Sunday, January 15, 2006

Superficial Kindness of Strangers

Do we habitually ignore those who care for us for superficial behaviour?

I was on an Emirates flight returning to Dubai from Dhaka, on the way back to Toronto. It was before Hajj, and the flight was filled with people going for Hajj. Most of them were illiterate Hajjis who started wearing the two-piece Ihram at Dhaka airport itself. It was cold and they were shivering.

My seat was the left aisle seat on the center row. They seated a really old lady beside me to my right. She was going for pilgrimage with her son and son's wife. Now if other (younger) people didn't know anything about air journey she looked completely bewildered. Her son and daughter-in-law were seated elsewhere. I offered to change the seat with one of them, but they didn't want to.

This old lady was really frightened. Great, I thought, as if the whole flight wasn't delayed already. I really hate the Dubai-Dhaka or Dhaka-Dubai stretch. Nevertheless, firm in my belief that you have to be polite and well behaved to Hajjis who are 'guests of God', I had no choice but to grin and bear it, so I behaved extremely well with my co-passenger. She was my grandmother's age, and I never let her realize how irritating she was with her constant nagging. At the back of my mind was the thought, she is going for Hajj. She is a senior citizen. She deserved good behaviour. I have to do my part. I answered all her questions. When the meal came she asked me to ask her son if he had paid for it - I told her it was free. When I saw her shivering I asked the stewardess for a blanket. I told her how to adjust those earphones so she could listen to the Quran channel.

There was a selfish reason to my good behaviour as well. If she remembers my kindness and prays for me and God accepts her prayer, it's good for me. Guest of God, I kept reminding myself. But really, the main thing was, I knew I would have to do this for only four hours. After that, I would not see her again, and for four hours, I could afford to be polite.

She was really taken with my behaviour. Whenever a flight attendant passed by, she would tell her how good and kind a 'boy' I was, much to my embarrassment, and an amused look on the stewardess's part. Her son came by once, she gushed about what a decent and 'noble' person I was, a 'fareeshta' (angel) sent by God. I was kind of feeling guilty about my ambivalent feelings.

Then she started to complain about her son. If he really loved his mother he would have come early to the airport to get good seats on the flight. If he loved his mother he would have taken my offer to change seats. How the son was always late from work and after returning to the house would go out with his wife. How she felt neglected. How her son gave her an meagre allowance and if she asked for money he would ask why before giving it to her, and yet 'wasted' money on the wife. This and that.

I don't know too much about her personal life, but having spoken to the son later while in line for the washroom, he worked terribly hard as a government clerk. He had saved enough for the Hajj and it was because of his mother they were all going. He himself would rather saved that money or spent it on other uses. They were six siblings but no one wanted to care for their mother, so as eldest son he took the responsibility.

The best was the parting shot when we exited at Dubai. The lady told me I was a good man and better than her own son. Now as I waited for my Toronto bound flight, I could not help pondering, I was kind to her for a few hours because I could, and because I would never have to be again. And her son is taking care of her, looking after her, taking her for Hajj, and yet she sees fit to complain about the little things of her son to perfect strangers. Or even his bad behaviour at times, which should be overlooked. Do people really not see their own? Why do we always take our own for granted, and why do some seniors take the superficial good behaviour of strangers and compare to their own caretakers? I have met many older folk who complain to my parents when we are visiting them about trivial matters, and yet we are there only for a few hours and can be on our good behaviour.



Aisha said...

loved this post. very thought provoking. maybe she did it so she can stick it to her son later. we take people for granted. we feel things are ours to have and dont question it. have you seen the movie crash? at the end of that movie there's a moment like you just described that will stay in my mind forever.

Shabina said...

this was a unique take on an age-old issue. It's tough when parents pull rank...but they're your parents. lose-lose situation for ppl with not-so-nice parents, eh?

Masti-boy said...

Its ok man..chill out !!

Whats your pull blog for any event in life?

She was an old lady with her usual psychological issues..

Rather writing blog against her, it would have been much worthed if you would have forgeted it.

Common man !its not necessary to pen blog everyday.

Anonymous said...

Mez: A very nice post indeed.

Masti-Boy: Dude, some people like blogging everyday because a lot of things happen in their lives everyday. So, I dont think it is appropriate for you (or anyone as a matter of fact) to point out to the author of this blog that he doesnt need to blog everyday. People blog for various reasons and if you dont like daily blogging, then maybe you should post comments on those blog weblinks that get updated weekly/monthly.


Aisha said...

Everyone comes to sites for different things. I enjoy reading entertaining reflections (among other things I like reading on other people's blogs) and if I dont like to read it, this is what I do: I stop reading. There is no need to, with the millions of blogs out there, to criticize anyone is wasting your time. Mez has an audience and they enjoy what he has to offer. If you don't, dont read. It's quite simple.

Anonymous said...

Mezba, excellent post. There are two sides to the equation and on one hand, our parents are our parents and however they behave we cannot complain (sucks sometimes). On the other hand, the son probably will not behave well towards the mother if the mother always continues complain. But people also understand older people are like kids.

Masti: Get a life. Commenting on other people's blogs just so you can get a few visitors on your own blog. Mezba writes what he wants and if you don't like it go somewhere else.


mezba said...

Hi all,

The inspiration for this post was a Hadith I read about a man taking his mother for pilgrimage and then asking the Prophet if that meant the son has done his duty. He had replied that even if the man had made shoes for his mother out of his own skin that would not even pay for the pain of child birth. I don't have the exact reference but that was the gist of it. When I encountered this lady on the plane that was the incident that came to my mind. What do you do with people who will complain nevertheless?

To Aisha, Behbood and Farah: Thanks for your later comments.

To Masti: Whatever, dude, this is MY blog. I AM THE LAW HERE. When I want to post I will. If you don't like to read, don't. As. Simple. As. That.

Hafsa said...

Couple of comments:

- Random acts of kindness have gone to win the pleasure of Allah SWT. Remember the hadith of the Prophet: A woman (who wasn't very religious) once found a thirsty dog and got water for the animal. Allah swt was very pleased by this Servant of His.

Dil-E-Nadaan said...

Beautiful post, I really enjoyed reading this. You verbalized a very common dynamic that plays out in many extended family households in a subtle yet effective way.

Humairah said...

It's so true... and this problem IS quite common. The entire family system is so messed up, and no one wants to trust anyone. The poor son is always sandwiched between his wife and mother.
We're not as patient as we should be, Allah has commanded us to be merciful to our parents, at the same time, we should realise that old people do relapse into the stage of second childishness.

mezba said...

@Hafsa: Yup, I believe we should always be kind towards strangers and older people. My observation was aimed at people who value these acts of kindness more than efforts and actions of their own caretakers and relatives.

@Nermeen, Humairah: Thank you for the comments.