of as existing in the world. So what if there was an old woman in the compartment, with a daughter-in-law traveling in another? What if the morning came and the lady was squirming with no-one to help take her to the bathroom. Did this girl HAVE to notice it, ask the old woman if she needed help, insist on overriding her feeble demurrer about waiting for her daughter-in-law and help her? Did she have to so diligently check up on the old lady and help her in all things all through the 42 hours of the journey, while still engaged in repartee with her friends and newly-wed husband? I mean, I enter the train feeling confident that, if you extended help ONLY to people close to you and ONLY when requested, you were good enough to be going on with, and this girl comes around and messes it all up. (Thank God for the daughter-in-law who redeemed all my expectations. She made one appearance and learnt that the girl was being helpful. THAT was the last we saw of her till the journey ended.)
There was the day when I was in a train on a RAC ticket, morosely brooding over the fact that someone had nicked all my currency from my wallet at the hotel and thanking my lucky stars that I had had some money left in my pocket (in the days before ATMs. Yes! There were such days). The other person sharing my berth asked me if we could pool together and manage another berth by 'managing the TTE'. I, perforce, had to admit that any managing had to be done by him, all by himself, since all I could do was just about manage to scrape enough to travel home by bus from Old Delhi Railway Station. He must have, since I ended up having the berth all to myself. Imagine how taken aback I was when, while disembarking on the next day, this kid accosts me, checks out whether I could manage to get back home and insists on dropping me home by his auto before going onward to his home. Huh! I am still not sure that the help he extended to me was worth the blow he dealt to my own idea of my goodness.
One would have thought oneself safe in foreign environments and, more particularly, in the West. It was all the more easy to feel that way after a fortnight in Manhattan where, if you accosted a person for directions, you would get that how-dare-you-disturb-me-when-I-am-rushing-to-save-the-world glare. And then you land in Paris and, while trying in vain to communicate your need for a day pass on the metro - using loud English, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and semaphoring - you find the next man in the queue taking it on himself and even arguing with the counter-clerk to get you the cheaper option. You reach the station with the vague idea that you need to board a train headed for 'Nation' and, after a few tries, you find one man who understands that your 'Nation' is his 'Naashiaan' and takes you along all the way to the train and sees you safely aboard before going about his business. At that time, the plastic smile that had your cheeks aching, while he talked non-stop in totally incomprehensible (to you) French, seemed the least you could do for the warm friendliness. It was only later that resentment started burning in your veins - why should he have been so good and make you feel so small. It was not even like it was Japan where, apparently, people HAD to do such things to keep in with Society.
More recently, I was at the end of my walk and had my hands on my hips - my usual posture by around that time since my Tees get all sweaty by then and become too irritating under the arms, if I do not air them. I suppose I do look like I have a severe back-pain. So, this young chap stops his car by my side and asks me if I need help. All my thoughts about self-centered youngsters, who are too wrapped up in themselves to see other people as more than vague nuisances, shot to hell. Really, there must be a law against these guys. The way they trample over all cozy convictions is just not funny.
So, apparently, there is more goodness in the world than I thought existed. I just had to get it out of my system so that I could revert to harping on all the selfish and brutal acts in Society and feel safe in the assurance that I am good, after all.
P.S: Inspired by a post by Indu Chibber Datta about interactions with strangers.