Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What would you do? : Obstacle Race

So, the second scenario in the series, this is something I remember reading about it in a moral education book, when I was 10. It has been such a long time, and knowing that this lesson has been around for such a long time, I feel amazed that certain things never change.

A few months back, me and my husband were driving down from New York City to New Jersey, and were suddenly brought to an abrupt halt by a street light splayed right across the road, spreading out through almost three lanes. It was my husband's presence of mind that we weren't hit by the car behind us and didn't injure ourselves. The driver from the car behind us stepped up to help us extract the car wheels from the iron lamp post and to redirect the traffic. All three of us managed to get the pole off the highway, yet there was some rubble right in the middle.

As we drove off, and recovered from the shock, we started talking about how bad it could have been and why weren't there any signs, warning drivers about the collapse. At that time, I asked my husband if we should be calling 911 and let them know of the incident, so at least other drivers would be safe. Even though, we were contemplating our next step, a voice inside said, "Somebody must have called already"! That voice, which blurs your vision, blurs the call of responsibility. And as usual, we over thought it, and ended up not calling the police or roadways. 

The next day, I went through the newspaper, checking to see if there were any reports about injuries or accidents due to the pole collapse. Not finding any news, I felt relieved that not calling after all, did not lead to any harm. But, it could have! When our car was screeching across the steel rubble, all I could think was why hadn't the authorities done anything about it. And minutes later, when we had escaped, I had forgotten about how the authorities would help. The problem is we think men in authority are superheroes, they should know everything, they should be capable of being present at multiple places at once, they should have the power to right the wrongs of every citizen and above all, they should be successful without any help from the common man. 

Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Authorities can do their jobs well, only if the citizens are responsible. And most of us have a very trivial definition of responsibility: there should be responsibility towards us, but we should not be held responsible for anything. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call, and that could help the authorities do their job and save people trouble. Why is it that once we are out of the woods, we forget about the people who could get stuck there? Aren't we supposed to be social animals, who are co-dependent? Why do we walk away from trouble, assuming that it is not our job. It is my job, my husband's job, my neighbor's job, your job, every person's job. 

What is the worst that could have happened even if we called 911? They would have told us off, saying they were aware of the situation. So what? At least I wouldn't have lost sleep over whether the rubble was removed, whether there were any accidents, if anyone was hurt. I have tried to change things after that, and what helps me is reminding myself that nobody else had seen the blunder. If they had, I wouldn't be stumbling across a pothole or some other hazard. Procrastination is mankind's biggest enemy. And I have had to fight it down many times, but I am glad that lately, I have been able to come out a winner.

So, my question again, is, what would you have done? Would you have walked away or done your part? Every person is busy in their fast paced life, but should we be waiting for an accident to come as a rude awakening? Overcoming the hurdle of procrastination turns out to be one of the most challenging tasks and how one does it, completely differs from person to person.

Looking forward to hear your thoughts, reactions and experiences!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What would you do? : Spitsville

Life is full of choices. But the most important ones are where you have to identify right from wrong and pick a path. We come across such moments quite frequently in our daily routines, maybe some of us give it a thought, and then we move on to follow our busy schedules. This column is my attempt to reflect on such occasions and not let the sense of responsibility escape from me, on the pretext of a busy life. 

Also, this is where I would like my friends, and readers to share their thoughts and think out loud about their experiences. I am hoping to open up a discussion and do the right thing as a community.

So, here goes...


Having grown up in India, "Gutkha Spit" was something that became part of the surroundings. As unhygienic as it was, I never saw the frequency of the spit marks go down. I remember corners of our apartment system lined by red streaks. Every other year the maintenance would paint the walls and within just a few weeks, the walls would return to their former glory, so to say. It was beyond my understanding what compulsive disorder people suffered from, unable to stop themselves from spoiling something pristine.

As I grew up, I got used to the fact that some things never change, the same thought a lot of Indians have grown up with. By the time I had my own independent thought process, there was nothing that used to annoy me more than people spitting all along the road, walking by. It had become part of their natural demeanor, and this with awareness signs all around. T.B used to be a deadly disease in India, and there was almost an epidemic of it. Given that, there were multiple public awareness programs, discouraging people against spitting, as that is the most common means of spreading the disease. Yet, people spit, they ignore their health and others' health. The "Chalta hai" attitude prevailed. I couldn't understand why nobody would stop these people.

And one fine day, on my way back from college, I just couldn't hold it in. I was riding my Dio, and the cyclist in front of me spit. I got ahead of him , and asked him why he had spit. He looked at me, with amusement, and said, "Aap pe gira kya (Did it land on you)?". As, I nodded my head in a "No", he was shocked to see me make an intervention, when it was supposedly none of my business. "Toh phir problem kya hai (So, what is your problem)?", said he in his defense.

So, my problem was that nobody thought it was their business. Why should I have had to be affected by it, before I can raise my voice? I tried explaining to him how spitting on the road is equivalent to spitting in his home. And he looked at me, like, I was crazy or something. But, one thing I did notice that he did not like to be cornered, and he quickly owned up, saying "Sorry". I drove away, but felt satisfied that I had at least conveyed that it is not okay to spit on the road. Maybe it was my naivety, that I thought it would change anything. But, today, 10 years later, I see things have improved a little bit. There are not as many red streaks along the walls of my apartment. And although, I do not know the reasons to this, I would like to believe that it was the voices of many people like me, that made things a little better, however little it maybe. 

Now, my question to you is, what would you have done in that situation? What would you do, today,  if you saw someone spit or throw trash on the streets? It is easy to expect everything to be clean and tidy, but who is going to do the dirty job, the dirty job of being loud and clear, of being stern and taking a stand "Sab kuch nahi chalta hai". I do not know if that person stopped spitting after that or not, but at least he spent those 2 minutes thinking about it. And sometimes, it just takes a thought to make you see between right and wrong. 

Have you had that moment? Have any of you had such an experience? Is it naive to expect one voice to change the society? Please share your thoughts!!

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