Sensitivity : Key to a healthy society
When I was a child and encountered the first death in the colony of an elderly neighbourhood-uncle, my grandfather taught me an important lesson.
The news of Mr Khan’s sudden death ushered in hushed discussions amongst elders, puzzled questions from kids, and a quick large gathering of friends and relatives at the neighbour’s home three houses down the lane in our colony.
That evening when we were ready in our sports gear and prepared to go down the same road to the play-field, my grandfather dissuaded us with “when neighbours grieve, it is unkind and insensitive to rejoice and play in front of them”. He had not used authority, nor quoted laws and rights, but had left it to us to decide how sensitive neighbours ought to behave. And we had hung up our shoes and sacrificed our pleasure of that day in an act of solidarity!
When I became a doctor and earned my first stipend, I had taken a bunch of friends (Ali, Bhaskar, Mohan and Shyam Sunder Kothari) to a restaurant to dine. One had ordered grilled pomfret, another a beef-steak, yet another some sausage, but when the dishes arrived, we realised our mistake: Shyam Sunder became nauseous at the sight of the fish, Ali sat at a far corner of the table far from the pork, and Mohan looked uncomfortable with Bhaskar biting into the beef.
We realised that evening that the value of each other’s company far exceeded the pleasures of what we ate as individuals. We decided to refrain from ordering pork if Ali was with us, beef if Mohan was present, and go veg if Shyam was in company. Since that day we remained the best of friends for decades! And when Ali got married, he made his wife Afroz learn to cook vegetarian dishes to entertain Shyam whenever he would come to their home for dinner, even for Eid.
Providence, in its generous efforts to over-compensate me for having lost my mother at five, provided me with five foster-mothers (and five mothers-in-law for my poor wife!), one of who was my most affectionate ammi, Mrs Rafiq. On her insistence I had to visit her every Eid not just with my family but also with my colleagues and their families to join her14 biological children and their families, for feasting.
She soon realised that some of my colleagues being vegetarian, felt uncomfortable amidst the gosht and kebabs, while her children felt equally uneasy trying to entertain vegetarian guests on Eid! She soon switched to celebrating a special Eid on a separate day for us, with her maid (Munni) taking a go at vegetarian dishes in the kitchen her ancestral haveli.
While individual rights of what we eat or do are important, sensitivity towards how others in the neighbourhood feel is essential for harmonious healthy living. And no matter what politicians and lawyers say, my grandfather’s lesson and my ammi’s example still remain relevant to this day!