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.”

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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, www.betterphoto.com)

A Story of Violence?

Its Violence Against Women Awareness (VAWA) month in the blogworld. I have been reading through a lot of posts in the past few days. And the other day, as I was talking to TS about it, I realized that I know women who have been through these violent experiences too. And by violence I don’t mean just physical violence, I mean everything from eve teasing to rape to emotional bullying. And these women come from all social, economic and religious backgrounds you could possibly dream about. Some of them have had the courage to walk out and rebuild their lives, some of them are still stuck in the vicious cycle of abuse,some of them are stupid to not even realize it is abuse that is being meted out to them, some of them keep up with the charade of normalcy for the sake of society and some of them have been bought up to think they deserve it. I will recount here one of their stories. There is no physical abuse involved but the worst part is the girl in question doesn’t even realize she is being abused. And in spite of trying to tell her countless times that she is being made a fool of, she still refuses to accpet it.

I met her when she was 18. She was an only child, much loved and treasured by her parents. Her every wish was fulfilled and she was truly treated like a princess, She was their star and everything she wanted was hers. She would get it through tears or any other means of persuasion. But mostly her demands were simple and her parents were only happy to oblige. She was extremely naive and innocent and lived in her little dreamland which was based on heavy doses of movies and M & B-esque novels. She believed in the “one true love” and being with him at all costs. When I heard of her ideas at first I shrugged it off as a result of her extreme naivette. I did try to tell her that life was different but never gave it much thought. It didn’t seem all that important then. We were all teenagers and I was not very sure of what I wanted from life as well.

That was when she met him. They were classmates. She noticed him first and was smitten. She kept telling a few of us, her friends, about him. We didn’t know much about him, except the fact that he was one of those typical Bollywood tapori kinds, whose only pastime was racing bikes and hanging out with a gang of like -minded guys. He didn’t seem like the guy for her and I told her so. She didn’t mention anything about him for the longest time and I thought she was over him. And then one fine day she dropped a bombshell. She was in love with him, she said. He loved her too. He had confessed to her. She wanted us friends to meet him and like him too. I met him, spoke to him, and didn’t like him. He was shifty, I felt, and not honest. He didn’t seem ambitious. I told her so, but, she defended him and said he was nothing like that. In the meantime, her parents managed to secure a seat for her in a better college. She refused to leave, citing a horde of stupid reasons. The only reason was she didn’t want to leave him. Her parents surrendered to her tears. I told her she was being stupid. She didn’t listen. I stopped telling her anything about him.

The intial few months, everything was hunky dory. They acted like any other couple in love- they were always together, always on the phone, talking late into the night, always out on the weekends. Everything seemed perfect and she tried to prove to me that I was wrong about him. I said nothing. Then the troubles began. He would ask her for money to go out with his friends. Initially, she would give him whatever he demanded without question. She would lie to her parents to get more pocket money so she could give him. She would claim she wanted to buy dresses and shoes. She never did. Then she started asking him why he wanted so much money. He always had a set of excuses ready. She never bothered to find out if they were true. She trusted him. Once she was all set to sell her gold chain that her parents had gifted her for her birthday ‘cos he wanted to buy something. We managed to talk her out of it.

There were fights too. Over everything imaginable. He wasn’t interested in attending classes and would force her to bunnk classes too, so that they could spend time together. If she refused, he would pick a fight. She would keep calling him up to apologize and he wouldn’t pick up. He would yell at her in front of her friends and his friends. She would just cry. He wouldn’t even appear for exams sometimes. She would beg with him to focus on his studies, but to no avail. She still defended him, said he would still make something out of his life. We always tried to tell her otherwise but she chose not to believe us. He would drink heavily too, even come to college drunk. She would cry and make a fuss, and that would send him into a rage. There would be more fights. When he regained his senses, sometimes, he would apologize to her, tell her he would mend his ways. She would be blissful for a couple of days and then the fights would begin in earnest.

Then, her parents found out. They disapproved of him. He took it as a personal insult and insulted her parents. She listened in silence. She tried to convince both sides but failed. Her parents, who had till them given in to all her demands, refused to give in to this. They tried to stop her from meeting him, but she would always manage to find a way around them. She tried to convince him to do better at studies and find a job, he said his interests lay elsewhere. They were almost at the fag end of college by then. She was all set for her higher studies, he hadn’t cleared a single year of college. Then he declared he was off to pursue a degree in a different subject elsewhere. She rejoiced. She told her parents he had decided to mend his ways. She started dreaming of a future with him again. He lasted a month, and then went back to his old ways- friends, partying, booze. Her parents started forcing her to move on and tried to ger her married off. She threatened to run away. They stopped forcing her. They wanted their daughter with them, come what may.

She wanted things to work. But he was fighting with her again. He told her he didn’t love her anymore and had no interest in getting married to her. She persisted. She found out that he was seeing another girl behind her back. She refused to believe it. The girl called her up and spoke to her. She decided to forgive him and blamed herself for it. She said maybe it was her attitude that drove him away. The other girl dumped him immediately. Meanwhile, she got a job. I remember her calling me up and telling me about it. She said she was happy, and that they could get married now. I asked her how she could do that since he was still unemployed and not even a graduate to boot. She said she’d support him with her salary. Her being employed drove him over the edge I guess. The fights became more frequent. He abused her and belittled her all the time. He badmouthed her parents, put her down at every opportunity he got, questioned her, cut her off from her friends, made fun of her job, and even questioned her character. She suffered in silence. She would call me up once in a while in sheer desperation, seeking advice. I would tell her the same thing every single time- dump him and move on. She would agree with me and go back and make up with him. And she would tell him everything about our conversations. He forbid her from talking to me- said I was a bad influence on their relationship. I didn’t care about him, but, I still hoped she would see sense.

I stopped taking her calls after that, because I realized that irrespective of the number of times I told her to dump him, she wouldn’t. I felt sorry for her parents. They had become hermits. The couldn’t even speak to their relatives. They were all pointing fingers at them, and blaming them for their daughter’s foolishness and irresponsible behaviour. They persuaded her to get married. She almost agreed once. She called me up and apologized for not listening to me earlier. But again, she went back to him. Last I heard, he had managed to get a small job at some company. He still hasn’t completed his graduation and doesn’t seem inclined to do it either. She’s doing well in her job and enjoying it. Her parents are still opposed to their relationship. And she, foolishly, still believes things will work out. She still wants to get married to him. She still believes her parents will come around. She doesn’t even have any qualms about leaving her parents for him. She’s considered doing it too. Her parents have threatened to disown her, have threatened her with suicide if she decides to marry him. They view the daughter who was once the apple of their eyes with suspicion and anger. They don’t trust her or anythig she does. She still defies them and meets him every opportunity she gets. He doesn’t care how the whole thing plays out. She’s still blinded by the fairytale ending she has envisioned for the both of them.

I don’t know how this story will end. I hope it doesn’t end in tragedy. I hope she comes to her senses before it is too late. Sometimes I think she’s still with him because of some twisted belief that she will be able to reform him. Sometimes I think it is the fear that he might destroy her life if she chooses to leave him that makes her stay. I don’t know. I don’t know if this qualifies as abuse or as foolishness. Maybe its a mix of both. I don’t talk to her much these days. I am tired of giving her the same piece of advice wrapped in a different colored paper every time we talk. I am tired of trying to dissuade her, trying to make her see that she is being abused, that this is not how a healthy relationship works. I don’t know what more I can do to bring her back to her senses. I don’t even know if I should try anymore. I have been trying for the past 8 years anyways. What do you guys think? Any advice?