Every now and then a well-placed word or sentence can change everything for a person. Sometimes this can happen more by chance than by design, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s an example from a trip to India about 14 years ago.
I was hopelessly lost. I’d gotten off the bus unknowingly at the wrong place and headed across town in what I thought was the right direction, only to discover my error. Being a Sunday, most things were shut and there weren’t too many people around, and by the time I found the bus station, I was completely alone. There was no one there at all.
I stood pondering the best course of action when movement from across the bus park caught my attention. A small man was sprinting across the bus park and directly towards me. I thought this curious and thought it more so as he closed in and was clearly going to run straight into me. What is this madness? I thought, and in the last moment, he swerved attempting to snatch my bag from my shoulder as he did so.
Now, with me being twice his size and having braced for impact, a comedy moment ensued whereby he was wrenched from his feet and fell flat on his ass right beside me as the bag remained securely around my shoulder. I was dumbfounded and for a moment had no idea what to do or say. I kind of stood there open mouthed staring at him whilst he lay there in a similar state staring back up at me.
I helped him to his feet.
“Give me two rupees.” he said. I told him no, I wouldn’t give him two rupees and that maybe, just maybe, he might want to go away.
“Two rupees,” he replied.
Now, at this point, he started pulling at my shirt and made another attempt at snatching my bag. I pushed him away, but he was quite insistent.
“Two rupees!” he kept demanding, holding out his fingers in a begging gesture.
Now, of course, I could have simply handed him two rupees, but there were a number of potential scenarios that could have occurred. The most obvious was that he’d take the two rupees and then simply demand another two rupees. The other possibility was that the moment I take my wallet out of my pocket, he’d try to snatch that too.
He looked impoverished, downtrodden and poor. But he was also a problem to me, it was clear that he wasn’t going to give in or go away too readily.
He kept pulling at my shirt, “two rupees!” he was saying over and over.
I was beginning to get quite irritated and now was stuck in a mindset commonly known as “The Principle Of The Thing” – this man had tried to steal my bag, and now he was demanding money and wasn’t going to go away. There was a principle at stake here. Thinking outside the box was not going to be part of this. Stupid mindset.
I started to walk away but he still kept tugging at my shirt, “two rupees, two rupees!”
Then he started walking in front of me, “two rupees!” and then at my side, “two rupees!” then blocking my path, “two rupees!” This went on and on for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only about 30 minutes. There were still no people around, “where is everyone?” I pondered.
I began to get very angry indeed.
“Two rupees! Two rupees!”
“NOO!!! NOOO!!! NO!! I AM NOT GIVING YOU TWO RUPEES!! NOW F*CK OFF!!” I screamed, I bellowed, I waved my arms, I displayed as much hostility as I could muster. All pointless of course, because…
I crossed the threshold of sanity and did what is known in my part of the world as, “Completely Losing The Plot” The words streaming from my mouth undoubtedly lacked too much coherence, but the message was unmistakable. Copious bile was spat in his direction….
I hated him.
My anger and feeling of powerlessness over this infuriating little man continued to rise and I could see no end to this ridiculous charade ever happening. It was like I was in some kind of hell that would last forever and I could see no way out of the torment.
And then I entered one of the least proud moments of my life.
I shoved him as hard as I possibly could away from me, shouting at him the whole time. He nearly fell to the floor.
I was now incandescent. I picked him up, twirled him around and dropped him on the floor and towered over him, shouting and threatening him.
And then something happened. A voice. A different voice that came from behind me.
I glance around and see a young man in spectacles holding a pile of books.
“Excuse me, Sir,” he said, “I think I can see what the problem is.”
“WHAT IS IT THEN!?!?!?!?” I shouted, realising as I did so that I really shouldn’t be shouting at this young man.
“You see, Sir, that poor man on the floor doesn’t speak English!”
The sheer ludicrousness of that statement broke the tension and I burst out laughing. Doesn’t speak English? Which bit of any of my communication needed any translation? The young man just raised his eyebrows and looked at me with disappointment in his eyes. The man on the floor started laughing too, but I doubt that he any idea what he was laughing at, he was probably just trying to humour me and stay alive.
As I say, not exactly one of my proudest days, and that annoying man still kept following me. For another full hour in fact. I remained quite calm, and I gave him the two rupees. Actually, I gave him more than that, and yes, he did those two things as I predicted. He tried to snatch my wallet and when that failed, he continued to demand two rupees. I eventually escaped in a taxi who initially drove slowly enough to permit the man to run alongside the taxi shouting, “two rupees!” whilst he held out his hand.