Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nice



Nice wasn't in. Nice wasn't cool. Our heroes weren't nice. They were tough talking, over-muscled, ready-to-punch-at-a-drop-of-a-hat meanies; macho men who wouldn't sit around waiting for justice. We were just old enough to begin realizing that pro-wrestling wasn't 'real' wrestling but that didn't stop us from idolizing the way Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H or The Rock of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) behaved.
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The early teens were an age like that. Newly learnt swear words were like a nuclear weapon to be launched at the strategically right time during a quarrel or a fight thereby finishing your opponent into shocked submission and earning the respect of your peers. English swear words were precious but Hindi expletives were platinum. Good behaviour was good enough only for the less ambitious. If you needed to be noticed and be something significant in life, rude was the attitude. 
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This rebellion towards civility was apparent only outside the watchful gaze of parents and teachers though. We weren't quite man enough to be 'rebel' rebels yet and this was reflected in our quick transformation when the teacher left the classroom in between classes. A quick check at the door to ensure that the teacher was really gone and then it was WWF simulation time on the departed teacher's stage. The words, the antics, the moves - all on display, each trying to outdo the others in badness and foul-mouthery.
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Prayer assemblies were times where the jokes were to be played; pranks and eating of lunches during the class was the norm to be aspired to; neatly knotted ties and pressed clothes were passe, the looser and more careless look was to be the real show of character. Teenage years were full of uncertainties and questions but there was only one thing for sure - whatever your parents, teachers or any one in authority said was good for you, that was where cool came to die.
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It was in this climate of abrasiveness that one day my Mom came to me and said "I am going to the Juvenile Detention Home on Sunday to distribute some food and clothes. I would like you to go." My first reaction to that was a internal "What? Do I look like some sort of Mother Teresa to you?" which may have shown up in my expression of contempt because my Mom added "It's your Grandma's first death anniversary." Then came "You should come. This might change your life."
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I rolled my eyes up in disgust. Leave it to Mom to dig up a cliched filmy dialogue. I must say that I was rather fond of my grandmother though it didn't stop me from thoughtlessly teasing her almost uptil the day she passed away. I didn't cry when my grandmother passed away but I had always carried that guilt of not behaving maturely enough during her final illness. My grandma was another one of those filmy persons, actually scolding scheming evil characters as they appeared on TV soap operas and vocally cheering when like in all 'morally' scripted storylines, they got their due punishment. I thought that the kindly old lady deserved at least this much. I decided to go along.
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The Juvenile Boys' Detention Home was located in an old bungalow on the outskirts of the little town we lived in. The detainees here were handed over to the state authorities for minor offences like petty theft on trains, loitering and other things that kids raised on the street without the benefit of a permanent roof over their head found themselves embroiled in. A quick tour of their spartan and clean living quarters by the Home's caretakers later, we went out to the sizable backyard of the bungalow to meet the kids themselves who were winding up their distributed household chores.
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They came trooping in to where we sat on our chairs, in orderly lines and an air of general cheerfulness about them, even if not all of them were smiling. The oldest amongst them I noticed were as old as me and were the ones in charge. The younger they were, the more thrilled they seemed to see us and at the other end of the age spectrum, we were regarded with polite interest. We were shown artwork soaked in bright and cheerful colours, poetry recited to us and devotional numbers sung out in chorus. The old clothes that we had brought along were accepted with a glee that made us re-evaluate their worth and the food we had served, a change in diet from their regular fare, couldn't possibly have found more appreciation. 
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One of the boys was a particularly talented singer, only about 8 years old and with the Home for about 5 years now. They had found him travelling on the Awadh Express, a 3 year old then, singing and stealing simultaneously. He said he was from Lucknow, across on the other side of the country where the train originated from and despite the authorities' best efforts his parents could not be located and he himself was too young to know which part of Lucknow his house was in. The chirpiest of the lot, his words frequently broke into cackles of genuine laughter as my Mom and a few of her colleagues engaged their group in dialogue.
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Much more than the little happiness that our arrival and gifts had given to them, the perspective that they gifted me was invaluable. Not the usual "How very little of our time/money can make a huge difference to their lives" philosophy, which to me was sort of self-evident even before I had made this trip. But the fact that they were revelling in, relishing every moment of what we took for granted in our lives. Not the clothes and not the food, but the real comfort to be found in being treated with politeness.
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These were kids who had seen the hard life, the tough life where the next meal was a question mark. For them, the swearing we practised with casual ease in our plush school classrooms and the physical possibility of that happening with them were harsh everyday realities. While we shoved each other in mock fights and laughed afterwards, their encounters of a similar nature did not end in laughter. At school, we teased those who were religiously inclined but here being absorbed in a simple hymn took their minds away from the horrors that they had experienced and from which we had been so well shielded all our lives.
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Be nice. Be nice because not everyone in the world has the luxury to be.
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7 comments:

Kunal said...

You have left me speechless with this Post Roys. Thought, WWF is one show in the world which I actually can't stand, and have never watched the show, except for a few here and there in the Hostel, but the point which you wanted to make, I have taken home...

This post is precious. As were the moments you shared with the kids.

Thank You.

Roy said...

@Kunnu: Many thanks, bro. Glad you liked it. Politeness and niceness is almost seen as some kind of weakness by most people, something always underappreciated because we find it so easily in our comfortable existence.

Kumar Bibek said...

WWF... Well, I have to admit that I used to like it, but that changed pretty soon, when my investigations proved that everything was staged.

To be honest, I never really sweared until I landed in Kurukshetra. But, I guess, all the children, then tried to emulate the bad guys in their class. Although I don't really understand why exactly children think like that. :D

So, did that change your life at school?

Roy said...

@Psycho: No, not exactly but I began to realize the foolishness of us faking the 'tough guy' attitude.

R I T I said...

The last line summed it all for me - "be nice" . It makes all the difference in the world and it is arguably the most important things in the world. It makes perfect sense.
I made a trip to that place too , with Ma once. It was an eye opener. Ma was all chit-chat with the kids, I was zipped . I didn't know what to say.
Anyway, one of your best posts :)

R I T I said...

The last line summed it all for me - "be nice" . It makes all the difference in the world and it is arguably the most important things in the world. It makes perfect sense.
I made a trip to that place too , with Ma once. It was an eye opener. Ma was all chit-chat with the kids, I was zipped . I didn't know what to say.
Anyway, one of your best posts :)

Roy said...

@Didi: Thanks!