It was during one of my daily morning walks that this ‘friend’ of mine flagged me down from a distance. I walked quiet briskly, so he waved from a distance so that I get enough notice. He walked towards me on the walkway slowly.
As my experience goes there are three kinds of friends. The first group is those whom you have met, talked, and are or were somewhat in frequent communication with. You perhaps know his/her family members and may have even visited them. Maybe they and their family members have visited your home, too. One’s childhood and school or college friends are mostly of this type. The second type comprises of those with whom you have had some communications, but have never met. You know probably nothing about them, except their names and addresses. The third group is of people who you regularly or frequently meet, but have probably never talked to. You know nothing about them, except that you recognize them by face. You may have been travelling in the same bus or used to meet at some place regularly.
This ‘friend’ who flagged me down belonged to the third category. We used to meet frequently during our morning walks. We used to cross each other, sometimes smile or at least acknowledge each other’s presence. But we have never talked. I knew nothing about him. He knew nothing about me either.
I was slightly surprised at his signaling me to stop. I slowed down and stopped near him.
He said, ‘I am sorry to interrupt your morning walk. But I am curious and want to ask you something. I hope you don’t mind.’
I smiled and said, ‘No, not at all.’
‘My name is Varun.’
‘And I am Jayanthan.’ We smiled again and shook hands.
There were more people approaching us from both sides in the course of their morning walk. We, therefore, moved into the middle of the park around which the walk-way has been constructed, so that we don’t obstruct their way.
Then I told him, ‘All right, Mr Varun. You wanted to ask me something?’
‘Yes. Mmm. I have seen that you walk very briskly. Today, and on a few earlier occasions too, I noticed that at certain places you suddenly slow down and walk very cautiously stepping one careful step after another for a few metres. Then you resume your normal speed and continue to walk. I used to wonder why you do that.’
I thought for a moment. Then pointing to a corner on the other side of the park, I asked him, ‘Is that where you noticed me slowing down?’
‘Yes. There, in that corner. Today I saw you suddenly slowing down there.’
I said, ‘All right, let us go there.’
We walked to the corner. On the way I asked him, ‘Did you notice anything peculiar at the place where I suddenly slowed down?’
He said, ‘Yes, I did, but I couldn’t find anything.’
‘All right, let us see.’
I didn’t say anything till we reached the spot. When we reached I asked Varun, ‘Do you see anything particular there? Please look again.’
He looked again. It had rained a couple of days earlier. There was however, no trace of water forcing one to slow down lest one should slip and fall. There was no cow dung either, which sometimes we notice in the walking tracks. Stray dogs have not made the place dirty also. Sometimes both the animals use the place to answer nature’s call.
Varun said, ‘Nothing, I don’t see anything peculiar there.’
I asked him, ‘Absolutely nothing?’
He looked again and said, ‘Well, nothing, except ...’
‘Except ... the group of ants.’
I said, ‘Yes, now you know the answer to your question.’
He looked puzzled. He didn’t understand.
I said, ‘The ants are the cause of my slowing down at this particular place.’
He still did not understand.
I said, ‘Look, I do not want to crush any ant under my feet. I tread my way cautiously to avoid the ants. That is why I was walking slowly here.’
He looked at me even more puzzled, as if he was seeing me for the first time.
‘I don’t understand’, said he. ‘Is it to save these little creatures that you interrupt your pace? Are you crazy?’, he laughed as if he had cracked a joke.
I looked at the ants and told him, ‘Maybe they don’t share your views. Why do you think these so called ‘little creatures’ are not important? Aren’t they part of this vast nature? Have they not been created by God, too, like us humans? If you don’t believe in God, even then you will admit that these ants are as much part of the nature as we humans are. Won’t you?’
He was silent. He probably felt I was not joking and meant what I said.
He said, ‘Well, yes, maybe ... Yes, I think they are.’
‘Every living and non-living thing on earth is as important as we so-called wise and elite humans. The only problem is, we don’t realize that. Man has become so arrogant that he thinks everything in this world has been created for his own use, benefit, and happiness.’
I looked at Varun. I didn’t want to continue if he felt it boring. He looked confused.
I continued, ‘Some humans think even other humans are created for their use as well. How many murders, rapes, and other types of violence do you read about in the newspapers and see on the TV every day? Relatives including father and brother raping minor girls, mother selling daughters, gang rapes, killing people for money, and what not? It is really disgusting.’
He was thoughtful. ‘Yes, I agree. But what has that got to do with my question?’
‘Oh, I am sorry. I suppose I got carried away. I was only telling that humans do not consider anything other than themselves worthy of living in this world. Man thinks that this world has been created for him. If he finds something not useful to him, he doesn’t mind destroying it. No, he rather enjoys doing so.’
‘Like these ants?’
‘Yes.’ We seemed to be slowly travelling in the same wave length.
People were walking briskly oblivious of the fact that they were crushing other living beings under their feet. I picked up a dead ant from the walkway and kept in my left hand. I showed it to Varun.
I told him, ‘This ant, when lived, may have been a father, a mother, a son, or a daughter. It probably had many dreams; like we all have. Maybe not of owning a bungalow or a huge car, but little things such as providing daily food for its family members. It was minding its own business without in any way obstructing our way. But look at its fate now.’ I pointed out to him a few more dead ants on the walkway. There were many which were convulsing violently. Most of them would breath their last in the next few minutes. I looked away, without seeing anything in particular.
Varun said, ‘Yes, but it happened because they were crossing our path.’
‘Yes, there lies the point. They were crossing ‘our’ path. Now, tell me, Mr Varun, what is ‘our’ path? Does this walkway or park belong to us? This little portion, just as any other piece of land on this earth, belongs to the earth, and only to the earth. We are all visitors and do not own anything here. We are born empty handed and we will depart empty handed. While we are here, we should respect all other creatures, including plants and animals. They have as much right to live on the earth as we have. Their being smaller in size or intelligence or backward in technology does not give us the right to harm them in any way.’
Maybe I had been talking too much. Mr Varun was silent.
I asked him, so as to wake him from his thoughts. ‘Have you watched these ants early in the morning, before the first man has begun his walk?’
He said, ‘No’. He looked at me suspiciously. He thought I was trying to trap him with another long conversation.
I told him, ‘I have. They all move in a straight line. None of them deviate from the pre-determined path. They use only a millimetre or two width-wise. Any man can very easily cross over the line of ants without disturbing them. But who has got the time to care for these little creatures? They are just not bothered. They crush them carelessly under their feet. No one knows how many husbands, wifes, fathers, mothers, and children they crush under their feet! To know their pain, man should put his relatives in their position.’
Varun was silent and thoughtful. He painfully looked at me, forced a smile, and said, ‘Thank you’, in a weak voice. Then, without a word, he slowly walked away.
A few days later, I was overwhelmed to see Varun treading his way very carefully at certain spots during his morning walk. I realised that the time I spent with him has not been wasted.