Money does not make one better

It’s time we started educating our society in social communication and good manners.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

One morning at a hotel in Nagpur, I stood waiting for the toaster to deliver me a slice. It was one of those sliding toasters, that carries the slice into the furnace and drops it down on the tray below.

A waiter had been assigned to man the toaster; which was strange, I thought, for there was no fear of the gadget being mishandled or danger of injury. The waiter, on his part, was clueless. He did not know where to place the bread. I showed him how, and as the slice moved, I told him to place another and yet another. 

A man had joined us, and we were waiting for the slow process to get done. My slice dropped, and the waiter picked it up and put it on my plate. He then watched the other two slices going slowly on their way.  ‘Add a white bread slice’, the man, who was waiting, said, and as the waiter proceeded to do so, I started buttering my slice. When his slices were ready, the man pointed to the butter. ‘Put butter on my toast,’ he ordered the waiter. I was moving away, but something in his tone made me stop. 

The waiter picked up the butter knife and started applying a light layer of butter. ‘Have you never buttered 
a toast before?’ The man asked him, his tone still rude. The waiter shook his head. ‘It’s my second day here,’ he said. The man snatched the butter knife from him and started adding a thick layer of butter. Then he turned to the waiter and said, ‘Go, send someone else. I want my toasts properly buttered.’ The waiter dissolved away. 

As I munched my way through my toast, I wondered over what I had witnessed. On one side, a young man, on the second day of a job, which no one had trained him for or explained to him about. Unprepared for a world that was alien to his way of life till then, for he might never had had the wherewithal to eat buttered toast, which was crisped and browned on a machine, he was trying meekly to learn on the job. On the other side, was a man, who obviously lived the good life, as his clothes announced. But, did that mean he was above the simple task of helping himself to his own toast, or buttering his own slices? What gave him the sense of entitlement that made him speak rudely to the waiter? And why did he think it was beneath him to show the waiter how to butter a slice, rather than dismissing and asking him to send a better-trained substitute?

How would someone like that behave in his office with his juniors? I wondered. Or with his wife? Would he carry his superior manner home and throw his weight around telling her what to do and what not to do, and how to do it? Most probably. For, that has been a true Indian tradition over the last few centuries at least. Yet, I had no doubt, that the same lord and master would bow and scrape in front of his seniors to curry favour and find ways up the ladder, as that was the way of bullys—to bully the weaker and kow-tow before the stronger. 

Sad that in the 21st century, 75 years after we declared ourselves a nation where we are all equals, that money power should allow the rich to humiliate someone for being from an economically weaker class. It’s time we started educating our society in social communication and good manners.

Sathya Saran

Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House

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