One harmless decision. One more a few minutes later. Then a series of small, seemingly inconsequential choices. Nothing more. Yet, in the end the damage was done. Ah, hindsight! Things look so simple in it. Turning back, connecting the dots, a pattern emerges.
I was tired. Working away in my tiny cubicle, I had kept sleep at bay for forty hours. No more. I had to get out, get back home. Never before had I longed so much to snuggle under my blankets. Never before had the thought of a warm bed comforted me more.
Before that, though, I had to satisfy the growing discomfort inside my stomach. I needed food. Cooking was not an option, not with my eyelids threatening to snap shut, the threat growing stronger every waking second. Thank god for the new diner just outside campus.
A collective ‘Welcome to Moe’s!’ greeting and a short queue later I was able to give my order - rice bowl with chicken and soybeans with a free pack of tortilla chips. To go; one harmless decision. After all, why take the risk of embarrassment, drooling over the table at the diner?
I got the chips in a paper bag. The cashier asked, “Do you want a bag for the rice bowl?” I shook my head in the negative. The second one, after all why waste paper? I put the bowl in the bag with the chips and headed out.
The pedestrian signal was red. “Home in ten minutes”, I thought as I waited. A minute later the signal changed and I was on my way. A little across I met a friend. He had just returned after hiking the Presidential Traverse. I could have just greeted him and walked past but I wanted to ask about the hike. A simple choice.
A few minutes later we said our goodbyes and I continued my journey home. As I reached the end of the block, the intersection between 15th and Sage, the pedestrian signal was red. I looked around. Across 15th I saw another friend of mine. He hadn’t seen me. I could have waited for a few more seconds, rushed across Sage and been on my way. A seemingly harmless choice later, I was on the opposite side of 15th. We exchanged pleasantries and started discussing about possible next hikes and camping trips. Fall was approaching and the views would be simply out of the world.
As we parted our ways, after a while, I could hear my stomach grumbling. I had to rush back home. I increased my speed, my hands swinging more violently. I was just a block away from home when I heard a tear. I looked down only to see the bag give away. Unbeknownst to me leaked gravy from the bowl was gradually weakening the bag’s integrity; and, now there I was staring in distress at my dinner on the sidewalk.
I cleaned up, deposited my dinner in the nearest garbage bin and walked home. Now I had to cook something. I am too lazy to do that on a regular day. Now I was too tired to even think about standing over the oven, stirring and waiting. As I reached home I made my last decision of the day. As soon as I saw the bed weariness overcame me. I would have to sleep in an empty stomach. “How would this decision come back to bite me?", I thought as I lay in bed quickly losing consciousness.
I learnt a simple lesson from all this, one of the simple truths of life. Your choice matters, every decision counts. Everything in life may not happen for a reason, but they definitely do because of one. There are no simple choices. As chaos theory goes, even the flutter of a butterfly can wreak havoc on the opposite side of the world. Every decision, thus, has to be weighted with care.
This is true more so for an entity like a nation. The choices of each of its individuals, however small and inconsequential they may seem, matter. Collectively they form the nation’s psyche.
Next time I’ll think twice before jumping a signal, bribing the police officer to escape the fine, buying movie tickets in black, traveling in a train or a bus without buying the ticket, and misrepresenting land costs to escape property tax. Any one of these acts by a single person may be small with respect to the working machinery of a nation, but it is not inconsequential. Things add up. Collectively they contribute to India’s corrupted psyche.