The Art of Apologising

81_532a.jpgThe person about whom I am going to write may seem as an incongruous choice for the occasion in question. For obvious reasons, a rustic illiterate villager may seem to be the last person, of any consequence,to write about. When this thought came into its infancy, I had similar apprehensions. I have been procrastinating about writing this for two long weeks, contemplating the person’s appropriateness. In the beginning, it seemed a slick trick, writing about a villager, someone illiterate and ‘uncultured’ in our ways of the world.

For reasons unknown to me even now, I guess out of good sense, the mists of ignorance or foolishness or whatever it was cleared from my mind, and here I am, writing about someone who has served me and helped me.

I am talking about Ranjan. You may have never heard the name, but nevertheless, he is the very man appropriate to write about. Well, Ranjan is my attendant-cum- physiotherapist-cum-friend-cum-advisor-cum-twenty four hour companion. My school was not wheelchair accessible. There were a lot of staircases, pebbles and other obstacles which hinder mobility. As a result, when I came back from the hospital post rehabilitation, I needed someone to help me around. Ranjan was the man.

He helped me get around school, to classes, seminars, parties, meals, appointments, exams etc. in record time. I hate being late; Ranjan helps me reach my destination before time. Besides that, when I was incapacitated, he helped me in all things from toilet management to my rehab regimen to my social obligations to general recreation (park visits, malls, markets, amusement parks, restaurants etc.). He has been with me through my darkest days. Literally, he has helped me stand up on my feet again. We work as a team, from five in the morning till eleven at night. And just like any other team, our machinery, too, has abrasions.

First is the abrasion of misunderstanding. Due to the cultural and attitudinal differences, there are times when things don’t turn out, as they should. I say something and Ranjan doesn’t pay attention to it. As a result, things turn out different from the desired. Here is a small example: Ranjan knows that I have my yoghurt with salt and pepper. But one day, I wanted it sweet. I told him so. But in his habit of not listening to detail, he brought me my yoghurt as it comes every day: salty. A small event, which when repeated over and over again would certainly get on one’s nerves.

Second is the abrasion of forgetfulness. There have been times when Ranjan has misplaced or lost certain things. Once, I asked him to keep a physics notebook and my calculator carefully. The notebook belonged to a friend. Exams were in a week’s time. When I asked Ranjan for the notebook, he looked blank. Imagine losing someone’s notes before an exam! Not only that, Ranjan even misplaced my expensive calculator with the notebook in question. My lender friend got very unhappy about the whole affair. Although things were patched up, the incident left a bitter taste in all our mouths, and was an embarrassment for me.

Third is the abrasion of inconsideration. There have been times when I have woken up in the middle of the night, remembering that I have to collect notes for an assignment nearing its deadline, from someone on the opposite end of the campus. I have pulled a sleepy, groggy, edgy, irritated and tired myself and Ranjan out of bed to take me to the other edge of campus for my work. Most times he has never complained. But one night, I mentioned to him the beauty of the lunar sky. Imagine that at two in the morning! When I asked him why he was so luke-warm in his enthusiasm of the sky, he just cracked like a highly heated piece of glass. In the end, I realised how foolish I had been; first, for waking up in the middle of the night, then, for waking another man up, and finally, admonishing him when he did not reciprocate my wonders of the night sky at that unearthly hour. I have been inconsiderate on many such similar occasions.

The examples that I have given you are seemingly trivial and may not, at first glance, deserve a place here. But they hide a deeper secret. The mere fact that I remember these pin-pricks accentuates my fondness in my Man Friday. We bicker over small issues, just as others do. But we always find a way out.

They say—”To err is human, to forgive divine”. I believe, as does Karan Thapar (in his column Sunday Sentiments—Hindustan Times, September 24, 2006), that “To err is human. But to apologise is the real divine thing to do”. ‘Sorry’ is one of the easiest ways to atone for a trespass, but it is the most difficult to utter. ‘Sorry’ extracts us from all impasses, and that’s what Ranjan and I say to one another after a fiasco.

Let’s look at a typical scenario. It is often that we say or do something wrong, and despite doing it, despite realising and accepting our follies, do we not hold back from saying sorry? Even if we do apologise, do we not add the following—”I didn’t mean to,” or “I am sorry BUT…” to dilute our apologies? It is inherent in us all not to accept things as they are. To bend under strain is next to impossible. Sorry may be one of the simplest words in any form, in any language around the world. It may be one of the earliest words in our vocabularies. And yet, it is one of the most difficult to utter and say out aloud.

Ranjan may be an illiterate and uncouth man in our ways of the world. But he is one of those rare men of power who has the strength to say ‘sorry.’ I realise my mistake the instant I commit it. I try and apologise, but that’s it—I try. Eventually, I put on a façade, pretending I have nothing to apologise for. Deep down, however, I know whom I’m fooling. Ranjan comes right ahead with his apology, without any pretence. And I respect him for that.

I tend not to express my views on the moon at two in the morning; Ranjan tries not to get me sweet yoghurt when I want it salted. I am not perfect; Ranjan is not perfect. And in this imperfection lies the perfection of our symbiotic relationship. I could not have come back to school post my injury without him. He is the most intrinsic and irreplaceable entity in my life. It is because of him that I returned; because of him that I stayed on.

Ranjan doesn’t know that I’m writing about him. Nor do I think that there can be a better way of thanking him (although no amounts of it would suffice) for the service he has rendered unflinchingly. I am now totally rehabilitated and live on my own. I do not need assistance from anyone anymore. As a result, when I graduated from Doon, Ranjan was divested of his duties. But he forever lives in my heart as a source of an important lesson and one of life’s biggest, simplest and yet toughest arts—the art of apologising.

Rijul Kochhar