Self-sacrifice is an ambiguous word – it starts with ‘self’.
She looked at me longingly, the woman in the shabby dark pink saree. It was raining heavily outside, and in that overcrowded bus I was one of the lucky few with a place to sit. She belonged to the unlucky lot. After some time, she mustered her courage (or so I assumed) and asked me, with signs, to create some space for her to sit. I was half wet in my neat formals, I carried a bag full of books and another cover with some shopping, and the girl sitting beside me at the windowside had two shopping bags in her lap. No, I can’t move, we would be too uncomfortable, I replied back in the same sign language.
She turned back with an apologetic smile. I returned to the refuge of my Walkman. After some time I noticed her talking to another woman in a shabby fluorescent green saree. Still talking, she removed her chappals from her feet and stood on the dirty wet floor. Why is she doing that? Is she too uncomfortable in her chappals? Perhaps they have become slippery in the rain. But are her chappals that bad, that she would rather dirty her feet than wear them? But then, she slid her feet into the other woman’s chappals, who had removed hers to let her try them. And then, to my surprise, a smile lit up her entire face, her eyes shone, her lips parted, showing her misshaped white teeth. It was the kind of smile you don’t generally see on the faces of people like us. It was a smile that started straight from her heart and travelled through her eyes, piercing my heart. I was shocked, because in that depressing overcrowded bus, no one could smile like that. What had she discovered? A pair of low cost chappals? Uncomfotable, for a reason I couldn’t place, I returned to the refuge of my Walkman.
After sometime, the girl beside me left, and the woman in pink took her place. She heaved a sigh the moment she sat, and then started stretching her hands and massaging her shoulders and feet. Then she closed her eyes and just sat still. I observed her closely. Her saree was old and patched at a few places. Her chappals were poor. And to my amazement, on her dark body, she didn’t have a single piece of jewellery – no ear rings or anklets or a chain, not even a nosepin or a single bangle.
She was a maid somewhere, and was coming back after a hard day. I now knew how she could muster the courage and ask for a place to sit, either she was too tired or she was used to asking others for help. She knew deprivation. She was deprived of jewellery. She was deprived of the pleasure of showing her pretty things to other women. She was deprived of the pleasure of buying her child the toy he wanted badly. She was deprived of the feeling of ending a day’s work and going back to rest happily at home. And I had deprived her of 15 minutes of solace, because I would be too uncomfortable with all the shopping bags.
Guilt rose in me. And a justification too. I hate the rains, I hate the crowds, I really was irritated! I am a good person. I donate to needy people. I care, I sacrifice my savings for their happiness. But then, a mocking voice from somewhere within me replied – No, I sacrifice my savings for my happiness. I do end up doing good for them, but for the sake of my own good, to feel good about myself. Its cruel, but it makes sense. Because otherwise, I would have given her a place to sit. I did not, because it wouldn’t have made me feel good. I wanted to assert, I wanted to deny my own accusation, but my voice went feeble. To my horror, my own conscience mocked at me.