Bystander Effect10 mins 21.4K 10 mins 21.4K
All of us are writers and directors of our respective lives. We script our life, direct them, and give a bravura performance that Marlon Brando would be proud of. However, why do we have to act? Can’t we live our life without acting? No. We cannot. Unfortunately, we have to act when the limelight is shone right on us and an audience is keenly watching our every move. In those moments, more than the ‘you’ inside you, the ‘you’ that people want to see, come out. They cannot be criticised for wanting to see a particular ‘you’ because that’s the right ‘you‘ in their eyes. This is why I feel that certain noble acts of men should never be taken seriously when it’s done amidst many pairs of eyes. Only when a man is alone, the true inner self surreptitiously creeps out.
Let’s take this story of three young men living in three different streets of a particular suburb in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu. Our trio is in the age group of 19, 23, and 29. It was pure chance that their ages were all prime numbers. Now how they start their life every day cannot be a chance. It involves a routine. They’ve been institutionalised in that routine. For two out of three that routine is not out of choice but something that was bestowed upon them by the world.
Every name acts as an identity for a person. It's not just to identify that particular human being but a plethora of other trivialities. Those include the region, religion, caste, political allegiance etc. In this, the most conspicuous of names are Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It's not rocket science to decipher the ideology of that kid's parents.
Lenin is the 23-year-old of our story. For our Lenin, Bolshevik is a foreign word and October is just a month. He never talks politics with his parents and he’s proudly apolitical. You can find many of such people in our country and for them only one agenda matters - Development. Our Lenin is no different.
The Tuesday started like every other working day for him. When the clock was a minute short of a quarter to six, his mom woke him from the deep sleep where he was about to enter a room where a woman was lying on a bed. His eyes were reddish from the premature sleep he had been having lately. However, his poor mom just followed his instruction, which was “Wake me if I don't get up by 5:45.” Another morning began with him hoping that he could have slept an hour or two earlier but hope is a hopeless thing and I trust in nature (or God or Fate, whichever suits you) to crush all forms of hope. Nature is indeed a tyrant. After waking up, he remembered well the dream and the woman who was lying on the bed waiting for him. Digesting that he got up from the bed and went about the routine.
The 29 year old of our story is a bit different from the other two. Harish is a typical example of an adult desperately wanting to unfetter himself from the clutches of his family. Probably lifelong pampering creates a longing to be independent. When the family attempts tyranny, the rebel inside him can jump out with ease to quell it but when the tyranny comes in the form of love and affection, the individual becomes the centre of the tug of war, with the family on one side and the freedom on the other side. The unbalance in the tug of war was evident that the freedom side always has only one player but the family side seems to be stacked with so many players.
Harish when he was 21, which was the summer of 2008 when the whole world was gasping at Beijing, his freedom side took a momentary lead in his tug of war. That resulted in him falling playfully, joyfully, madly and crazily in love with a girl. He felt like he had unshackled the chains that had restrained him. He felt elated that he had rebelled against his family. But then when the balance of power shifted on the other side, it resulted in Masters, United States and Boston. All that has to go wrong went very wrong with substandard grades, a long distance relationship and the continued pampering in form of siblings now rather than parents.
The relationship experienced vicissitudes that even a stock exchange hadn't experienced ever. Whenever the relationship peaked, grades took a hit and when it reached its nadir, his mind and heart took a hit. However irrespective of the relationship status, grades taking a hit were unavoidable. However, he had enough to graduate and land in a half-decent job. One fine day, the vicissitude became one dimensional and never spiked. It was flowing consistently in a downward peak and the relationship hit rock bottom.
This is a key chapter in everyone's life. Some take the rock bottom as a motivation to become better in life but for many others, they would want the earth to just open up and suck them in. Harish was in that chapter where he was waiting for everything to go awfully wrong. He quit his half-decent job, befriended alcohol, and came back home with next to nothing in his bank account.
As I had said earlier, the routine for him was still a choice, unlike our other central characters. Every morning he wakes up to realise that his heart is still aching for the person now living on another continent. Therefore, he dials her telephone number every morning only to hear the ringing continue perpetually. Next activity is to get out of his home until his parents leave for work. Like every other day, he got out that Tuesday morning to catch a puff or two of nicotine in his lungs.
Being the youngest in the family has its own perks and a story is not an exception. Akhil is the lovely kid of the three, the kind of person everyone wants to be: chirpy, lively, and always happy. He wakes up to Mozart’s symphony Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as his alarm tone, listens to music when walking to the bus stop for boarding the bus to his university, listens to music while travelling to his university and does the same while coming back home. When his parents realised that the time spent by him inside the earbuds is rather high, they ordered a headphone to protect their son from going deaf. The result was, even more, music but this time without the fear of losing his precious hearing ability.
Akhil is one among the several Indians who study computer science for bread and butter, and keep their passion as a pass time. It would be harsh on my part to blame this on his parents, though. Initially, his interests were skewed towards becoming a musician but it took a good part of a year or two to realise that his real passion is listening, talking, and writing about music. He felt that a 'music critic’ profession will not yield much remuneration in this country and it has to be kept as a side track.
He woke up around 6 AM that Tuesday and it took him exactly twenty minutes to finish off the morning chores and come out of the bathroom. I understand the envy here though for the countless lazy lot. Lunch was ready and packed as well. When the minute hand hit six, he walked out of his house-waving goodbye to his mother, promising her that he'll not run or use the headphones while crossing the road.
Every now and then, our lives are at crossroads. A decision has to be made on the path we have to traverse. Although people associate everything with fate, I believe in the choices of humans. Fate does play a role but our choices matter too.
If that Tuesday had been yet another day, the need for choice wouldn't have come. It wouldn't as well if the person riding the Bajaj Pulsar had started his bike a little later. It definitely wouldn't have if the biker had hanged the call on his mobile phone and not had his head skewed to the left. It positively wouldn’t have if the car that hit the bike had chosen another route to practice. It wouldn't have if the driver had not applied the acceleration when the need was to break.
So since none of the above happened the obvious took place. The driver of the Toyota hit the acceleration in panic and collided with the side of the bike. The impact wasn't thunderous, it wasn't glass shattering, it wasn't like how an accident is shown in movies. The impact was real and it created an unbalance for the biker. He fell to his right and his right leg got stuck under the bike. The more panic-stricken car driver pressed on the acceleration to speed away from the spot.
Our protagonists aren't directly related to the biker or the car driver but are spectators of this incident. Unfortunately the only spectators. The smoking Harish threw his cigarette and rushed to the injured biker, the walking Lenin heard the injured fellow’s wailing and turned back in the direction of the cacophonous sound emanating from the injured biker. In the case of our younger person, his headphones ensured that the crying outside was filtered out and only a mellifluous music could be heard in his ears. However, something made him turn back but it was as if he was wearing screen filter, his eyes never noticed that injured biker. I am not sure about the veracity of the above statement but that's what he'll say later when someone mentions this accident. This peripheral vision would be lost in his archives. He then walked straight without looking back.
Harish rushed towards the injured biker. This was the trigger point for Lenin, who thought of coming to the aid of the young man but decided against it and once again turned back. As a writer of this piece, I'm trying to place the thought process of Lenin in this situation. Is he the kind of person who'll rush to someone else's aid only when no one is around to help? Whatever may be the case it wasn't the impulse that made him continue in his errand, unlike Harish who I'm pretty sure did not think twice before rushing towards the biker.
Harish lifted the vehicle that was crushing the legs of the biker and helped the man get up on his feet. The swelling that was developing in his right leg was too conspicuous to miss for Harish. The biker experienced an acute pain when he tried to stand on his legs. It didn’t require an orthopaedics to understand the pain of the biker. Although the situation wasn’t life threatening, Harish didn’t want to leave him there.
He looked around for help and all he could see was two men walking in the opposite direction. He knew the futility of calling out to them. He checked his pockets for his mobile phone and found an empty pocket. He helped the biker to sit on the platform and was contemplating the next move. As if some divine power was listening to him and wanted to help him, the same Toyota car that hit the biker came to a halt in front of Harish. A young man with a budding moustache came out of the car. His eyes were puffed up, probably due to crying. He went to the biker and in a stammering voice said, “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have run” and turned towards Harish, “Let’s take him to a hospital.”
When their car sped towards the hospital, Harish placed his hands on the young man to reassure that he needn't worry. The car passed another young man, wearing a headphone and walking with his head bent down. The walking young man looked up and his face gave a smirk. Harish couldn't help but feel nostalgic about his happier days and wished that everything could have happened differently.
Akhil saw a Toyota car go past him and wondered why the driver is rash. He continued his walk while from his headphone came the voice of Gerry Marsden, “Walk On through the Wind! Walk On through the Rain! Though your dreams are tossed and blown!” He reached his stop when Gerry’s voice hit the crescendo “You’ll never Walk Alone!”
Harish helped the physically injured biker and the scared Toyota driver to their respective homes and went to his house to continue his mourning of his relationship. Now almost a world away from the scene, Lenin did not think again about the accident. With problems aplenty, his act that morning became one of those trivial things one does every day. He immersed himself into his corporate world and hoped for an early return to home. Akhil boarded his bus to begin yet another day.