It was a dark night – the clock showed 11 PM even though it felt like one unending midnight. I was working with other team members on my organization’s new acquisition . There was one urgent call to prepare for a next morning meeting in another city.
“You have to collect tickets from the airport. All printers stopped working.Remember , it’s the time to show your leadership skill.” the manager snapped, “But yes, take M with you.Don’t go to airport alone. You’re a woman.”
There are countries and there are situations where even the smartest women have no choice but to acknowledge special treatments of the society and certain aspects of womanhood.
To save time, M & I chose to go by an auto-rickshaw, one of the most convenient public-transports in eastern countries. There was a traffic signal on our way that stopped working that night, creating random chaos from four directions. So, our driver had to wait there to find a clear way.
“Can you give me something, money, food? I didn’t eat anything today.” a voice murmured.
I saw a young girl outside, in her teens, standing by the pavement, asking for help.
“Even we could not eat anything today.” M mocked her.
I looked at her again. She was pregnant, under-nourished and cold.
I did not know about motherhood but I knew that a mother never keeps her child hungry. I heard from my parents that the poorest people have the highest self-esteem. Something about her told me that she was too strong to ask anyone for help. Something about her told me that she did not want to end up on road that night.
I did not question her because questions create more confusions. I gave her Rs.100 (Close to 1.5 dollars now, that time it was close to 3 dollars. In Indian cities, that was enough for four single meals.).
She smiled and wished me a “Lucky year.”
“You know, this is why women should not earn; they should be home, cooking.” M said to our driver, “People give only Rs. 5 to beggars. Now look at this rich woman!”
I was not richer than M, not in any way, for example, age, experience or money.
When you are in hurry, every single stop seems like the longest pause even though the whole incident occurred in next two minutes.
As soon I kept my wallet aside I spotted so many heads around us, close to 20 or 25 maybe, asking for money, banging the little vehicle. There were kids, old ladies, and young ladies. Their desperation tucked away my words.
Seeing crowd around a stopped vehicle in the midnight, all other cars started speeding up .
“Look what you have done!” our driver rose like an active volcano,”Now they will steal everything that we have.” , he gave an angry look to M who was preparing to flee or hide under the seat.
Suddenly, that girl appeared again. She started chasing everyone away. And while doing that, she came to our driver and shouted ,pointing to the South, “Forget this signal. Take that way, it will be long but safe. Go!”.
“Sorry! This is why good people don’t help nowadays. I am not a beggar. It is the 7th month and I cannot go to work anymore.I just want to live for my baby.” she gave me one pure, proud, and content smile.
Our vehicle started and as long I could see, she was waving, holding that smile, the one that made everything of the bright city feeble and pale.
That week I had to be in another city but I kept thinking about that girl’s emotional strength. I asked my friends who were associated with charitable organizations, to find her and provide shelter. No one saw her again. I passed that signal so many times, each time remembering her.
M kept discussing with everyone how stupid it was of me, to do charity at midnight, and how he, just by being with me, saved my life.
No one except my parents [and boyfriend] knew what I earned in exchange of Rs.100: that year remained one of the luckiest years for me!
Kindness has a great return value.
I am not trying to make any point here. I am not promoting anything. I am not blaming M for his words or actions. Nobody is completely perfect. M was one great mentor and friend. But sometimes we all judge people way too much, without kindness, compassion. Sometimes we ask too many questions without focusing on available answers. We make noise unnecessarily. Sometimes we try to control someone’s experience , try to supersede by our own assessments.
This world, though, is pretty versatile and puzzling. Every experience is different. Not every judgment is right. Not every perception adds up to same result.
Also people judge a character by gender and so many other preconceived notions. There is no specific guideline for emotional strength or for any physical entity that makes a good character. A character is just a character, without marks of gender, color, race.
I met M again couple of years later. He was going to be the head of a segment of Human Resources, a place where I wanted to work, but never got a chance. During our personal discussions about certain goals for future, I asked M what qualities, according to him, make a great leader. He smirked, “ A good human being. A person who has compassion.”