I cannot name many people who would call me a cynic — I leave that honour to friends and family with wisdom beyond their years or hate beyond their experiences — but my optimism ends when it comes to the kindness of others. Blind positivity is what I utilize to lift up others, as a buffer zone between what I know and what I hope for, but today I saw in another the hopeless kindness that I attempt to embody and there are no words for the lights it sparked in me. As I traveled the streets of Old Delhi, I kept in mind the words of those who had been there before me: no eye contact, keep your hands on your camera and your attention on your pockets, (although I have no pockets in my salwar kameez) accept nothing from anyone as they will only make you pay for it, don’t stray from the main road, stay near your companions; the list went on and on but I tried to keep in all in mind. I left a spice shop after haggling over some pink Himalayan salt and began my light-footed walk back to the road and as I did, a fuschia flower appeared next to my knee, held by a heavily mendhi-ed and suntanned hand. All the mantras of “how to travel as a woman in India” were being shouted by my subconscious to the beat of my heavily thumping heart and it is fair to say that the panic had me on the verge of a breakdown — and for what? I looked down at a beautiful old woman surrounded by some of the most vibrant petals that I have ever had the pleasure to see and she looked up at me, bemused by my anxiety, and one word was spoken: “gift”.
All my logic fell apart before me as I knelt down to receive the palm-sized blossom and managed a weak “thank you” in my pigeon Hindi, and it occurred to me just how ignorant my fears were: who was I to accuse an entire nation of wanting to fool me into paying them, or of waiting for the right moment to “pick my pockets”, and what ignorant, cynical fool had taken over my usually loving mind?
I sat in the back of a bike-taxi with the flower on my lap, feeling wholly overwhelmed by this simple act of kindness from this woman who was well aware that she would never see me again, and it reminded me. For every time in my life that I had felt afraid, felt nervous or endangered, it occurred to me that I had felt overjoyed or happy three times over.
It is difficult to appreciate the many moments of kindness or love in life when we must also be aware of every moment of fear, but this world is not the dark place that I was so worried it might be.