Humility In India: The Wisest Man You Will Never Meet

David OdhiamboLSE


Do you think this a significant step, for you as an individual, in growing your ‘circle of influence’ in this world?

Before coming to India I spoke to those who have had the privilege of visiting this vast sub-continent, the most frequent response I received after enquiring about the possible experiences that awaited me can be summed in this sentence, “India will be a life changing experience”. As a frequent traveller to the developing world this answer often left me frustrated. I was frustrated by the ambiguity of this response. Was it the enriching masala based food that would change my life? Or would it be the dense population of 1.2 billion? Possibly the mesmerizing landscape that would be like none I’d ever set my eyes on? On the other hand experiencing the monsoon in Bombay, the term I have substituted for Mumbai due to its colloquial use, could be a humbling experience. The truth is the above depictions of India hold to be true. However, there is something extra that is truly indescribable and life changing. The truth is a sentence cannot accurately reflect my experience so far, and to try and do so would be unjust. Thus I shall briefly outline one experience that has shaped me, and my growing circle of influence.

The first thing you learn when in India is the hospitable nature of the majority. In a short story entitled ‘The Wisest Man You Will Never Meet’ I speak of an old white haired man whom I met briefly when waiting for a friend at the GP only to bump into him later on when returning home on the bus. The next thing that followed was me sat on a stool in his house eating bhajias, biscuits and concentrated sugarcane with chopped bananas wrapped around a chapatti – absolutely delicious, with a numerous cups of chai to help me wash it all down.

The old man had little, but a vast collection of books, an unconditional love for music, his wife, his son and his daughter in-law. The old man took me round his house proudly showing me the various items his and his wife have created from recycling countless items. He gave me a tour round his well-kept garden spontaneously handing me different leaves to eat, informing me of their medicinal uses. He then spoke of the complex perspectives that humanity has about religion, claiming that “It is very simple, we all pray to one God but we make it complicated”. He told me that whether Indian, African, British, Asian or Arab we are all the same. He continued by elaborating on the philanthropic work his wife and him undertake on a daily basis: going to those that have been forgotten by the state and NGOs. After two hours or so he gave me a couple of gifts and told me I am welcome to his house whenever I want.

Humility is what I learnt from the old man. Not only was the he able to be a courteous host, like most Indians I have encountered, he went above and beyond. In the time I spent with him I could see that this old man walked the walk of life, as we all should. He was accepting of everyone, living life in a sustainable manner, assisting those around him, relishing in the company of his family, friends and books. Most importantly he was content with his life. Such an experience is crucial in my circle of influence because it illustrated the need to embrace humility and keep what is important in life close, never losing site of the bigger picture.