A few months back I wrote how my reading habits have gravitated towards fiction gradually. Every now and then, I ask friends for recommendations and even sometimes even steal glances at books carried by strangers at airports and book stores. It came as a pleasant surprise yesterday I spotted something at a local bar. I saw someone reading a Günter Grass novel. That name sounded interesting if not familiar. I was curious and knew sooner or later I would be picking up one of his books.
With that fleeting thought I returned to watching a football match, which has become a daily ritual to close the day. It was an engaging game, with the bar getting crowded and people waiting to get a seat. Most people were cheering for the underdogs even though they were less honourable in their play than the street canine. Before the match ended, the leader of the pack even managed to mark his teeth on one of his opponents. I would not deny, even though this was dishonourable, in the beer and banter it seemed entertaining.
During the match, when the bar was getting a crowded a group of six friends with some difficulty occupied a table at the back. They were later joined by another two. However, the table, even with one extra chair could only fit one more. So, one of them remained standing, to his inconvenience holding a beer mug, and to his friends inconvenience by obscuring their view of the match. After standing for about 15 minutes, they decided to register their protest with the manager and suggested that they be shifted to a larger table. They even suggested that they could swap their table with a larger one on which just four people were seated.
The following is a faithful reproduction of the exchange which followed. I have not taken any liberties in the dialogue, adding or deducting words for effect or rhyme.
Manager : “Sir, would you mind shifting your table with them, as they…”
Customer 1 (Table 1) : “Yes, we would mind.” [Realising he sounded rude to his friends, not to the manager] “…but we are leaving in five minutes”.
[They remain seated for another hour]
Partly disappointed with the reaction I survey the seating area and determine that one chair can easily fit to accommodate the poor sod who has been standing for some time. Even though chairs are a plenty, one table will have to be shifted slightly, causing no inconvenience to the patrons seated on it. Acting on some misplaced consideration towards a stranger I approach the table which should be shifted.
Me : “Hi, great match, may I request you to please shift your table a little to the front so that he can sit”
[pointing to the poor sod standing]
Customer 1 (Table 2) : “We will shift only when he gets a chair, he is standing”
Me : “Can I get a chair from you?”
Customer 2 (Table 2) : “We have kept our bag on it, you can ask for another one from the manager”
[lifting up an extra chair kept at a distance]
Me : “Can you guys shift now? Let’s be nice to each other for a change”
Customer 1 (Table 2) : “For a change? What do you mean for a change?”
Me : “I meant that about myself. Usually I am not nice. Thanks for shifting”.
Poor Sod : “Thanks yaar”
[go back to my table but my ear catches a parting slap]
Customer 2 (Table 2) : “Oh yeah! We need moral interventions now!”
[Customer 1 and 2 laugh]
Something about this left me a little angry but as I said earlier, everything is easier with a beer and a game of football. After the game ended, oblivious to their behaviour to me, Customer 2 (Table 2), started criticising the unfair play by the mongrel squad. We chatted a bit, I hope it helped humanise me, and may some day in part help him reflect.
This gave me two realisations and reaffirmed one value which I attempt in all my interactions.
- Realisation 1
Society is increasingly apathetic and inconsiderate. This flows from a lack of empathy towards others. What’s worse, people may subscribe to values as an abstraction but not as practice. I often notice surprise when people see a strangers actions match their words. That’s some sad social commentary right there.
- Realisation 2
A good education, taste in literature and art is no guarantee of good conduct. Just as we cannot blame the Beatles for influencing Charles Manson, we cannot credit Sgt. Pepper for saving the world with love. After all the Günter Grass novel was kept on Table 2.
As a lawyer I often work for results but all I can control are my efforts. Sometimes the law is vexed against a client or sometimes the judge is vexed against the law. In the same way, life outside the courtroom is the same. I have to continue to make an effort for empathy and consideration, and slowly it may work. If not for the intellectuals at Table 2 then for the bungler who finally got a place to sit.
I like my beer warm and considerate. Even if a german novelist tells me otherwise.