We were on a rickshaw, going from point A to point B. The rickshaw-puller was trying his best to take us to our destination in the sweltering Dhaka heat, when he got a phone call.
Although it was difficult to understand his regional dialect, we were able to understand that he was talking to his mother, and that something terrible had happened.
He kept saying over the phone that he had just returned today, and had no money to travel back to his hometown. He burst into tears and mumbled Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, looking up at the sky.
Upon hanging up, he told us his father had passed away in an accident earlier that afternoon.
He still insisted on dropping us off at a more convenient location, but we decided to get off there.
Since we heard him say he had no money, we gave him Tk500, which we added to when he asked for another Tk300 so he could afford the ticket back home.
Now comes the sad and worrying part. Massively upset, we got on another rickshaw, justifying to each other how worthlessly we would have spent that Tk800 anyway and that it was the least that we could do. We all know the importance of parents, and some of us know what it is like to lose them.
Then out of nowhere, my friend exclaimed: “What if he was acting and the whole thing was a lie.”
Humanity and our society have come to a point where we are sceptical of everything, and are always on the lookout for frauds, cheats, and imposters
It got me thinking, maybe he was, and we were just duped into giving whatever he asked for.
Humanity and our society have come to a point where we are sceptical of everything, and are always on the lookout for frauds, cheats, and imposters -- leading us to question even the authenticity of a son’s tears following the death of his father.
We were, at that point, ready to believe that he lied through his teeth to get what he wanted and it worked.
Our destination was yet to be reached, hence another three-wheeler was arranged and the guy agreed with the negotiated fare.
It goes without saying the heat that people are enduring during the extreme conditions of Dhaka summer makes it a common gesture to pay the puller a few bucks more than the actual fare.
We reached our destination 10 minutes later. I got down first and before my feet could touch the ground, the puller started: “Bhaiya, it is my sister’s wedding. If you can, please help with a few hundred taka and help me carry the expenses of her wedding.”
Yes -- it was that kind of a day, when it seemed money was the only remedy required for this world; the cure for all our problems and worries.
He went on to explain that if I helped him out this time, God would look after me for eternity. I gave him a Tk100 note, and didn’t ask for any change for a fare of Tk30.
I explained to him how we just helped someone with cash, and like every other person, there is a quota for me as well as to how much I can spend for charity in a span of 30 minutes. He was quite dissatisfied and started mumbling for more money.
Two things came to mind instantly after getting off: 1) Could I have done something more to help? And 2) with the disparity in our current society, these incidents will only increase unless tackled from a macro-economic perspective.
During the month of Ramadan, these incidents can only be expected to multiply. Because, as in every Ramadan, too many people come to the city to make a few extra bucks ahead of Eid, whether through back-breaking hard work or by other devices of con, fraud, or what have you.
What happened in the last two decades or so?
I have heard numerous stories from my parents about a time in the past when people were indefinitely better and had a good conscience and how people always came to each other’s aid.
More often than not, they came across as the heroes and not swindlers. When people offered food or drink, it was a good gesture rather than a means of conning.
The concept of conscience in the 21st century is somewhat vague. Not to point fingers at others, I am also a part of this ever-changing society. I tried to justify and validate my own actions. And for the sake of humanity, I hope that the first guy wasn’t lying -- that his father passed away knowing that his son is a hard-working, honest man.
Arnab Das is a business strategy consultant at Tex World Associates Ltd.