A few years ago, on a drive from Pondicherry to my home town Bangalore in India, we had to stop over, after seeing amazing golden-yellow juicy mangoes stacked up like a pyramid on a cart. I got down from the vehicle and eagerly walked towards the wafting scent of sweet pleasure. The mangoes stacked up on a moving cart with two big bicycle wheels, were pushed down to the side street on an Indian “highway” by a local seller. The seller caught my gaze and eagerness, smiled and stopped – without bothering to ask for the price I bought a few kgs. As I was digging through the bag for money, a van pulled over and a version of Obelix minus, the red braided hair and a smile stepped out. He carefully examined the mangoes, squeezing, smelling and complained about the high price, tried to bargain it down. I thought the price was very fair given the conditions and the high satisfaction rate eating these amazing fruits (if you haven’t noticed, I LOVE Mangoes). The seller obliged and caved in on the price, was about to weigh them, when the man complained about the color of the fruits – not being yellow enough!!! The tone of voice of the potential buyer, seemed to have become more authoritative and arrogant, the seller, a middle-aged woman with a baby in her arms and tired eyes at 35°C in the shade, met my eyes and whispered to herself, I told my husband not to leave me here alone. I wasn’t sure if it was her defeated whisper or the fat, sausage fingers of Obelix squeezing into those precious mangoes – I turned and in the spur of the moment replied, “If he would like some yellow markers to color the mangoes to his desired shade”. The seller lady unconsciously let out a laugh but immediately realizing her lapse, clasped her mouth with her hands which, lead Obelix to snout like a dragon spitting fire, stormed back to his van, letting a few loud barks out. I apologized for the spur of the moment reaction and for losing her a customer. For this behavior, I was “punished” with free extra mangoes and thanked for standing up for her. She said that doesn’t happen much especially for a women like her – illiterate, living in a conservative village, raised to believe she is insignificant and with hardly any opinion of her own. We smiled broadly at each other and I thanked her, walked back with mixed feelings. There was a feeling of having empowered her to take a stand in the future but also a feeling of helplessness. Those mixed feelings from that day has been etched in me somewhere – no wonder I remember that incident as if it were yesterday.
This story isn’t life changing nor dramatic but the innocent simplicity of it, has captivated its listeners whenever it is narrated. The take away discussion from this story could be gender equality, poverty or using Obelix was a wrong character choice but for me it has been about a simple genuine connection between two people in the spur of the moment. Sometimes, it is the other that shows the road to you (me) – your (my) true calling. I believe this woman was the reason why I developed such a passion for social causes, social innovations and sustainable livelihood. I needed her to remind me – I do not have to feel helpless and look away but accept and acknowledge.