We Indians are a patient lot. It may sound untrue because we are notorious queue jumpers and persistent honkers even at traffic lights. We also complete each other's sentences. My views, however, changed the other day aboard the Shatabdi Express to New Delhi.
At 5am, the passengers were congregated at the station, some bleary eyed, other regulars, chattering animatedly with each other. When the train lumbered into the station, of course everyone ran, jostled and pushed. Young men hauled themselves into the train unmindful of any old woman or child waiting. Enormous suitcases were dragged into the compartment, oblivious of some poor feet and toes that were squashed in the process.
As the ticket collector alighted, a group of men who were probably wait-listed mobbed him, each fighting for his attention and, hopefully, a seat. After the two-minute commotion, the train shuddered, jolted and glided out of the station. Porters and the odd relative jumped out, as it gained speed swiftly.
Cacophony died down and we settled in our seats groggily, when a mobile phone across the aisle gave a banshee-like shriek. Jerked out of my slumber, I heard a young man clear his throat to talk. His initial "Hello" had the tenor of a fledgling choir boy and was deceptive because he suddenly became strident, giving instructions, rude and loud. Poor connectivity ended the call but he kept redialing until he had the caller back, and then he continued at full volume, gesticulating wildly, insensitive to the co-passengers, most of whom needed a catnap.
He waved away the waiter who was only trying to serve him. I attempted to catch his eye to give him a dirty look but he had no idea he was disturbing everyone. Surprisingly, no one uttered a word. Here was a gentleman, dressed in white from head to toe, carrying two large mobile phones, disturbing an entire coach of 70 people and not one got up to admonish him or request him to be quiet.
I remembered a quote by Jewish poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol: "The test of good manners is to be patient with the bad ones." I marvelled at the patience of the passengers, who would sit through the loud monologue but not get up and make an effort to silence the boor.
Quelling my urge to tap him on the shoulder and give him a lesson in etiquette, I called the train attendant eventually, who managed to hush him up. As I shared the episode with my husband, he reminded me of what Marxist George Jackson had said: "Patience has its limits. Take it too far and it's cowardice."
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