Breaking the wall

October 2015

By Anil Bhatnagar

We become a minority not when we speak a different language, eat different food, are more or less intelligent, more or less educated, rich or poor or when our beliefs are different. Rather we become a minority when our ego begins to identify itself with these apparent differences, ignoring the vast oneness underneath these differences.

Consequently, we fail to see others in ourselves and ourselves in others. We fail to connect at a very deep level with people or even animals who appear to be different from us.

We need to step out of our mental cocoons of traditions, culture, habits, norms, history and talk to people who, in various ways, are different from us.

A few days ago, while returning after delivering an afternoon lecture somewhere nearby, I noticed a tramp from the side window of my car. He looked unbathed, and wore a long dirty black tattered coat in the hot afternoon.

I stopped my car for a while and saw he was picking with his cupped palms cooked chick peas curry thrown by somebody in the drain. The sight was so repulsive that I felt like vomiting. My first instinct was to run away from there. He was the extreme personification of the word minority (left alone and abandoned by fellow humans). It was difficult to even see him for more than a moment, leave alone talking to him.

I acted against my first instincts, gathered myself and pulling down the window glass of my car shouted in Hindi, “Stay here. I am coming”. He did not look back at me. There was no response. I felt I was talking to a wall and making a fool of myself.

I drove my car fast towards my home and stopped before the roadside fruit sellers near the parking lot of my society. I purchased a bag of fruits and drove back to where I had spotted him.

He was not there.

I parked my car and began to look for him. Eventually, after going a few paces along the drain, I located him behind a bush, still retrieving waste food from the gutter..

When he saw me approaching, he looked up at me for an instant and got up. I addressed him “Beta, I have brought these for you. Don’t eat from the drain.” My voice was shaking with emotion and I felt like crying.

I wanted to give him a big hug as I usually do to greet anyone. But he snatched the bag from my hands and began to walk away while peeling a banana. He was too hungry. He did not want anything to come between him and his food. A hug was my need, not his. His was food. And I respected his need in the moment. I looked at him for a little while, before walking to my car.

I had reached out to a person who was radically different from me and I felt an expansion of my being for several hours after that. I realised by reaching out to that person who personified extreme minority, I had discovered and made a crack in my own hitherto unseen separateness. A barrier whether it
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