Friday, January 13, 2006

Being human

I gave up my seat to a blind man on the train this morning. You may be wondering what the big deal is about and I sincerely hope that you are wondering, because that would say that we are thinking along similar lines here.

You see I've been noticing a really strange trend in people these days. Most people on the street seem to have lost all sense of compassion and humanity, assuming there was some to start with in the first place. For example this morning on the train which was fairly crowded considering the morning rush hour, I see a blind person board the car that I was in. Now every car has these priority seats for seniors and persons with disabilities. The blind guy heads for the priority seat which of course was occupied by regular morning commuters. Meanwhile I am sitting a few seats away expecting one of the guys to jump up and offer this man his seat. And strangely neither one of them got up. One of them turned his face away and pretended to be unaware that this guy standing in front of him is disabled while the other one closed his eyes and continued listening to music on his iPod. And all the other people in around this person either look away or keep staring and do nothing. Now all of this happened in a few seconds but to me it seemed to stretch out for an eternity without anyone moving a muscle to help this poor guy. Now I jump up and go to this person and tell him that there's a seat for him at the back and guide him to where I had been sitting a few minutes back. This guy thanks me and I get a few stares from people around me and that was chugs on.

The whole incident was probably trivial and no one is going to remember it, yet it left such an impression on me. I've been taking the train during rush hour every morning and evening and have given up my seat countless times to seniors, pregnant ladies and once to a girl with a plaster on her feet and walking on a crutch. Yet, never did I see anyone else jumping up and offering his/ her seat. I don't even see the hesitation or a look of concern or something that says that this person is contemplating offering his seat to someone who may need it more. And I ask myself what is wrong with these people? Are they blind or without a heart or simply so selfish that all they care about is the warm seat that they are occupying and cannot think beyond their own needs? And then there are these people who are crowding near the door so that they can get off the train at their stop to rush up the escalator before the others. And they stand near the door many stations ahead of theirs, simply to make sure that they are the first ones to get off. They do not care if others have trouble getting in or out, they do not care that if they crowd the doorway other people have trouble getting into the center of the car which of course is relatively less crowded. They will push and trample over your feet and still be unapologetic in their urgency to get out before anyone else does. And agreed everyone is in a rush to get home and everyone has other things to do but that does not give one the reason to be selfish and so unconcerned about their fellow-passengers. It just amazes me that I see more and more of these people than the ones who show a little concern for others. And it makes me sick.

Are we really so caught up in our own world, so stressed out with life's challenges and so very preoccupied with our own needs that we fail to appreciate the niceties of human nature? That I see this attitude on a daily basis really breaks my heart, makes me lose faith in humanity.

And please when you read this don't say things like "you did a good thing this morning". Please don't. There was nothing "good" about it and I do not deserve applause for doing something that was the only right thing to do. I am not exceptional when I say I have compassion, I feel and I care. I am only human. And hopefully what a normal human should be like. And I only pray to God that may there never be a time and place when I am so blinded with my own needs that I forget to be what I am. Human. So next time you are on a train or a bus look around you and see if there is anyone else who may need the seat that you are in and please don't look away and pretend that you do not notice. Do something right. Live a little better.

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Blogger Humsika said...

Dear M,
I love reading your posts. They reflect so much of what goes on in my mind at times. I guess every person black or white, tall or short or anyway else proobably go through the same thought process. The difference however lies in whether we act on those thoughts or just shove them away that we fail to have them anymore. The people you talk abt probably did just that. They shoved the thought away and proved they weren't human enough. You did not do anything extraordinary. But by doing it you proved that you acknowledged your humaness while the rest saidly failed. Take care.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Dipanjan Das said...

Don't you think this is more common here than back in India?

6:08 PM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

i can give u a suggestion ... this is something we did years back in Calcutta while returning home from some movie in Chowringhee ...
the bus was horribly crowded, there were some 7-8 of us ... and one of the guys starting coughing very badly and shouted at one of us in Bengali: "Ufff, this TB (tuberculosis) is just getting worse by the day" ... and quite innocently ...
at the next stop, the bus was almost empty :)

10:14 PM  
Blogger Rimi said...

since we're not allowed to tell you you're humanity's last hope :), let me ask you something. i've a compulsive seat-chhere-deo types too, i cannot IMAGINE letting and obviously injured child (or a grown up, for that matter) or a senior citizen, OR a disabled person stand. and while disabled people still get some sympathy, the others usually don't.

the thing is, quite a few times, after i left my seat for someone, they've either refused to hold my very heavy bag, been rude to me for standing in front of them and blocking their view (in a crowded cal bus!) or, worse, when the seat next to them was vacated, literally pushed me away so i lost my balance and fell (this happened twice) while their 'people' came scrambling from other parts of the bus to sit.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Rimi said...

now, WAIT! i'm certainly not saying you expect thanks in return or you stop being human just because people don't grovel at your feet with gratitude for a bus/train seat. but i do believe that a good deed should be like a chain reaction--it should be passed on. but sometimes, you have to wonder...if YOU had a plaster cast on your foot, god forbid, would they ever do it for you?

and please, in case you're wondering, i STILL do regularly leave my seat.

10:51 PM  
Blogger satchisgod said...

What in the name of Ozzy is happening to dees warld...where will we evil pple go...too much evil really dead? sigh!
Long live Melkor!

12:48 AM  
Blogger KoPoS said...

as the time goes on, it seems as if the benchmark of 'being human' just goes lower and lower. i just hope we dont go down to a level cannibalism is the only thing that will differentiate humans from animals...

the preoccupation with the selves has reached such high levels, people almost forget that we live a society.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Arindam said...

Hmmm. India is going down the same route. There used to be a time when the moment you see a mother carrying her newborn kid on her shoulder, many people would rush up to over their seats. Now it feels odd when you are the only one.

4:56 AM  
Blogger That Girl said...

I know exactly what you mean M... it pissed me off so royally when i was in Canada when people rode on the subway or buses and acted like they were the only ones on the planet!...they wouldnt turn left or right to even look at what was going on....they just got in and sat down wherever...there were so many instances when they could have looked around and helped someone....but they didnt have a friggin CLUE.

India is so different that way... for all the crowd problems we have.... i noticed something that my eyes were blind to before i left for the West....people see ... people watch and people notice things here... we do have far better consciousness....meeting A for the first time.. i was alarmed at how i had to point out small things that came so easily for me.... and for him i had to educate!!!

1:26 AM  
Blogger ubergeek said...

M: I'd thought that common courtesy like that was sthng far more common over there than here in India. Well, is it just NY? And about doing the right thing, reminds me of a line in a Murakami book where sbdy says that he lives by one ode - to act like a gentleman at all times - to do the expected thing, to do the right thing, not what he wants. I wouldn't go that far, but I'd say that doing the right thing is something that is deeply ingrained in our minds - whether it is the school system or the way we were brought up.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Ratna said...

Hello M :) How are you doing? I missed reading your posts yaar! I won't even get to my Internet problems in this post. About the post, I have noticed this trend. I think this is a more individualistic society, unless you ask for help nobody would even entertain such acts. Whereas ours is a dependant society, we expect help even though we don't need it. I am not referring to the seat offering to a blind man. I am talking about general small help from strangers. Back home we tend to help older folks even if they don't need assitance, as a token of respect. Or even worse some grown-ups expect it. You did a good thing this morning ;) (kidding)

10:11 AM  
Blogger totti said...

The only factor of hesistancy in me is to do the right thing.Like i feel the pricks of other people's stare on me when i do such simple acts.Imagine if you go out of your way to help someone.People start looking for ulterior motives and stuff like that!

4:57 PM  
Blogger Rohan Kumar said...

As you state in the post what you did does not deserve a round of applause simply beacuse it was the right thing to do. But expecting similar behaviour from others is probably not right because one can only hope to lead by example. You can probably hope to shame them into doing similar acts someday but I dont think harbouring a feeling of hate and anger against individuals is the right way to go

5:07 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

The mention of people crowding near the doors reminded me of the locals in Bombay!! The trainw ould just about reach the station and slow down and people would start jumping off it while simultaneously people on the platform would start pushing and jumping on the train...and this for a train that would stop for at least 5 mins. Ive been pushed off a train once as it neared Andheri station..and hurt myself really badly, my fault you see, I was slow and the "lady" behind me was in a hurry.

As for leaving seats, yeah used to do that on a regular basis in Cal and even Mumbai, and got some very strange stares in response. In Mumbai the old lady I gave up the seat for actually told me I was being foolish, she wouldnt have left her seat for me, but thanks anyways :) such is life!!

1:53 AM  
Blogger Wanderlust said...

hey!this post makes me ponder back on the times when i used to think the same about *human niceties* i won't say you did a great thing today...buut rather that you have that thing called *humanity*...which soon will become redundent without the presence of people like you...have faith don't lose it,keep doing what you think is right and you never know you might compel people to introspect and lead them to do things they are supposed to ... love you and the way you are :-D

2:12 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ humsika thanks for visiting and reading my posts. Acting on impulse and on thoughts are probably what differentiates one person from another.
@ dd I don't know that and I am not saying that India was any better. But I've seen people being nice both in India and over here in the States the same way that I've seen the darker side in both places. I think it is an individual thing and is there in every society. May be depends directly on the pace of life.
@ bonatellis you actually did that? And people fell for it?
@ rimi you just reminded me of the days when I used to take the bus in crowded Calcutta buses and I know what you are saying is true. But I guess it's the way we are brought up and the act of doing "right" comes naturally even before you rationalize whether the deed will be appreciated and well taken.
And I'm glad you still do :))
@ biplab so you are saying that there is no hope for us? YOu aren't saying that I'm good, are you?
@ kopos thanks for stopping by. Couldn't agree with you more. People are just too preocupied with their own self these days.
@ Quincy the Quackpot isn't that sad? But I'm glad that there's at least one person in a crowd who will do the right thing.
@ grafxgurl I'm not sure if things are any better in India but I think that in India we are taught things like humility and respect for elders which is sadly missing here. And even if people in India are just as bad about self-preoccupation they sometimes do certain things because it comes naturally from the way they were brought up. However with the pace of life I guess it is a fast disappearing trait. Everywhere.
@ ubergeek I so agree with you. It is something that is ingrained and we perform without thinking. Thanks for stopping by.
@ ratna hey stranger good to see you after all this time. I hope the internet is not keeping you away. Ans yes respect for elders is something that seems missing in this country although to be fair I really like the way these people respect every occupation. But that deserves a post by itself so I won't ramble on.
@ totti please don't let that stop you. What's a stare in the biger picture :)
@ rohan I don't harbor any hate ( i really think hate is too strong a word or emotion for me). Anger yes may be, but mainly sadness and disappointment.
@ ron Public transport in big cities are probably all very similar. It's just very sad.
@ ashmi thanks for the nice words sweetie. I hope so too...

7:19 AM  
Blogger jaded said...

Once in the metro,I stood up to let this elderly lady sit and this horrible woman promptly came and sat down befor the lady could sit. And the old lady gave me such a tragic smile that i just couldnt say anything to that witch.
Then once, a woman with an infant was taking up more space than the others, but nobody was saying anything.Then this young girl comes in and demands that she put all the infants baggage in her lap as it wasnt her personal bus!
These people deserve to be kicked soundly.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Sagnik Nandy said...

i had read some time back that more than 50% ppl refuse to thank a gateman who holds a door for them. i guess with time we are becoming more myopic and blind to anything beyond our immeidate selves :( very nice post as usual.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post probably brings out a realization in people that something is incorrect. The other people in the train probably didn't think anything was "wrong" with what they did. The complete loss of compassion in one human being for another.

5:50 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ jaded you're back!!! Great! and yes, there are really strange and selfish people around.
@ sagnik some people back in Cal used to laugh at me because of the number of times I used to say thank you and please. A friend once commented that I had such a formal relation with my mom because I had said thank you when she had brought in a cup of coffee for me one day. And I had wondered if being nice was really considered strange. But in the States when I saw people saying thanks to everyone from the doorman to the bus-driver I just felt like this was the way things were meant to be. I only wish more people would learn and practice being a little nicer.
@ true blue guy it's this lack of realization that has me bothered. Compassion is such a beautiful word.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Prerona said...

v true. the day when something as simple as helping a child or an old person is going to be exceptional, we will know we have really 'gotten somewhere'

4:34 PM  
Blogger NoviceProgrammer said...

Hmm, well it is so true, a lot of people have a problem looking beyond their own needs...

I find it funny...seeing people climb over each other to get into the metro(Delhi)...for a seat for 5 mins...

10:50 PM  
Blogger Priya said...

I've always done these small things in Cal and couldn't care less about the 'funny'looks really and continue to do it whenever I get an opportunity. Never thought it was worth discussing, as always considered these very personal ethics. I'm no social activist or moral guardian, so never expected nor asked anyone to follow my footsteps. I'm really glad to find company in you.
Btw, if u can share yr mail-id I could mail u the article;)Sheer henglami on my part, of course:P

5:39 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ prerona good to have you back!
@ siddharth very true. Never fails to amaze me either.

10:34 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ priya so you think I'm being a moral guardian :))) I just feel a little disappointed in human kind, that's all. Call it my old fashioned sense of morality. I blame all those moral science classes they had in school :)
I would love to read the article. You can mail it to me at

10:34 AM  
Blogger IdeaSmith said...

I know what you mean. Here on buses, the conducters usually enforce the 'handicapped seating' and 'ladies seats'. No one appears to care about elderly people or pregnant women any more.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Point 5 said...

Great job...I hope this teaches a lesson to all those selfish, self absorbed ppl arnd you

U reminded me of my commute in overcrowded local trains in Mumbai. But I would always find people compassionate enough to give you their seats, if u had stood next to them for a long time...or if u were old.

Although this would not happen in the first class compartments...snobs who paid a little extra dough for their tickets with cling on to it dearly...

12:25 AM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

ok ... time for the next humanitarian act ... the next blog, i mean :)

4:53 AM  
Blogger the Monk said...

alright...keep being human...

8:33 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:52 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ ideasmith isn't that sad? And thanks for visiting.
@ point 5 so you're saying compassion has something to do with wealth or the lack of it?
@ bonatellis agreed but really hard pressed for time. will update soon but in the meantime I wrote up something for the Cal blog to compensate for the lack of posts.
@ the monk trying real hard :)))

3:53 PM  
Blogger Priya said...

heyyy Noooooo, I said I wasn't a moral obviously, you aren't one either, if I have company in you, right??;))) Let's just be that way, shall we? A li'l bit humane. sending u article.

11:37 PM  

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