We live in a world of Maya. We are so dependent on our sense impressions, that we get taken in by what we see and hear. Thinking, alas, comes later!
We have been told repeatedly since our schooldays, that we must never judge a book by its cover. But this is exactly what we do with people. We judge them by the clothes they are wearing, the car they are driving and the jewels, accessories, even the brand of cellphones they carry!
Let me tell you a real-life incident that happened at what is probably the world’s best University, namely the one and only Harvard!
One day, the smartly dressed receptionist at the Harvard University President’s outer office, looked up from her vanity mirror to see a middle-aged couple enter the reception area. She frowned. What could bring them here? They neither looked affluent nor fashionable; and they certainly did not look like professional researchers or scholars. And these were the only ‘types’ she recognised from her front desk. The lady was wearing a simple cotton dress and it was not exactly new; her husband was in a homespun suit. They both walked in timidly and approached her. “Can we see the President of Harvard University?” the man asked softly.
The receptionist favoured them with a cold disapproving look. Putting them down in her own mind as “backwoods” and “country hicks” she decided that these people had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Harvard.
With an air of authority and arrogance, she uttered the line that all receptionists love to utter. “Have you an appointment with the President?”
“As a matter of fact, we don’t” the man replied. “But we would like to see him as it is a matter of great importance.”
“Well, he is going to be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.
“That’s alright,” said the lady, “we are prepared to wait.”
For the next few hours, the secretary ignored them completely, as donors, senate members, professors and rich parents criss-crossed the reception area. She smiled and fawned on them, laughed and joked with the students and even got up and bowed obsequiously to those whom she considered VIPs. All the while she was hoping that the ‘shabby’ couple would realise what a grand place Harvard was and go away discouraged.
However, the couple stayed on, determined to attend to their errand. The receptionist felt that they were disgracing Harvard and herself by staying put in her front office. In frustration, she walked into the President’s office and said to him, “Sir, there is this shabby couple stationed in the reception. They say they want to meet you anyhow. Maybe if you could come out and just see them for a few seconds, you can dismiss them.”
The President was not touched or grieved. He only frowned and said harshly, “My dear madam, you must understand we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery!”