Monday, April 19, 2010

Man at His Best

I cry easily. I once burst into tears when the curtain came down on the Kirov Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. I still choke up every time I see a film of patriotism and sacrifice like Dilip Kumar dying in 'Shaheed'. I guess I am emotionally moved by witnessing men and women at their best. But they need not be great men and women doing great things.

Take the night, some years ago, when my wife and I were going to dinner at a friend's house in Dhobi Talao, Bombay. It was raining. As we hurried towards the house, I noticed a car pulling out from the kerb. Just ahead, another car was waiting to back into the parking. But before he could do so, another car came up from behind and sneaked into the spot. 'That's a dirty trick', I thought.

While my wife went ahead into our friend's house, I stepped into the street to give the guilty driver a piece of my mind. A man rolled down the window.

"Hey", I said, "this parking space belongs to that guy". I gestured towards the man ahead who was looking back angrily. I thought I was being a good Samaritan—and I remember that at that moment I was feeling quite tough.

"Mind your own business," the driver told me.

"No", I said. "You don't understand. That fellow was waiting to back into this space."

Things quickly heated up until finally he leapt out of the car. My God, he was colossal! He grabbed me and bent me back over the hood of his car as if I were a rag doll. The rain water stung my face. I glanced at the other driver looking for help but he sped away.

The huge man shook his rock of a fist at me and told me to beat it.

Almost in a panic, I scrambled to my friend's front door. As a former athlete, as a man, I felt utterly humiliated. Seeing that I was shaken, my wife and friends asked me what had happened. All I could bring myself to say was that I had an argument about a parking space. They had the sensitivity to let it go at that.

I sat stunned. Perhaps half an hour later, the doorbell rang. My blood ran cold. For some reason I was sure that the bruiser had returned for me. My hostess got up to answer it but I stopped her. I felt morally bound to answer it myself. I walked down the corridor with dread. Yet I knew I had to face up my fear. I opened the door. There he stood, towering.

"I came back to apologize, “he said in a low voice. "When I got home, I said to myself, what right did I have to do that? I'm ashamed of myself. All I can tell you is that today was a bad day for me. Things just went wrong. I'm not myself. I hope you'll accept my apology."

I often remember that big man. I think of the effort and courage it took for him to come back to apologize. He was man at his best.

And I remember that after I closed the door, my eyes blurred as I stood in the corridor for a few moments alone.

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