May 28, 2002

You

It is strange how the way we perceive people changes over time. People whom you thought you could not live without, at a certain point in life, just vanishes one fine day and you do not even notice. At the same, time there are people who almost never caught your eye, always tucked away in a corner arrive in your life just like that one day and then they stick on forever.

I for one am very bad at judging people. Whenever I have tried it, I have come down so heavily on the ground that I have totally given up on it. It is really amusing to assume that the person whom you have met a few minutes back is the greatest saint ever alive, only for him/her to come across as the worst rascal I have ever known another ten minutes on. Change the scenario, duration and the results in all possible permutations and combinations, you have accurately summed up my life then.

Years have passed by since the initial experiments with perceptions were over. Countless others followed with varying degrees of constant and consistent failure and it became natural for my primary perception to be absurdly wrong. It somewhat resembles life. You think you know a person better -- something like saying I know where I am headed. And lo! in a single swipe all the perceptions go to the ground and thwap! I am back on the ground with my bottom firmly rooted to mother earth in a not so pleasant fashion.

So, now it has come to this that I do not consciously try and assume/perceive what a person is. I consider it as a total waste of time if my perceptions go wrong all the time. Strangely, that has made my life considerably easier, as people can almost never surprise you. Whatever comes my way will be dealt with when it comes and there is no set pattern of behaviour that is expected from a person.

But then again, you cannot help but be intuitive at times. Like this very close pal of mine who used to live in a pretty comfortable flat in an up market area. She used to cry a lot about how she was living in those "dirty yellow pigeon holed like flats" and all the time I would feel like explaining to her that was not the case. But, somehow I never did as I always felt from the depth of my heart that she was not like that.

Almost two years back, while we were out learning the ropes of the hack trade by trying to cover the local elections, an incident happened that totally justified my feeling about her. It is something that I still remember very vividly and no matter what would happen between me and her any time in the future, I would always remember her for that. It was something special to see and it still is and will be forever one of the most cherished memories of my life.

The constituency that we were covering had its fair share of areas where very poor people lived and one hot summer evening we made our way to one such area. It was a filthy roadside, there was not even a footpath and this whole family was living there on the road with just tattered bits of cloth made to look like tents over their heads for protection. I do not remember how many where there, they were more in number than your average middle class family.

As we approached them it was getting close to dinner time and the women were preparing the dinner, to be precise kneading the dough that clearly looked insufficient for the whole family. We sat with them and talked to them, the usual journalistic blah blah and they were so happy that someone actually bothered to ask how they were doing. With time the conversation got warmer and warmer and you could see real people instead of the shabby goons that we consider them to be while we fly past in our cars.

As we were about to leave, they started to insist that we sit and share their dinner with them. It was so touching to see them do that. I mean I smoke cigarettes that cost me something around Rs. 60 a pack. It is something I can do without. Still, I would rather not share it with anyone and here was this person who knows clearly that we were students and that us asking them about anything makes no difference to their lives, you really could not help but feel a sense of cheapness within you for taking that much of warmth and affection from a person who is so deprived, when you yourself would not do the same.

Worse still, you could see that there was not enough to go around for the family and if you did not have it they would feel offended for it would give the impression that we consider them as lower class people and things like that. It was so overwhelming that we were speechless by the time we walked away from them. Then I notice that my friend was trying hard to fight back her tears and in between sobs she managed to just say "Never again am I going to call them dirty yellow flats in my life".

Sometimes it is nice to know that even when you are stupid enough to assume or perceive, you go wrong in the right way. It comes as a pleasant surprise and is something that makes life worth living.