Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Friday, October 29, 2010

108. Coward

Scene 1:

I am traveling with three colleagues – two men and one woman. On our way, we stop at a roadside hotel for tea and snacks. The hotel has more chairs in the open ground than inside. It is evening time. The interior of the hotel is not so good, so we prefer to sit outside in the open air. We are just wondering whether to eat anything or a cup of tea would do, bang comes a vehicle. It is black Scorpio, playing loud music. Four young men get out of the vehicle. They are chatting loudly. They pull the chairs and keep on talking – more of laughing in fact - loudly. The driver of their vehicle gets outside, leaving all four doors of the vehicle open. The music is still on – piercing everything around.

I don’t like loud music. I also don’t like insensitive people. But I do not hurry. I always believe in giving people time to settle and to understand the environment around. The music is disturbing everybody there. It is obvious from the looks people are giving to those four men. Our group is disgusted with the loudness of music. There is a hushed discussion on ‘how people do not have manners these days.’
I know there is no point discussing the issue amongst ourselves. The noise making guys do not know that we are disturbed by their music. Without conversing with them, how can we assume that they will understand what we want? Whether we want or not, dialogue is an essential part of the life. So, I get up. Knowing me well, my colleagues are aghast.

“Don’t go and say anything to them, they will not listen to you”, one of my elder colleagues almost orders me. “Let me go and request them whether they can bring down the volume of the music. No harm in requesting, at most they won’t pay any attention to me...” I try to convince my colleagues. By experience I know that if I approach people in non-aggressive manner, people generally accept the request.

“No, they don’t seem to be of the type whom you can request”, another colleague chips in.

“There are so many people around. Why you only have to go and talk to those people?” another colleague is irritated.

“Let me try at least. I don’t intend to pick up any fight with them. But I cannot sit with this loud music here…” why I am apologetic even when I am not wrong – I do not know.

“You will not talk to them. If they say something mischievous to you, I will not be able to control myself and there will be a fight”, my senior colleague reminds me again. They three make me sit on the chair. For the next half an hour we all sit there irritated, angry, frustrated. We do not enjoy our tea and our well deserved break.

Scene 2:

I am traveling from Mumbai to Ahmadabad. Until the train leaves Borivali station, there is never peace around. So, till then I compromise with the situation. After the train leaves Borivali station, everyone settles down with the luggage and silence spreads.

However today there is some noise. Some people have the habit of speaking loudly on their cell phones. May be, one of those is in the coach today. Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. Now I start getting irritated. I try to locate the source of noise. I am sitting in the 15th row and the sound is coming from the first row. I approach the first row and notice that two youngsters are watching a movie on their laptop with full sound on.
“Hello guys, the volume of the movie is really disturbing me. Could you tune it down please?” I ask politely. One man says ‘Sorry’ and immediately the noise vanishes.

When I come back to my seat, at least ten people sitting in the middle rows “Thank” me for my action. I just wonder why none of them could request those laptop guys.

Scene 3:

I am in a train again, with another colleague. A young man is sitting next to me. At one of the stations, vendors enter in the train. People purchase eatables and magazines and soft drinks. One of the passengers sitting in the next rows says something ugly to the vendor. The vendor must have so many such experiences, he just neglects that rough speaking man.

I do not know what exactly happened, but I suddenly find the next row guy abusing the young man sitting next to me. The language used by the man is horrible. He is threatening the young man. The young man is confused. He tries to argue with that abusive man. That adds fuel in the temper of that abusive man.

I look at the abusive man carefully. He is wearing fancy, costly clothes, expensive wristwatch and goggles. He seems to be educated and rich – we all are in an AC compartment. I am not sure what has provoked this man – but the language he is using is unacceptable, unacceptable in public space. I am going to try conversation with this abusive man. My colleague senses that and urges me: “Keep quiet. Don’t say anything.”

I am aware that it is night time and I how can I not know that I am a woman! But does it mean that I don’t take a stand when someone is abusing an innocent person – though I do not know that innocent person?

The abusive man is making loud phone calls. He is inviting his gang at a particular station and threatens the innocent young man again. The innocent young man is frightened now. He asks me whether shifting to the next coach would be better for him. We are talking in a low voice. I advise him to stay where he is – at least we know that he is innocent – the passengers in the next coach would not understand anything. An old man sitting in the back row is interested in our conversation. He apparently knows this abusive man. His advice to the innocent young man is: run away as fast as you can. Get away and catch another train if you can.

To me the back row man says: You please keep quiet. Don’t say anything to that abusive man.

In front of the whole crowd of frightened and confused passengers the innocent young man sneaks away. The abusive man is making another series of phone calls – describing the young man and ordering his friends to “look after the young man”.

For me, my inaction was scarier than people’s response.

Scene 4:

Delhi Metro. From 3rd October the first coach is reserved for women. Generally there are Metro persons guiding people at the platform. However, few men still find themselves in the women’s coach. Whenever I come across such men, I politely inform them to move to the next coach. Generally they accept and move on. And all the women who are sitting and standing around me say ‘Thanks” to me. But why they did not tell that man to move away?

Why am I such a coward? Especially when I am with someone? Many times I feel we are at our best when we are left to ourselves. When we are bound by the people around, we are supposed to please them, accept their beliefs and life values. This leads to many compromises, which makes us a different person altogether – forcing us to behave differently than our beliefs. So, better to be away from bondage.

We wait for someone else to take a lead – because our approach to most of the situation is that of confrontation. We assume that a fight will take place and hence we keep ourselves away from intervening. But many times you can resolve the situation by just having proper dialogue; you don’t have to be aggressive to make your point. You have to believe that the person in front of you does not know (rules, expectations, demands of the situation etc.), so make an effort to convey those.

If only I could just stop behaving like a coward, I would be able to learn more, grow more, enjoy more and live more happily.

Cowardice is the biggest barrier one has to cross to live like oneself – the greatest fulfillment one can have in this life.


  1. Awesome write up..and so damn true...i'v gone through these things also...and its a shame that its usually been people who i'v known and admire who pull me back..and yes its a shame because maybe if i had it in me i wouldve fought that pull no matter what...but this so-called fear instilled in us....and though we keep saying its mostly gender specific...many men hide behind the garb of protecting themselves for the sake of the women they are with that its a crying shame....

    kudos to you to put this out on the open...i don't know how much of this would help..but spitting this out aloud just may rankle a few brains into realisation...

    we all seem to have forgotten how to trust in people....
    this was something even i had pondered upon...


    its not anything great just something playing across my head...i hope more people write on this issue..


  2. Aashi, welcome to Times Change. Thank you for reading the post and sharing your thoughts on it. I will definitely go through your post and get back to you.
    I don't know whether such reflective writing helps others, but it definitely helps ourselves ...

  3. I dont think you should really call this cowardice. Maybe you can call this an "awareness of realities" today.

    Things were different a few decades ago. People in general were not so desperate. Today a lot of "criminal behaviour" like beating up people because you are angry, violence against women and older people, and goonda style is blatantly exhibited with great bravado by some people. If you try to bring reason into it, they attack you sometimes, mortally. I know situations where people have attacked each other for honking in the car and overtaking. The Ego has gone mad.

    The percentage of unpredictable outcome has increased . And so sometimes, people restrain you from doing or saying things.

    When I was growing up, being told off by a woman was shameful . Today its a reason to hold khunnas against her, abuse her in the worst way, and physically harm her.

    I see this everywhere. And have often found myself rethinkng my approach.

  4. Aptly written-creating the vibs of happening. But still it not wise to get involved directly. Offcourse you could have called CRPF and had reported the matter to railway asking for help.

  5. Well written and aptly described. Many a times, these fears are more in our mind. However, some of these fears are real too !

    The trick, perhaps is to know the difference. You truly are a courageous and sensitive person !

  6. You always have this knack of touching the right nerve... pinpointing the right issue.... this is a wonderful and disturbing post at once....
    I too am another one who faces exactly same situations in different contexts.
    Earlier I used to lash out at those disturbing people and attack verbally. But I found it was affecting absolutely adverse. Politeness accomplishes when attack does not.
    Yet even polite confrontations are not welcomed. Especially when we are with somebody, it is difficult to stand up for the right thing. they pressurize us to stay quiet. sometimes openly, sometimes mere presence of a company puts limitations on us.
    But I will not call it a cowardice. It took me some time and lot of frustration to become guilt-free. But when we have a company, we are a system, a team together. our presence has put some limitations on their preferences. And I should acknowledge their presence by limiting myself sometimes. it is of course a very fine balance, that will need constant judgment of every moment.
    secondly, we must also trust our intuition to identify a potentially dangerous situation from a casual confrontation. Landing myself and my companion in mortal danger or humiliation should never arise because of my false bravery.
    We may not consider accompanying man as our chaperon. but at times they have a protective feeling about us. Is it necessary to illuminate a stranger at the cost of disrespecting someone's feelings for us...someone we might value? Most often, nothing wrong will happen.. But God forbid if the situation takes wrong turn, our companion may carry it as guilt for long time.
    Our subconscious mind is aware of all this. Hence it stops us from acting out the conscious thought, when we are with someone.
    I have observed often that me and my mother behave like tigresses let lose. But my father tames us both. I respect his care for me more than correcting the world at times. I do not blame myself if I remain shushed up for such reason.
    This of course does not mean we should take any non-sense from those socially disturbing creatures....
    Each situation is special. And the right way to tackle is hidden in the situation itself...we are in it to just learn that lesson.

  7. Ugich Konitari,I understand what you say.. but this is one of the dilemmas we have to live with!

    Aparna, welcome to Times Change and thanks for taking time to share your views. Yes, calling CRPF could have been an option!

    Kavi, I generally try to 'know the difference' ... but sometimes you wonder whether there was another option..

    Anunja, you are right. We have to move from moment to moment..


Thanks for your Feedback.