A man opposite me shifted his feet, accidentally brushing his foot against mine. It was a gentle touch, but the man immediately reached out to touch my knee and then his own chest with the fingertips of his right hand – Indian gesture of apology for an unintended offense. Everyone in the bus looked very polite, sharing, respectful and solicitous with one another. This politeness was infuriating to me because there had just been a violent scramble to board the bus. There was violence looking and locking a seat by some individuals too. Some individuals used towels or bags to occupy an entire row for his family. Some other individuals lied down on a whole row blocking it for his family members who would board the bus later. It seemed hypocritical for these individuals to show such deferential concern over a nudge with a foot after the bus started moving when in fact, minutes before, they had all but pushed one another, hurt each other and abused using words I have never heard before, to get into the public transport.
I got back home and was furious at the hypocrisy. I started brooding about how non-sensical the whole behaviour pattern is in India. Later, I realized that both the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were expressions of the same philosophy : Doctrine of Necessity. The amount of violence necessary to board the bus was no less and no more than the amount of politeness and consideration necessary to ensure that the cramped journey was as pleasant as possible afterward. What is necessary? That was the unspoken but implied and unavoidable question everywhere in India. When I understood that, a great many of characteristically perplexing aspects of Indian public life became comprehensible: from the acceptance of sprawling slums by city authorities, to the freedom that cows had to roam at random in the midst of traffic; from toleration of beggars to the streets, to the concatenate complexity of the bureaucracies and from the gorgeous, unashamed escapism of Bollywood movies, to the accommodation of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa and Bangladesh, in a country that is already too crowded with sorrows and needs of its own. There are just so many people in India and there is not enough quality space to live that life without that initial scramble. People look to do anything to make sure their families are well positioned and once that has been achieved, they look outward and make sure they do not harm people outside their family.
The real hypocrisy, was in the eyes and minds and criticisms of those who came from lands of plenty, where no-one had to fight for a seat on a bus.