By virtue of being a neighbourhood daily-essentials market, Sector 8 in RK Puram tends to don a festive atmosphere every weekend evening, unlike any other ‘high-end’ shopping centre of Delhi. I avoid it on weekends due to parking constraints but this Sunday, we stepped out to buy some groceries, eat street food and apply henna on Isha’s hands.
Like many urban Indian markets, RK Puram is unfortunately very dirty; flies and garbage abound, stray dogs hang around lazily, the footpath has more holes than path. Even so, people, including us, were happily munching on chaats and tikkis, shopping with arms full of bags, or sitting by the side of the road waiting for some girl or woman in their lives to have her henna done.
Over the two hours we spent there, I observed human and animal behaviour, how people interact and trade, and my own responses to all of that. The first thing that struck me was ‘trust’. Droves walked in and out of stores, with no CCTV or guards to prevent shoplifting. Supreme Bakery, one of the most popular cake shops in the area, was chock-a-block with people; and it doesn’t even have a door. It would have been very easy for someone to just swipe a few munchies from the outside. And yet people continued to fight their way through to the payment counter.
At food stalls, people ate before even knowing the price, and the cook didn’t care to ask for money. The juice-stand guy left his counter for whole chunks of time delivering drinks to nearby shops or homes; his wares left unattended, yet safe in the hands of the universe. A young, middle-class couple gave a Rs-100 note to an old beggar after having a few eats.
Then there was the matter of a black puppy, a few months old. As my daughter and I stood eating momos, we watched the little mite frolicking with passers-by. Isha was convinced the dog was hungry and wanted to share her food. I told her the dog seemed to be taken care of just fine, and told her to watch for a bit. And indeed, not for a single moment was the puppy left alone. People stopped to play with it, feed it or just laugh at its antics.
At that point, I began to feel a sense of respect for the inherent goodness of humanity. Sure there was the odd storekeeper who overcharged for his goods. Sure there was the odd pervert who brushed too close by. But on the whole, humans were trusting, loving, caring and friendly beings.
As we moved to leave, the puppy moved close to a shawarma stand, and due to the presence of a string around its neck, a middle-aged Sardarji passing by to enter a shop thought it had been tied up. “Banna hoya eh? (Is it tied?)” he instinctively stopped and asked his wife. The man’s body language was protective, ready to fight, his inherent Sikh courage and sense of justice all flared up. No, she replied, after taking a glance. He relaxed and they both went on into the shop.
In that brief moment, the milk of human kindness washed over me, cleansing all cynicism and past judgements and misconceptions. It is a beautiful world, after all.