Tuesday, July 15, 2008

After you, Sir

A few days back while traveling on the airport bus from the terminal to the craft, an old lady climbed in after me and as she was trying to balance her handbag and hold on to the rails, I offered her my seat. She smiled at me with a hint of grattitude and surprise. Considering that the gesture was not really grand or exceptional, I mean you would offer your seat to an older person or a pregnant woman (right?); it made me think that may be the older people in our country and not used to being treated nicely.

In most of the other countries I have been to, especially US and Australia, the way old people are treated is really great. They are given the rights and are given those without any hassle, its their right after all. A bus driver would lower the platform and would even get off to assist an old lady into the bus, still keeping to the schedule. They don't look pained doing that, its in their attitude and habit. I cannot understand why should it be different for us. And we claim to be a country seeped in traditions and values that have lasted over centuries.

The reason for me re-visiting this thought is an incident that happened yesterday. My dad went to the rail ticket reservation center to book tickets . Like every other time he stood in the senior citizen's line which had only 3-4 people ahead of him while the regular queue was a long one. When he reached the counter the clerk at the window asked him rudely,"Can't you see there's a long line, how did you come in the front?" My dad explained that he is a senior citizen and so he stood in this line. The guy went on to say that its a 'facility' and not a 'right' and my dad should stand in the queue rightfully. He went to say some rude stuff to people in general, humiliating my dad. I am so angry as I write this that my skin crawls, I could happily murder that guy. But my dad just told him that he's not going to say anything to him and he would know better when he turns 60. He gave my dad the ticket - my dad checked it and said he's given him for the Cantt Station while his form says he wanted one for the City Station. The clerk just looked at him and said that he's made a mistake and dad should stand in the line again to get it corrected. My dad came back with the ticket. He just sat quietly in his office room at home. He walked about from room to room not saying anything. My mom was so sad but she just told him to not worry about it, the clerks tend to behave this way to show off the little power they have and that he should just book online from now on. He was worried about the ticket but S told him that we could just buy a ticket from City to Cantt which is a 4-5 minute ride anyway. Its not a big problem but he has been deeply hurt, so much so that he just told mom what happened and that he should have checked the ticket himself, not a word more.

I need to tell a few things to explain why this makes me so mad and in a way sad at this.
My dad is a very simple man, my friends, S' relatives - they meet him for a while and tell me how easy it is to see what a good and simple man he is. I will tell you more about him. He has been the center of the family, the one who took on the responsibility while he was still in 10th standard. Married off all his sisters, with mum by his side of course. And so our household has been the nanihal and the place of countless summer holiday memories to no less than 16 kids over the years and continues to be for their kids. He's in them as the doting guy who ensured everybody had what they needed to have fun. He still carries that responsibility not like a weight but like a precious jewel.

He worked with the Govt. and was at very senior and influential posts. He was in a position of power but never behaved like a powerful man. While he was working he was respected by everyone for his work, for his rare trait of honesty in a civil servant and for the way he was with people. I remember countless examples ... like when a villager would come with his hand folded and a tin of homemade ghee as he had no money to give and be surprised to tears when his work got done without the ghee or the money; or when my dad would get transferred for not pleasing the ministers and be transferred back due to the public outcry over the mess the succeeding officer created. I remember that when he got transferred out of an area he worked in for more than 20 years, all of us were eating out every single meal for about 20 days to fit in as many invitations for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. The invitations were from dad's colleagues, bosses, juniors (even a few who he would leave to scamper and follow in another car if they were more than 5 mins. late for an inspection tour - but would never say a rude word to), the farmers impacted by his work, even our driver sahib. He's too modest to ever say it but that's his legacy, that's what he has earned. He's retired now but is still frequently called upon for his expertise and knowledge as a consultant to various projects or when the same ministers have explanatory meetings with the CM or the PM and know that the data they need will have to be researched for days while dad will be able to give from memory. Mom-dad are also as frequently called upon by countless people they have befriended over those years. At my engagement, which we wanted to be a close affair we had a guest list of over 450 'close' people including relatives, household-helps who were around as J and I grew up, old friends, colleagues etc. who all turned up from various places my parents stayed at. It might sound like boasting, after all every daughter would adore her mom-dad (ok, may be not always) but believe me its more that that.

To me? My dad is a softie, as I guess most dads are when it comes to their little girls. He's the one who would hide in the car after a quick hug when I'm being dropped to the boarding school. He's the one who would happily drive 10 kms. to take me to my favorite ice-cream parlor at 10 in the night. He's the one who told me I could do whatever i wanted to but never took my decisions for me. He's the one who would not ask me 'why' even once when I say I want to marry S, only if I'm happy. He's the one with the softest hands, a title now shared by S. He's the one who would take flak from relatives but let us do the outlandish things J and I want to do. He's always there, always loving, always smiling. And you have to see the way he takes care of my mum, I could love him for just that.

To me he's a man who came from a humble background, achieved much by god's grace and his capability, is a dude at what he does, loves his family and shows it, is the greatest dad, is ALWAYS nice to people, always goes out of his way every time to help people, had and still has a lot of clout due to his reputation but is always a polite guy. And he's my dad, I couldn't be more proud.
I have lived the life of a princess in a way and have seen him only as this man I describe here.

So, you have no clue how it makes my blood boil that there is this reservation clerk who is so drunk on his power to be able to tell people off that he just humiliates my dad for no reason. Just because he sits behind this counter he thinks he has the right to behave the way he pleases. This clerk obviously doesn't and needn't know the details I tell you about my dad but he could be expected to know how to behave with people older than him. He IS expected to know how to treat a senior citizen. I'm sure every senior citizen in that queue has a story their children can tell. He should know that a facility has not been given out of charity, its a right our senior citizens have earned having done their jobs, raised their families and having made their individual contributions. He should know that he will indeed, like my dad said, would stand in that queue one day and will hope that the person on the counter will treat him with dignity and respect he deserves. I hope the one manning the counter would be a better man than him.


Anonymous said...

It made me so sad to read this. I really wish I did not read this. I feel like breaking open that jerk's head. -- J

The Nomad said...

J,its scarier because them being so energetic and lively and capable .. I did not realize that there may come a time when I'll need to look out for them more. That may be now they need me to face some aspects of their life for them and what if I'm not around or don't realize they do?!

I was so angry I didn't know what else to do so I posted it here.

Serendipity said...

everyday i come to this post, and think of a million things to say. and im at a loss for words.

everyday I read this post and identify with it, your dad, and you more...What uve written about here is upsetting and blood-curling and Im determined not to be slient about things like this if/when they happen.

The Nomad said...

Thanks, Ser. I am not sure for what, but I guess you'll get it.

I was upset and so didn't post anything else and yesterday I wanted to but my net wasn't working. Will do now.