Ever received signed blank cheques from strangers? 🙂
That’s what many times I feel like in life these days.
So yesterday I was in a flight from Dehradun to Delhi (and then Ranchi). The guy next to me was sitting on a plane for the first time. He asked me (in Hindi) that at the time of booking the flight ticket he had paid 200Rs. for cashew nuts to be served on the flight, so what would he need to do to get those cashew nuts?
I told him that flight attendant will come and give it to him if it's prebooked. The flight attendant came, gave cashew nuts to the other guy in our group of 3 seats but skipped this guy.
So when she was walking past again after a few mins, I called on her and suggested that he had pre-booked a meal. She checked and informed that she couldn’t see any pre-booking.
He ungrudgingly accepted the fact. Later, he asked me how he could go from terminal 3 to terminal 2, to catch his connecting flight to goa. I said I also had to go to T2 and I could accompany him.
I knew it was his first time at the airport and he could have wanted to take pictures. I am generally a fast walker, so I chose to pause and give him some time to take pictures. We live in a world of explicit and implicit hierarchies, and I know since I was carrying the look of an educated guy, he wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking me to slow down for a few seconds even if he really wanted to take pictures, even if for his wife and daughter seeing pictures of their husband or father on a plane and the airport could mean the world. (Imagine you spending many months of your salary for a skydive or a bungee or something, and not having any visual memory).
As we exited t3, I saw some restaurants on the side. So I told him that we can stop there and eat a bit. He accepted that. I think he might have been feeling the pinch of having to now pay even more money (food at airports is not the cheapest), but again these unsaid power dynamics are always there and so he didn’t complain at all and immediately agreed.
I decided to take a dosa combo which was 270Rs and asked him what he wants to eat. He said he could also take the same dish. So we ordered 2 and only at this point, I told him that I am happy to pay for both of us. He was quite surprised, objected a few times but I found my way and convinced him (plus I also had a smile card to help me).
As we waited for the meal, we started chatting. He told me that he lives in a village near Dehradun and has a job in Goa, which he is reporting back to. He has always travelled by train but currently, all trains were full. He had come home to take care of the family farm as it was the harvesting season. He had twin elder brothers who both passed away quite young, so he is the only son to his parents now. That’s why his parents, who are now old, miss him a lot whenever he has to go to goa for a job. He said he feels bad about being away from parents, but he has to do it in order to earn a living. He also has a wife and a child of 6 years, and they also live in their village near Dehradun because it is not possible to afford the rentals for the whole family in a city like Goa.
I was also shocked to hear that he had paid a hefty sum of 8,500 to book the flight ticket just 2 days before the date of travel. When I heard this, I felt even more grateful that I was to give this small gift of a meal to him.
He also said that he was a bit afraid about this journey as he always sees people taking advantage of people when you are not familiar with a place and setting. He said when he had gone to Goa 6 years ago, so many times he was cheated. But now he is smarter and won’t get cheated in Goa.
I also learnt that he works as a chef in a nice hotel in goa and he has done a 1-year course in hotel management. He told me he is excellent at making north India food, and even Italian food. At this point, I started feeling apprehensive about trying to feed a chef. 🙂 That apprehension turned true as the dosa was brought to our table, and in a bite, he said that its stale, the coconut chutney would have been better with curry leaves tadka etc.
I am too bad with judging food taste, so I anyway gobbled up my dosa while he left almost half of it. I don’t think he left it out of arrogance or something but perhaps just because it was difficult for him to eat it.
I told him that I am sorry that I got him to eat this stale dosa while he himself is a fancy chef, to which he let a big smile and said “uska koi baat nahi hai, aapne jo kia wo hi mere liye bahut badi baat hai” (that is not an issue, but rather this act of yours is a very big thing for me).
He spontaneously told me that I must come to goa with friends and when I do that, I must give him a call and allow him to make "all" the arrangements. In the course of next hour or so, he repeated that 4-5 times over.
An hour ago, a guy who was a stranger, now an hour later, I know that if I am ever in some need, this guy will do whatever is in his capacity to support me. Not only that, I know he could go out of the way, just to ensure that I have a good time if when I want to vacation in Goa.
This event also showed me how much I assume and judge people by their looks and ability or inability to speak English. When he was sitting next to me in the flight, my mind might have been like the poor guy from the village, let me help him. When I heard about his awesome culinary skills (in which I am a big zero), my pride got shattered. He was so amazingly gifted at what he was doing. (everyone is gifted in their unique ways).
Also, my feeling of superiority that I am helping him proved to be so misplaced, unnecessary and immature. I think we just found each other in a setting where I had a bit more power to watch out for both of us, while in so many other situations, actually, he would be much more competent to support me if needed. I was totally humbled at his big spirit, his nonchalant giving, his blank cheque given to me.
People respond to love with greater love. And often, people who have the least amount of money, respond with the biggest hearts. That’s the generative power of love, of small acts of kindness done without an expectation of return. It can only happen when you connect to folks around as human beings, and you are not in a space of rushing to your next thing. It can only happen as you train yourself to live in the reality of what is emerging in the present moment, as opposed to living in our head, under the weight of our 5-year plans, under the weight of our insecurities and fears.
And of course, when you receive such blank cheques, it invites you towards more mindfulness that you don’t consciously or unconsciously start exploiting the gifts life is giving you. 🙂
Rohit Rajgarhia is an MBA from IIM Bangalore and a Chartered Accountant. He is intending to curate an online shared space, a 4-week program perhaps, with some nice readings, small practices and reflections, as a gift offering. If you feel interested in contributing to this experiment, please say hi at the same email. I am reachable at [email protected].
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.