Thank you for reading my blogs and I have had great responses from it. Someone even e-mailed me to ask “ what is kindness? When you say be kind, be compassionate, be happy how are we supposed to do that?”
I thought about it and wondered if I should give a step by step program about how to be kind but that sounded a little unkind, so I am now flashing back into my past, and sharing with you an incident that stayed as an impression, not just for the deed but for the multifaceted experience I had.
Walk with me to Paris, my very favorite city in the whole wide world besides Darjeeling, my hometown. I used to be a flight attendant for Cathay Pacific and I frequented this city often because she communicated with in countless ways. My obsessive fervor for this city made me explore, discover and pursue her in ways that only a lover would-such was my fascination for this place. The musty smell of the metro as you walked down the staircase and then be totally blown away by Orchestra buskers. Yes, a whole Orchestra was playing one time, as I lay my back pack down and became immersed in the emotion of the music and the musicians.
Wearing fashionable clothes was not really for me those days. I would basically wear torn jeans, a T shirt, comfortable shoes and scour the streets, the museums, spend hours just staring at a sculpture in the middle of the street or try my petit French language with the vendor who sold the best ever chocolate crepes on narrow lanes between beautiful architectural structures. The streets that are paved in cobblestones reverberated with an unspoken language which I comprehended in more ways than I can explain.
Feelings were evoked every corner, you may be captured by topless models doing a photo shoot or an American busker singing “I’m losing my religion” for the umpteenth time! My involvement in this place made me an expert in finding places and delving in without hesitation, not the haute couture for me then but the history, the literature, the opulence and the sensuality of the era that still delivered with panache.
One place I frequented every visit without fail was a particular book shop in the left bank, opposite Notre Dame often called the heart of Paris. This iconic bookshop was called Shakespeare and Company. It was then owned by this eccentric gentleman called George Whitman. At any given time he would have a cat on his left shoulder and books on his other hand. He owned this book store since 1951 and I heard that he passed away in 2011 at the ripe age of 98. The bookstore is as iconic as the owner.
You did not step into a bookstore, you stepped into specters of Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, you could feel the dynamism of passion, art, creativity … it would make any reader or an artist dizzy with creativity. There were books spilling from every nook and cranny and shelves of this place, which were seeped in history, art and culture.
While I was browsing through the books and mingling with the many aspiring writers, I overheard an interesting conversation between the owner and an American couple.
The couple had bought about five books but their American express was not going to work and they did not have cash. The woman was frantically looking through her backpack and the man was visibly disappointed, when George Whitman said “ Tell you what, you take the books and return the money when you come back.”
“But..but..we are leaving tomorrow for New York!” she said perplexed!
“That is fine, when you come back again you just return the money!” nonchalantly with one single sentence he changed the landscape of my thought process.
I was stunned! Did people like this still exist? I thought it was only in my little hometown tucked away in the Himalayas that these things happened, that too dwindling at record speed. This encounter not only embodied kindness but it restored faith, hope, trust into a world that was infused by skepticism. I felt the warmth reach the cockles of my heart and till this day, continues to do so. The customers looked visibly shocked but it was second nature for this eccentric, peculiar man to serve the readers, to love humanity and touch them in ways unimaginable.
I did not want to leave the store, so as an aspiring poet, I stayed there all day. I even pretended to be just traveling and not on duty, socialized with the artists, practiced my French, drank wine with French bread and cheese and let the creative juices permeate into my being.
As I walked out of the store to leave, I paid for one of the books that the couple could not pay for apart from my own collection. I saw the silhouette of George Whitman on the street with the cat on his left shoulder, the evening light extending his shadow just like his enigmatic personality. The Notre Dame Loomed large now, just like my faith. The skepticism that I had acquired lost a little ground that day, the erasing process had begun!
Until tomorrow mothers have faith, give a little kindness and smile!
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