Returning from an errand, I met a rickshaw-wallah the other day, who set me thinking. Upon being told my destination, he was full of questions. About my place of study, where I come from, whether the courses are difficult, the accommodation, the campus, the admission process, the composition of the student community and so on. I was a little reluctant to answer his questions and evaded them in what I thought was a skillful manner. You don't go around divulging personal details to absolute strangers, do you?
Having managed to try and give monosyllabic answers for most of his questions, I was almost patting myself on the back when he turned around and apologized for his inquisitiveness.
"Madam, my son an engineer. He study here, but now job in Pune. Good job. Very proud. Hard work, you know. I want him to study more. So asking you. Sorry, madam if you don't like it."
I was ready to dig a hole through the floor of his rickshaw and allow the earth to swallow me up, metaphorically speaking. What kind of person had I turned into if I had allowed my essential niceness to be swallowed up in the safety drill!?!
Why is it that we are taught to not trust strangers? We are born with the ability to look at the world like it is full of the most innocent and beautiful people. It is as we grow up that the prejudices set in, become ingrained in to our psyche and we turn into suspicious, small-minded adults! I hate the fact that the minute I see a stranger staring or a slightly different/weird looking individual walking by me in a slightly lonely locality, the thought immediately crosses my mind that this person might mean some harm and I should be ready to face anything. I should be careful, mindful of my own safety and so on.
And then the guilt crashes in. That such thoughts come visiting. Perhaps they are important in today's world. But that human beings have lost such faith in others of their own kind is disturbing. It is not fair to the other person or people. I would hate it if anybody thought such awful stuff about me for no particular reason. I would hate it even more if perfectly innocent people who just happened to be around, minding their own business, or perhaps even wondering if I am a safe person while passing me by, could look into my head and read my thoughts.
It is sometimes difficult to follow all the rules of this world. At least in the present day and age...
What are we always told about strangers right from the time we are kids? DON'T talk to strangers. Strangers can be bad, can be cruel, can mean trouble. Stay away from them. Very important life lesson indeed. Especially when one considers the statistics about crimes where children and women more especially, and even men in many cases, are the victims. Strangers can indeed be dangerous, at times.
But when is the "no strangers" rule supposed to be eased a little bit? At what age is one supposed to be grown up and able enough to judge people, especially strangers? Because every new person is a stranger and many might turn out to be people you could treasure, awesome people. And doubting them to begin with does not make for a happy time ahead, in fact, might mean driving away the very people who might be meant to travel the roads with you...
Somehow we need to strike the perfect balance between staying safe and away from harm even while being good human beings, who trust and judge correctly. That, I believe, is the essence of all that growing up, maturity and wisdom. Perhaps life and experience teaches you this, it is not something you can learn in a class or from a book about morals and values. This might be why our parents and grandparents seem so much wiser. They have seen, lived and learnt, a process that takes patience and time. But having to live in a fast-forwarded world today, where we have so little time to invest in wisdom, we forget to learn. Perhaps every now and then, I ought to stop and think for myself if I am the kind of person I like. Then I might yet end up the kind of person I could like if I ever met myself as a stranger...