I was boarding an auto to the office.
It was nine in the morning and the roads were already crowding up with cars and two-wheelers. Many things were on my mind -the passing time, the crawling traffic, the pending chores and also, the novel that I was apparently trying to read. The incessant sound of traffic and the constant chatter inside my head was making it difficult to concentrate. I shoved the book inside my bag and started looking outsides.
It had started raining heavily now. It was a pre-monsoon rain and had arrived unannounced.
Water was seeping inside the auto from one of its sides. I adjusted its flaps and glanced outsides from the other. Traffic had already slowed down to snail’s pace -cars barely moving, bikes meandering in the spaces between them. The rain had created many rivulets of water which crisscrossed the road. The footpaths were lined up with people taking shelter beneath an occasional tree. I blessed the small roof of my auto and slid deeper into the seat. I closed my eyes.
“It must be very difficult for you, sir”, a voice jolted me out of my reverie.
I looked up to figure out the source of the sound. It was the driver. He repeated, “It must be very difficult for you, daily in this traffic. I know this route. It’s busiest in Pune. Daily there is a traffic jam. I come here once or twice in a week. So, it is all right. But for you, it must be very tiring in this traffic. ”
“Yes, Sometimes”, I said sheepishly.
He continued, “Yes, Government should do a better job in improving infrastructure on this route. It is not right for you to get tired even before you reach office”
His remark surprised me. I was surprised because before he spoke, I had completely ignored his existence. I was so engrossed in the objects around me and the mindless chatter inside my head that I had completely forgotten that a human being was sitting right in front of me. All this time I was thinking about my problems and my life and my time. For not one moment I lay a thought for this person with real challenges, with a real life. He, on the other hand, was empathizing with me -one of the many passengers he carried every day.
“It must be very difficult for you, sir”, his words rung loud in my head.
I felt hollow. I felt Empty. What have I become?
In trying to learn too much theory, did I unlearn to appreciate another human being’s existence? After spending years inside lecture halls, did I become immune to the existence of people outside in this world? Have I traded empathy, compassion and benevolence to cram my head with abstract definitions and theorems? The realization sunk in slowly. I “chat” more than I talk now, and “like” more than I shake hands. I make more “friends” on Facebook than I meet people in real life. I have more “circles” in my mobile and computer than in reality.
Yes, I have become hollow. I have become empty.