This evening, I spoke with my husband on the phone. We had been chatting for a few minutes before he said “I’ve got good company here in the compartment.” Up until that moment, I had forgotten that he was on a train, heading to Ahmedabad.

Suddenly, I was conscious of an audience. I was conscious of him being observed by others. I was conscious of strangers listening to one side of a conversation and making assumptions.

Because who, on an Indian train (especially a train heading to Gujarat), would look at this guy:

Bearded Indian man in saffron kurta and multi-colored turban

and think – when he was talking to his wife – that he was talking to me?

American woman in a little black dress

But life is strange. Sometimes crazy. Because while people on the train may have been imagining a wife who was worrying about whether her husband had gotten a good meal, people like Ravi (pure, single-minded, visionary) sometimes end up married to people like me (indulgent, wine-drinking, fun-loving).

And while people like me sometimes imagine that people on a train heading to Gujarat are all traditional and narrow-minded and poised to vote for Narender Modi, in fact they might just as easily be rangoli artists or high-tech business women or students about to enroll at the National Institute of Design.

Drop the stereotypes!

Years ago, our doctor told us that Moy Moy probably only had a few months left to live. That terrible, awful year, Ravi and I stumbled through our lives, keeping up appearances, trying to pretend that everything was FINE.

One day, Ravi told me how he had been in a meeting in Delhi. High powered. Microphones at every seat. All he was thinking about was Moy Moy. He was on the verge of tears. And suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, it struck him that just as no one in that meeting knew what he was going through right then, he had no idea what any of them were dealing with. Whose mother had just gotten a diagnosis of cancer. Whose son had mental illness. Who had been beaten by her husband the night before.

Everything changed. In an instant.

We never know. We just do not know.

I have been stunned by the depth of the parents who come to the Foundation – parents with no education, no background (whatever that is supposed to mean), no pedigree. I have been humbled and awed by their wisdom, by their grace. Yet, if you saw them on the street, you would never suspect that they could be your teachers. You would never realize how much you could learn from them.

So what is this about? Just this: Don’t make assumptions. That person in front of you is alive. She is intelligent. He is making connections. She can teach you a thing or two. He might be your electrician or your plumber or the guy who collects your trash. She’s thinking. He’s making decisions.

Open your eyes. See the person in front of you. He’s wearing a turban but he’s married to a hot chick.


Showing 13 comments
  • Samuel

    Beautiful piece! This is a lesson we all should apply to our lives. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sahu

    The “hot chick” bit is what I’ll also remember for a vairy long time. Oh, man. You, Jo McGowan Chopra, are – oh, forget it. Ha-ha-ha.

    • Jo Chopra McGowan

      I love this response. It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. Thanks, Sahu!!!

  • Siddharth Sharma

    With complements of one Joanne Sheehan from Facebook

  • Bhavna Rathore

    Just as I love reading all your posts this one too is exemplary:-) You are so correct when you say we dont know what others are going through. We learn and we derive strength from others battles too!!

    • Jo Chopra McGowan

      Oh, Bhavna, that means a lot to me. And I know just what you are saying. When we share our stories – look what happens!

  • Shehnaaz

    Thanks a ton… is so so true & to be applied in each of our interactions — loved the connect

  • paintpaintpaint

    So true, with a refreshing sense of humor. You ARE a hot chick, Jo!

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