As I embark on yet another train journey today, I just recalled one of the best memoirs that I’ve had with the Indian railways. I had shared it on social networking platforms at that time. But it’s too good not to be mentioned again.
It was the Varanasi – Mumbai Mahanagri Express. I was returning from Varanasi, having been there for the marriage ceremony of one of my cousins on the maternal side. As I settled into my compartment, I realized that the family seated right in front of me was that of foreign tourists. We exchanged pleasantries, and immediately got immersed into a fine conversation. I learnt that they were Irish. Mr & Mrs Hodges and their 12 year old son Neil. Neil was taller than me, and was almost too cute to be real.
When the train was stationed at Katni, Neil got up to go to the toilet. However, he returned within seconds. Mr Hodges was a little puzzled. “What the matter boy?” he interrogated. “Nothing” said Neil “It was written on the toilet door ‘kindly avoid using the toilet when the train is stationary on a platform’ and since it is not so urgent Dad, I think I can wait.”
I, and a few fellow passengers who could understand the accent of the lad, were left embarrassed. A boy, about half my age, had taught us a lesson for life. It is not so difficult to follow certain principles… all you need is the desire to abide.
There is a bizarre penchant with us, Indians, that of taking pride in violating laws (and before the sanctimonious patriot in you triggers a mutiny, let me tell you that this is one of the very few things about my country that I dislike). For us, the pleasure of successfully breaking a rule without getting caught is almost unmatched. Ohh !! but we never miss a chance to howl upon the resulting ‘unlawful state of affairs’ in our society. A state for which we ourselves are partially responsible. Strange huh.
In my opinion, it has got a lot to do with the pattern of our upbringing. As we grow up, we are versed with the notion that any wrong deed we perform will get punished. When we don’t complete our assignments, the teacher will punish. If we commit a crime, the law will punish. And if it doesn’t, God will perform the cardinal. This whole concept of retribution gets entrenched into our being so deeply, that we begin to assume that anything that goes unpunished is conclusively righteous. We simply don’t emphasize enough on the merits of being civilized, all the focus is on avoiding punishment .
What it ensures is that we never become cognizant of the value of righteousness, we only become wary of the consequences of the evil. So once the evasion of those consequences seems easy, we just don’t hesitate in doing the unlawful. In fact, the one who still remains ethical is considered a bonehead. Obedient is almost a synonym for foolish in our society. Hence, the guy following the traffic signal attracts more stares than the one who ignores it.
What I deeply believe is that not every facet of human liability can be covered under the law. Hence, to bridge the gap between the legal and the acceptable, our society established the concept of ethics. Well, all the above inquests find an answer in the very tenet of ethics itself. Because ethics are nothing but the manifestation of courtesy to fellow beings.
I dare say,‘nothing can bring sanity to mankind, apart from its own submission to ethics’
This, in no manner, is an attempt to suggest that we must stop being street smart, but there is a difference between being smart and being wicked.
A couple of days ago, I was riding on my bike, when suddenly a red-light showed up. I stopped, only to realize that nobody else is will. After a few seconds, a bike whizzed past me, the rider looking back at me as if to suggest that I was a numb skull. Just then, signal turned green. I took off with a thunder, trying to catch him so as to tell him ‘I ain’t no fool you moron’. But after a few hundred metres, I realized that there was a traffic jam ahead. I left the main road and took the side lane instead. As I drove on it, I saw that guy stuck in the jam itself, at a place from where he couldn’t even turn back. I almost felt the sense of justice being served. Who was the fool ultimately ? Me or him ?
I think both of us. He was a fool, very simply, because he was in the wrong and yet proud of it. But I was probably a bigger stooge. Because first of all, I felt mortified even though I had done the right thing. And secondly, I tried to retaliate to him in his own manner, which ultimately made the two of us equally guilty. Why don’t we take pride in our own courtesy, rather than trying to notify others of their sins ? Strange… huh. How I wish my mind could have been so thoughtful then. Well,
‘agreed that it’s extremely easy to turn into a rouge, but then, is it so difficult to remain civilized ?’