Paying Forward: Trigger of an Uncontrolled Chain reaction

Editor’s note: 

Lily was fascinating to me when she approached us with her submission. The story is obviously in her own broken English, yet, she writes very clear and concise, regardless. I often feel quite blessed and humbled when we get to publish people from all over the globe, and from different cultures. Isn’t that what makes literature and writing great? I hope you enjoy this little tale from India as much as I did.


By Lily Antony (L. Joseph)

He pulled up his sleeve exposing his forearm and looked at the man with expectation and hope. There were others before him with money in their hands waiting for their turn to get the Mehandi tattoo on their forearms. He has chosen the design he wanted on his forearm- the one with lotus and the peacock. That was a rare one, and it would look good. He extended his arm forward whenever the Mehandi man completed his work on a person’s hand. The person standing next to him waved his hand high with an open palm, indicating that the boy would now get spanking if he did not move out of the line. The boy soon withdrew his hand and moved back, but a few moments later, he came back again and kept trying to extend his exposed forearm. Finally, the man called the boy near and asked him which tattoo he wanted on his hand. The boy pointed to the one with lotus and peacock. The man arranged for the boy’s arm to be tattooed and paid for it to the Mehandi man. The boy’s face lit up, and he looked around at all the people standing there with pride on his face; showing off his tattoo. The boy nodded his head and thanked him in Nepali and ran off with his forearm still exposed and face lit with the full smile.

The Mehndi tattoo on his arm would soon fade away, but the tattoo that was imprinted on his heart by the stranger’s kindness would stay for a very long time.

On a train trip to Trissur last month, the seat next to my husband was occupied by a person who came with his daughter. I found the person’s body language to be different from normal people. When he was trying to talk to his daughter in the front row, he stooped low, focusing his eyes on some invisible point and was a bit clumsy in returning back to his seat. He picked up a conversation with my husband. The conversation soon diverted to technology and the mobile app that helps him to refer books. The app would read out books for him and help him prepare for his class. He had only 10% vision and that too in the straight direction. This explained his peculiar body language. In the midst of the discussion, the conversation deviated to the kindness of a person who had sponsored his education after high school. With the help of the sponsorship, he completed his education and gained the job of a teacher in a government school. He mentioned that without this help he would have become another helpless person struggling to make both ends meet.

We are moved by stories and acts of kindness and feel good, touched and emotional on hearing such stories. But how much does it take to help a stranger or a person in need? Some acts of kindness are motivated by the expectation of getting it back at a later time. We may also have experiences of paying back the kindness we received in our lives, by offering help and kindness to a person who was good to us earlier. We feel obliged, indebted and compelled to take this step of kindness till we feel that the ‘Thulaas[1] is balanced.  This pay-back is only a reaction to the first act of kindness extended by the person, and it stops at paying back; unless the payback is done to the nearest kin of the kind person which again triggers the payback instinct when they are capable enough.

Being the person at the start of a chain reaction of acts of kindness, expecting nothing in return, is often not easy and comes out of a conscious choice with a selfless motive. One great way of making reaction an ‘Uncontrolled Chain Reaction’ is the act of paying forward and not stop with payback – as the stranger at the bank counter taught me.

At the bank cash counter, I searched my bag for a pen. The queue behind me was long, and I was keeping people waiting. Not finding a pen, I sheepishly asked the lady near me for a pen; which she gave with a pleasant smile. After filling the form, I returned it. But she asked me to keep it. I thought she wanted me to keep it till the transaction is over so that I don’t bother her again when I need a pen. But later when I tried again, she refused saying, “Keep it, I have another pen with me” and left the counter with the same pleasant smile. I was a bit taken aback. That was the first time somebody reacted that way. The people at the counter were watching us with amusement. The lady was kind and did not embarrass me in any way, but had sown a thought. I left the counter with the pen in my bag, deciding to pay forward.


I held out my hand to my son,

He’d extend it back when I’m old

I said, “Be good to others, my son,”

But his reaction was nothing but cold.


I was good to my neighbour, a ton

He would return it later two fold

I said, “Look and learn from me, my son.”

But the advice remained unsold.


I lend my hands to the stranger,

He couldn’t return it; he was old.

Then, my son extended hand forward to another

The chain reaction started untold.

-L. Joseph, June 2013

[1] Thulaas: word for weighing balance in the Indian language (Malayalam)

Author’s Bio:


Lily Antony (L. Joseph) is an Engineer by profession with a post graduation in Business Administration. Her first attempt at writing was at the age of thirteen. Her other interests are painting and handicraft.

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  1. I love Mehndi tattoos. The first one I had was for my wedding day and I guess it is part of the joy of being married into an Indian family. Lessons of paying it forward just keep coming. I loved this one and would love to see you write more. In the meanwhile I shall take a look at your blog.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words. I enjoyed the experience of getting my first submission published.
      Getting a Mehandi tattoo is a joy in itself and I had both my palms tattooed with Mehandi on my wedding day.

  2. Hi Lily:
    These words really spoke to my heart:

    “The Mehndi tattoo on his arm would soon fade away, but the tattoo that was imprinted on his heart by the stranger’s kindness would stay for a very long time.”

    Thank you for your beautifully illustrated post and for your powerful reminder of the reality that kindness actually imprints on our hearts!

    May we all look for ways to imprint other’s hearts!

  3. Lily, thank you for reminding us that acts of kindness towards those who cannot repay are some of the most valuable things we do. Your poem perfectly captured the essence of this wisdom.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  4. Hi Lily, I soaked these words up today for sure. It made me think of a few individuals in my life who radiated kindness in a way that changed me. Beautiful story, thank you, John. Welcome to the Two Drops of Ink community.

  5. Hi, Lily. Thank you for this post. It made me think of the times I wasn’t aware of a kindness, and forced me to think.

    Paying forward is in many ways paying back. There have usually been kind people in our lives that we didn’t acknowledge. They helped us in ways we perhaps didn’t understand at the time, so when we extend an act of kindness to a stranger or friend today, it pays it forward, but may in some senses, repays another for a past kindness. Either way, it brings our world a little more in balance.

    Again, thank you for an excellent reminder of acts of kindness missing in the world today. Random acts of kindness will be my thoughts today. I know if I concentrate on this message, I’ll be given ample opportunities to act. That’s how the universe works.

    • Thank you, Marilyn. I do agree with you that paying forward in a way pays back for past kindness. It also helps us to be grateful always.

  6. Lily,
    This is a beautiful story. Kindness is powerful and much neglected these days. A chain reaction of kindness could change the world as we know it. Thanks for reminding us of it so we can be looking for ways to pay it forward. Welcome to Two Drops of Ink.

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