lonely-crowdA few days ago, I read this tiny news item in the Times of India:

Cafe Manager Kills Self

A 23 year old man allegedly committed suicide on Tuesday morning by hanging himself from the ceiling fan in his home in Malviya Nagar. The victim, Harsh Saini, was working as a manager in a Cafe Coffee Day outlet in Malviya Nagar. Police said a suicide note was found which stated that no one should be blamed for the incident.

It’s the kind of awful little clip one could read every day if so inclined. I usually pass right over them, not wanting to let myself imagine too much of the individual life which had come to such a pass, but this one hit me hard somehow.

I had been to that Cafe a few months ago. I remembered it because Malviya Nagar is an area in Delhi where I seldom go. I was there to meet some film-makers and I was excited because they are creative and buzzy and I was looking forward to our meeting. I was looking forward to it so much, in fact, that I arrived half an hour early and rather than disrupt their morning, I went to have a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading.

And I remember the service was so slow I almost ended up being late for my appointment. I remember being mystified by what could be taking so long because I was literally the only customer in the place. And I remember not being inclined to leave a tip but leaving one anyway because I was a waitress once myself and old habits die hard.

I thought about all this when I read about Harsh Saini, 23 years old, and I wondered if he was the one who had made my coffee so slowly that day and whether I had remembered to smile at him and had I thanked him properly?

“Be kind”, Plato said, “for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Ten years ago, our pediatrician told us that Moy Moy probably had only a few months left to live. Praise the good Lord, our doctor turned out to be wrong, but for most of that year, Ravi and I stumbled around as if in a waking nightmare, functioning, but just barely. We seemed to ourselves to be always on the verge of tears, fragile and distracted.

But who knows how we appeared to others? Many people told us later that they had had no idea what we were going through.

One day during that black time, Ravi said he could never treat people casually or unfeelingly again. “When I’m sitting in a meeting in Delhi or attending a conference, no one has any idea what is happening with my daughter. So how do I know what someone else is experiencing? You just never know.”

I think about all the parents whose kids attend our school. They struggle bravely and valiantly to give their children a good life in spite of their difficulties, in spite of the lack of community support and acceptance; I think of some of our staff and their hard lives and the way they still show up for work every morning cheerful and ready to care once again for the children in their charge; and then I think of Harsh Saini and all the other faces in the crowds we walk through each day, unaware of their secret griefs and sorrows.

Smile. Be Kind.

So simple. So hard.

Working with people with disability makes it easier to do, somehow. The fact that so many of their struggles are obvious keeps us mindful of the struggles the rest of us do our best to hide. It’s tempting to believe that everyone else has it all together, that no one else is suffering or troubled or confused. People with disability help us smash that myth. They stand right in front of us and say: I need your help to get from one place to the other. I can’t hear what you are saying. I can’t see what you are showing me. I can’t understand what you want me to do.

If Harsh Saini had been around more people with disability, maybe he wouldn’t have needed to hide his worries and fears so effectively that he finally had to kill himself to escape them. Maybe he would have realized that it’s ok to be confused, that others have been there too and would have been willing to grab him by the hand and pull him back from the abyss.

That’s why inclusion is so important. It keeps us human. It reminds us of all that we share in common. It teaches us to look out for each other and to remember that while each one of us has secret griefs and sorrows, none of us are truly alone.

Showing 3 comments
  • Nicola

    Harsh Saini’s story reminded me somehow of sitting with a friend in a cafe in Lajpat Nagar, watching the world go by – and becoming aware of the doorman. He was faithfully opening that door for everyone who came and went – and there were many of them – and yet not one person acknowledged or even looked at him. Hundreds of people in a day, in, out, opening the door for each and every one – and yet being totally invisible, faceless, nothing. How must that feel? And how many people like him, or maybe Harsh Saini for all we know, have to spend their lives with nobody even noticing that they’re there?

  • Lucy

    Who wrote That bit about mistaking sad people for cold people? “Often times we call a man cold, when he is only sad”? I try to keep that in mind when dealing with the unbearable.

  • Aravind

    I Read this article in today’s(26 April 2009) Hindu. This has no place in the bottom of the last page of the magazine. It should have featured prominently on the first page. Thank you very much for the article. Please take the message to as many people as possible. It is very well written. It is honest. It is from the heart. It is very touching. It speaks truth. I’m sure the more people get this message, the better place the world will be. Thanks.

Leave a Comment