Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Money is one man's cataract surgery, another's cake

Money, wealth--it really is all relative. That truth hit home, recently.

Last week, the autodriver I hailed asked me what a cataract is, and if it can be cured with tablets. It's a white clouding of the eye, I said, in my ungrammatical Hindi. It has to be surgically removed, I added.

The man nodded as if confirming something in his mind. His father, he said, has cataract. And hospitals in Bangalore have told him it will cost Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 for an operation. "I have Rs 8,000 with me, but none of the hospitals will do it for that amount," the driver shrugged. Then he turned to me. "I apologise for disturbing you with these questions," he said, as he drove me to where I wanted to go.

Sitting there, I found myself grappling with intense shame. This man needed Rs four thousand more to get the surgery done for his father. I've probably spent about that much shopping online in the past couple of weeks. For that matter, little man and I recently attended a birthday party where the cake cost Rs 6,500. Not that I blame the parents of the birthday boy--he wanted a particular design, and they complied, regardless of the cost. But then aren't we all guilty of expensive splurges on our children, and ourselves? We do it because we can. Because we have the money.

The auto driver did not ask me for money, I must emphasise. He simply told me his story. When I reached my destination, I took out money for the fare. I had just over Rs fifteen hundred in cash (for an online purchase due to be delivered home that day!).

I paid the man his fare. Then I also gave him Rs one thousand. The man looked at me, shock written on his face. Get the operation done, I told him.

Did that man spin me a sob story? I don't think so. Truth is, I don't care. He seemed genuine. His need was greater than mine. Besides, I needed to do that, it made me feel good about myself. And if it helps him, so much the better.