One Response To Bombay Violence: Smile Cards!
Posted by Nipun Mehta on Dec 8, 2008
Times of India in Bombay reported a story this morning titled, "Have you got a Smile Card to Pass On?" Like several other stories in the last quarter, we didn't know anything about this either ... but this is particularly interesting because it comes during times of cultural anguish, in a place of some disturbing violence.
It's the story of Vinod Sreedhar, who leads small groups of people in doing small kinds of acts of kindness around town:
Like all good parents, Vinod Sreedhar’s folks have cautioned him against talking to strangers. But in the past year, breaking this rule seems to be this cheerful 30-yearold Tamilian’s full-time preoccupation. Despite being the non-marketing type, Sreedhar deliberately keeps looking for opportunities to speak to people he does not know. One of them was Ashok Kumar, a Powai auto-driver he had tea with a year ago. Sreedhar had just got into Kumar’s auto to go home, when the latter mentioned that he was about to go out for a cup of chai.
“Would you like to halt near a tea stall ahead?’’ Sreedhar enquired seriously. After a brief, stunned pause, the driver concluded through Shreedhar’s reassuring nods in the rearview mirror that the question was genuine. Sreedhar paid for the chai and reassured the driver, who was taking quick, nervous sips with one eye on the meter, that he was in no hurry.
Now seated in a South Mumbai cafe, sipping on tea that’s colder and more costly, Sreedhar still cherishes the smile he received in return for this small gesture. He calls it his “moment of brotherhood’’ with a complete stranger. “Spontaneity is fun,’’ says the thin, bespectacled head of an organisation that promotes ecology awareness. As a creature of this selfless habit, he has done everything from buying an icecream for a stranger to giving away an old laptop that had no use for him to his domestic help’s school-going kids for free. “It’s an effort to reconnect with people at a very basic, human level,’’ says Sreedhar, about the deeds that he likes to call RAOK, short for Random Acts Of Kindness.
Internationally, RAOK is a movement that involves doing something nice for someone and giving them a smile card that asks them to pass on the kindness to someone else. The idea appealed to Sreedhar, who was once part of a young group called Super Sundays, who would gather to do “something better than watch a movie’’. Though the group is no longer active, the idea resonated with Sreedhar, who now has a set of about 100 smile cards that he received for free from a website. He distributes them to surprised beneficiaries, who he thinks can pass them on.
The article goes further into some of his local experiences, and includes his nobel ideal of inner change. Vinod kindly wrote in this morning: "I was hoping they'd mention www.helpothers.org in the article as that way a lot more people could know about the site. But people are beginning to write in about the article and at least I can share details about HelpOthers with them. :)" (Personally, though, I actually enjoyed the fact that it didn't mention the website.)
Thanks for spreading the good, Vinod. The Smile Card shippers in India are on red alert for unsuspecting acts of kindness. ;)