It’s the latest fashion in language. You place a hand on your chest or playfully punch a person on the arm and say ‘Respect’ in reverential tones. This is done for anything that impresses. It could be because someone reached a difficult level on a video game or because someone had the courage to tell a difficult person where they got off. Used often and widely, I very much fear that soon the word ‘respect’ is going to lose all depth. Or, is the current usage simply a reflection of current societal values easily washing away on the shores of life because they are nesting in the shallows?

The verb ‘respect’ is used when you admire someone deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Point is which qualities, abilities, or achievements do we hold in high esteem these days? That, to my way of thinking, is the proverbial million dollar question!

Yesterday, I tweeted ‘time we learnt to celebrate the ordinary.’ The tweet was a result of a feeling that the world has become one big selfie with no time to notice, let alone appreciate the extraordinary achievements of many a so-called ordinary person.

Of course, initiatives such as The Better India are an exception in a world that largely has time only for celebs. I follow The Better India because the stories published give rise to a ray of hope that there are many unsung people out there working towards a better world.

But even The Better India publishes stories of only tangible, measurable social contributions. What about the extraordinary stories of ordinary people triumphing against all odds? And by what measures? This blog is my attempt to say ‘Respect’ to some of those people whose life path I have had the good fortune to cross. And hopefully highlight that there are some immeasurable qualities that deserve our deep respect.

My mind travels back to a bygone era when senior executives were assigned personal assistants proficient in shorthand and typing skills. Remember manual typewriters, carbon paper, shorthand notebooks and secretaries with ink stained fingers?

Image from page 103 of "Day's standard shorthand;" (1913)
Image from page 103 of “Day’s standard shorthand;” (1913)

In that bygone era, I had a secretary whose image will probably stay with me till my last breath. Let’s just call her Ms. J to keep her identity cloaked and right to privacy inviolate. J was such a smiley innocent that one forgave even her worst bloomers. To name just one, we had a client by the name J. R.K. —–. His close friends and associates were allowed to call him ‘Jerk.’ One day, I dictated a letter that went ‘Dear Jerk, etc. etc.’ to J. She dutifully transcribed and typed it out, and brought it me for my signature. When I saw it, my jaw dropped because she had typed ‘Jerk’ instead of ‘J. R. K.’ That was J.  But a day came when she won my respect for life.

No matter how much you try to steer clear of personal stuff in an office environment, inevitably fodder for gossip is thrown your way to see if you will bite. My norm is to simply stare at the gossipy types making it clear that I find gossip unappetizing. But one day when I was fuming over something J had done or not done, a colleague asked me to go easy on her and explained why. You see, J came to office every day after being abused almost every night by an alcoholic husband. Yet, gazing on her cheerful, ready disposition one would never have guessed.

Not just that. She came to me one day with an expense voucher for late working chargeable items. We had pulled almost an all-nighter preparing for an account pitch. I picked up my pen to sign when I saw she had charged taxi fare from the office to the nearest railway station and then again from the station nearest her residence to home. I turned to her and said, “J, why did you take the train? Post ten in the night, you are allowed to cab it all the way home.” In response, she said, “Why waste company money when I can easily take the train?” This from a woman who could have gone by train and pocketed the cab fare. This from someone who was probably struggling to bring up her children. RESPECT!

The other person who comes to mind is a then, young creative person from the art stream in another advertising agency I worked for. Again, I will simply call him V because I have no way of contacting him and asking for permission to write about him. V was one of millions of Indians who constantly stream into a city like Mumbai seeking a better life. Being talented and hard working, he soon began to climb the ladder of success with some encouragement from his colleagues. So much so that he had socked away enough money to build a proper home for his family back in his village. One day, disaster struck and the newly built home burnt down. He was shattered. Three of us pooled in 10k each and sent him home to do damage control. Soon after, I left the agency to join another.

A couple of years later, I was told that someone by the name of V wanted to see me. I went out to meet him puzzled, thinking that possibly he wanted my help in getting another job. By then, I had completely forgotten about the money I had given him. No really, honest to God, I had forgotten. Imagine then my total surprise when he took out 10k and offered it to me? No one ever asked for the money to be returned. I guess it was his own values that led him to put away the money owed so that he could return it. RESPECT!

Then there is S, my domestic help who has been with me for over 15 years and managing my home for the last 6 ever since I lost my mother. S has a slow-to-learn, challenged son ever since a fever went to his brain as a small child. S also has a gone case alcoholic husband whose brain is now totally damaged by years of drowning it in country liquor. So many issues but looking at her one would never guess it. She goes about her daily work for 5-6 households with quiet dignity and a smiling face. Once when she was down with typhoid, malaria or some such ailment, we sent money for her medical expenses. The very next morning, I answered the bell to find her mother on my doorstep. She had come to return the money saying they didn’t need it. This from a family living in one of Mumbai’s famed slums. I encountered this family’s dignity and self-respect several times over the years. Even recently, I offered her money to meet her husband’s medical expenses. She refused, stating, “When you yourself have just come back from hospital (I was there for suspected dengue), how can I ask for money?”. I gave her the money telling her not to worry. But what a response! RESPECT!

If you ask me these are the people who give me hope that values that really matter still exist. Pity, they don’t get highlighted and appreciated enough. I hope that readers of this blog will help by raising their hand to their chest and saying ‘Respect.’ Of course, a small gesture such as sharing this post will also help. I usually never ask for my posts to be shared because I believe my content should make people want to share. But in this case, I am asking. Please do show your respect by sharing. For which action, I thank you.


Featured Image Credit: Showing respect (RIP Ku, Sept 19, 2008). Image by gwaar ( under Creative Commons license)

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