By Arun Kumar Sahu*
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” I heard a voice calling from behind as I hurried to cross the road. I looked back, but she wasn’t hollering for me. A young girl with a package of food in hand was calling a lady with a baby in a pram crossing the road behind me. I paused for a moment. The girl was from the nearby restaurant from which the lady must have ordered some food. She, a restaurant attendant I suppose, forgot to pack one of the items she had ordered. The attendant crossed the road with her, waited for her to stop, profusely apologized and helped her rearrange her bag so that it was not inconvenient to her with the baby, and apologized again for being so careless as to not have packed all items together. The lady smiled, thanked the restaurant girl and walked on her way.
All this spanned just a few minutes. It was a demonstration of the civility that Canadians maintain in their day-to-day lives. Civility is pretty normal throughout the western world. People do hold the door open for women, use the magic words, “please” and “thank you”, and do not raise their voice even if they disagree. They are respectful of queues, discipline and rules. They are non-intrusive and mindful of others’ space and time. But the Canadians have raised the standard up a notch. They are extremely polite people, well behaved and mindful of the slightest stress and inconvenience they may cause to others. In the workplace, they are acutely aware of their duties and responsibilities, mindful of due dates and commitments. They apply a subtle method of disagreement and dissent. On the road, a car driver is never too hurried not to give way to another fellow driver. In school, a teacher is mindful of the incoherent suggestion of a child. Every child is treated like a genius.
A few months ago I left my smartphone at the park and realized only later that night that I had lost it. I thought there was no hope of getting it back. Nonetheless, I called the number to see if someone would answer. Surprisingly, a gentleman answered and asked me a couple preliminary questions to ascertain whether I was actually the owner of the phone. Then he asked me where he could deliver the phone. In half an hour, he drove over and handed me the phone with a big smile. I invited him for a drink; he politely declined saying it was pretty late. I generously thanked him, making his smile even bigger.
Back home in India, I’m reminded of sound, fury, chaos, sneers, jeers and the concomitant efforts to leave fellow people behind for success. We are so many and opportunities are so limited, we feel unless we push others aside, we will not succeed ourselves. Possibly, that struggle for survival makes us eccentric, egotistic, boastful, aggressive and insensitive to others’ needs. We consider civility as a “weakness”, non-aggression as the ultimate sign of a “loser”. And we laugh about it, “That’s just how we Indians are!” But it is not so. Civility is an integral part of our civilizational wisdom. Our epics, scriptures and literature are full of characters with the utmost civility and sensitivity. We love them, adore them and worship them, but many of us fail to internalise them, their day-to-day conduct, their empathy and compassion for a fellow human being, a friend, a competitor and even a foe. Maybe the time has come not to laugh it off but do some course correction in our everyday demeanour.
*Arun Kumar Sahu is the Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada. He may be contacted [email protected]
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