Worlds apart, but degree of sameness

Bhartendu Sood

IN our country, incidents of unruly behaviour and crime, each surpassing the other in heinousness, occur with such frequency that despite the many laws, there is no visible drop in crime rate and we end up making even more stringent laws. But laws have their limitations; it is best to think how we can make our society civilised.

During my train travel from Beijing to Xian, much to my dislike, I had the upper berth. Just as the train started, I noticed that the lower berth was unoccupied, prompting me to move to it. But I realised that I was in an alien country and must first check the rules.

Fortunately, a girl on the opposite berth knew English and I decided to share my problem with her. ‘I am over 60. I will feel more comfortable on the lower berth. I don’t know if I can occupy.’ She went out of the cabin and was back after 10 minutes with the TT. I was told that if the original allottee did not turn up at the next station, I would be allotted the berth. When the next station passed and the lower berth remained vacant, he came to my cabin and asked me to pay 25 yuan for taking the lower berth. Bewildered, I asked why I should pay the extra money!

‘These are official charges for changing the berth,’ he said. ‘If it means extra money, I am happy in my originally allotted berth,’ I said disappointed. The man went back. It seemed that my conduct had left the girl wondering, so to revive our tete-a-tete, I said to her: ‘I must tell you that in our country, people over 60 years of age have many privileges as a matter of law. My request was purely in the backdrop of that.’ I narrated all the privileges that I enjoyed as a senior citizen of my country.

‘Oh, your country takes good care of its elderly citizens. That is really great!’ she commented. We talked some more on other subjects. Soon, it was time to retire to sleep. She suddenly stood up and said with a smile: ‘Look, my country doesn’t have many rules and laws as your country for its elderly population, but there is always room for basic etiquettes. I think you need the lower berth more than me.’ Before I could react, she was already up there.

As I looked up to thank her, a big grin on her face made me think: perhaps rules and laws are needed more in a society where basic thoughtfulness is found wanting.

Back home, when I narrated the incident to my wife, she snapped back: ‘You forget that we are a democracy, not a communist country!’ That was enough to dispel the little hope which I carried that we would also improve some day.

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