The bus was ten minutes late. People waiting in the queue were stirring, shifting their feet, subscribing to a collective mind-mapping of ‘Why is it late’ investigation.
I boarded the bus first, put the currency note in front of the driver and announced my destination. He returned the coin change. I took the ticket off the machine uttering a Thank You.
As I turned towards the seats I heard the driver say “Sorry, I’m late. Terrible traffic. Thank you”. I looked over my shoulder. The driver had a smile on his face, engaged with the person behind me, a fellow passenger.
The driver didn’t initiate a conversation with me. He didn’t say the bus was late. He didn’t say sorry or thank you to me.
Just last year a friend was sharing about their travel to Sri Lanka. Somebody harassed them, poor tourists. “Oh, such things don’t happen in England.” Apparently, the English society is better – and, highly – civilised.
Year 2002. They wouldn’t say Thank You to me on the train or bus in Australia either. Their face, on most occasions, would be stern, and passive aggressive. They would throw a glance at me when I stretched out my hand with money or ticket. And, of course, when I said Thank You. The ticket inspectors on the train to Canberra usually checked my ticket with no words uttered.
But, I would hear them say to others Thank You, Sir or Thank You, Ma’am. Sometimes I looked at them when they said those words. They looked pleasant. The muscles on their face were relaxed.
I wish I had some skills of a cartoonist. I would sketch them as they looked on the train – at me and at others. I would also sketch imagining them eating Indian Butter Chicken curry with naan using cutlery.
Remarkably, and usually, I would be the only non-white person in my railway compartment. Travelling alone in the night with a bunch of people who had tight faces and stern glances.
Did I ever feel scared? Was I afraid of them? Did they look like monsters to me?
We were all just people travelling on the train or bus. Together.
Heterogeneity is better than homogeneity. Evolutionary biology says so too.
But, I did say Thank You to the drivers and ticket inspectors.
They didn’t. Bad manners.
Not even in England. The home of Thank You, Sorry & Please.
Acceptance is better than tolerance.