Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Smile

He smiled at me, and I smiled back. It seemed to be the most polite thing to do. I couldn’t just ignore a smile and walk away. No one ignores a smile. Smiles are meant to be acknowledged or, at least, given a nod. That’s how things are meant to be. And therefore I smiled back…

I don’t remember seeing him before though I may have passed by him on numerous occasions. I’m sure if I’d some vague memory of a previous meeting I would have given him a broader smile. But there was nothing about him that suggested any such encounter. And so, for all accounts and purposes, he was a mere stranger smiling at me.

But for some odd reason I knew that wasn’t the case. It’s not that I remembered him, but it was the way he smiled. It was as if he knew who I was and was simply doing the polite thing by acknowledging my presence. He must have noticed my blank expression but his face didn’t reveal any disappointment in my not remembering him. He just shook his head, smiled and continued doing what he was doing while I walked away.

I turned back and looked. He was busy in his work, and he looked guiltily at me when he saw that I was looking at him. I don’t know what must have crossed his mind, but I waved back to assure him there was no problem. He looked somewhat relieved and wore a more confident smile this time. I was happy, too, because I wouldn’t have liked the man to suffer unnecessary tension because of my second glance.

I was only trying to jog my memory and not trying to find fault with him. But he had no way of knowing that because people in his position are rarely given the benefit of doubt. Or their innocence taken for granted. They are just there to be treated with utter indifference. And whose presence is acknowledged only when things go wrong.

After all, he was only an ordinary gardener tending the lawns while I was the man in suit taking a walk to clear my head. And your guess is good as mine as to who is taken more seriously in this lopsided world in which we live and have our being.

3 comments:

Joel said...

Great one, Ashish. Extraordinary view into the ordinary. Very warmly thought of, and very beautifully written.

Mina said...

A smile may lead to so many things Ashish. People rarely smile at people they may not know these days, perhaps because of the worry over what it may lead to.. If it were an 'established and well known fact' that a smile is merely an acknowledgement by the initiator and the recipient(s) of each others existence and conveying of good wishes, and left at that, then I imagine, in our busy busy lives.. we would all smile at each other more.

Anonymous said...

Yes Ashish, he probably didn't know you but smiled on an impulse. How sad that people get plagued by self doubt after doing something so nice and yet simple as a smile!
Manju