Onto the Humane Level
To me the scene with the maximum impact in the popular movie Munnabhai MBBS is when Munna hugs the safaiwalla asking his pardon for dirtying the already swept floor. The expression on the face of the man is so telling. Where people took him for granted and didn't ever bother to even throw a glance at him, here was a respectable young man hugging him.
The physical contact, the tightness of the grip, and the echoing heartbeats could have well awakened in the man a hither-to-fore never experienced physical and mental feeling close to ecstasy. We all experience such feelings but rarely ponder over it or keep it for posterity.
Well, here is one very clear in my mind as if it occurred the other day.
It was way back in 1980 when I was posted at Meerut and spent quite a few weekends in Delhi. The routine used to be a bus trip to Delhi on the Saturday afternoon, a day with a friend seeing TV (which was a novelty then) or exchanging news and a return trip by bus or train by Sunday evening.
Normally I would walk back to my room after getting down from the train or bus or else take a pedal rickshaw if I was not in the mood or the hour was late.
That Sunday I decided to enjoy the rickshaw ride and so hired one with neat and colourful upholstery but the man behind the pedal looked tired and was in tattered clothes. A little way ahead I tried to set up some conversation but beyond the initial name, village and state it did not progress well.
So I settled down to enjoy the scenes on a crowed city road as the sun went down and the road-side business was at its peak.
Half-way home I asked the young man to stop at a coffee shop and ordered two cups of expresso coffee. I took a cup and handed it to him but he was reluctant to take it from me. I forced it on him after considerable coxing and once he finished drinking it took the empty cup from him and returned it to the coffee counter. We then resumed our short journey and soon reached my room.
I took out my purse and handed him the normal fare but he just would not take the money from me. I was rather surprised and asked him why. Instead of replying he burst out crying and just wouldn't let up.
I let him be till he quietened down and tried to extract some words from him. He was unable to speak for considerable time till at last his sobs gave way to deep breathing and finally to a very calm demeanour.
He then spoke in very clear but emotional voice that he was a very happy and satisfied man that day. A gentleman like me by offering him a cup of coffee had raised him to the human level from what he had been used to previously in his native Bihar village and now here in a big town.
He was not only touched by the offer but rather moved by my act of personally handing it over to him in front of the public specially his colleagues the other rickshaw drivers. And my taking back his unwashed coffee cup was something way beyond his comprehension.
I could now feel a glow in his eyes and a very confident expression on his proud face. I didn't know how to convey my feelings and so asking him to wait I quickly went inside my room.
I fetched some old but decent clothes of mine and after a gap of time came out to give them to him fully confident that he wouldn't refuse me a second time. He happily took them and thanking me profusely rode off on full throttle.
Till I left Meerut in end 1981, I kept meeting my man quite regularly either at his rickshaw stand or when he came calling on me once a month or so.
The last time I met him I recollect very distinctly that his clothes were as pleasing as his rickshaw upholstery. I do not know what he is today or whether he is still at Meerut but wherever he may be I am thankful to him for having made me realise the value of the human touch.
He could well have taken his money and gone off without a care but surely he was some one special, a very good human being.