Riding off, Smiling
--by markiejay, posted Jul 11, 2017
Day One of the Pondicherry – Auroville 21-Day Kindness Challenge posed a fun task: pay forward a surprise treat.
I am riding by Indian Coffee House and decide it would be an excellent venue for my gift. 12 years ago, it was the site of a different sort of pay-someone’s-bill gift, not so much a pay-it-forward as an act of connection, bringing together three lives in brief moment over a cup of coffee.
Indian Coffee House will be familiar to anyone who has read Yann Martel’s “The Life of Pi”, which begins at a table in that venerated Pondicherry institution. Indian Coffee House is the kind of place that is too-rapidly disappearing from Pondicherry: it is awful, yet charming. These days, Pondicherry restaurants are awful and not charming.
Breakfast-time is something of a men’s club at Indian Coffee House, and today is no exception. The tables are packed with middle-aged men. How to choose my kindness victim? This is always the challenge. It is also one of the most fun and silliest parts of the exercise, since it calls on us to become empathetic in ways that are entirely speculative, self-projecting, and no-doubt wrong. Who, I ask myself, would be least likely among these men to have something nice done for them? Whose life is least-filled with zaniness and surprise? It is hard not to ask questions of this sort when choosing a beneficiary; and yet it is important to remember that we cannot possibly know the answers, and to laugh at ourselves for being so foolish as to imagine we might.
I select a man eating idli sambar. He is dining alone, although he is sharing a table with two other men. He projects the very opposite character from what I had been originally seeking-out. He has an easy, delighted demeanor. He is enjoying his breakfast and the peacefulness of his solitude.
I approach the cashier and explain that I want to buy the man’s breakfast. This takes some doing. Eventually I make my project well-enough understood and I’m allowed to pay. I scribble a quick note on receipt paper from the till, ask the waiter to deliver it in place of the bill, and depart the restaurant.
I climb on my bike and prepare to ride off, when I hear a commotion behind me. The cashier, three waiters, the man whose idlis I bought, the two guys sharing the table with him, and a few other customers are spilling out the door, beckoning me to come back and talk to them. I ride-off smiling.