Nowadays, boarding a public bus or local train is almost like getting ready for an epic battle: battle for getting in, for getting a seat, for getting exact change from the conductor and finally for getting out. In such a hostile environment, receiving kindness is almost like meeting an Angel in times of need. And I am fortunate to have met one such Angel once in middle of a public transport battlefield.
Few years back while working in Pune, I used to commute to office by public transport bus. One hot summer day while returning home from office, I tried to board a crowded bus. I had barely managed to keep my foot on the last landing of the bus that the bus jerked forward. Someone behind me pushed me inside, and I tumbled on the stairs, bruising my ankle. After some more pushing & shoving, I found myself in the middle of the bus.
Being vertically challenged, the overhead hand rail was too high for me and all nearby poles were covered with many hands holding them. I knew what it meant. It meant that I will be thrown around just like a cloth in a washing machine. Apart from the minor bruises & cuts, I will also have to deal with annoyed glances & abusive words of people on whom I fell. So I desperately prayed that the driver doesn’t apply brakes till I get something to hold on to. Obviously it was like praying for rain in a desert, since our roads have more craters than the moon.
The driver applied sudden brakes, and almost half the people standing in the bus were thrown forward. I was almost crushed. My face hit the back of the person standing in front of me, and I fell on my knees. I managed to get up quickly, and was frantically trying to hold onto something. The person on whom my face hit looked back with an irritated expression. I apologized many times and his expression changed. He gave me an understanding look, and took a step away. He was wearing a black windcheater jacket and I kept wondering: why would anyone wear it in a hot summer day? I was perspiring from head to toe from the heat and I wished to reach home fast and have a cool glass of fresh lime juice.
At the next stop, a seat near the windcheater guy got vacant. He immediately pounced on it and looked at me and said, “Madam, please take the seat.” I was taken aback. I felt I heard it wrong. After standing for so long, who would in his right state of mind would offer the acquired seat to a stranger? Looking at my confused expression, he again stated, “Please take the seat.” Still surprised by his words, I feebly said, “Thanks. But you take it.” Just then, two men jostled to have the same seat. The windcheater guy fought with them & shooed them off. He then looked at me; I didn’t need any more compelling, his look was enough, I quickly took the seat, and offered feeble thanks, still choked with amazement. I couldn’t stop wondering: why would anyone do such a thing? And then I almost started getting suspicious of him. Strange thoughts corrupted my mental peace. What if he is a pickpocket or a stalker?
A lady’s shout disturbed my chain of thoughts. The lady was trying to get the conductor’s attention. It was apparent from her distress that she had to get down at the next stop and she wanted to get the ticket before she got down. Since she was not able to reach the conductor because of the crowd, the windcheater gentleman stepped in and helped her pass on the 20 rupee note to the conductor. The conductor handed over the ticket worth ₹15. As soon as he realized that the conductor didn’t return the change (most conductors try to keep the change for themselves), he requested the conductor to return the five rupees. The conductor hesitated and told him that he didn’t have. The windcheater gentleman argued with the conductor that he had passed him 5 rupee coin from another passenger few seconds ago. And yet the conductor refuted. It was clear that he had no intention of giving back the change even if he had it. After much coaxing and cajoling, the conductor got irritated and finally handed over the change reluctantly. Our windcheater gentleman then passed on the change and the ticket to the lady. The lady smiled and thanked him profusely. He reacted as if it was nothing and he got down after the next stop.
At that moment, all my suspicions evaporated. He genuinely cared for others. I asked myself: would I bother to fight with the conductor for a stranger? Would I go out of the way to help strangers? No, I wouldn’t have cared, but, after the encounter with this gentleman, my perspective changed. That day he not only just showed empathy and helped us but also reminded us of the value of kindness and our duty of helping others in need. A part of me changed from that day, I am now more mindful of my surroundings and more empathetic to others.