Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Self and Sacrifice

Self-sacrifice is an ambiguous word - it starts with 'self'.

She looked at me longingly, the woman in the shabby dark pink saree. It was raining heavily outside, and in that overcrowded bus I was one of the lucky few with a place to sit. She belonged to the unlucky lot. After some time, she mustered her courage (or so I assumed) and asked me, with signs, to create some space for her to sit. I was half wet in my neat formals, I carried a bag full of books and another cover with some shopping, and the girl sitting beside me at the windowside had two shopping bags in her lap. No, I can't move, we would be too uncomfortable, I replied back in the same sign language.

She turned back with an apologetic smile. I returned to the refuge of my Walkman. After some time I noticed her talking to another woman in a shabby fluorescent green saree. Still talking, she removed her chappals from her feet and stood on the dirty wet floor. Why is she doing that? Is she too uncomfortable in her chappals? Perhaps they have become slippery in the rain. But are her chappals that bad, that she would rather dirty her feet than wear them? But then, she slid her feet into the other woman's chappals, who had removed hers to let her try them. And then, to my surprise, a smile lit up her entire face, her eyes shone, her lips parted, showing her misshaped white teeth. It was the kind of smile you don't generally see on the faces of people like us. It was a smile that started straight from her heart and travelled through her eyes, piercing my heart. I was shocked, because in that depressing overcrowded bus, no one could smile like that. What had she discovered? A pair of low cost chappals? Uncomfotable, for a reason I couldn't place, I returned to the refuge of my Walkman.

After sometime, the girl beside me left, and the woman in pink took her place. She heaved a sigh the moment she sat, and then started stretching her hands and massaging her shoulders and feet. Then she closed her eyes and just sat still. I observed her closely. Her saree was old and patched at a few places. Her chappals were poor. And to my amazement, on her dark body, she didn't have a single piece of jewellery - no ear rings or anklets or a chain, not even a nosepin or a single bangle.

She was a maid somewhere, and was coming back after a hard day. I now knew how she could muster the courage and ask for a place to sit, either she was too tired or she was used to asking others for help. She knew deprivation. She was deprived of jewellery. She was deprived of the pleasure of showing her pretty things to other women. She was deprived of the pleasure of buying her child the toy he wanted badly. She was deprived of the feeling of ending a day's work and going back to rest happily at home. And I had deprived her of 15 minutes of solace, because I would be too uncomfortable with all the shopping bags.

Guilt rose in me. And a justification too. I hate the rains, I hate the crowds, I really was irritated! I am a good person. I donate to needy people. I care, I sacrifice my savings for their happiness. But then, a mocking voice from somewhere within me replied - No, I sacrifice my savings for my happiness. I do end up doing good for them, but for the sake of my own good, to feel good about myself. Its cruel, but it makes sense. Because otherwise, I would have given her a place to sit. I did not, because it wouldn't have made me feel good. I wanted to assert, I wanted to deny my own accusation, but my voice went feeble. To my horror, my own conscience mocked at me.

11 comments:

Sapan said...

As Coleridge has said "all sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but a disguised selfishness."
I feel that we are all deluded worshipers of self, vainly hoping that we can satisfy all our worldly desires and at the same time possess the great satisfaction of selflessness just by a few petty acts of kindness.

Ankit Rastogi said...

Isn't it said that real happiness is derived from helping others? I remember my moral studies books preaching the same to me. So what's wrong in helping others to enjoy a few gulps of that ever elusive elixir? I also think we have the right to chose whom to help. I am only a human. If I was as selfless as the post wants someone to be, I might as well be a saint, but then they are human too, aren't they?

Subhrojyoti Sarkar said...

Precisely why I end up losing all the notes and coins of 20 or lower denominations while roaming in the streets. But then they are not of much use to me since Samosas do not taste as good here... :P
Call it my weakness, but the money is finding some way to circulate than to keep rotting in my pocket.

Antony said...

I am very sad Radha such a glorious concept is fitted in a most unsuitable situation. Your writing doesn't seem to be realistic. When I read I feel that you have gone through a similar experience and then you modified it to express the concept. It was a bad way of expressing things. The lady's smile is ok. But feeling that its from heart is a little bit awkward. The author haven't done any generosity in the situation, so how can she think of the self satisfaction in generosity, rather than as a way of criticizing generous people. If you plot the same concept from a situation where the teller does a generous attempt then, it would have conveyed but here every thing seems to be bogus....
Radha, really I am very sad for this work. The concept is so glorious but it was not well written. From the comments above I could see the disagreement, becoz they are not in a position to appreciate its glory.

Radha said...

@ Sapan: Yeah.. Somehow your comment makes me feel worse..

@Ankit: The post doesn't want you to be selfless. It just tells you that there is no such thing has selflessness, not at least among people like you and me. I don't know how saints are different from us though.

@ Shubro: Not so sure if you got my point.. but anyways, thanks for appreciating :)

K.G. said...

In India we see such a contrast in lifestyles everyday. We get used to the idea that suffering is ubiquitous and tend to ignore the fact. Sometimes you do get the urge to get up and do something but it dies off just as fast. Good article. :)

Subhrojyoti Sarkar said...

@Radha: I cannot say I got your point completely but I strongly feel I have noticed a pattern in your writing. Although the time has not come for me to reach any conclusion.

Radha said...

@Tinto: I don't think you got the point of this post, though I also might not have conveyed it properly.

I haven't helped the woman in this post in any way, that's the very point I am trying to make. Before this event, I have always tried to help the needy people around me in my own ways. So I thought I was a kindhearted generous caring person with a consideration for others, before I realised that I helped them only for my own selfish interest and not out of selfless benevolence.

As about the smile, I only wrote what I felt in that situation. I haven't modified any events for the sake of writing. If I had modified, I would have given myself a more generous role.

Radha said...

@Shubro: A pattern?! I haven't noticed anything myself yet. This blog, like my mind, is supposed to be random!

draco said...

I am glad at least few people are honest enough to admit their true feelings rather than hide behind the cloak of 'selflessness and generosity'. Whatever actions we take, we do for ourselves. We are taught to give to needy and so, when we do it we feel a sense of accomplishment. Everybody is selfish , generosity is a cloak to hide it from others.
I am shocked to see people jumping to criticize the content when they haven't understood the essence.

Radha said...

@Draco: Thanks! You're one of the few people who understood what I wanted to say - thanks for that!