Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hypocrite? Me? Yes.

Do you always act consistently with your deeply held beliefs and values? Stuff that you pride yourself on thinking? On consistently being the person that you think you are? Have you ever had to question yourself on this, and come up with answers that you don't quite like?
I certainly have. I do not think I'm better than anyone else, but I refuse to be shoved around by anyone. (Considering my size, I wouldn't be easy to shove around anyway, but believe you me, people do try. Did I tell you that I'm sometimes invisible? Or seem to be. Often when I'm standing in a line for tickets, like the railway reservation counter. By the time I'm finally at the window and about to hand in my request some random person, usually male, will barge ahead as though I'm not there. When I sternly remind said random male of my not inconsiderable presence, he will wave me ahead as though he's doing me a favour. What utter cheek.)
Neither a shover nor a shovee, that's me. And a bleeding heart liberal as well. Sympathy for the underdog etc. etc. But I had to question all these beliefs on one random bus journey, from my parents' flat in East of Kailash to Noida, several years ago. It was a journey I did often enough, there was a convenient bus route, and I was usually lucky enough to get a seat. Now, this particular journey involves two possible routes, either the speedy one over the DND expressway, or the circuitous route that goes via Mayur Vihar. You can't always tell from the bus number. Anyway. I was sitting next to a rather smelly young woman and her baby. The baby was also sitting on the seat, next to the window, so I was perched on what was left of the seat. After the Ashram bus stop I realised that this bus wasn't taking the DND route. At the Sarai Kale Khan stop lots of people got onto the bus, and even while sitting I was getting pushed. I politely asked the woman to hold her baby on her lap, but she rudely refused, saying that he would cry and who would quieten him? She most certainly did not seem amenable to reason, and I certainly did not want to get into a heated argument. I already looked like a 'memsahib' type, a potential oppressor of a poor slum/village woman. I looked as though I could afford a more exclusive form of transport, at least an auto, if not a cab. But for all my surface nonchalance, I was seething within, and actually hating that woman for the remaining half hour or so of the ride.
I think it was most foolish of me to expect what I think of as common courtesy from someone who may have received very little courtesy in her own life. Had she been of a visibly better off, educated background, she probably would not have hogged the seat in the first place, and would have quietly picked up the child if I'd asked her to. Most of my interactions with the socially disadvantaged had me in the role of some kind of benefactor- whether as blood donor or teacher or facilitator of some kind. There was courtesy, if not deference, built into the role.
My personal space was never invaded. I was not spoken to without courtesy. That was what I was used to- I had enjoyed working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and their parents were always courteous. I meant nothing to the woman on the bus, so she could be as rude as she felt like being.
I realized how thin was the veneer of my compassion. By the end of that bus ride, I didn't like myself very much.


Sue said...

So you are critising yourself because somebody else was rude to you?

I have travelled countless journeys with a toddler on top of me and yes, it's a pain having a restless child atop you. But none of these disadvantaged ppl would ever let me keep my baby next to me on a seat.

Preeti Aghalayam aka kbpm said...

ha! i am a hypocrite too. people are usually shocked when i make this statement. but its the honest truth!

Unknown said...

In Kolkata people are normally accomodating and nobody would be allowed to let a small child hog any percentage space of a seat. But that is because people from mostly all strata use public transport , barring a very small privileged minority.
However in your case the lady in question was very confident that she could be rude to you and get away with it because you wouldnt have taken her on at her game

Banno said...

Dipali, All of us are guilty of contradictory feelings. I don't think the hypocricy lies in you getting angry with this woman. But in the fact that you couldn't react to her openly, as you would have if she were your equal.

Your honesty about yourself is admirable.

Indian in NZ said...

Reminded me of that forward I got or was that a part of a post on someone's blog...can't remember but it was something like this:
"A women is waiting at airport in the waiting lounge, takes out a packet of biscuit and puts it next to her, picks one bikkie and eats. The man sitting next to her takes one bisuit and eats, it goes on...everytime she picks one, the man picks one too. It infuriates her so much and the last straw being when the man picks up the last cracker, halves it and gives one half to her and eats the other half. This lady is now feeling disgusted at this behaviour from an educated man. She boards the flight and when she starts looking for her glasses in her bag, she finds her packet of crackers in it!"

I so admire your honesty Dipali !

BTW, just read your last post too and learnt that you have applied for Aussie visa...are you planning to visit NZ too ? Just curious.

Cuckoo said...

I think all of us go through a feeling of guilt at being well-off and having priveleges, but so what? I mean, there are people in the world who are very priveleged and yet can be rude and sarcastic and unfeeling. Atleast you are able to rationalize this lady's behavior, but what if you had encountered similar behaviour from a really rich woman?

Sometimes random strangers get the "benefit" of intransigence!

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Don't be hard on yourself. We all exsperience these feelings at some point in time.

She was rude to you. And no matter what her back-ground, that is not acceptable...we all know what common courtesy is.

mummyjaan said...

I don't see your 'hypocrisy'; I do see honesty and being human.

So what if you were seething inwardly? You didn't show it by being rude to her in return, and that counts for a lot.

Mampi said...

Very honest. But your self-criticism is no doubt, uncalled for.
However, I value your opinion about your own introspection.

Did i tell you ever that I love reading your posts for the mixture of humor and sincerity?

Usha said...

There are many reasons why people behave like this in buses. It isn't always the very poor and uneducated but even others.
One is, as you have said, that resentment: "Oh the memsaab thinks she owns the bus. If she wanted comfort she should take a cab. In a bus we have all paid the fare and it is strictly on a first come first served basis. So I deserve What I have got and too bad you are not comfortable."
The other is total blindness. Their life is so devoid of comfort and courtesy that they do not see why others should complain about their discomfort once in a way. It is probably one of the rare days when she has actually got a seat in the bus and enough space for the two of them and she doesn't see why she should give it up.
Whichever be the case, all of us who practice such small courtesies in our lives, would have been angry at this kind of behaviour. So why feel that you are a hypocrite?

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, these people have a major chip on their shoulder about us - if you had objected she would have said in a loud rude voice that the memsahib should travel by her car if she has nakhras

Mystic Margarita said...

I don't think you've been a hypocrite, Dipali. What you felt is the normal human reaction to rudeness.

Neera said...

I agree with Usha's POV here. Angered at the rudeness, yes but kind of understand where its coming from. At the same time wouldn't beat myself up for the same.

dipali said...

@everyone: One silly little episode had me so angry- and the words that came into my head were so full of deep seated prejudice- words like 'jaahil' and 'ganwaar'.
She was manifestly rude and inconsiderate. I was not.
But it made me realise that if my personal space was breached, and my place in the world as I perceived it was challenged, all my concern for my disadvantaged fellowmen was little more than lip service.
@2b's mom: Only Oz, if we get the visas. Though I would have loved to meet you. When do you come next to India?

Anonymous said...

but by the end of your post i do like you very much! for all the reasons cited by the commenters above me!

dipali said...

@d: what would I do without you? This blog wouldn't exist, for sure!