The train entered Ghatkopar station. It was the first class ladies compartment of the 9.30 Thane local. I had my nose buried in Robin Sharma’s latest book. I felt, rather than saw, a girl take the seat opposite me.
Suddenly I heard a joyful, “Oh it’s you!” and felt someone tap my hand to get my attention.
Startled, I looked up to see the girl smiling broadly at me.
“Yes?” I asked puzzled. Did I know her? She certainly acted as if she knew me.
Seeing my bafflement she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“No, I’m sorry.” I answered, all the while scanning my memory for a trigger.
“But I will never forget you,” she said to my astonishment. “You changed my life.”
“I?” I asked in surprise, “and how did I do that?”
“It was about 2 years ago. I was the only one seated in the compartment and you entered,” she said, “I was sitting there alone and crying and instead of minding your own business, you spoke to me.”
“Oh yes. I remember now,” I said as I recalled that day.
When I entered the compartment that day two years ago, there was only one other occupant, a young girl who was sitting at the window, looking utterly miserable with tears flowing down her cheeks.
I glanced curiously at her and wondered, “Should I ask her what is wrong? Or should I just leave her alone?”
The voice of caution urged me to leave her alone, but she looked so miserable, that I decided to talk to her, and in any case, when had I ever listened to the voice of caution?
“What’s the matter?” I asked gently.
“Nothing,” she replied, wiping her tears and trying to smile.
“Then why are you crying? Sometimes talking to a stranger helps.” I smiled at her.
“No ma’am. It’s nothing. Just some problems with my colleagues at work.”
“And what did they do?” I asked.
“They just keep putting me down and making fun of everything I do. I just hate this job! I dread going in to work each morning.”
“Is this your first job?”
From the way she spoke, I gathered she couldn’t be more than 21 or 22, just fresh out of college. “Poor child!” I thought, “She’s got such a long way to go.”
“I can see how horrible you must be feeling,” I told her, “but tell me can you change their behaviour?”
“No ma’am,” she said, “how can I?”
“Then can you change how you feel about what they do?”
Startled, she looked up, “What ma’am?”
“Change how you react to them. Ask yourself why they are treating you so badly. I have generally found that people indulge in this kind of behaviour only when they are threatened by someone. Tell me, are you good at your job?”
“I think so ma’am,” she replied hesitantly.
“What does your boss say?”
“He always praises me.”
“See, that’s it. That’s why they are making fun of you.”
“But what can I do ma’am?”
“Well, the choice is yours. Either you lower your standard at work and wait for your colleagues to accept you or you can excel at whatever you do and climb so high that their hurtful actions and words can’t reach you. As Buddha once said, ‘If you don’t take what someone gives you, it remains with them.’ So if you don’t accept their hurtful comments and actions that pull you down, it remains with them and it can’t hurt you. And if you are doing your best and if you are doing the right thing, you are never alone. God is always on your side.”
“Now wipe those tears and give me a smile.” I ordered.
At that she smiled more confidently and said, “Thank you, I feel so much better now.”
“Good”, I said as I prepared to alight at my station, “Now go and make it a great day”
* * * * *
And now two years later, she was sitting in front of me again. But what a difference! She was so confident, so full of life!
I realised that she was still speaking to me, “That day you really made me realise that I didn’t have to allow other people to control how I feel. It is all up to me. I started concentrating on what I could do rather than on what people said I couldn’t do.”
“Now I am working at a much bigger and better firm, in a higher position and I’m earning much more too,” she smiled. “And I have to thank you for it. I am so glad you spoke to me that day.”
Then she got up and gave me an impulsive hug and walked to the door to get off at the next station.
As I waved at her through the window, I too was glad that I hadn’t minded my own business that day.
P.S. Corinne Rodrigues’ post, ‘The power of Kindness‘ on her site, Everyday Gyaan, reminded me of this incident that happened a couple of years ago when I was still part of the corporate world.