Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it runs across your path and bring your autorickshaw to a screeching halt. Yes, this happened on a trip to Mumbai – the city that never sleeps and, come to think of it, doesn’t much like stopping either. While I was on my way to a friend’s apartment at Versova with a couple of girlfriends, a cat crossed our path. And the driver stepped on the brakes with all his might.
We looked at each other in bewilderment. Then at him with judgement when he told us that he wouldn’t move until someone else went ahead first. He didn’t want to bring bad luck on himself. For the uninitiated, it is considered inauspicious to carry on if a black cat crosses your path; the only way to avoid the impending doom is to let someone else take on the burden by going ahead before you. Yes, we are rather generous like that.
Our bewilderment and judgment soon turned to amusement as we pointed out that it was, after all, a white cat, not a black one. We even tried to appeal to his reason by wondering out aloud if a white cat crossing our path could bring good fortune. But the auto driver wouldn’t have any of it. He stayed put, till a man on a two-wheeler cruised ahead (with no helmet on; impending doom alright).
Our journey that night amused me. I even laughed at the madness of it all. But it didn’t take long for me to open my mind. Not to the superstition, but to how easy I found it to judge the auto driver. He probably lived in a tiny room with five other people, barely made enough to eat for the day, possibly had a family to feed in a far away city, and was totally within his rights to do whatever he could for his peace of mind.
After all, rationality in the face of struggle isn’t particularly easy. It isn’t even easy for my well-off friends, who comment ‘amen’ on Facebook or forward messages on Whatsapp to exactly seven people to avoid seven years of bad luck. Then why should it be easy for him? Clearly education doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. We would much rather be careful than rational, follow age-old traditions than not – even the most evolved of us. Then what business did I have judging him?
It took a cat and an autorickshaw ride to teach me that lesson. They taught me to open my mind and see my everyday world with new eyes, with more tolerant eyes, perhaps. And all this, as I walked into my friend’s apartment with my right foot forward.