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Small gestures

Silverine recently posted a blog to point out the role of compassion in Western societies. After reading it, I recollected a story told by my English teacher from his experiences in India.

Mr. Born was then just Peter and in his own words "another diplomat brat" based in Delhi. But, unlike many diplomat kids, Peter took some time to travel through India. It was during one of those journeys that he found himself hungry and sitting in a third class train compartment passing through India's hinterland.

It was one of those compartments that was packed to the brim with people - the kind that you watch with mild amusement if you have never seen arms and heads sticking out of the window in reckless abandonment. The kind with yellow metal bars that poke through your skin and leave indelible imprints if you lack a thick hide.

And Peter was hungry. But he had a dilemma as the train pulled into a station. If he left the compartment, he could lose his seat, but worse still, there was no knowing when the train was scheduled to leave. So he could miss it while his tea was being brewed. But, we all have angels watching over us and to Peter's happiness, his fellow passenger noticed his discomfort. A stranger who seemed willing to help Peter. He offered his assistance and convinced Peter that as a native, he was more experienced in these matters. So Peter gladly forked over a hundred rupee note for lack of change. The stranger stood up and left the train. Peter waited.

And waited. As the train jerked and slowly started leaving the platform, the truth gradually dawned on Peter. What's a hundred, you might ask. Well, it was Peter's last remaining money. And he was still hungry.

Most people would break down under these circumstances. Peter tried hard, but even he had to acquiesce to a wet outburst of tears. His neighbours felt awkward. One of them start giggling with his companion at Peter's expense. It was too much and he expelled his rage in fluent, unaccented Hindi, "Chup ho jao!" Not so strong for most people, but coming from an American seated in a train full of village and town dwellers, it was effective. The murmur died down soon, only occasionally interrupted by Peter's dying sobs.

Unbeknownst to him, a man sat in the hallway in that tendon-stretching huddle that is characteristic of elderly men. One of the millions of farmers ferrying between their villages and the towns to market their produce. He had been a mute witness to the whole situation until now. He stood up, pulled a handful of bananas from his gunny bag and walked up to Peter. He laid them in his lap. It was an offering of help from a stranger who had otherwise no reason.

Slowly, one by one, each passenger handed a few rupee notes to Peter, until he had enough to see him all the way home. And all it took was one kind soul.

Big things happen with small gestures.

An economics professor, tired of teaching theory, lent a hundred rupees to a woman as a practical experiment once. Today, Grameen bank lends money to 5.6 million members who come from poor families.

A man marched to the sea to make salt. Today, a nation of a billion goes to sleep with better prospects.

Big things happen with small gestures.



This was such a beautiful account, bought a lump to my throat reading it because I know how simple and helpful our village folk can be. I have buzzed it on Blogstreet. More people should read this.

9:41 PM


Thanks silverine. I'm glad you liked it. I had the same reaction when Mr. Born was telling us this story. I don't have a personal experience like this to tell of my own even though I've probably lived longer in India than he did. That's probably because between exams, tutorials and summer classes, I didn't get to travel around India as much I wanted.

Mr. Born has been the most influential teacher in my life. If there is one person who took my mind out of the rote learning process that is so characteristic of school systems everywhere, it was him. He began teaching a philosophy class in my junior year. It's funny how much opposition he faced to introduce this class, among other programs, in our "frog-in-the-well" school, because parents and students alike didn't like the new academic rigour. But I'm glad he did, because I would have been much less of a human otherwise.

7:14 AM

Came to this through Blogstreet. Loved it. Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land type of thing:). Well said.

10:53 PM

The journey through a thousand miles begins with a single step

11:47 PM

Nice one..silverine has linked the post...good one and liked the way you ended it :)..thanks

9:04 AM

Excellent post. Touched and moved by the story and the power of your narration.

Big things happen with small gestures. How true...

11:41 AM

amazing man...felt really good reading this post...the last one year i set aside a lot of my comfort hazzles and gotto see a lot of the real life in India.

the way you winded up the post with younis and gandhi was amazing...i am let me see what i can do or will do.

1:09 PM

Great post man... :-)

7:08 PM

the biggest example of rural-urban transformation in my life, strangely, is my own grandfather was a simple farmer (though born to a relatively well to do family) in a village, who struggled his way up, and his children in turn led a bigger struggle.

anyway the point is, the possibility for india is limitless.

was overwhelmed reading this. you get some sort of inspiration talking about these any account on what each one of us could do to make this world better does.

1:39 AM

very nice one !

6:01 AM

i think every human has that "virtue" in him or her.....circumstances make them "vice"......
really touching....nicely written and the end was so beautiful....

thanks to silverine for linking to this post.....

11:33 PM

Brilliant narration. Moves you. Little things that you see and esperience but forget for *bigger* things. You are right about the small gestures paving paths for massive changes.

12:43 PM

Great post Abhishek

6:17 PM

That was really a great story. Guess it also is a lesson on keep on doing whatever little good that you can for you never know how it might affect someone else.

2:23 PM

Nicely written, wonderful story. Is it Vinoy that we both know?

10:28 AM

beautiful story...wonderfully narrated too..
train journeys in india can be such wonderful experiences!

11:34 AM

You might be interested in this.

1:31 AM


Thank you very much for the link.

4:42 AM

Well done! Small things do make changes. And lets be the gods of those small things.
Excellent post, Abhishek! Excellent!

8:48 AM

Beautiful story! And so true!

1:51 PM

small gestures go directly to the heart.... and just a true smile can be more powerful than any other thing!

3:16 AM

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