Many years ago, on one of my visits to Sunday Book Bazaar, I picked up a book and asked the bookseller the price. He replied rudely, asking if I was serious about purchasing the book or was just wasting his time. Upset at his rudeness, I put the book down without another word and walked a few steps down the road. I stopped at another bookseller, spent some time browsing through his collection, picked up a couple of books, and after a bit of bargaining, handed over the money to the bookseller. As the bookseller took the money from me, I glanced over to the other bookseller, and saw him looking at what had happened. Still rattled by his rudeness, I walked away, continuing my ritual shopping for books at the Sunday book bazaar.
A couple of weeks later, I was back at the bazaar. I walked past the same bookseller, and was in half a mind to not stop and buy anything from him. But something asked me to not carry my anger from his previous behavior to this second time. Perhaps it was easier for me to do so because there was no anger by that time, only surprise that he had misbehaved with no provocation. I did not even expect that the man remembered what had happened. In any case, as I started browsing among the seller’s collection of books, I glanced up at him, and realized that he was looking at me and had recognized me.
What came next, surprised me.
The man apologized.
He explained that he had been having a bad morning that day, and had taken that frustration out when he was rude to me. As I looked into his eyes, I remembered that he was many years older than me, perhaps with a family and kids of his own who were my age, and that it must have taken him an effort to apologize for his behavior. I could have been cynical and thought to myself that he was apologizing because he had lost a potential customer that day. Perhaps there was a grain of truth in that, but I also know that for a stranger to apologize like that takes both courage and humility. He was earning a living by selling books on the pavements of Delhi, and that’s not an easy way to support oneself and one’s family.
I smiled when the man apologized, and said, “Koi baat nahin. Ho jaata hai.” (It’s all right. These things happen.) Then I picked up a book from the pile he was selling, and asked him the price. He gave me a number, we haggled a bit in good humor, and by the end of the conversation we were both smiling, and parted on good terms.
I haven’t been to Sunday Book Bazaar for many years now. I hope to go back for a visit, when I travel to India this winter. I don’t expect to recognize the bookseller after so many years, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the incidents of that day. Truly, be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. It’s worth it.