Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gandhigiri: Reality of the big talk

Thanks to Lage Raho Munnabhai, we now have a term, Gandhigiri, that is on everybody’s tongue. The term that conveys how its pays being nice to the others — remember turning the other cheek! Overnight, Gandhigiri clubs have mushroomed. A popular TV programme even had a spoof on it; it showed how pickpockets preferred to target those going to see this movie, as they were more generous and less prone to resist or act heroic.

Gandhigiri has rekindled the hope of underdogs and brought us out as nice people, willing to bend for the good of other. We can all forget the ugly picture painted by a firang magazine recently that showed Indians as being rudest in the world. So far, so good.

But I have had my experiences that put to test Gandhigiri, and would like to share them with you. Recently, I was caught in the rush-hour traffic. At 6:30 pm it was the worst possible time to get stuck. My normally well-behaved car decided it was time to act up. It stopped and no amount of cajoling, coaxing or spirited turns of the key could even elicit a whine, leave alone get it to purr.

I was alone in the car and getting delayed on my way to pick up my 11 and 16-year-old boys. Those who weaved around my vehicle and passed by, gave me accusing looks. There were one or two irritated honks as well.

A push start seemed my only option and I stepped out of my car, in the hope of getting some help. I approached two men who on hearing the request, looked at each other, raised their brows and shook their heads. Taken aback –this was my first such experience and that too post Munnabhai! I smiled (after all, it was their prerogative) and walked over to two small shop owners and repeated my request. Without batting an eyelid, they refused.

By this time, I was truly flustered and decided to approach the local law for help. The traffic cop was just watching the vehicles flow around him. He looked suitably concerned. I felt relieved and when I was just about to point out my car, he said, “If only there were some hamals(labourers) around here – all these people are educated – how can I ask them?”

I had been a fool. I was ignorant of the fact that education ensures you never have to bother about helping someone in need. I always was led to believe that education meant a broader vision. Obviously, my education was wasted. I made a mental note to tell my brother, a doctor, and my husband, a software professional, never to respond to any pleas for help ever again!

Seeing that the law was as helpless as I was, I decided to move on – across the street where I saw a driving school. In the hope that there may be a couple of driving teachers or even car experts, who may solve the problem, I approached a person who was sitting at the table. I repeated my plight with little hope of any help – after all, if the policeman was right, people learnt to read and write just so as not to help anyone. I was pleasantly surprised when he got up from behind the table and asked me (in English too!) where my car was. He gathered a couple of others and helped me on my way.

While I do believe that one should have the right to choose what one does, we are all brought up with the ideal of helping others.

Popular culture would have us believe that it is the lower classes who have a “heart of gold” to compensate for the lack of the yellow metal and wealth. Yet, almost every man I approached declined help. A lot has been said about Indian good nature and helpfulness, etc – why, it has been waxed eloquent about how our material poverty is inverse to our wealth of character? I, too, believed in it. After all, this was the land of Gandhi (and now Gandhigiri!)

I may be wrong, but with all the cultural diet that we are fed, on dignity of labour (Gandhiji even got wife Kasturba to clean toilets), the movies with the rich hero having no problems doing anything menial, the glory of the farmer who tills the land finding his way into umpteen works of literature, we seem to think that a college degree absolves us of any need to do anything that remotely is outside the AC’ed office (or now the AC supermarkets/shopping malls).

There are the rich and famous who seem to think nothing of driving over few pedestrians. The children going to decent schools seem to have forgotten how to greet their elders (I do not believe in feet touching but a namaste or a good morning/evening would be nice!). I field enough calls from my son’s friends (age 16) to feel like a telephone operator and yet I rarely hear a “good evening aunty” tagged on. Mostly its – “is he there?” not even a “may I speak to…”.

So what exactly are we? The rudest people in the world or the ones who welcome the ideals of Gandhiji with fanfare and fervour? Then again, are we implementing Gandhigiri in real life? After all, talk is cheap!

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