The memory of that eventful Friday afternoon continues to haunt me. How despicable is human nature, forcing a fellow human being to sit through those tortued moments at the restaurant. How terrible it must have felt to have to bear the shame of sitting in an unnatural environment, in those worn out clothes, her eyes filled with discomfort amd misery. That face would have witnessed innumerable difficulties, and that day, she paid the highest price for her poverty: her dignity was on sale.
And no one bothered; no one gave a damn or even looked in her direction. The six of us were shocked and horrified that a another member of the same community, I meant the HUMAN community chose not to be humane. The old woman's employers were busy playing host and cajoling thier wailing child. But the silent tears of that wrinkled face went unheard. It never even occured to them that a woman of her age, old enough to be a grandmother, should be offered, as much as a glass of water.
The sad old face shivered in the cold. She sought comfort from her rags that sheltered her body, but was powerless against the cold North winds of a selfish world. Someone from my group wanted to go over to ther table and give her a hug; another wanted to invite her to our table to eat and the list was endless. We could not eat; we were not sure if 'she' has had even a morsel since morning. But the rest of the folks at the restuarant continued with thier chatter, entirely oblivious to the drama taking place in front of thier eyes. I suppose they thought it best not to interfere in another's affairs, just like so many others do. But we could not wipe off the dust settled on the table so easily. It required some effective treatment. It meant having to do the right thing, in the face of huge odds.
In our houses, even a complete stranger is treated with respect and care. During the hot summer months in CHennai, we offer either buttermilk or atleast a glass of water. You are taught that money is transitory and treating every individual with respect is a greater virtue. INfact in my 'Third World Politics' course, I concluded a presentation with the words, "....because you are speaking up for people who have no voice, who can't speak for themselves"; and yet nothing prepared me for that first-hand experience of being an underdog, only because you did not have money.
Our group debated on the best course of action. We decide against provoking a direct confrontation, not because we were scared, but because we did not want to create a scene. Finally, Mru decided to voice her opinion through a small piece of paper that read, "I am appalled, angered, and shocked at the way you treat your help. I would have come up and said this to you but I don't want to make a scene."..and left it on their table as we prepared to leave the restaurant. Immediately the woman sporting a red lipstick came screaming down the hallway, outraged that another woman had the gaul to say such a thing. Her ego had been pricked and she though she could intimidate my friend with her rich-b*****-attitude. But my Virgo pal being who she was put her in her place with a smart, ":I don't care..." reply.
With that kind of bad attitude, it was not worth saying anything to her at all. Whether or not the incident, would not have changed that old woman's life for the better, we will never know. But what the difference is that someone had the courage to stand up for a complete stranger.
It is also our hope that someone, someday, may extend the same courtesy to those whose voices have been silenced because they were born poor.