Friday, February 23, 2018
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The propensity to be gregarious is innate in man. He is always seeking the company of other human beings. In fact, loneliness should find a place in the list of the greatest misfortunes that can befall anybody.

There are always two aspects of any given phenomenon, and the purpose of social interaction has not been spared the sting of negativity. Some reprehensible instances do occur, when groups of people get together for the furtherance of evil. A gang of criminals may gather to plan the details of some robbery, just as militants may meet to hatch a conspiracy to spread terror.  No matter how hardened the person, invariably, the need for companionship is felt. It may stem from only the practical requirement of the sharing of responsibilities and the allocation of different tasks. But the deeper reason, at times oblique, is the support an individual derives from the nearness of others.

There are, fortunately, also innumerable instances of the gathering of people for the furtherance of good. Often we hear about the rich and the successful forming charitable societies to provide succour to the poor and the ill.

The morale of the brave fire-fighter who battles against scorching flames certainly gets a boost to see his brethren similarly engaged. The soldier who valiantly guards our frontiers, forever ready to make the supreme sacrifice, must find a new surge of confidence, when he knows that at his shoulder, his comrade is equally prepared.

The pace of modern life has put a price tag on human equations. Expediency dictates whom to cultivate in order to secure a promotion in the office, and the need to keep jobs intact force unfortunate employees to laugh at their boss’s stale jokes. A businessman draws an itinerary of the officials that he must visit bearing gifts, if he hopes to secure a lucrative contract.

However, apart from the collective efforts of humans towards common goals, be they nefarious or noble, the most remarkable is the phenomenon of people meeting one another, at times after making a definite effort, travelling great distances and incurring expense, merely to see the other.

Some time ago, after attending a wedding in the family in Chandigarh, I decided to go for a short vacation to Shimla. My brother-in-law (now retired) had served there many years ago, and requested me to convey his regards to one of the many people he had befriended there during the tenure of his posting while in government service. I went to the office of the person concerned (they were businessmen engaged in wholesale trading) and introduced myself, giving the reference of my brother-in-law. The reception I received was extremely cordial, though a bit quizzical. I completed my mission which consisted of conveying the regards as instructed, and, assuring my host that as there was nothing further that I wanted and, pleasant as it had been to make his acquaintance, I would like to be permitted to leave.

At this point, his demeanour progressed towards hospitality that is complete to the point of being embarrassing. Apart from the usual offers of drinks of various temperatures being insisted on, (both alcoholic and otherwise) the invitation to join the family for “at least one meal” and the repeated entreaties to accept a chauffeur-driven car for the duration of my stay, left me quite breathless. I politely declined his offers, and thanking him for his kindness took my leave, wondering at the transformation from wary caginess to relaxed camaraderie in the same individual, within a short span of time!

I realized then that, so far, in the psyche of my host, the businessman in him was waiting to be apprised of the purpose of my visit. Simply, what it was that I wanted from him. When he learnt that it was merely to enquire about his welfare, on behalf of somebody he would probably never meet again, the social and gregarious side of his nature emerged.

At festivals that are not their own, people visit the homes of friends belonging to a different faith, thereby reiterating the beauty of sharing, of joining in the happiness of others. The festivals of Eid, Christmas and Diwali are shining examples of the exchange of such bonhomie and goodwill.

Similarly, companionship when extended in times of grief is even more profound than is the participation in joy. A visit to condole a friend’s bereavement is evidence of man’s boundless compassion for his fellow humans and underlines the understanding that though one’s presence may not be able to subtract from another’s grief, it reassures the latter that he does not stand alone in his hour of darkness.

In the frenetic rush to acquire wealth, fame and name, at times people try and exploit others. These attempts tend to taint many genuine relationships with suspicion. Like the moral in the old fable about the horse of Baba Kharak Singh, one should cling to the belief that humankind is capable of selfless friendship, no matter how tenuous that hold may become.

A Persian poet, interpreting his perception and understanding of Heaven, has said:

“Bahisht aajan ki azaarey na bashat;

Kasaera bakasay kaarey na bashath.”

My knowledge of Persian is non-existent. My father had introduced me to, and also translated this sentiment which means that “Paradise is that place where there is no disease, and one man has no work, or favours to seek, from another.”

A true friend is someone who gives of himself, and seeks nothing. The consequent reciprocity is natural. A friend is someone you can be silent with. He does not need words. The other’s presence is enough






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