A couple of years ago, I was vacationing in Singapore with my family. I happened to notice a lot of happy faces around. Not only on the streets. Even the janitors at the the various tourist attractions wore wide smiles. I still remember visibly how a 70 year old lady, while carrying her cleaning supplies, smiled and waved at me and wished me a very good day. Something kindled inside me at that moment.
On getting back home, I started noticing people subconsciously. All I got to see were impatient, aggressive, angry and stern faces walking down the road. No one looked happy. I wondered what secret the Singaporeans were hiding. However, based on my limited knowledge of countries, I didn’t give it much thought once a few months had passed.
Then I happened to visit two more countries, Indonesia and the US. Although people responded warmly when you greeted them, despite being strangers, the general vibe emanating from faces wasn’t happy in these places either. When they thought no one was watching, their faces said it all.
I was completely baffled. Not able to bear the suspense any longer, I decided to bring about a change in myself. I decided to smile a little more, to be more warm and to greet everyone I come in contact with. Right from the elderly ladies and gents who were regulars at the nearby jogger’s park to the auto-drivers whose fare I was for the day, I smiled, enquired after their health and then bid them a good day.
A couple of incidents from those times have stuck with me over the years. Since my long working hours left me with almost no time to meet people, my interactions were mostly limited to the auto drivers who drove me to and from home. Thus, both stories relate to them.
Once or twice while going to work, I’d ended up hailing the same auto. The third time, the driver recognised me himself and drove upto me so that I did not have to wait for a ride. Hence, as a goodwill gesture, I paid him a tad more that day. Nothing significant. Just 10 rupees more and that too because I told him to keep the change. One other day, when a number of drivers were scrambling to get my attention on a very hot and particularly slow day for them, I had identified and chosen him (no, we don’t have a queue system for taxis at a lot of places in India). This was the extent of my relationship with him. If he was around when I had to leave for work, he’d silently come up to me and I’d slide into the backseat without a word.
Then one fine Monday, on reaching office, I realised I’d forgotten my wallet in the handbag I’d used the previous day and had not transferred it to my office bag. I apologized to him and told him to please take double the amount whenever he sees me next. Not only did he refuse to ask for the amount later, he expressed concern over how I’ll get through the day and back home without a wallet. He offered to lend me money and enquired what time I got off from work so that he can be there to take me back home. This was a poor man showing more care, concern and heart than most people I’ve seen. Of course, I didn’t take his money, I borrowed some from my colleague to pay him instead. Yet, I can never forget the kindness showed to me by a stranger. Some days later, I asked him indirectly what made him do so. He responded by saying that I always asked about his health, family and his day with a smile. The least he could do was make sure I wasn’t sad and inconvenienced that day.
Another time, I was traveling back home at night and my auto driver, a different one this time, was quite visibly sick. His skin was burning so much that I could feel the heat radiate from him till my seat. He was obviously suffering from viral fever. He also had the flu. I asked him if he was alright. He told me he’s been sick for two weeks but had to work that day because he won’t be able to pay his child’s school fees otherwise and he’d already spent a lot on medicines so he wasn’t taking any at the moment. I could not even begin to imagine the level of depravity a family had was enduring if they were forced to choose between school fees and medicines. Then he very politely asked me if it was okay for him to take a slight detour so that he could give his wife some of the money he had earned that day so she could buy vegetables and make food. I agreed, of course. While he went inside his house to change his sweat-stained shirt, I asked his kid how much his school fees was. Then I quietly slipped enough money to cover his fees, his father’s medical expense and a little more to make up for the loss suffered due to his illness. Then he dropped me home, oblivious to what I’d just done.
One night, I got off from work quite late and I had three pieces of luggage with me since I’d returned from my hometown that very morning and had gone in to work directly from the airport. So I could not walk far while lugging all that extra weight. The street was mostly deserted but was dotted with certain unsavoury drunks. Some men were letching and leering. I was scared out of my wits and did not know how to get out of the nightmare I was experiencing. Then, out of the blue, I heard brisk footsteps walking towards me. Just as I was preparing to ward off an unwanted advance to the best of my ability, I saw the man’s face. It was the same driver. Not only did he carry my luggage and safely escort me to his auto while throwing a menacing glare at every man who dared to look at me, he also dropped me home and refused to take any payment. I also happened to notice that he did not leave till I’d reached inside the gate of my apartment building and was safe from harm.
I am not sure how I want to end this narrative, my thoughts are slightly scattered on having recalled those encounters. However, what I’ve learnt is that a little politeness and kindness goes a long way and definitely comes back around. It’s the butterfly effect. Starting from when that Singaporean janitor passed a warm smile to me, it’s still continuing.
Be kind with your words and deeds and you’ll see so many kinder souls around you. Take some time out of the busy schedule of your life to live a little, to notice people, to care for them and to spread a little cheer. Even if it doesn’t come back to you soon (since every deed needs an incentive in the world we live in), I assure you that the warmth that ignites inside your heart when you treat people nicely and see them smile is its own kind of sweet reward.
Remember, my friends, that even the Grinch saved Christmas. Can’t we save some smiles atleast?