Almost a week ago, I twisted and fractured my ankle while negotiating my way over a steep pavement in Lal Chowk. I did not attach much import to this injury but as I finished work at my office, a searing pain hit my foot. As I started limping, I caught the attention of my colleagues. All rose to enquire about the limp and proffered help. This, however, is not unusual. In most parts of the world, colleagues would come to the aid of an injured colleague. What was rather unusual and exceptionally remarkable was the offers of help and assistance by total strangers. The auto-walla in whose autorickshaw I travelled from work to where I park my car drove his vehicle as gently as can be; he not only helped me into my car but asked if I needed money. The guard at the hospital, ran towards me and helped me as I was groping the wall to maneuver myself; the attendant of a patient helped me into the X-Ray lab at the hospital. There were other instances” of offers of help by random strangers.
These offers were reflexive. There was neither an agenda behind these nor did the people who helped me or made offers of help expect anything in return. All this set me thinking. I also jogged down the memory lane. In 2008 when I was wandering around the United States, I , on a sultry New York evening, came across a young white male who was lying sprawled on the street. I offered help and extended my hand to the man but he , after grimacing at me said: “ I don’t need your help. What do you want? This is New York. Nobody helps anyone here”. I encountered similar such incidents in the United States where people appeared to indifferent to the sufferings of people in public spaces. Another incident that I recalled was the one , many years ago, soon after my return from Australia, in New Delhi. A DTC bus ran over a man; as the man lay writing in agony with his guts spilt on the streets, nobody walked over to him or called the police. To the contrary, another incident that I recollect, in Kashmir, a young Bihari girl suddenly turned around and ran towards my car and hit its bonnet. A crowd gathered around my car, asked me to stop and wait till the concussed girl returned to consciousness. Water was sprinkled over her face and she was given some to drink too. The small crowd did not let me go till it felt that the girl was absolutely fine. The reason was that if the girl did not return to consciousness, I would have to take her to the hospital. This was sheer compassion exuded and demonstrated to an outsider in Kashmir.
Examples galore of Kashmiris’ compassion and generosity can be cited but what perhaps all of us remember and many amongst us partook in are the acts of great bravery, compassion and generosity that Kashmiris demonstrated eloquently during the Flood fury of 2014, at great personal risk-to one and all. These examples are not mere anecdotal incidents of Kashmiris’ good , compassionate and generous nature. They are real. If , indeed, we are a nice people, why do we hold a negative view of ourselves and why do we behave rather unbecomingly and untypically in public spaces?
The reasons might be isolated to the conflict but there appears to be more. Kashmir is a small , isolated place cocooned from the world. The conflict along with this isolation might have led to a degree of self absorption and self centredness in us. Moreover, since our contact with the outside world is very limited, and since our pursuits are very limited and , at times, rather restrictive, we turn inward and turn against each other. In this inward turning, our imagination turns against our collective character and we then become ruthless critics. But , as I have demonstrated, we are not a bad people. In fact, by relative standards, we are a very nice people. We might not say thank you, in and at every instance, or we might not say sorry when we bump into each other in public places or we might flare up in anger after a road accident but in domains where it actually matters- acts of kindness to strangers and outsiders, compassion and generosity demonstrated to people in need and so on, we score eminently well. ( There are exceptions, of course).
What then is the remedy to our obsessive- compulsive “need” to denigrate and demean ourselves?
An expansive personality- individual and collective- is the answer. How, the question is, this can be attained?
A stable identity where our selves- collective and individual- are not torn or divided would be one prong of the answer. The other would be to immerse ourselves into the world at large. In combination, these could accord us the much needed sober and realist perspective on our collective and individual selves. When and if we gain this perspective, we would realize that our ruthless self criticism of ourselves and character was but an illusionary and imaginary fiction. We owe it to ourselves!
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at: @Wajahatqazi