It is a bad time for good people, generally speaking. Try to be nice and you will be either seen as stupid, who does not know his own good, or thought of as selfish, with some hidden motive.
Innately, some philosophers say, all people are good. True. Whenever people are shaken, their inner person somersaults out of their core. But to find the people who are good for the sake of goodness is like looking for a tree in a desert, a once in a great while thing. If anyone by their act of goodness, stoked that innate human quality, people around him feel guilty, or rather jolted. The spark of goodness, kindles the fire of catharsis.
This story is about a guy who set the cathartic fire in people aflame by his simple act of generosity. I met him on a Safa Tempo that plied along the Jawalakhel-Kosteshwor route. All he did was give his seat up at the slightest hint of somebody in need. It was indeed a very good gesture, a virtue to be praised. To practice it, however, you need sound and steely nerves, for goodness immediately gives rise to conflict between the good inner person and the selfish outer one. Some of us have already suffocated our inner person. But in many of us, it still breathes and occasionally struggles for one jolly good somersault.
The guy’s good gesture roused different kinds of outbursts of sentiments in other passengers. He was aware of these inner outbursts, but they did not deter him. He kept doing it despite it putting him in an awkward position and others in an embarrassing one.
I noticed him for the first time one evening on my way home from the office in Sanepa. The tempo was full, but luckily somebody got down and I eased in. There were five passengers on the right side and five on the left. “Only for Ten People, Please,” cried a writing inside the tempo.
He was perched in the middle of the facing row, his posture indicating that his stop was near. But I misunderstood. Instead, his manner suggested readiness to give his seat up to anyone who’d be left standing. Whenever I chanced upon him, I always found him seated. I guess he took the tempo either from Jawlakhel or Lagankhel. But he would be standing before we crossed the Thapathali bridge, which meant that the tempo would be full somewhere along the Kupondole road or at the stop near the bridge.
This one day when we were approaching Kupondole, someone waved a hand and the driver stopped. At the next stop, as an old man was preparing to climb up, the guy sprang up and offered his seat. “You can seat here, uncle,” he said to the man who appeared to be in his fifties.
This seemingly kind act frayed some nerves as it brought about great flutter inside the little tempo. As the good guy hoisted his little bag, it struck a passenger’s face behind, and he stepped on the shoes of another while moving ahead. Both victims let out an irritated ‘ach’ and glanced at him cursingly. They probably didn’t like being woken out of their weary dreams. The good guy apologized.
The old man squeezed in, and great shift began inside the tempo. The passenger who got hit, shifted forward along the seat. The one behind him got the wind and he too shifted forward, leaving the seat at the fag-end for the new comer. By this time the driver had enough. “Hurry up. Hurry up. I can’t wait here forever. Can’t you see the traffic police? I’ll be fined,” he said, and roared off.
By the time all eyes were on the guy. He could read what the eyes said.
The disdainful eyes said, “We are not impressed.” The contemptuous eyes said, “Stupid. Why do you have to be so generous?”
The critical eyes said, “Trying to be nice, eh?”
The guilty eyes, of those who thought they should have offered the seat in the first place, said, “Say, there ARE people who care for others.”
The eyes of those who were hurt said, “If you are so generous, why do you sit at all?”
The uneasy air lingered on inside the tempo for a while, but fizzled out before we crossed the bridge leading on to the Maitighar road.
Everyone was lost in their weary dreams again.
A few days later, we were together in a tempo again. Somehow it was not full until it reached Baber Mahal. But at the next stop commuters jostled to get in and grab seats. A middle aged lady was left out at last. Holding to the metal bars at the entrance of the tempo, she timidly peered inside looking for a seat. “You can take this seat aunty. Please get in,” said the guy, and hopped out. Suddenly all eyes were on him again.
The basic rule people stick to these days is that when you do something for others’ convenience, it should not cost yours. Then you’d be downright stupid, right?
Giving is sharing what you have. Not what you have in excess. Giving what you have in excess is like ridding. While ridding you say, poor soul. While giving, in a true sense, you feel happy. Ridding, mildly swells the ego. Giving, greatly fills one with joy.
The lady got in. The good guy stood on the foot-rest holding the bars. The tempo rattled off. The lady looked at him thankfully and he smiled back. Luckily there weren’t contemptuous eyes and the hurt eyes. Few disdainful and critical eyes did try to embarrass the guy, but he ignored them.
Things looked pretty well until it started to drizzle. The lady’s face showed some concern. But as it began to rain, she almost panicked. She urged him to step inside and even tried to make room for him. “I am feeling bad. You are getting wet because of me,” she said. Some faces inside the tempo conveyed amusement. “It‘s okay aunty. I am getting down at the next stop. I’ll be fine,” the good guy said calmly, trying to assuage her guilt. Then he noticed that the eyes of other travelers were at work again.
The disdainful eyes said, “Khuchhing.” (That’s like saying, “You got what you deserved for your stupidity”)
The contemptuous eyes said, “So, are you enjoying the rain?”
The critical eyes said, “You don’t always reap what you sow.”
The guilty eyes, the same ones who always think they ought to have offered the seat in the first place, but never do, said, “Say, probably we were not supposed to get soaked, huh.”
The eyes of those who were hurt said… well, were there any hurt eyes this time round? Oh yes! The old lady’s. And her eyes said, “God bless you son.”
Next time, it was a 20-something girl. There was rush, as usual, jostling, as usual, and once inside, adjusting, as usual. And the guy volunteered, as usual. “Please take my seat,” he said. “My stop isn’t very far.” She boarded the tempo near Tinkune. Once comfortable she looked at him and smiled. He smiled back. She was fair looking, with silky hair and nicely dressed. Quite a beauty. And it was then that he realized why he didn’t have to be under the scrutiny of the eyes of disdainful, critical, contemptuous and guilty this time around. All eyes were on the girl, smitten!
Only thankful eyes were on him. “I can hold the bag for you,” said the girl with the thankful eyes. “It must be uncomfortable holding it while you are standing.” For a while he was lost in the sight of her beautiful face. Awaken from his stupor, he was suddenly aware of all the eyes. At her words, they kept shifting back and forth between him and the girl. Even before he could say anything, the girl had already stretched her hand. So he gave the bag to her smiling, and blushing.
For once, all eyes had the same thing to say: Smart-ass.