Every species on this planet lives on hope.
Sometimes it is expressed and other times it stays deep inside all of us. Hope is a living growing core that infuses us with boundless energy and expectation. Without Hope we would be a mere shadow of ourselves. When we are young anything seems possible however improbable. When we are old, everything is impossible however probable. But what never alters is the fuse of hope that was lit within us the day we were born.
Hope itself never seems to age. Its fire burns brighter as we get older. Its light shines brighter as our own becomes dimmer. It pervades everything in our life from the incessant expectation of a new born to the irrepressible faith of the dying. To this end I want to recount an incident that happened to me a few years ago on the streets of Bangalore.
One fine afternoon I came across a man who was lying on the sidewalk. He was uncaring in the heat and hardly seemed conscious. I had no doubt that he was intoxicated for who else could treat the dusty concrete as a soft eiderdown and lie supine on it? I dearly wanted to ignore him but for some reason I could not. I walked up to him and shook his body gently asking him if he wanted something. He did not utter a word but nodded his head as if to say that he was alright and that he did not expect any assistance from me. He opened his eyes and I could see suffering glazing his entire countenance. He was hurting and had not been treated well by people. His clothes were filthy with the stench of alcohol bathing him like a shroud.
I wanted to walk on and leave him to his fate. For he had drunk himself to oblivion hadn’t he?
As I turned on my heel preparing to walk away, I felt his hands tugging on my leg. I turned back and saw a glimmer of desire, a patina of need and a minute quantum of self respect urging him on. I bade him lie back and I ran to the nearest eatery, ordered some takeaway and trotted back to give it to him. I saw him with his back against the curb attempting to prop himself up hoping against hope that I would be back.
I gave the food to him waiting for him to partake of it. It looked like the first real bite he had had in days. He wolfed it down while I waited by his side. For some extraordinary reason I felt compelled to wait as he finished the food. It was very unlike me because I am a highly transaction driven person. Once I feel that my job is done I move on without reflection or inflection.
After some time he asked for some water and I gave it to him. In all this time I was more than a little angry at him. As soon as he finished, I pounced on him with the long stifled question.
“Why do you drink yourself to oblivion and end up like this?”
I guess I sounded more than a little harsh and to top it all I even felt quite superior. He looked at me and mumbled something that I could not hear. Unable to hear I leaned forward and reviled him with the same question. He made an effort to speak up and I heard him say that he had been trying to help a drunken friend who had conked him on the back of his head. Only then did I realize that he seemed to have a scalp wound. The blood had matted his hair but since it was at the back I had not noticed it at all.
Since he seemed in no immediate danger, I decided to let him fix himself up. By now I was feeling extremely guilty for having prejudged him. I told him that he could lean on me and I would help him to the nearest hospital. He just smiled and asked me to not bother. He thanked me profusely for the food and summarily bade me on my way. I was really puzzled at this turn of events. I figured that I was finished playing my part in this ludicrous drama.
As I walked away from him something kept tugging at my mind like an insistent buzzing wasp. I realized all at once that he had never asked me to help him stand up. In fact he had not stood up at all during the entire interaction.
I went back and looked a little closer. He was holding his legs peculiarly straight as if they were frozen. I wondered if he if he was able to walk at all! He must have been too proud to ask me for help and I felt like an utter fool for not having realized his problem. He saw me coming back and waved me away as if he was angry at my impudence.
I did not waver even though I felt like a heel. I helped him up all the while hearing him curse me for my sins. When he was upright and leaning against the lamp post I asked him how he planned to go home. He snapped at me profanely asking me to mind my business. It did feel extremely odd to hear this erstwhile helpless man bring forth such litany some of which I had not heard in a long while.
By now I was thoroughly annoyed and in a huff I stalked off vowing to not bother with this vile fellow.
At the next intersection while I was waiting for the crosswalk to turn green, there was a traffic cop minding his own business. I tapped him in the shoulder and informed him that there was a pedestrian who might need some help for his scalp wound. He turned around, looked in the direction that was pointed and burst out laughing.
I was utterly shocked when he told me that I was not the first person who had been waylaid by Ravi. I inferred that Ravi was well known in this area. He further said, “Ravi is homeless and struggles to make a living; He is an eternal optimist! He always feels like someone will help him every day!”
I retraced my steps back to Ravi who was still standing where I had left him. He looked sheepish and I realized that he must have caught me talking to the cop. I asked him why he wouldn’t ask people outright for help. He laughed aloud and I cringed at the look of cynicism on his face. He said that people will never bother when you just ask them for it.
I asked him how he could get himself to put out an act every single day of his life?
He smiled at me, leaned over and said in a conspiratorial whisper “I will let you in on a little secret. People want to help and I just make it easy for them to do so. Do you know why? It is because they feel good if they help others. They have a deep desire that one day they will be called upon to help others and that they will be up to it when it occurs. I am their guru who helps them find the goodness inside of them! In fact you could say every day my hope is that I will come across someone who is yearning to help. This way their life will be fulfilled because of my good deeds. I am the reason that people like you are happy!”
I have to admit that his preposterous conjecture aged well, mellowing over the years into a well rounded vintage philosophy.
To this day I have not been able to forget this conversation. Hope springs eternal they say and it was proved that day by Ravi. I thanked him for his help and went on my way, a little wiser and a whole lot more hopeful! Hope is a cog in the wheel of fate. It creates gods out of mortals and saints out of sinners. Hope is like a faithful river that flows every day for centuries expecting each person who drinks from it to spread it around thus creating an infinite network of tributaries filled with oodles of Hope.