I was in a shop, buying a few groceries for my house. It was a Friday evening, and I was in a hurry to go to the movies with a friend. Used to coming here regularly, I knew my way around the shop. So, I quickly picked up a shopping basket and started throwing items in it.
The shop was run by a young couple, not more than thirty years in age.
They were always polite in their behavior. The husband was friendly and loquacious. He would always greet me with a smile and would start some small talk. The wife, on the other hand, was more traditional and did not talk much. She used to a put on a headscarf pulled over such that it covered half of her face.
Today, I was in a hurry, so I was avoiding the husband, lest he would engage me in a talk. I took my basket to the wife who was standing near the billing counter. I looked at the watch and realized that I had just enough time to wind up my shopping here, go home and change, and make it to the movies.
As I was about to make the payment, a middle-aged woman came from behind, and got in front of me.
I was appalled by the unabashed violation of social mannerism. I looked at her with disdain reserved for the lowest of the beings. First I thought of letting it go as she wasn’t carrying a shopping basket and would not have been carrying many things to buy. But then I thought that what she was doing was wrong, and so should be told about it.
I was about to open my mouth to ask her if she would join the line when she, in a most authoritative of the voices said, “Sister, What is your name?”. She was asking to the woman behind the counter, the wife of the shop owner. All around us were surprised to hear such question and looked at her with curious looks. “Urmila”, the wife replied. So, Urmila is her name, I thought in my head. All this time I never knew that.
I listened to their conversation as the woman continued, “Is your father, or your husband around? “ Urmila a little scared by now, replied “Yes. My husband is here. But is there something wrong?” “Call him here first. Everything is wrong, sister. The world is changing with a lightening speed, but these men will never change”, she hammered her words loudly.
This little conversation had attracted many people’s attention by now, including Urmila’s husband. He quickly came to her side and said to the middle-aged woman, “Is everything, ok madam? Did my wife do something wrong?” “Wrong!”, the woman blasted, “She is the one wronged when you make her keep a veil on her face like an eighteenth century bonded maid.”
“You yourself are walking around in latest fashion jeans and an expensive shirt, whose top three buttons are open and her, you make her a walking joke.”
The husband was visibly flushed by this unexpected and unwanted publicity. He replied something about tradition and value, and the woman of his house are supposed to be like this, only to irritate the woman more. I wanted to see more of it, but my mobile was beeping with calls and messages.
I accosted Urmila, who was standing silently as her husband was ostracized by that woman, and handed her the shopping basket and told her that I would pick it up sometime later in the night, and got out of the shop. I quickly jumped on the bike and started towards my home.
While on the bike I thought about what I saw.
I thought about that woman who was probably first time there in the shop. She must have hundreds of things on her mind, her life, husband, kids, house chores. Still, she cared enough to look around her, to take notice of things, to see if things are wrong.
She saw a woman wearing a veil, covering her face. Instead of keeping quiet, ignoring like most of us do, stepped up and did something about it. I had been visiting that shop for months now, and not for once I had made any effort to make sense of what was there.
These days, we see things happening around us, and we ignore them. Sometimes, we may give it a second thought. That’s it. Nothing more. A boy eve-teasing a girl in the street, a bully manhandling an innocent in school. An over-speeding driver bribing the traffic policeman, an unruly guy skipping the line in the metro station.
All this and more, we have trained ourselves to ignore, to forget as if it was just a dream while we keep on living in our house of glass, cleaning and perfecting it to the last detail, and in the process, ignoring the world around us, as if who cares.
I felt embarrassed and ashamed. The conduct of that woman was something that made me ponder and question my beliefs, my view on life. What’s the point of education in classes if we forget to apply any of it in real life? We network so much in MBA schools but forget the touch of real people around us. In pursuit of our personal goals and lofty standards, we have forgotten that we are people first.
I knew I was going for a movie, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on it at all.
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