Pay It Forward

If you are able to read this, then consider yourself lucky.  

For you are part of a fortunate clan that is earning enough to own a smartphone/ personal computing device and better still, own a broadband connection. Most of us who have drank too much of the urban kool-aid will laugh this off and call a device and internet mere basics – remember this picture that you have at some point liked, tweeted or favourited on social media?

maslow_2014_revised
Source: The Internet

If you associate with what I said above then you belong to this clan of humans that are connected by internet but divided by devices. A clan that unfortunately identifies battery and internet as the baseline of the revised Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And no, this baseline is no longer only true for the so-called urban elites but also for their not-so-elite counterparts from smaller towns and villages who are blindly following their richer cousins from large metros in their want to be one of them.

Here’s another world view that most of us miss.

Meet Raja, Hari, Manoj and Kaku (names changed) – all over 50 in age with enough and more wrinkles and grey hair to suit their humbling personas. I happen to have met these 4 men and another dozen of their colleagues once-in-a-month (at least) for the past 25 years. Over these years, I have seen them wrinkle and grey as they have seen me grow from a boy to a man. Yesterday night I had a chance to meet them again. But this time something interesting happened.

I didn’t just meet them; I spoke to them. Little did I know that this casual chat will turn into a life changing experience for me. So reforming that it will urge me to see life from a different perspective and better still, act on it.

So, here’s what happened last night.

Yesterday was another typical working day for me that included a dinner meeting with a business colleague. Since the focus had to be on the conversation, I wanted the comfort of visiting a place that was well known to me. For such meetings, always helps to know in advance what can you expect to be served on the table, who will be serving and also who will be guarding your car while you eat comfortably. Hence, I decided to pick this quiet Chinese (read Indian Chinese) restaurant that my family has been visiting for 30 years – as it happens, my parents were the first customers ever to have walked in to this restaurant. Of course, I have no memories of that since I was barely 3 years old and my parents had decided to pack me to my grandparents’ for some quality time together.

But yesterday’s visit was different. There was a sense of unfamiliarity in the air and it was uncomforting. While the food tasted exactly the same, the pair of hands serving them were younger. I looked around and could only spot 4 of the dozen familiar faces who I had expected to see last night. This change troubled me. Not because I fear change and detest it, but because of the sheer need to know what triggered this change for the first time in 30 years. This prompted me to speak to these old gents.

What I heard thereafter, struck me like a lightning.

The older bunch were being replaced by younger ones. While all living species (including humans) expect to live through this cycle of evolution, how they get replaced is what truly matters. Hence, my burning need to know the details of this change. On further probing for reasons, one of the older gents told me that post serving this restaurant for over 26 years, he is only earning a mere INR 12,000 (~USD 200) per month. Worse still, the owner of the restaurant was acting very rude and cruel and only increasing money once in 3-5 years by a mere INR 500 (~USD 8) per month.

This paralysed me in time and a sense of guilt dawned upon me. While this conversation lasted barely a minute, it shook me up from within. I felt guilty of spending money on one dinner that was enough to feed their respective families for a month. I felt guilty of having never stopped to exchange courtesies with these gents and others who I will never get to see again. I felt guilty of not having felt the need any earlier to help them. 

In real life, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs hasn’t changed, nor will in near future.

Take a moment to look around; you’ll notice a world starkly different to yours. Yesterday’s incident was a realisation for me that not all enjoy privileges that we do. All it took was a minute to show me a world out there that’s starkly different to mine. A world where the terms smartphones, internet and similar hold little meaning. A world where food, water, shelter and warmth are still a distant reality. A reality that unfortunately is too harsh for most of us and hence best handled by turning a blind eye.

This incident has compelled me to Pay It Forward.

Like anyone of us would have, I left a fat tip on the table. While leaving the tip did well to satiate my momentary urge to help, I’m not quite done yet. IMHO, paying it forward isn’t all about money. It’s about treating others with a sense of respect that you believe you deserve for yourself. It’s about stopping to greet back your peon, your driver, your maid and others around you who you don’t know. It’s about realising how fortunate you are and being thankful.

It’s about remembering that paying it forward starts with you.

Cheers,

SVG