Roheen Malu had a small favor to ask of a complete stranger. The interaction prompted him to think about the relativity of goodness.
“Brother, you have change for 500?” I walked up to the guy at the counter of a fairly large departmental store and asked him, shoving my note under his eyes. He was on the phone and doodling on a pad and was unaware that I had even entered his store.
The store itself was quite large. It had food items and cosmetics stacked in well arranged rows running along its walls from roof to floor. It was dusty with and had the moldy smell of old cardboard. It wasn’t the neatest of places but it provided you your daily necessities. I was the only on in the store and apart from my footsteps, the murmur of the owner on his phone and the periodic creaking of the dust gathered fan there wasn’t too much noise.
“No” he coolly replied without even looking up at me. There was more than a hint of cockiness in his voice and that irritated me.
“Hehe. Yeah, me too. I’ll come over as soon as I close the shop.” he muttered on the phone
I thought that very rude of him to just turn me away like. All the while continuing his conversation to his wife/girlfriend. He could at least extend me the courtesy of looking at me. Eye contact, I would presume was low on his scale of priorities. So, I asked him again.
“Brother, you have change for 500?” I asked with a raised voice trying to show some authority.
The reason I needed the change was because there was a rickshaw driver waiting for me outside. I had to pay him 40 bucks and didn’t have change. Neither did he because being a simple rickshaw driver isn’t a lucrative business in this country with its archaic labor laws.
This time he looked up. Some of that ‘You don’t know who I am’ attitude that I’ve managed to cultivate for moments like these were in display now and it seemed to be working. Here, everyone has this rude, almost uncultivated way of talking to strangers. Respect, to a stranger is rarely shown. Reluctantly, I’ve tried to institutionalize myself to the intricate culture here — as they say, ‘When in Rome… ‘
“Didn’t I tell you? No.” he almost growled back.
I went across to the front of the shop, dejected. The man had managed to make me hate this place more than I already did. Moreover, he’d left me in a situation where I wanted to mock myself for my naivety. I was beginning to enter another cycle of self-reflection and self-analysis.
There are moment, such as these, when I feel sheepishly small, timid and diffident. The whole self-confidence within me is sucked out by the fierce glance these people give, leaving a giant gaping hole within. But then, these are the moments I am most myself. It’s difficult to put into words what exactly it feels like but I think it might be similar to walking along the streets all day and night completely naked. I know it sounds strange and awkward, but in such a moment you lost all sense of shame. You ego is burst and all that remains is the solid core that you really are.
The next few moments were strange. I don’t know if I should associate courage with what I did next or just understand that it was a simple manifestation of my character, but what I did was cheeky. I took a large packet of plain salted ‘Uncle Chipps’ (my favorite) and went over to him and handed him my money.
“Just hold on a moment. The fucker has returned.”
I put the packet under his nose on top of the pad that he was scribbling hearts on and put the note next to it.
“You don’t have change?” he asked.
I waited a slight second for some dramatic effect and then smiled a sly smile.
“No.” Now I was beginning to get him into my territory and was going to beat him down. I know, I can be a big asshole sometimes, but hey, he started it.
In a hustle he pulled out the drawer that held his cash, took my money and handed me 480 back. I took my money the packet of chips and walked out happy. He, meanwhile, was left cursing me under his breath. Once out I paid the rickshaw-wala and continued on my foot journey ahead.
“What did this teach me?” I was left questioning myself on the entire incident. He, obviously had the change but didn’t want to give it. Would he have suffered any loss had he given me a change for my 500? No. But then would he have a profit in doing that? Would he make any gain? Again, the answer was no. Profit was his sole motive and I don’t blame him for that. He is a businessman and profit should be his sole motive. Either that, or he ends up being a failure. But then isn’t he a human first. Shouldn’t his first duty be to serve humanity? But what use is all of one’s humanity if there isn’t bread on the table first? Aren’t we just savages dressed in a civilized way?
One thing that I certainly learnt was that there are many ways of looking at a situation and we shouldn’t base our judgments just from our point of view. Our singular view is intrinsically biased. In and of itself, our views aren’t wholly encompassing and true. It may have certain facets of the truth but it isn’t the whole truth.
The chips were good though. I love Uncle Chipps, just like they sing it.
Originally published on Thoughts of an Intelligent Fool