When experience doesn’t give rise to empathy

IMG_8520

Some day last month, I was taking the Picadilly line back home when I gave my seat to a pregnant woman who walked into my compartment. She asked me for the seat before I could offer it. So the first two seats on either side are reserved for either old people, pregnant women or people carrying little children. Some people automatically offer them to you even before you ask whereas sometimes people don’t. However, you can always ask people to get up if you want to claim your reservation. I carry Berry on the tube everyday and I usually don’t ask for the seat unless offered. Sometimes I don’t accept even when I am offered a seat.

Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing – having never been eligible for any sort of reservation, I have fundamentally been opposed to the concept of reservation. I think reservation makes us less human. It leaves very little room for character. I appreciate that someone came running to the train before me and was glad to get a seat and it is unfair for them to get up just because I walked into the compartment with a baby. Sometimes I am super hungry and tired and all I long for is someone to offer me a seat but something very innate in me stops me from demanding a seat. Having said this, I immensely appreciate the people who do offer me their seat, especially when they aren’t even sitting on one of these reserved seats as this gives me hope for humanity.

Since I don’t claim my reservation on the tube and a lot of times I am dying from tiredness (is that a word?), I like to distract myself with a little game. I like to watch the people who are seated to see who is noticing me and how they are feeling about being seated while they aren’t offering their seat to someone who could use it more than them. This is classic capitalism in the train right? A lot of people show guilt, I can almost read the conversation they are having with themselves if they should offer me their seat or not, while some pretend to be too busy to notice and some others are blissfully in their own worlds. The best are the ones who won’t themselves offer their seats instead ask others to get up to offer me a seat.

You’d think that people who’re subject to difficult situations themselves would be more empathetic of me carrying a child on the tube, but it’s quite surprising to see the number of people from minority communities that don’t give a damn. You’d imagine that people who are supposedly subject to discrimination (based on their gender, race, community, etc.) or have lesser opportunities would be more sensitive to people in need of support but we probably don’t think about topics like disability, racism, sexism, etc. most of the time unless it personally inconveniences us or our loved ones.

So experience doesn’t necessarily give rise to empathy always. I think people are more likely to be empathetic when they are shown compassion in times of their need and feel indebted to give back. Since I am offered a seat on the tube ever so often and I am met with smiles of compassion by random strangers on the street, I am more conscious of giving back, even if it’s just a smile in acknowledgement of someone’s pain. Strange you think? Sometimes just acknowledging someone is a show of empathy and it can take both of you a long way!

The London tube life

IMG_8438

“A 100 years ago, when I decided to work in London, taking the tube at rush hour made me feel like I was a part of something really big getting into a packed train every single day”, my colleague laughingly exclaimed. The very same evening as I walked into St.Paul’s station after a long day of work, carrying Berry over my shoulders, I thought about what my  colleague had said earlier and strangely, I felt the same as I hung at the door crushed between a bunch of bankers in the train (see pic above, that’s what I got into). But to be honest, I am just a regular person getting home in the evening and there is no other grand scheme around that. But making it seem more complex than it is makes for a fun commute.

I have learnt a few things about the tube in the last couple of months and this knowledge is in no way exhaustive as I only take one train straight from home to work and back everyday, with no changes, etc. When I get into the Ealing Broadway station in the morning, I make sure I quickly scan the entry gates before I approach them to find the least crowded one. I thoroughly enjoy the cheap thrills I get when I pass through the gates fairly quickly bypassing a long queue.

When I am with Berry, I don’t mind what compartment I get into since I am offered a seat anyway, but unfortunately I can’t accept the offer since Berry prefers that I stand (ok, I prefer to stand simply because Berry won’t scream her lungs out!). If I am alone, I usually going into the second compartment from the last with school kids in it so I can get a seat in the first couple of stops. The important thing is to stand in the middle of the compartment, strategically, making sure that I am equidistant from all usual suspects who are expected to get out of the train soon enough. You don’t want to be sitting near someone who is extra formally dressed because they won’t get off till Bond Street.

When I get out at St.Paul’s, I usually take climb up the escalator since that’s the fastest path out, even with a baby. If you wait to stand on one side of the escalator, just getting onto the escalator can take ages, especially if both east and west bound trains arrive at the same time. Once you have gotten ahead of the crowd, getting out of the exit gate is a piece of cake.

On my way back is usually crazy, with or without a baby. Its peak hour with most people getting out of offices and desperately trying to get home soon. If the frequency of the train is pretty high, then I usually go stand at the head of the platform near the beginning of the train since it tends to be less crowded with more people getting off than on. If frequency is low, then the platform gets very crowded all the way and it doesn’t matter where you stand. All trains to Ealing Broadway, tend to be more crowded than other destinations and so its okay to let them pass if its impossible to get in.

But if I find myself letting more than 1 or 2 trains pass, I immediately gear up to board the 3rd train irrespective of how crowded it is. Remember, there is always place for one more person on the tube and as long as you believe that, you have a chance to get home sooner than later. Its like the Hilbert’s hotel problem. You just get in and even if every person around you in the train moves 1 mm, you will have enough space to let the door close behind you. The moment you are at Tottenham Court Road or Oxford Circus, the change over helps empty the tube a little bit and if you once again, go stand in the middle of the compartment, placed strategically equidistant from people who might get off soon, then you have a seat.

It’s not like I am the only one doing all this. When you do the same thing over and over again, you device all these silly little games to give you cheap thrills, to make your commute seem grander than it really is.

 

Market for renters

hqdefault

For most of my life, I have lived in owned houses and the few times that I have rented one, I’ve been super fortunate to get some great landlords who haven’t been “Ramanamurthys”! They’ve always attended to all requests quite promptly making the renting experience quite comfortable. Having said that, I am a fairly decent tenant who will go to great lengths to get my full deposit back. Twice, I’ve had landlords tell me at the time of exit that the house looked better than when they had given it to me making me nervous about landlords who doubt my credibility of maintaining a property.

I recently moved to a new home in London. While laws, attitude of landlords, etc. vary by region, my current renting experience had a rather stiff start with a detailed check in inventory being carried out before I moved in and the landlord not providing an awful lot of appliances/ utensils. I wondered why the landlord was more uptight compared to my previous landlords given that the market for renting is not favourable to landlords in London, given Brexit, etc. While some bits can be attributed to culture, there was definitely more to it.

I live in the first floor of an old victorian styled house with my landlord staying downstairs, a house he probably inherited from his parents/ ancestors. This essentially means that any additional income he receives from rent is fringe benefits only. So, even if he didn’t receive any additional income, he’d probably be okay. So clearly, he has little incentive to make the renting experience super special unlike in my previous experiences, where I stayed in flats that were investments of my previous landlords. If they weren’t occupied, the investments wouldn’t yield and hence, incentives of landlords were super aligned with tenants unlike in this case.

With a tenant living right above, rental price is usually a function of pain the landlord is willing to endure since having the landlord downstairs makes a tenant more likely to complain about little things. I find myself being more fussy than usual about silly little things just because I can. Now, in hindsight, I get why my parents are so reluctant to let out their house upstairs. The additional income hardly compensates for the pain of attending to a tenant’s infinite needs, let alone the high cost of damages a tenant could possibly cause to the property, given the power balance between a landlord and tenant in India, unlike in the west. But I realise that in India, very few landlords are softies like my parents.

The initial deposit in the west tends to be 4-6 weeks of rent, which is quite insignificant compared to the deposit charged in India, which is usually 10 months of rent. When you compare the absolute amount in dollar value, they are probably comparable but its not typical for landlords in India to claim the entire amount against damages, cleaning, etc unlike in the west where you can easily be penalised for the smallest of wear and tears. So, financial incentives are designed for tenants to take better care of properties in the west as compared to that in India, making landlords in India somewhat more hostile like Ramanamurthy in Ganeshana madhuve.

P.S – I know a friend who fought a 3 year court case in Germany just because a leak in the dishwasher had caused some dampness to the woodwork around.