“I’m the eldest among us, so I you have to let me pay for these tickets! Besides, just one ticket in the States cost more than all three tonight!!”
My cousin’s wallet hand was faster than mine, pulling out Rs. 520 for three opening night seats to ‘Angels and Demons’ before I could make good on my intention.
“Naaah! Come on– don’t worry about it,” came the answer.
“Ok, but then we have to use this 500 rupees to do something good,” I say as I pull out a crisp note.
We immediately start trying to figure it out while slowly walking away from the theater. I spot an ice cream vendor selling 10 rupees soft serves not far from us.
“Hey, what about ice cream! We could give 50 strangers a cool surprise with this bill. Just random people walking by.”
“NO! Why?! We should give to someone in need,” protested one of my cousins, with something of a scowl on his face.
Just then, an elderly woman beggar walks up with her hand outstetched.
“See, its not about that. Begging in India is a big game. You don’t know who’s in need, who’s a scammer, who is taking the money from the person you give it to. I could give money to this old lady here, or that poor street kid over there, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. My resources, or anything the three of us pull together, can only go so far in making a difference. But just think of what could happen if everyone cared.”
I paused, as they were soaking it in.
“All these guys walking around trying to impress the ladies– don’t you think they’re suffering too? They try to be all macho and flashy, but they’re blind to the material poverty that they see every day of their lives. They’re stone-hearted– and they’re the center of their own universe, which happens to only have one person in it. Don’t you think that’s a miserable existence?”
“Imagine if we snapped them out of it just for one second. What if we we’re kind to them for no other reason than to just be kind. It might open their eyes for the first time. They might just care for someone else, maybe that kid, or this old woman, just for one second. And those collective moments of care might just make a huge difference– much more than we could ever do alone.”
They’re agreeing now, probably more because of my oratory than my rhetoric. One cousin is all excited. The other is agreeable but reluctant.
“Ok, so I get what you mean. That makes sense.”
“Alright! So you’re in?!”
We make our way over to the ice cream vendor, and I decide to put the Rs. 500 back and pull out smaller notes. I give Rs. 250 to the enthusiastic cousin, Rs. 100 to the lukewarm cousin, and keep Rs. 150 fo myself.
“Ok, we’ll break it up into smaller batches so all of us can be handing out ice cream simultaneously.”
“I’m gonna start with 50 rupees,” says one cousin.
“I’ll just watch how you do it for now,” says the other cousin.
I order 5 vanillas and start handing them out one-by-one immediately. I get about 4-5 rejections for every acceptance, but at least 4 smiles for every cone. One guy would only take the ice cream after I told him that I just got married! Another guy with crazy spiky hair was leaning against a wall, texting on his phone pretending he was too cool to talk to his girlfriend standing right in front of him. As I approached, I thought that certainly this guy wouldn’t take the ice cream or smile. He did, and so did his girlfriend, though neither accepted the cone. The theater attendant got one of my cones, and so did the street kid loitering around the posh shoppers. A fat man surprisingly rejected the cone and wished me happy birthday when I told him I just got married 🙂
In less than 10 minutes, we burned through 100 rupees. Turns out my enthusiastic cousin ate two cones himself, spending only Rs. 30 on strangers. The lukewarm cousin never got up the nerve to try himself.
A random older uncle off the street walks up smiling. “Why were you giving out these ice creams only,” he asks.
We explain, but he seems to already understand. And he was so happy to see us doing this, especially my enthusiastic cousin (who also happens to sport many tattoos and piercings– someone that the older generation oftens stereotypes as punk-ish).
We also decided that the ice cream was melting too fast, and that we needed to figure out another way to be kind. As we’re walking away, my lukewarm cousin opens up some more.
“I can’t do this. I’m too afraid.”
“Never be afraid to be kind. Even most of the people who rejected me smiled. They don’t know me and probably never will [so its not personal], but they will remember the presence of kindness in a place they didn’t expect. Whether they took ice cream or not, that feeling will make a difference. We just may never know how. ”
We talk about it more, and decide to visit a local orphanage, play with some of the kids, find out their needs, and spend Rs. 420 as a small offering of assistance. And then we watch a great film.
On the way out, my enthusiastic cousin bumps into a friend who passed by, and then excuses himself to go talk to her for a bit. He comes back in a few minutes with a big smile on his face.
“You’ll never guess what just happened to them. Some stranger walked up and said ‘Hey, would you like some free tickets to the movie’ and then handed them 3 tickets!”
“Wow! Maybe it was one of those people we gave ice cream to!” I blurt out.
My lukewarm cousin cracks a smile.
“Have you ever been to a place, like an old church or temple, where you can just feel that something is different? Its like the deep thoughts and feelings of people have charged the environment with a certain kind of energy, and it puts others into that same space. Maybe we just unleashed a splash of kindness right here, that is still rippling out!”
They both like my wavy, quasi-mystical explanation.
Two nights later, my lukewarm cousin pulls me aside.
“Don’t tell my parents, but whenever Ranjan fai talks about you, I’ve always thought ‘Why can’t I do what Rahul does?’ Couple nights ago at the movies, I saw why– because I have that fear.”
“I used to be too shy, too afraid to be nice too. But you just do it, and then you find out that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and that it makes you feel good.”
“Yeah- just doing something selflessly…”
“I wouldn’t even call it selfless. In the beginning, you might do it only because it makes you feel good. That’s selfish– but that’s ok. What kindness does is expands your sense of self, so that maybe one day that sense of self will be so big that it might be more accurate to call it selflessness rather than selfishness.”
We talk a little more, and he tells me he would like to figure out how to use his IT skills to do good things for society. I tell him that Dinesh is just the man he needs to meet, and he decides on the spot to take tomorrow off work!
All I kept thinking was that 80 rupees of kindness sure goes a long way in Bangalore. Can’t wait til we spend the other Rs 420!