Thursday, May 29, 2014

Delusions of ‘Power’---An Experience to Share

It was absolutely unprecedented for him to visit my house one fine evening with a request to draft a representation against his boss in his office. Unprecedented, because, in the apartment culture of cities, one only gets to wish one’s neighbours ritually in lifts, or meet occasionally in ‘society get-togethers’. And with this particular neighbor, a school teacher, I had only that ‘nodding acquaintance’. But here he was in my house with a bunch of papers, a little depressed, and with a request that only made me feel awkward and embarrassed. I gained my composure, and made him feel at ease, and drafted a representation to the best of my abilities—in the process coming to know his intimate details such as his proper designation, his pay-scale, the promotion opportunities denied to him etc. I pretended as if I had not seen or read anything and still managed to prepare something to his satisfaction—only God knows who advised him to come to me, a question which I wanted to ask, still refrained from.

A few days later, I met him in lift. Two more people were also there. Hence, I asked him with little words and gestures about the progress made at his office, and he replied briefly, ‘everything is now sorted out’, thanking me softly and then going away towards his car. I found his behaviour a bit odd. I thought he would stay for a while and I could discuss the developments in his office in detail, and offer more help, if needed. In fact, I thought that if I had not ask him anything in the very first meeting after the preparation of representation, it would have presented me as an arrogant and apathetic person. Rather, it would have also carried a message that I did not like his intruding upon me and my time without any courtesy call that evening. I wanted to avoid all these conclusions on his behalf, while certainly was also curious to know about ‘what happened’. But he seemed to be in a hurry, though there was an air of relief on his face, which I liked thinking that most certainly he had overcome his distress in his workplace.

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Later, on one or two occasions, I met him again in the corridors, and he preferred to talk about weather and RWA issues, but not about the office issues which I had come to know almost by accident. An undefined uneasiness grew between us—or at least, that is how I felt. And suddenly, one day, I started to feel that I was having a false sense of power over him, and perhaps to express that I always wanted to talk to him about ‘that issue’ only. May be I wanted that whenever we came across, he should meet me with more humility, with more manufactured alacrity of which we are so much conditioned in such ‘obvious contexts’. I checked myself. From his perspective, his coming to me for that unprecedented help would have been a tough decision to take, I reasoned with myself. 

May be he came to me because he wanted to take help from the strangest of persons—not from any of his relatives or friends or colleagues. May be he genuinely believed that I was a kind of person, who would help without boasting about it, without bringing up back to him, and would remain impersonal. May be I was not behaving correctly, while he was behaving quite normally as ‘nodding acquaintances’ behave, which essentially we were. I got back to the strangeness and indifference that defined our relationship, and things indeed became ‘cosy’ between us—saying hullo ritually to each other in the lifts and corridors. 

This, I think, was different from the age-old wisdom ‘Neki Kar, Kuyen Me Daal’ (Do good and cast in to the river), because that also essentially has a strong tinge of power that one derives from its conscious abdication. Rather, if I may say so, a line from one of my own poems in Hindi helped: Kisi Se Uske Dukh Ke Baare Me Na Poochhna/Ek Achhi Tarkeeb Hai Uske Dukh Me Shaamil Hone Ki (‘Not to ask somebody about his pain/is a good way to share the same.’)  Have you ever experienced something on these lines?

--Kumar Vikram