Do I really care?

Ever wondered why some people are unconcerned and indifferent? Does this stem from deep-seated unexpressed anger and the need to feel superior?

Updated - September 25, 2018 10:51 am IST

Published - September 22, 2018 01:10 pm IST

Laughter and yells erupted at the table near ours at dinner in a restaurant. It didn’t seem to make the slightest difference to those diners that there were others in the same place trying to enjoy their evening out.

In the life-plan of some people, no one else counts.

Just once, observe how you become invisible in a corridor. A woman advancing from the opposite direction moves as if you do not exist. In other words she doesn’t have to recognise your presence and you therefore step aside to avoid collusion. What you realise after that split-second ‘encounter’ — if you can call it that — is that the other individual has not moved even ten centimeters to avoid crashing into you. Zero adjustment on the part of X and maximum on the part of Y (yourself).

Was it always so or is a rise in displays of poor manners and rudeness in public — be it a jumping a queue, callousness towards the elderly or grabbing a restaurant table — suddenly more marked? It is matched only by its close cousin in the scale of inhumanity: indifference.

Root cause

One is particularly astonished at the indifference to rules on our roads. A two-wheeler will drive so close to you that you can smell the driver or he will cut right in front of your car moving laterally to the other side of the road uncaring of the danger and inconvenience to you. If they get home safely it is only because drivers of cars struggle not to hit them. And if at all they meet your glance it is with eyes of stone: so cold and unfeeling are they as they break the rules and cause the person at the wheel great stress. In an unspoken understanding between two-wheel drivers, they will not frustrate one another only the rest of the public. Where does this indifference to the rest of the population come from? My guess is that it comes from deep-seated unexpressed anger and a need to feel superior in some way to the rest of the world and to make everybody else feel inferior; not to mention putting them at risk. For them the rest of the world on the same road might just as well not be there. That a city is filled with strangers is probably at the root of this situation. Politeness and courtesy are expensive in terms of time and the withdrawal of these marks of civility are therefore expressed in a form of indifference.

Another kind of indifference is not lack of feeling but a lack of imagination when it comes to recognising that another person is in distress. It does not occur to us that we ought to take notice. In the preface to his autobiography the rickshaw-driver-cum- writer Manoranjan Byapari wrote: “Here I am. I know I am not entirely unfamiliar to you. You’ve seen me a 100 times. Yet if you insist that you do not recognise me…take a look outside your window. You’ll see a bare-bodied goatherd running behind his cows and goats with a stick. You’ve seen this boy many times. That is me and my childhood.”

When will this boy be free?


Two important events in our freedom struggle took place in September and both because people refused to be indifferent. The first was on September 25, 1916 when Annie Besant started another Home Rule League and the second was the Second Round Table conference on September 7.

Let us remember those who were not indifferent. They acted because they felt responsible for people they did not even know.

The author is Series Editor, Living in Harmony (Oxford University Press).

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