Lessons in compassion on a train journey

A terrible migraine interspersed with the conversation of my fellow passengers taught me a lot of things and made me think — about the need for compassion and how dangerous the lack of it can be especially among wannabe social  ‘reformers.’

The migraine struck in the middle of the night and I knew it would get worse the next day. The journey from Delhi to Bangalore involved two nights and a day and the day was sure to be ruined for me. The next morning, while the others in my bay, two young men and a woman – all traveling separately – were rested after a good night’s sleep, all I wanted to do was sleep in a dark and very quiet place. But that was not possible travelling in a train, especially with three very talkative co-passengers in my bay.

Note: The following incident can only be an once-in-a-lifetime experience, because I have never seen or experienced anything like it before or after. This is also not a sweeping indictment of graduates from elite institutions.

Through the hammering in my head and the flashing lights behind my closed eyes, I heard voices, especially of the young man who had made a dramatic (and noisy) entry the previous evening, with just ten minutes to go for the departure of the train. I had a small run-in with him about his excess baggage that he tried to stack in the aisle after filling up all the available spaces. Travelling in a confined space for nearly two days can be claustrophobic without passengers cluttering the little moving space with their luggage, and my suggestion to him to put away some in the luggage rack in the corridor was met with a snarl. Ultimately better sense prevailed and he did what I had suggested but kept making trips at regular intervals to check on them as he roundly condemned the attendants and others as being ‘thieves’. I later learnt that he was a fresh graduate from IIT Delhi and was on his way to his first job in Bangalore.

It was he who was talking now. He had dreams, he said – for India and Indians. ‘We have so much social consciousness in our college. We want to reform the society with our knowledge.’ I winced at his words as much as my throbbing head. Over several hours, he recounted the ideas, every one of them worked meticulously out in theory, backed with stats and figures as only an alumnus of that august institute can do. His fellow passengers were rapt listeners. I must admit that even to my migraine wracked brain, they sounded impressive!

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‘…..India can be only saved by education. Poverty can’t be controlled otherwise…Every child needs to get a good education,’ he said passionately. His plan to educate his ignorant countrymen was grand – one that would bring free education to poor children in all the districts of his state to begin with. He had even worked out the funding problem – in theory.

‘Foreign funds are the easiest to get for NGOs in education,’ he assured his spellbound audience.

There was a lull for a while and just as I was drifting off to much needed sleep, he thundered, ‘I want to be a social reformer. We need educated young people to enter politics; everyone who is in power is corrupt! We need honest young people to clean it up.’ (It sounds very familiar today, doesn’t it?) 

He spoke at length about the poverty he had known, with his father singlehandedly supporting both his and his dead brother’s family. He spoke about the extra money his mother and aunt were forced to earn by making pickles and papad. ‘I have known the worst poverty,’ he mused eliciting some admiring comment from the woman about his success. He sounded not humble, but smug as if expecting the kind of response he got from the woman.

All through the monologue, I was fighting the rising bile. I staggered through the lurching carriage to empty my guts out. Feeling faint, I staggered back almost falling. One pantry car attendant with his tray of samosas, held my arm to steady me and saw me to my berth. ‘Aap theek ho? Aapke liye chai laaoon? Koi aur cheez?’ (Are you ok? Shall I bring tea or some other thing for you?), he asked solicitously. I shook my head and ducked under cover. My co-passengers, notably the service-minded young man didn’t react to any of the happening around him.

Ajay, for that is the name of the pantry car boy, came several times to see how I was and insisting that I should eat or drink something. I am sure he lost some money in sales commission because of his frequent visits. Still no response from my co-passengers. After all they had much larger issues to deal with — like the state of the country, than worry about an older woman traveling alone and was sick. Once or twice I requested them to please speak more softly, but beyond a cursory ‘sorry’ and a momentary reduction in the volume of the voices there was no change. The decibels picked up with the tempo and fervor of the young man’s dreams for his country. Perhaps he was angry with me for intervening the previous evening about his luggage. It was only after a heavy lunch that the sounds ceased in the bay and there was silence. I could finally sleep (despite the heavy snoring of the men) and that stopped my nausea and vomiting.

By late evening, I felt better and Ajay was the happiest to see me sitting up when he came to check on me. When I asked for some juice, he literally ran to get it for me from the other man who was selling that. It made me tear up. The woman was awake and she tentatively smiled at me. Nothing more. Perhaps illness spooks out some people and I was unlucky to have co-passengers who all fell in that category!

During dinner, Ajay brought me some extra soup, insisting that I needed it to keep my energy. Why was he so sweet to me? Maybe I reminded him of his mother or aunt, or maybe he was just a nice human being with empathy for another. His concern touched my heart.

I don’t like travelling like strangers during long train journeys and try to make small talk. Besides, I knew a lot about at least one of my co-passengers. So I told him I was impressed with his dreams and wished him luck . I asked him for his mail id because I wanted to share some of my thoughts apropos his dream for India. Thrilled to have impressed even a sick woman, he scribbled it in a piece of paper saying apologetically, ‘I will get my visiting card next week.’

I lay that night in my berth, a jumble of thoughts jostling in my head and making me fear that the migraine would return. These were some of the conclusions I came to:

  • Service without humility and compassion is at best a dole that makes the giver feel superior and the receiver feel like a beggar. In other words, giving and sharing are useless if they are done with condescension or contempt for those one is giving to.
  • Lofty ideas and theoretical dreams not backed by intent and action are useless and even dangerous because then they are agenda-driven.
  • When one is intent on serving others, it is good to start small, but start immediately, lest the wish to do so dissipates after a time.
  • Education means more than a degree, even one from an elite institution like the IIT. Also, it does not entitle anyone to feel like and expect to be treated like a demi-god.
  • Vanity and self-centeredness are contraindicated in a social worker.
  • Forgetting one’s roots is one of the worst things a human being can do. It reduces his or her humanity.

When I compared the two, Ajay, who was also from the home state of my elite friend, came out being the better. He was more educated in a non-academic, but in the real sense of the word. What was more, he had compassion that was so lacking in the former. So what if he didn’t have grandiose dreams and schemes for his countrymen? I would have bet my last rupee on him and the cleaner boy who returned the coin thrown to him out of contempt. He had more dignity and class than my ‘educated’ friend.

I should have let it go. But I couldn’t. I felt that I should speak to him about the things that bothered me. I got up and wrote a letter to him, giving him all the benefit of doubt for his behaviour. Maybe he was really a good human being who had been momentarily blinded by his extraordinary achievement. I later mailed it to him and got a reply from him some days later — a profuse apology for his behavior with an assurance that he had meant all he said about serving people. He wished me good health! Subsequent mails (no, I didn’t harangue him 🙂 ) went unanswered.

PS: I don’t know where he is now, or what he is doing, or even if he is doing the work he so passionately talked about. But I hope that he has not gone the way of a certain someone with a similar elite degree who came into public life with honest intentions and sincere plans for the common man of the country; someone who has instead tasted the headiness of power and learnt the ropes of the dirty game of politics in double quick time — of divisive vote banks, hate mongering and sops to attain his goal. Perhaps we deserve the likes of them because we treat them like demigods who have come to deliver us and give them the power to misuse it.

I sincerely hope my train friend has not turned out like that and is working with compassion and humility and succeeding. Maybe he is part of the young brigade at Super 30,that is preparing poor students for the entrance exams.  And if he is reading this, I would like him to also read the  lovely post written by my dear friend Bhavana on how to nurture compassion.

I would love to hear your impressions about the whole episode. Do share them, won’t you?

Image courtesy: This page: www.quotespin.com Home page:paracletos.org

37 comments

  1. Your conclusions made me nod nineteen to a dozen. A ‘reformist’ with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude is a dangerous thing indeed. His desire to ‘do good’ seems more a means of self-exaltation than of truly giving someone a leg up in humility… knowing he has been given a leg up when he needed it.

    As for the other IIT-alum…. time will tell. 🙂 I hope I am wrong in my assessment of him.

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    1. Yes, he was that. And giving has to be done with utmost humility for it to benefit both the giver and the receiver. Amen to your hope, though I am rather scared of theoretical reformers 🙂

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  2. I also wanted to share this – my mother would have us give away our outgrown clothes, books, and toys to our domestic helper’s family. This woman had 2 daughters. My mother made sure both of them stayed in school by paying their tuition, buying their text books, note books, stationary, uniforms, and never allowing them to come and help alongside their mother. She always used to say, “You never know how far people will go when they’re given opportunities.” Both girls graduated – one became a typist (in those days) later upgraded her skills and learnt to use a computer, she now works in an accountant’s office. The other became a school teacher in a small local school. My mother showed me that we can all help our country get better by doing small but meaningful things, within our reach.

    Because really, what’s the point if 20% of us are rich? With 80% facing desperate poverty, we’ll always remain a third world country. Unless the 20% reach out to the 80%.

    I love this pantry car boy Ajay! I wish I could give him a hug:)

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    1. What your mother did is exactly what we should all do. Start small, but stick with it. Large dreams often don’t come to fruition because by the time one’s personal needs and wants are met, there is no time or resources left to do much. I would say that even NGOs often go off track. The amount of work they need to do to keep account of funds, the huge salaries to the administrative staff who do it, the do’s they have to organise at great cost for the donors, all these take away a lot from the focus of the NGO. The actual benefits accruing from them is just a fraction of the entire project cost. In the event, more often than not, these are reduced to personal or collective showpieces. Any organisation that is savvy enough to find loopholes in funding strategies can make millions while making fools of millions 😦
      And oh, I did give a hug to Ajay 🙂

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  3. I feel, as a culture, we Indians have become very competitive and materialistic. Hardly any Indian parent talks about compassion or helping others. During the freedom struggle generation (of grandparents), it was considered noble to stand up for something bigger, to put other people ahead of us. Now parents tell their children to not be “foolish”, to be “practical”, and put so much emphasis on degrees, job titles, and salaries. There is so much obsession with material success which breeds selfishness and fundamentally goes against thinking beyond ourselves – where are we headed as a community, as a country, does everyone have the same opportunities, how can I stand up to unfairness EVEN when it doesn’t impact me, etc. This is probably why we Indians are well known as doctors, engineers, and software professionals around the world, but our nation continues to lag.

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    1. Wonder how your comment was held for moderation. Materialism rules and if we speak about idealism, we are either brushed off or ignored completely. The thing is to strike a balance between the two. If there is no one doing well, who will help others? It is like keeping everyone poor so that all are equal. This method has failed in epic ways around the world. So it is important to cultivate the habit of sharing and giving from childhood. We shield our children from pictures of hunger and need to protect them in their cocoons of security, with the result that they grow up knowing only one side of the coin and are unable to either empathise or feel compassion when they actually see poverty or inequality. Often, I have seen contempt for them even in young children, learnt no doubt from their elders’ reactions. Unfortunately, in our country it is considered the right of the poor to get freebies, instead of empowering them to make their livelihood, if not their fortunes.

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      1. I agree, freebies don’t help, but empowerment does. Only when you work hard for something and earn it, you understand it’s value. I also agree some of who are privileged must be successful but we should redefine success to be something useful to society – start a business that creates jobs, design a software that helps the blind, make a real contribution to scientific research, etc. We can still create wealth but in a more meaningful way.

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        1. Ah, but Priya, that is not what vote bank politics is all about, is it? It is about who gives the maximum freebies in the guise of úplifting’people, reducing them to beggary and then into demanding people. The idea is to keep the poor poor so that the giver including the political masters can reap the benefits and also feel good about giving them doles. I have done many posts on the rich-poor divide in the category of Society. Perhaps you’d like to check out one of them? https://cybernag.in/2013/11/21/new-caste-equation/

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          1. Yes unfortunately, that’s how it is with our politicians. I think we should forget politicians and do what we can as people. I will check out your post.

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  4. There is so much of value in this post! I can imagine that in my youth I was a bit like that young man – big on words, convinced the world needed fixing, but less able to take action. It is humbling, to grow older and realise that while words are important, action matters more. Words do matter – by sharing your story you sow seeds of compassion that others might harvest.
    For me, though, these words really strike a chord: “giving and sharing are useless if they are done with condescension or contempt for those one is giving to.” Absolutely agree. It’s how we give that matters, not how much.
    Thanks for your comment on my blog that brought me here and thanks for joining in 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion!

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    1. So good to see your comment here, Yvonne! I agree that it is humbling to grow older and become wiser (hopefully!!). We all grow up thinking like that young man, but with more avenues open today for actualising those dreams, I felt that I could help nudge him a little towards that goal by writing to him that night. Years later I still feel I did the right thing and I really hope he is out there doing something good, big or small, but good and with love and compassion 🙂

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  5. Ma’am this is an enlightening post. I still believe people are good, however, they need a little reminder sometimes. I hope the IIT guy understood what you wanted to say and doing what he said. And hats off to Ajay.

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    1. How right you are, Archana! It was precisely that assumption which made me write to him, to remind him of his roots and his hardship that had brought him where he could do something for others, in a more compassionate manner.

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  6. Hi Zephyr,

    I’m not young enough to know everything any more, but I’ll try and not let that stop me from weighing in on this. 🙂

    To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the most worrisome sentence in the English language is possibly, “HI, I’m well educated and I’m here to help you.” I find it interesting that we often correlate education and wealth with the capability to help others. I believe that it is a strong sense of empathy and not sympathy that makes a world of difference to our abilities to impact the lives of others positively. I also believe that empathy is not correlated in any form or shape with education and wealth. Most of the readers (and you) have already pointed that, for every educated person who is self absorbed there could be one or more who aren’t. Similarly, there are examples of wealthy do-gooders who fall on both sides of this spectrum.

    This kind of leads us to, “where does empathy then arise from?” I don’t know if we understand that well. At some level, it seems to arise in personalities who’re able to set aside their personal views, objections and biases when the viewing the world. It seems to arise in people who’re capable of understanding the frailties of our moral standards and eliminate judgmental adjectives like ‘good’, ‘bad’, right, wrong, etc. A critical component of a service oriented mindset seems to be an attitude that surrenders to the experience without getting mired in ‘I’m here to help’ but embraces a more open ‘I’m here to listen and I don’t know if I can help, but maybe we can help each other’ attitude.

    My personal track record on social service is rather poor (restricted to monetary donations and the occasional jaunts to help friends and family in their causes, which are rather poor substitutes for the real thing). So you’ll have to take my comments with a largish pinch of salt. But, I’m working on it. For now, my goals around service involve simply getting better at interacting with my fellow citizens and learning to listen better. Some day, I hope to graduate to actually helping some one out.

    I’d cut the young IIT-ian some slack. Enthusiasm often blinds us to realities right in front of our eyes. As long as it is enthusiasm and not malice, we can comfort ourselves that it is not all that bad in the grand scheme of things. I do hope that your email triggered in him a sequence of thoughts in the direction of paying more attention to and connecting in a genuine way with people who may be in his immediate vicinity. This is not to say that an abstract goal of helping nameless, faceless people is not worthy. I happen to believe that you cannot cross that chasm without having made an attempt to understand human nature first.

    An understanding of human nature is not taught in any of our educational institutions. IIT is no exception. It comes only through life experiences. It is the rare youth who can display such maturity, since they are yet to accumulate experiences.

    I’ll take a leader who genuinely cares about the people over a Harvard or IIT educated leader any day. Of course, I’d love to have both in the same package, because I’m greedy like that. 🙂

    As always, an excellent topic and thoughtful narration, Zephyr. Loved reading it.

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    1. Your first sentence makes me smile because I am not old enough to believe that I have all the wisdom and yet I wrote this post 😀

      You know, I gave that young man the benefit of all my doubts about his motives and intent and cut him long slack too — which is why I wrote that letter to him in the first place! Even I hope he is out there somewhere quietly doing his bit for the society. My quarrel with him was not about his mega dreams or macro planning but his lack of empathy and compassion, or even plain understanding. The most unpardonable act of his which still swims before my eyes is the coin thrown at that boy. How can someone who has so much contempt for the poor serve them?

      As for your efforts to understand and interact with your fellow citizens, isn’t it the first step towards compassionate service. Everyone of us can’t become a social worker, which is why it is best to start small and start soon, as I have said in the post. Even I am greedy that way, Srini. How wonderful it would be to have someone who is educated in the best institutions, has humanity at his core and is also a great leader! Hey, have you thought of becoming one such leader? 🙂

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  7. I am now living in a housing complex where many IITans and Berkeley and Harvard people live. Most of them are a bit reserved but I know some people who are very soft hearted and some very indifferent with their neighbours or drivers or servant maids. Just a couple of days back I came to know that one person who is highly educated came and told some drivers that if they or anybody they knew needed money for heart operation or anyother severe ailment, they can contact him. I feel education should help gain knowledge as well as other good qualities to be a good human being.

    The IIT boy also might change after he settles down, after the initial euphoria of IIT education settles down and the reality stikes! Ajay seems to be practical and with a heart.

    When my sons were small I used to prefer going in general compartments where people used to help me a lot. I never liked A/C compartments. People were indifferent there. But now we prefer to go by A/C compartments and we don’t get to know our fellow passengers!

    Enjoyed reading your beautiful post, Zephyr!

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    1. Oh, there are any number of highly educated people who have a large heart filled with compassion too, Sandhya. It was my misfortune to have encountered that boy that day. And while there were other young people who were indifferent too, I sort of felt that maybe is someone spoke to this fellow, he might see how the world sees him and that is why I decided to send off that mail to him. I have lost the mail ids — both mine and his since it was on an old mail client, but the handwritten letter was discovered some days ago and so I was compelled to write this post. I used to travel in sleeper compartments till a decade ago, but these days, I go by AC and miss all the action of a sleeper compartment,not to speak of all the yummy stuff you get there!The AC folks mostly keep to themselves but even here I have had some wonderful co-passengers. Nothing we can generalise about, right?

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  8. One thing I have noticed is that these reputed schools of higher learning thrust more knowledge than wisdom in their young students.They are taught to be ambitious,excel in their jobs and to worship Mammon.No wonder you came across an young man of the type.There are countless exceptions too of brilliant minds with compassionate hearts working for the well being of the disadvantaged.Perhaps noble values are instilled at home and not at educational institutions.
    I loved the well written post

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    1. Oh yes, we have so many of those too. Even among my school friends there are many highly educated and successful people who are doing so much — by way of money, time and compassionate service. But there are so many of the type you have mentioned — those who look for the most lucrative job and personal advancement alone. And yes, ultimately, the seeds of compassion and service is sown in the family and when young.

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  9. TheMomCafe.com · · Reply

    Ah- the dichotomy is so revealing, isn’t it? That elite man with his chest puffed up with new found intellect, and his narcissistic command for attention and reverence… and then the sacrificial servant who humbly cared for you and attended to your needs without a miss.

    You know I am a Christian, and that servant screams Christ. Ironically, the man with the power to take on the room got all the attention, while in the precious background of ‘humanity’ the greater love shines through in Ajay.

    Which is more powerful?

    This reflects society, doesn’t it? Those humble serving hearts ‘seem’ to not have the power, due to the dominance of the Voices that speak louder. So the reality is that in this landscape your experience paints, I gather it’s the story of all the ages.

    But in the end? The power ultimately shifts. At least that is my belief!!!

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    1. Welcome to Cybernag and thank you so much for the lovely comment. Yes, in real humanity lies divinity. Only it is not always that the powerful are devoid of humanity. It was an unfortunate day that I got to see the worst of it, but the blow was softened by the appearance of the best of it too in the form of Ajay. The most important thing to remember are our roots and the path we have trodden, especially if it has been a difficult one. One fervently hopes that power shifts to the good, whether they be powerful or not.

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  10. This definitely underscores the theory that it takes more than just a school education to broaden the mind and heart! I guess the young man in question had more enthusiasm than any other feeling but he certainly seems to be spurred more by the hope of recognition in doing something for the country rather than the actual act!
    A very dangerous combination, as you noted!!

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    1. You have said it perfectly. That young man was more interested in the takeaways from his social service than with actual service. Besides, making macro projects and long term plans gives one a sense of actually doing something while doing nothing. With the focus on a well paid job and the perks, we have given the concept of education a one-dimensional definition that also boosts egoism and a sense of superiority. Thanks a bunch for sharing this on 1000 voices for Compassion FB page. 🙂

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  11. That was quite an experience. I have noted that in the public space, people often care very little for the comfort of others. I see people speak loudly over their phones, do poojas early morning with accompanying loud noise, weddings, functions etc. caring two hoots about others’ wellbeing. It was really terrible that none of them actively sought to know your wellbeing. My experience in trains has been that people are mostly warm and caring. Though, I used to hate speaking to anyone when I was younger and traveled alone. 🙂 The dichotomy that you’ve brought out is wonderful. That is not to say that all educated folks and all the less privileged behave along similar lines, as you have yourself pointed out. Yes, lot of time we give out of smugness or with a feeling that we are doing something spectacular for which the receiver must worship the very ground we walk on. If they don’t we feel disenchanted. I do hope that the IITian became more wise and compassionate later. I had recently read a book of stories by Sudha Murthy. She had some wonderful tales that highlighted similar moralities and human character. That certain someone you drew parallels with has disappointed me a lot as well. I hope the people see through his cunning nature and ridiculous approach this time around. A fabulous post as always.

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    1. Didn’t I say at the beginning that this must have been a once in a lifetime experience? I am prone to migraines and have been laid low by one on many long journey. But that was the first time something like this had happened. People generally are considerate if not helpful in other ways. I have had lovely experiences when i have travelled with my boys, as they used to be quiet and friendly. In those days one was not as paranoid as parents these days need to be, while letting children interact with strangers 🙂 I sincerely hope my train friend found his roots and his heart and is today a compassionate soul helping others. And also hope he is dping it altruistically. Don’t they say, ‘What the right hand gives, the left should not know?’

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  12. I generally get wary of people who talk in terms of reforming society, Zephyr! Whether they are the educated elite or not. More often than not, I have found that they can think of serving people in the abstract – but cannot serve one-on-one. Abstractions like ‘Society’, “the underprivileged’ etc are easier served than a Nayak or a Gomti – it is easier to have a convenient image of an abstraction than try to fit in a real person into the image you prefer to serve. Not to mention the fact that a real person may have his own priorities and may not necessarily want OR be ‘properly’ grateful for what you are willing to give.

    A compassionate person serves without also having to serve notice of the fact that she is serving. A person lacking empathy and compassion, in my opinion, is incapable of serving no matter how pious his intentions are about serving. I had been associated with an NGO and have seen people like this – who quit well-paying jobs in order to ‘serve a cause’ BUT found the reality not to their taste. Especially the fact that the people they were ‘serving’ would not genuflect once a day in front of their magnanimous selves and, thus, they ended up going back to the corporate sector where their rewards are more reliable 🙂

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    1. Ha ha! I liked the bit about the beneficiaries of ‘magnanimous souls’ not genuflecting before them! Like Rachna has pointed out, we give and then expect eternal gratitude and cravenness from those we give. I agree about abstraction being the easier option to actually getting down to do something. MAcro level ‘service’ is always more visible and glamorous, not to speak of — paying. I once had a lady tell me how she was planning to start an NGO for giving free residential education to poor girls. What she was angling for in the whole thing was a plush house where she would live on a ‘decent honorarium’. The money of course would come out of the donations or grants.

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  13. I loved your post. I have had similar experiences during my long Mumbai to Kerala trips. The so-called educated in the AC compartments were so snobbish, now I do not book tickets in them. I feel helpless if I am travelling alone with my children. Its better to talk to more normal people in the Second class sleepers who are more compassionate and polite. No generalisations here.

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    1. Welcome to Cybernag, Latasun 🙂 While I agree that it is more likely we find helpful people in the sleeper class, I have had very good co-travellers in AC coaches too. For someone who gets a migraine pretty regularly, I have suffered on several journeys with considerate people. I remember how once a lady had had her dinner under the aisle light because I was sleeping and the light might have disturbed me. I agree that we can’t generalise, that is why I had put the disclaimer at the outset 🙂

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  14. I remember a quotation attributed , I think to Einstein (I could be wrong) that said something about how he was doing fine till “education” spoilt him. I think the bombastic fellow you mention must have been a brand ambassador for such spoilt types. Today I see more education per se, in illiterate folks with native sense and a great respect for where they come from. Another thing, is this big misconception about what is meant by “Sanskar”. But I must stop before it becomes a post …..

    Excellent post, Zephyr and very timely.

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    1. Thanks for the appreciation, Suranga.
      I would have loved to hear you expound on Sanskar, Suranga! Who better than you? Yes, that fellow must have been a brand ambassador of spoilt brats of the elite kind 🙂 That was one journey that was eventful in every way. The honest labourer is much more dignified than the most educated of people. Of course this is not to tar the rest who are educated in every sense, for there are many of those around too.

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  15. This post is dot on. I walk around a lot of social workers–some are truly extraordinary but many have lost sense that they are only doing a lot of talking, have become egoically proud, tuned out from the Other, and have become aggressive interpersonally. I wince at the irony sometimes. The first important piece of any social reform is self-reform–to keep tilling self, to keep cleaning and softening self, to become more aware of the other. Thank you for this brilliant post. And also thank you for mentioning my guest post on your blog.

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    1. You have said it all, Bhavana. One has to reform oneself before looking outward so that one may connect to others. Self importance grips the so called social reformer before accomplishing anything. And talking comes very easy, doesn’t it? Linking your post was the most logical thing considering the subject of the post 🙂

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  16. Thank you for writing this fabulous post, Zephyr. Really goes to show how the so-called elite education can sometimes go to people’s heads! I agree completely with your conclusions. All this notion of ‘saving my poor fellow citizens’ because I have figured out the ‘right’ way, as you so eloquently express “every one of them worked meticulously out in theory” is actually totally opposite to the idea of real service to the humanity. I hope someday this IIT-alum will grow up wise enough to realise this. I really hope he and others like him will get to read this post, somehow 🙂 Thank god for people like Ajay who reinforce our faith that humanity survives because of these fundamental virtues like compassion, empathy, humility and just plain goodness. A wonderful post!

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    1. One of the reasons why this happens I guess is because we place such great value on graduating from elite institutions. Getting into them as one professor put it, ‘is a matter of knowing the right answers on that particular day and time.’ So often the line dividing those who got in and those who didn’t, is so thin as to be practically invisible. What got my goat that pain-wracked day was the fact that instead of being grateful and humble for his achievement, this boy was acting like he was God’s gift to Indians. If it had not been for his hard-working parents and aunt, he might not have got a chance to see the insides of an IIT. Yes, it lovely human beings like Ajay who make this world a better place to live in. God bless his soul 🙂

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  17. Hmmm….quite an episode it was. I wish that guy reads the post wherever he is now. May be he changed. The way you wished or the other way round. May be if it was someone else in your place, may be they would have told them loud and clear to keep quiet. It is so unlike of you to be loud or rude and especially in the pain, I can understand what it must have felt like. My respect goes to the attendant guy. Once again, your story affirms that modesty, manners, compassion and empathy doesn’t have to do anything with education. AT ALL…be it from elite institutions or anywhere else. And the likes of your elite friend, he has a made a fool of himself and the whole country. I so so agree to all you have mentioned. One has to never forget your roots. I always keep remembering it to keep me grounded. okay…I will stop here 🙂

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    1. I doubt if it would have made any difference even if I had loudly asked them to keep quiet. They were discussing such important issues to bother about disturbing others 😛 Yes, definitely a degree alone does not make for education at all. I had looked for Ajay in my other trips for months but didn’t come across his cheerful face. Maybe he had gone to a better job. I am sure wherever he has gone, he must have done well for himself. And that cleaner boy! I hope he makes it really good in life and one day is in a position to help others with respect, which he knows how to give. No matter what we become in life, we should always look back and see the road we have traversed.

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