Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kindness

I just read an article online about random acts of kindness and it got me thinking. I have received several such acts of kindness from complete strangers - like help in pushing my car to a parking lot and lending me a cell phone(mine is never charged when I need it) when it broke down in an intersection. In Belfast last year, any time I went on a train or a bus, there was always someone who helped me with carrying my stroller (with my son strapped in) up or down the train/bus as needed. When I was a student in Troy, plenty of kind people invited us over for Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving and such. It was nice to be so welcomed by people who didn't know us to begin with. So plenty of  things like that. One relatively big incident happened about 13 years ago.

I was a student-intern in Ahmedabad with more emotion than reason (that part may not have changed much). Weekdays were for working and weekends were for roaming around, taking in the sights. And there were plenty of sights, especially for a student of architecture. I was lucky in finding friends who were also interested in roaming around, looking at buildings. One weekend we had planned a trip to Modhera to see the sun temple. The previous weekend we had gone to Adalaj to see the stepped well. It was a fantastic trip and cost us all of 10 Rupees each in bus fare.

We were supposed to leave at 9am that morning for Modhera. These were the days before cell phones. My friends lived in an apartment with no phone connection at all. I lived in a hostel with no phone connection either. I had to cross the road to get to the tea stall/STD booth if I needed to make a call. At any rate if I didn't reach their apartment around 9am, it would mean that I wasn't interested in joining them. I did get delayed that day though because of various reasons and I arrived around 9:30am to find them all gone. I was angry. Very angry.

I didn't know the language. I didn't know where Modhera was or how to get there. All I had was my fury. How dare they leave me behind? Especially when they knew I was so excited about going there? I had Rs.30 in my bag and figured that would be enough, based on how much our trip cost the previous week. I had no idea that Modhera was considerably further away. I headed to the bus stop and took a bus to the junction that we went the previous week. From there I assumed I'd find a bus to Modhera. However, at the bus station I came to know that I'd have to catch a bus to a place called Bechraji and from there to Modhera.

After I got on the bus and bought the ticket to Bechraji, I realized with a shock that it took more than half the money I had in my hand. What if the remainder of the journey cost just as much? I didn't have enough money to go back from Bechraji. If I made it to Modhera and didn't see my friends, how would I return? Perhaps my best bet would be to get down at some intermediate stop before the bus reached Bechraji. That way I might be able to get back. If I needed money, what could I do? Could I sell my watch? I had scratched it and beat it up to a degree that it was a marvel that it still worked. I doubted anyone would pay me money for that.
Panic!

An elderly man sitting opposite me observed my confusion. I saw that he had a kind face. So with my broken Hindi I enquired where the bus would stop next and how much it would cost me to get back to Ahmedabad. Instead of answering, he asked me why I wanted to know and where I wanted to go. My story came tumbling out in bits and I didn't want to reveal too much about my situation. What if he was a creep?  He assured me that he would put me on the right bus to Modhera. When I tried to explain I wanted to get back to Ahmedabad, he didn't seem to understand. He did mention that the ticket to Modhera would be less than Rs.10. That was a relief of sorts. Hopefully I'd find my friends at the temple and everything would be fine.

So at the Bechraji bus terminal, he pointed out the right bus. I thanked him and tried to shake him off. However he was persistent that he wanted to come with me to Modhera and make sure that I met my friends. He also told me that if my friends weren't there, he'd accompany me back to Ahmedabad and revealed he had a daughter the same age. I don't know why but I trusted him. He insisted on paying my bus ticket to Modhera despite my protests and also insisted on buying me hot 'Chaa' (tea) from a tea stall in the bus station.

Everything did work out. My friends were still there at the temple when I arrived. Needless to say, I got a sound dressing down from them for my rash trip. My friend attempted to repay the old man for the ticket from Bechraji to Modhera but he refused to accept it. I was very moved by his kindness. He could have been a creep and things could have gone very wrong. But he wasn't and years later I still remember his kindness and calm reassurance in the face of my panic.