Friday, November 14, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Stranger"

“The kindness of strangers” is a phrase that I came across somewhere and instantly loved because it expresses a sentiment in which I believe. (And on googling the phrase, I discovered that it’s the title of a book by a BBC reporter, Kate Adie. I’ve since reserved that book at my library – a nugget of information totally irrelevant to this post and anything else, but which I felt impelled to share with friends and strangers both. So now you know.)

I have met with the kindness of strangers enough times to have my faith in people shored up. Sure, I’ve been at the mauling end of strangers too – always men, usually in crowds, sometimes in lonely areas… but which woman hasn’t? – but there have also been others who have helped when they could have harmed. It balances out, mostly. Here are just a few instances:


-- I was working late at the Indian Express one night and I had missed pretty much all the buses which would get me home, except bus service No 5 which had a last run at about 11.15pm. This bus didn’t stop at my regular bus-stop (which was ok because I normally didn’t take it – it meant a 10-minute walk to get to the stop as well as another 10-minute walk from the bus-stop nearest my home to get home).

So I had just about reached the stop when the bus zoomed up. I gratefully got in and only then discovered that I only had a 50-rupee note and nothing smaller to give the conductor for my fare. He turned out to be a bad-tempered, sour-faced curmudgeon who asked me to get off the bus and let him get on with his last shift! "Kaasu illai-na irangu ma!" he snapped at me (If you dont have the fare, get off).

This was a nasty turn – I didn’t want to trust myself to an auto at that time of night (assuming I could get one at all), and there was no other bus that would get me home. Walking wasn’t on the cards at all. The only other option was to go back to the office and wait till the late night shift ended…but even then there was no guarantee that I’d get a ride home, as the transport manager had not been warned in advance. (Yep, IE wasn’t particularly female-friendly, and their excuse was that it made the drivers grumpy if they had to drop off an extra person on their round.)

Anyway, just as I was about to get off, someone came running from the front of the bus shouting “Irunga, irunga!” (“wait, wait”). It turned out to be a young lad who worked at one of the tea-shops near the office. To my embarrassment and huge relief, he paid my fare, brushing away my heartfelt thankyous. What’s more, the next day he wouldn’t even accept the money back - ok, so it was only about Rs 1.75, but that would have meant a lot more to him than it did to me.

So… guess where I always went for my tea and vadas from then on? Until he went off to Singapore to make his fortune, that is. I hope he HAS made his fortune – kind people like him deserve all the good that can happen to them.


-- When an auto rickshaw driver knocked me off my Kinetic Honda just opposite Malar Hospital – I had my right indicator on and was slowing down to make a U-turn. I guess the auto driver was behind me but wanted to go straight ahead. Instead of bothering to slow down himself, or wait for me to make the turn, he accelerated, coming up from behind me on my right. I was just beginning the turn, so he plowed right into my front wheel, but managed to zoom off.

I was completely dazed for a few minutes, it was all so sudden. I heard brakes screeching behind me as cars came to a halt, and someone screamed, but it was like it was happening somewhere else to someone else. I was only muzzily aware that I couldn’t get up, even as a man thrust a piece of paper into my hand before riding off on his bike.

Then someone else lifted my scooter off me while his wife helped me up. I had a severely bashed right knee and had lost a couple of inches of skin and flesh from my elbow, and (as I discovered later), had a bruised and wrenched shoulder - but I didn’t think I needed a hospital (I remember refusing to go to Malar!).

So the lady accompanied me home in the friendly auto driver’s vehicle, while her husband walked my scooter all the way back – the front wheel was so badly bent that it couldn’t be ridden. They made sure that I was at the right house and assured my mother that nothing was broken but my bike, before they all went off. And finally when I remembered to look at the paper I was still clutching in my hand, I found that it was the registration number of the auto that had knocked me down! Some kind guy had had the presence of mind to write it down and hand it to me right there. (It’s a different matter that the auto was owned by a policeman and not the driver himself, so nothing really came of the case.) It was a good two weeks before I was office-worthy and ambulatory again – my wounds weren’t serious but they were very, very painful.


-- On yet another occasion, I was returning home from work late on a Monday night. I had taken the beach road route and happily zoomed along at 70km an hour, pleased at the lack of traffic. Just opposite the Gandhi statue, as I slowed down to turn right, my bike did an extremely alarming wobble and I came to a sudden and very shaky halt at the side of the road, just short of falling down.
I had a puncture.

In fact, I must have had the puncture pretty much at the beginning of my trip because the tyre was as flat as a pancake. I was on a fairly lonely road at around 10.30pm and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to wheel the bike, but it was uncooperatively heavy, and anyway I didn’t really know where to go – I certainly couldn’t have walked it all the way home and I wasn’t close to anybody’s house that I knew. There weren’t any phone booths nearby either. A mobile phone would have been very handy, but those probably hadn't been invented then.

Then, even more worryingly, a loud group of young men came around the corner and walked up towards me. They looked like rowdies and I tried to ignore them, hoping they wouldn’t cause me any trouble. But they stopped by my side, and one of them asked me the obvious – “Puncher-aa?” (puncture-aa?). I indicated as much and he said the next obvious thing – “Thalla mudiyala?” (Cant you push it?). I said no, too heavy. So he said “Naanga thallava?” (Shall we push it?). Now I had to ask the obvious at this point, so I said “Enga thallaporenga?” (Where will you push it to?).

He and his friends were much nicer and way more practical than me (and my profuse apologies to them, too little and too late, for my judgmental attitude). They knew that there was a fire station nearby, so we all trooped there (with the guys saying reassuring things like “Kavalapadadheenga, bike onnum agadhu” (Don’t worry, the bike will be safe)).

There were two lungi-and-banian clad firemen at the fire station, probably making arrangements for their night's sleep. They listened to my story and were kind enough to let me leave my bike there for safekeeping overnight. Then that group of young men walked me back to the main road and - absolutely amazing for that area and that time of night – somehow procured me an auto in which I went home. I couldn’t thank those guys enough for their kind help (their kindness somewhat mitigated by the auto driver who scalped me for the fare - but that was hardly their fault!) and I felt very ashamed of my instant summation of them as "rowdies". I got home safe thanks to the efforts of that bunch of complete strangers who went out of their way to help, and I've never forgotten it.

Like I said earlier, the kindness of strangers… long may it continue!


meerkat said...

nice post. love that phrase 'always relied on the kindness of strangers' as well. never thought i would like that movie, but it was very powerful and gripping when i finally saw it.

liked your anecdotes especially the puncture one .it is true that complete strangers can help you out of a hole without any expectation of gratitude or reward.

worryingly though you seem to be prone to a lot of travel problems. hope you have overcome this phase in england.


just another mommy said...

Sorry to hear about your accident...but it is truly great that so many people have helped you in a tight spot and yeah - long may it continue!

In my hometown, news about me always reached my dad since it was such a small town. I had a minor accident (two girls pushed me from my scooty by accident and ran away) and though I had minor scrapes and bruises went on to my classes (I washed off the wounds at school). Imagine my surprise when my dad walked into my class in the middle of it to check what had happened!

I went to college in Coimbatore and I found that lots and lots of locals were very friendly. It's the friendliest city I've visited so far.

Doe said...

interesting anecdotes here

i think many of us had
came across a bus driver like the one you describe and well anything goes

the thing about "strangers' kindness" is so unpredictable and many a times i believe those people are simply godsend!!

much peace

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Moved me very much, maybe coz I knew all the areas you talk about, or maybe I am in a patch, maybe am PMSing or perhaps its coz you sketched that out well.


The world is a nice place no?

*~sis~* said...

it's nice when strangers come to our aid. thankfully your strangers were good ones :)

Anonymous said...

Same puncture incident, similar kindness, different place. :-) Made me like 'The Good Samaritan' even more.

Shyam said...

Kowthas: I'm going to assume that I sketched it all very well :D

Kamini said...

Such heart-warming stories. It's incidents like these that keep me from becoming cynical and jaded.

Anonymous said...

I remember the day you had the accident opposite Malar, you were in a pretty bad shape when we came to Adyar. And, very well written and absolutely moving Shyam .. maya

umm oviya said...

lovely stories... really moves me when people go so out of their way to help someone, not bothered about their personal time/money.

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

Ok, no pms, so i have no excuse for the lump in my throat now. Still...may kind strangers live on and well!

niyo said...

have never encountered such kindness especially after leaving the godforsaken new indian express office in ambattur at 10.30 pm. lucky you!