While reading Vikram Chandra’s compelling novel Long and Longing in Bombay I was greatly captivated by one of the final encounters between Ganga and Sheila. Speaking of Dolly, the two women are caught in a dialogue where Ganga states she is invisible to Dolly’s eyes. Chandra writes, “I mean that she does not see me. If she’s talking to someone she keeps on talking. To such high people the rest of the world is invisible. People like me she cannot see. It’s not that she is being rude. It’s just that she cannot see me” (69).
After analyzing this interaction more reflexively, I began to question how it applied to my daily routine, and the people in my home at Loyola. Had I allowed people before me to slip under the radar? Had I become so self-indulged that I went so far as to forget someone’s presence? Had I allowed a human being to become invisible before me? Or perhaps I happen to spend time with people like Dolly, what am I to make of myself then?
As these answers swirled around me and I began to feel heartless and inconsiderate. I started thinking of the Primo’s workers I regularly gossip in front of but only occasionally say hello to; of my little cousins and siblings that I dismiss impatiently because I do not have time for “their problems;” or the desk assistants I am constantly handing my swipe to, but overlooking their faces in the bustle of my day. Though I have not surpassed, or quite risen to the extreme level of Dolly, I wonder what my day would look like if my Ganga’s or my invisible people were actually removed. I would have no food, no unconditional companions, and no way to get into my room—my day suddenly becomes rather bleak.
Once I was thrown into a reality-check I began to search for reasons why Ganga viewed Sheila as exceptionally different from Dolly, when Sheila still maintained the authoritative status in their employer-employee relationship. The answer is relatively simple; Sheila treated Ganga with a humane disposition, regardless of their work relationship. Therefore the two exchanged personal smiles (39), Sheila offered Ganga lunch (42), they would have casual talks for a few minutes about their work or their day (42), and they talked about their children (43). Most importantly in the process, the two women developed a mutual respect for one another one that transcended social barriers.
While I hope it is safe to say my presence and demeanor within a room is not as ruthless as the methods by which Dolly holds an audience, I do not think I have yet perfected Sheila’s subtle compassion. It is something I will have to put a little thought into before it becomes effortless, or involuntary. However, my new found goal is for someone to say, “She always sees me. I’m right there in front of her, and she always sees me.”