It’s 8.30 in the night and I am sitting on my front porch, overlooking the road. It’s dark on the road, due to the dim street light. I have switched off the lights on my porch, so it’s like a vantage point for me, offering an unobstructed view of the passing vehicles and people, while being invisible to them.
I am trying to connect to a telecom customer centre, and I know my attempts are futile. But I still persist, as I don’t like accepting loss so easily. Not at least in arguments. I hear a rustling sound nearby. It’s a coconut tree branch, dried, dead, which has fallen across the road. A bike comes at it’s majestic speed, brakes near the coconut branch, rides over it, and is gone in a flash. I get up from my seat to clear the road off the obstruction, but stop halfway.
I have enough time at hand since I am trying hopelessly to connect to the customer care, and I know that I have an opportunity here. The opportunity to observe the behaviour of the road-smart people who pass by. I know that the the branch is on a straight road, and poses no immediate danger to any biker, as they can see it from miles. But how they react to it, will be a subject of observation. I give about half and hour of road time to the branch, after which I will remove it myself and clear the road.
I sit back, with my eyes on the road. The customer care centre no longer interests me. A bike is coming along the road at good speed. It’s slows down, crosses over the branch, and speeds away. Another bike does the same. Then it’s a car, and an auto rickshaw, another car, a bike. All drive, avoiding it by riding on the very edge of the road, or slowing down. A bicycle rider comes along, ringing his bell. My hopes soar high. At last, I might witness some sense of social responsibility. The bicycle rider, doesn’t need to even slow down. He wouldn’t care less. Worst of all, a man who comes walking after that, does the same. It’s the man from the neighboring village. This is as much his road as mine. But he doesn’t seem to even notice the branch.
It’s almost 20 minutes past since the branch is on the road. I am tired of being bitten by mosquitoes, so I get up to clear the road. Then I see in a distance, a door to door fruit vendor, pushing his cart, with his unsold stock, back home. He has walked in this manner the entire day. At the time when I like to be at home, fresh and relaxing, he is still miles away from his home. It’s a long, tiring walk back home, which he takes day after day, along the same road. And this coconut branch will always be a big obstruction for a man tired by walking. He crossed the branch and moves ahead. I give a sigh of disappointment. A few paces ahead he stops his cart. He goes back, picks up the branch, moves it along the side of the road, and continues home. The next person won’t know that the road had had any kind of obstruction a few minutes back.
I just wonder. All these people are my villagers. They have passed in their expensive cars, and swanky bikes, proclaiming all along that this village belongs to them. That they are the real population of this village. But no one cares to do something which might benefit others. On the other hand, the fruit vendor, who does not originally belong to this village, who is always looked down upon and is called a “bhaiyya”, which means brother in Hindi, but is used like a racial abuse, has already crossed the obstacle but cares enough for other to remove the obstacle from the road. No matter what his mindset is in moving this branch, he is not to gain from the act today, so his act shows a sense of social responsibility.
And he is not the one who cares for our village, as some people feel.
This reminds me of a story where a king placed a big boulder on the road, and observed from a vantage point that all the rich and powerful people of his kingdom abused the king and the governance for not moving the stone. Meanwhile a poor farmer came along the road, and moved the boulder away, and found a pouch full of gold coins under it, which were kept by the king and meant for anyone who moved the boulder.
I wish to been a king. I want to gift the fruit vendor for this act of social responsibility.