It’s All In The Look

Nov 27, 2020
Some time back, I found myself in India on business. After the conference, I decided to catch up with a friend at a place called Chindragagh which is about 150 miles north of Delhi.
The rail system in India is a marvel of organisation and value. Probably the cheapest and best served railway network in the world. The stations are full of people who are either passengers or workers.
Now that may seem like a simple enough assumption to make of any travel terminus where people congregate, but it is different in India, because many of the people who work in the railway station are effectively self-employed, and make their money by providing services which are normally invisible to us. We recognise the employees of the railway because they wear a uniform, and normally have a name badge.
Yet there are hundreds of others who carry cases, make tea, sell books, polish shoes, repair clothes and clean the trains who are part of another community, some well-organised with a command structure and codes of business, and others seem to be one man bands, scratching a living from a small piece of the platform where they can ply their trade.
My train did not depart until 1720 so I had an hour to hang around the platform. I went to the bookseller, who immediately upon seeing me browse, handed me a book with a personal recommendation, as I handed it back to him he then handed me another two.  Every time I handed books back, he handed me more, and the other customers at this busy (and very small platform booth) got the same treatment.
I bought two books then went and found a seat. It was from this bench that I noticed a group of men mainly late teens and early twenties were organising boxes of bottled water and cartons of mango juice into trays. I had noticed them earlier, and with the deductive powers that would impress Sherlock Holmes, I concluded they supplied the Express trains with drinks for the passengers.
One fellow in particular stood out; he had a wonderful smile and a happy face.  He reminded me of Brad Pitt, a generous handsome face. Even when not consciously smiling he seemed to be smiling, and was busy wandering around the area of bottles and cartons sorting the others in the group out.
He then began to communicate to one of the workers, but using a form of sign language and facial expressions. The other fellow was laughing then interrupting him with some sign language, which caused Brad to make another simple face which caused another member of the bottle gang who was now listening to start laughing too.
Then the realisation hit me: They were all deaf.
But, it didn’t matter, because even though I didn’t have a clue what they were ‘talking’ about, I too was laughing, it was infectious.
The Express train then pulled into the platform and these fellows had 20 minutes to load each of the 14 carriages with the exact number of bottles and cartons required. This they did with ease.
We are often told that 90% of communication is non verbal, which I am sure is probably right. It seemed to me that the Brad Pitt look a like was telling a funny story and telling it with the intention of making his friends laugh. I believe that it is our intention that lies at the heart of our communication.
If our intention serves only us, if we feed our greed, our capacity for envy, our indifference to the service we provide, it doesn’t really matter what we say, because I doubt anyone will believe us, assuming they were listening in the first place.
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