The Balloon Man

The sibling, for all her brusqueness and bravado, is actually a gentle soul whose heart weeps at the sight of the homeless, needy and those less fortunate than her. She is always striving in one way or the other to make their lives better. The fact that she lives in a metro in India that is called the “city of dreams”, and that the city has seen more dreams wither and die than flourish, doesn’t help. The other day, she was taking a break from her studies (the sibling is always studying something or the other), when she looked out the window of her room and spotted a man selling balloons in the pouring rain outside. The time was closing in on midnight, and he had with him two little boys who were getting drenched in the rain as well.

The sibling’s heart bled, and she resolved to buy balloons from the man on her way back from work the next evening. The next day, after an exhausting day at work she stopped by the balloon man and bought three balloons. Each one cost 50 rupees and so her total came up to 150 rupees. She paid him with two 100 rupee notes (or so she thought), and asked for her balance of 50. The man said she had paid him only 100, and he was due another 50 from her. Not to make excuses for the sibling, but a hard, long day at work had taken its toll on her, and she proceeded to argue vehemently with the man and accused him of trying to take advantage of her. He protested that he was telling the truth, and even swore on his children that he wasn’t taking her for a ride. The sibling tossed one scathing remark over her shoulder, paid the 50 he demanded and went home with her balloons.

After her dinner, she opened her wallet for something and realised that the man was right all along. She had indeed given him only 100. Today, as she was recounting the story to me, she was extremely guilty. She said she couldn’t sleep last night and tonight she couldn’t find the man on her way back home. I told her it was ok and that we all make mistakes, and she could apologise to the man when she saw him next. What she told me next, got me thinking. She said, “The worst part is not that I yelled at him or doubted him. The worst part is that, I know if it had been someone well dressed and in a better profession, who had told me I’d given him only 100 and not 200 like I thought, I wouldn’t have doubted him as much.”


What she said, hit me hard. We are so quick to judge people by their appearance and the jobs they do. We are taught from a very young age, that street vendors usually take advantage of you. So someone like a balloon seller on the street couldn’t possibly be honest, could he? He had to have been lying. And the sibling is usually someone who never judges people by their appearance. She’s the last person to subscribe to stereotypes. She always gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. But that day, even she was quick to jump to conclusions.

We often forget that even the poorest of men can be honest and the richest of men, crooked. Honestly, that seems to be the norm in the world these days. Part of it has to be attributed to the way we have all grown up. We are taught to be wary of people on the street- the homeless, the beggars, the street vendors. We are told that they are dishonest, take advantage of us; that they are not to be trusted, we should help them but not too much. If they are vendors, we should bargain with them or they might cheat us, if they have kids, they might be using them as props to gain sympathy and hence more business.The list is endless, and it is hard to break those years of conditioning. But maybe it is time we did.

In a world where research has proven that better looking people are paid better, and get farther in their careers and what not, let us not forget that appearances aren’t everything. Remember, sometimes a disagreeable exterior can hide a good heart. Lets not be guilty of catering to stereotypes.

(Image courtesy: Colleen Bevacqua,