Friday, September 14, 2012

Of Kindness

Shop window in Brighton
I thought I was the last person on earth who still insisted on using the word kindness, without blushing. The word (and concept) seems to have fallen out of favour, especially among those who fancy themselves clever, since it reeks so much of.. moralizing; you know, that other hopelessly dated idea. So, it was a pleasant surprise to come across words like kindness and good deed as often as I did in London. I draw a blank trying to imagine New Yorkers employing such vocabulary and admire the Brits even more for retaining their peculiarly polite identity to date. Good to see them embracing their twee so unabashedly. I had feared it had all but died with Enid Blyton.

On the tube every day, I often used to come across this good deed feed on the free paper called The Metro. However saccharine it may seem at first glance, I always found it refreshing to read in the largely impersonal confines of the tube. Small acknowledgments of human connections and random acts of kindness can make the underground experience warmer than it usually is.

One other acknowledgment of this that I saw was in the form of art work called Stories of Kindness on the Tube by Michael Landy. I tried to get as many pictures of these stories at central line tube stations and trains as I could. They celebrate little acts of kindness and put them on public view without shying away from using the word. I love that. A lot of them are 'kindnesses' perceived from the Western eye, things like strangers talking and lending emotional or (some form of) physical support on the tube.

I am sure in Pakistan people often give and receive such kindnesses without finding them particularly remarkable. I sound doubtful about it though, because as a woman I am outside the sphere of true public existence. Even my public life is led behind private doors of cars, offices, schools and shops. However, at times when car tyres go flat in the middle of a road or you end up in a Lhr-Isb Daewoo or an airport lounge, (the only places I can think of where relatively middle class women can find the opportunity to engage with others), you often find people willing to help and chat, in fact here the problem may run in the opposite direction, friendliness taken to the level of nosiness or harassment. What we lack is the kindness of letting others be when they require it. Or the kindness of polite words like sorry and thank you. The latter seems to be lacking even on forums populated by the more educated, such as Twitter. I see selective thank yous and engagement from journalist types who deem themselves too important to respond to the riff raff (namely those who cannot help them get a leg up in their careers). To paraphrase a favourite quote, the true test of a person's character is his behaviour towards those who are of absolutely no consequence to him.

I seem to have digressed a bit, so I will let you read through stories of kindness on the tube as seen from the eyes of Londoners. A city as big as that celebrating things so small. That really makes me respect London.

I love this one, a genuine act of self sacrifice on the part of a complete stranger
Humour saves a boring train ride
They're the same everywhere

'Change' in London has greater value. Coins tend to go further than they do in Pakistan
I've done that at times when I forgot to pick up The Metro at the station
The same happened when my sis-in-law and I took my niece out on the town in a buggy. At every flight of stairs someone stopped and helped us carry the buggy with the child in it
This happened to me. A man woke me up at Newbury Park because he felt I might sleep through my stop. I was going till the end of the line so there wasn't anything to worry about, but still, I appreciated his concern
This has happened to me in Lahore, bag full of money returned to my address by Ehsan Chappal Store. They called Zaidi's from a receipt in my bag and took my address from there. Quite remarkable, the lengths they went to.
People just randomly talking to each other is a bigger deal in London than in Lahore
I think this happening in a van to Shahdara might not be quite as remarkable
In Pakistan naani and daadi's names and professions would have been exchanged within this time
Connecting wordlessly with a stranger is one of the great pleasures of living in a big city
Flowers save the day anywhere in the world


  1. How wonderful! These stories really restore ones faith in humanity. If one could make an effort to reach out everyday to just one person...stranger or known one ..kindness and appreciation could be so catching.
    Simply the act of greeting someone, who least accepts it, with a smile is a good start!
    Love your work...keep it up!

  2. Sorry....who least *expects* it!

  3. Beautiful write up. Strangely kindness is considered a form of stupidity in societies where trust and selfless attributes are lost. To me its the only way to connect to a complete stranger.

  4. Thank you, Shaista.

    Shama, love what you say about people taking random acts of kindness (or sustained ones for that matter) for stupidity, naivette or weakness.

  5. Loved all of them, specially the jokes made by the Old-age people:)

  6. England: a land where humanity still exists. These are so amazing , post all of them if you have more!!