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Guest column: The Kindness of Strangers

The kindness of strangers

Sometimes, when times are bad, we are comforted immeasurably by the kindness of strangers….

To begin, a quote from the Dalai Lama. “ When we face some tragic situation, it reveals the deeper human values of compassion. Usually people don’t think about these deeper human values but when they see their human brothers and sisters   suffering,  the response comes automatically.“

In India, some of us are forced to forever be dependent on the kindness of strangers, others not in the least. But here`s the thing: come a crisis point, a disaster, a pandemic, and almost invariably, many a stranger steps up with outstanding displays of kindness.

So, even as there are those who would rip us off physically, emotionally, financially, during these times of extreme stress, there are also those who go out on a limb to offer help. And that`s just what happened during the huge humanitarian disaster of lakhs of migrants walking home.

Random acts of kindness

Quite apart from the reigning king of kindness, Sonu Sood, a couple in Vijayawada brought massive quantities of buttermilk from their home to feed those walking on the highway. There were the two little siblings who stood at Uchehera rail crossing offering free dal-roti to passing workers.

Six entrepreneurs in Bangalore loaded  up their vehicles with food packets, slippers, caps, masks, fruit, water pouches, and headed  out to Chikkaballapur Road to hand them over to those who needed them. Civil society groups distributed ration kits, soaps, masks in small towns like Rewa, Indore, Kalyani, Sangli, etc.

I know a clutch of men and women in Bangalore, in Mumbai, in Delhi, who head out every morning to feed strays. A doctor in Bangalore made daily trips to the tourist resort of Nandi Hills just to feed 200 monkeys and 100 stray dogs, right till the lockdown was relaxed.

There were two retired army officers who stuffed their pockets with 500-rupee notes and headed out to the Agra-Jaipur highway, to help as many migrants as they could…a somewhat ill-conceived idea,   but one that came from the heart.

Elsewhere, two brothers lost their sister to Covid, then sold their car to buy and distribute oxygen cylinders for free.

All this was paid for from their own pocket.

Even as many RWAs were flexing muscle needlessly, others came together to help residents cope. Working off routines charted on Excel sheets, they called in mechanics to help check residents` vehicles, got in a vet to treat ailing pets, arranged for disposing of garbage for elder residents. Domestic help were ensured their salaries while sitting out the lockdown, given masks, medicines when they fell ill, and fiscal handouts,  too. Security personnel were fed.

Bangalore`s Mercy Angels are tirelessly seeing to the last rites of Covid patients who succumbed to the disease.

This then, is the dichotomy of humankind.

The good and the bad

In Humankind: A Hopeful History, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman writes, “Disasters bring out the best in us. It’s like they flip a collective reset switch and we revert to our better selves.“

So. Don’t let`s tar all of humankind with the brush of inherent evil. There are enough people out there to disprove that dismal rationale.

To conclude, two lines from The Mower, a Philip Larkin poem.

We should be kind

While there is still time.

This ran in THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS of 28 June 2020.

Links to my other TNIE guest columns: 

Guest column: Travellers from Hell

Guest column: In the end, who will we be?

Guest column: Cancel Culture: Feeding the Socmed Monster

Guest column: If we must travel…

Guest column: Worrywarts or neurotics?

Guest Column: To Mask or Not to Mask, That Is NOT the Question

Guest column: In the end, who will we be?

Guest column: Staying stylish in Covid times

Guest column: Distancing? Perish the thought!

Guest column: Staying alive, staying relevant

Guest column: Hikikomori or modern-day hermits

Guest column: Millennials and their morals


Dalai Lamaguest columnkind acts in Covid timeskindness of strangersMercy Angels of BangalorePhilip LarkinRutger BregmanSonu SoodSunday Express magazineTNIE

Sheila Kumar • June 28, 2020

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