Rehman, a barely literate cycle-rickshaw driver in a small city in India, decided to take Salim, his 12 years old son, on a visit to the Dargah (a Sufi Islamic shrine built over a saint’s grave) of a highly revered saint on that saint’s Urs (death anniversary). The Dargah was in a big city about 1,500 kilometres away, but there was a convenient train connection. Rehman’s neighbour, who had visited the Dargah a few years earlier, informed Rehman that they could stay at Suleiman Dormitory near the railway station, a few kilometres away from the Dargah.
Asha, the daughter of Prof. Rao, an internationally renowned social scientist, lived in the same big city where the Dargah was located. After completing her Ph.D. from the University, she was now an Economics lecturer. Her husband, Gopal, an electronics engineer with a Ph.D. from a prestigious US university, had returned to India after teaching in USA for a few years, and was an Associate Professor at the prestigious engineering institute in the city.
Prof. Rao’s family had been Rehman’s customers from the time Asha had entered kindergarten. Apart from ferrying Asha from home to school and back, Rehman was a kind of ‘Man Friday’ to Prof. Rao and his wife. They trusted him completely, and he was fiercely loyal to the couple and their daughter.
After booking the train tickets, Rehman telephoned Asha. “Asha, I’m Rehman speaking. Salim and I will be in your city from the 13th evening to the 16th morning to visit the Dargah. We would like to meet you and Gopal for a few minutes on the 14th or 15th evening to give you your favourite mithai (sweets) from Ganesh Mithai Shop. Which day, and what time, would be convenient?”
Asha replied, “Rehman, unless you have compelling reasons to stay elsewhere, you must stay at our house. It’s only about 5 kilometres from the Dargah, and there are frequent buses both ways. Unfortunately, 14th and 15th are both working days for Gopal and me, otherwise we would have come along with you.”
Rehman quickly replied, “Asha, we will stay at Suleiman Dormitory near the railway station. We will meet you on the 14th evening or the 15th evening, whichever is convenient to you and Gopal.”
“Rehman, you must stay with us. If you stay anywhere else, please do not even bother to meet us,” Asha said. The finality in her tone was unmistakeable!
Rehman and Salim stayed at Asha’s and Gopal’s house from the evening of the 13th to the morning of the 16th. They were treated like any other guest. That is, they slept in the guest bedroom, had their meals along with Asha and Gopal, and had access to the main door keys so that they could leave the house and return according to their convenience. In short, the upper middle class, English-speaking, highly educated professors had treated the poor, non-English-speaking, almost illiterate cycle-rickshaw driver as their equal!
Most of us fight against those forms of inequality only when they are at a disadvantage. We do not seem to be bothered about those forms of inequality where we have the upper hand.
For example, men belonging to ‘lower caste’ families may fight against caste inequality, but may condone or perhaps practise gender discrimination against the women in their families.
Or women belonging to ‘upper caste’ families may fight against gender inequality, but may condone or perhaps practise caste discrimination against other women and men.
Do we all genuinely try to behave and speak respectfully with people who are economically weaker than us, such as domestic help, watchman, liftman, driver, etc.?
Don’t many of us look down on people whose knowledge of English is not as good as ours, and admire people whose knowledge of English is better than ours?
Why can’t those of us who fight against those forms of inequality where we are at a disadvantage, also fight against all those forms of discrimination where we have the upper hand?
Why can’t we all try to be like Asha and Gopal?
I had sent the draft of this post to Asha and Gopal for their approval. They replied as follows:
“We are really touched that you remembered this story and consider it worthy of Blog Action Day 2014. Just one comment:
By ‘being at a disadvantage’, what you mean is ‘being the affected party’ and by ‘having an upper hand’, what you mean is being in a superior or more powerful position, but it is this ‘at a disadvantage – upper-hand’ frame which is itself the issue. Within this frame, one can never grow out of this attitude except to be politically correct or to feel good. It is only a relation of friendship, trust and real concern for the other that makes any relationship mutual and therefore equal. To this extent, Rehman has always overwhelmed us and we feel that we cannot measure up to his graciousness and generosity.
The traditional example of an equal relationship is the friendship between Sudama and Krishna, where friendship is all that matters and, even in need, Sudama does not expect anything!”
that’s a beautiful story you have set to prove your point. Well written.
Thank you, Rajlakshmi. The story is so beautiful because it’s true!
I like the story and inherent moral. We have to travel a long distance to achieve this. But it is said that even a very long journey starts from a single step 🙂
Thank you for your comment, Ravish. This is a true story. It’s a small step for Asha and Gopal, but for the rest of us, it’s a giant leap! They inspire us to be better human beings.
This is a beautiful story mate. It is nice to see such people in our society who are able to look at fellow people as fellow people without the prejudice of caste or creed or the stupid notions associated with it. Makes us feel really good that there sure is hope for humanity 🙂
Let us all try to follow their example, Vinay. It’s easier said than done, but let’s try.
What a heart-warming story, Pro! What Asha and Gopal did wasn’t just a ‘socially right’ or ‘morally right’ thing, they did this as an expression of their innate goodness, their very natural sense of seeing everyone with the same eye. It came very naturally to them, and in a way their comment on your post that you share at the end reflects their innate view of humanity as one. Hats off to such people. And thank you for sharing their story.
Beloo, I am really lucky that Asha and Gopal are both such close friends of mine that they shared this incident with me. I’m happy that I could share it with some more people.
We need more Ashas and Gopals.
That’s correct, Abhijit!
Hats off to people like Asha and Gopal! Brilliant example quoted by you Pro. And yes, getting rid of inequality needs a collective effort. Thank you for sharing this story.
Thank you, Rekha. I’m glad I could share this story that inspires us to be better human beings!
Their behaviour touched the innermost core of my being. A wonderful couple they must indeed be! Discrimination is rampant in several layers across many sections of society. Their action is indeed exemplary, and we could do with a few more such people to make the world a better place to live in. A clear case where education has not only touched their mind but also the heart!
Absolutely! The world needs more Ashas and Gopals.
Among all the people I know, friends, relatives, coworkers, acquaintances, there is truly no one I look up to and admire more than Gopal. He has always been, and always will be, my hero. Even when our conversations end with a strong mutual desire to throttle each other.
There is another side to this story though. What kind of person must Rehman be to evoke such trust and affection!
Ashok, I agree 100% with you about Gopal! The same holds true for Asha. At the risk of them getting swollen heads, I must state that they are role models! I also agree that discussions with Gopal and/or Asha often end with a mutual desire to throttle each other!!
Asha and Gopal have given me some inputs about Rehman, and how and why he truly deserves such trust and affection. I shall get more inputs soon and will share it in a blog post in the near future.
Wow! Your post is amazing and thought provoking. Thank you for writing such an inspiring post.
Asha and Gopal deserve respect as human beings in an era where caste, gender and religious discrimination is rampant. I really don’t get it how we look down at people speaking in Hindi, Marathi or other regional languages. Irony is English is not our first language yet we are so arrogant. Hypocrisy at its best.
Thought provoking and brilliant post. Caste discrimination is what holding India’s progress.
From the perspective of academia, most people believe in equality and freedom very passionately. However, I have noticed that very few people practise what they believe.
Kudos to Asha and Gopal .
Yes, Rakesh. There is a gap between believing in equality and actually practising it. This is true of other values as well. Asha and Gopal are among the few people for whom this gap does not exist. They are an inspiration to all!
Such a heart warming story.
yes.. we need more of such people.
Yes, Pixie, we need more people like Asha, Gopal and Rehman, who practise true equality. Let’s try to be like them!
Asha and Gopal are definitely not normal mortals like us! Many of us are willing to help a neighbor, give money to relatives or friends in need, do volunteer work in the community, and so on and so forth. Their action, as casual and natural as it seems to them, is to me of a very god-like nature. I am not exaggerating. How many of us can replicate this kind of action? After hearing about Asha and Gopal , I would like to try to ‘rise more to the occasion’, when I see an opportunity for establishing Equality arises. I bow to Asha and Gopal.
“How many of us can replicate this kind of action?” That’s a question each one of us must ask ourselves.
I do not agree that Asha and Gopal are not normal mortals. They are very normal mortals like all of us. I agree that very few of us have replicated their action. But any person can replicate their action the day (s)he starts genuinely believing and practising what they said: “It is only a relation of friendship, trust and real concern for the other that makes any relationship mutual and therefore equal.”
A wonderful post – we need more Ashas, Gopals AND Rehmans in this world.
Thank you, Ken, for bringing attention to Rehman as well!
Rehman is a very special human being! I will share some true stories about him in a blog post in the near future.
From many of your blog posts, I know that you have practised genuine equality during your long stay in Bangladesh. You and your Bangladeshi friends (whom you consider your family) are role models like Asha, Gopal and Rehman.
The story is really nice. It represents true triumph in our society. I also agree with your premise that we mostly fight for injustice when we are in the weaker position. A woman may fight for equal rights for equity in the chores she does. But she has no qualms in exploiting her house help. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Rachna, almost all of us, consciously or unconsciously, are guilty of double standards in our attitude to equality. Realising and accepting this is the first step. We must all make genuine efforts to remove all kinds of inequality.
Very nice story!! It is true that often we measure people based on their social or financial standing, while a person should be judged on their goodness.
I agree that, sadly, most of the time, we measure people based on their wealth, social standing, power or ‘connections’. However, I do not agree that “a person should be judged on their goodness.”
Why at all do we have to measure or judge anybody?
This is a very nice example of equality in practice. All their education is not wasted and it shows their mental maturity to rise above societal attitudes. Of course in this case there is a long term personal relationship transcending a generation and both Asha and Gopal have reinforced human values by showing that these are things to be cherished. And what a good example to set for the 12-year old … may he live in a better world!
Venkat, you’ve raised a valid point about the impact on Salim, Rehman’s 12 years old (at that time) son. I will check about this and share in a future post.
This is such an inspiring story. I wish I could be like Asha and Gopal. I admit I’m not. I do try and treat the weaker section with compassion but I’m yet to reach the point where I treat them equally. Too many prejudices ingrained. Sad and embarrassing to admit, but true. Hope to be there some day soon. Thanks for sharing this.
Asha and Gopal are inspirations that we all need…to allow our hearts to be generous and big enough to embrace all. It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s saying on prayer…She said prayer expands our hearts to receive God’s gift of himself…which we can, in turn, open up to others.