Sunday, September 20, 2009

Travel Tales: When strangers turn angels

This is one of my favourite memoirs. I was travelling to Shimla for a puja at home (PS: Shimla is my hometown, Delhi is my temporary hideout). It was the end of January and the temperatures were touching sub-zero levels. It was biting cold in Delhi. I was anticipating that it would be worst in Shimla. I packed enough woolens with me and covered myself from head to toe. I usually prefer an over-night journey to reach Shimla.

My journey started at 8pm from Delhi ISBT. I had booked a seat near window and was happy that there would be no disturbance. I plugged music into my ears and was lost in Smokie's "Who the f*#@k is Alice". Just then, a stranger came my way, pushing his huge rucksack against me and asking me if I could adjust it under my seat. He was mid-aged, well built man. There was some space at my end and he pleaded me to fit his stuff there.

I was irritated, and then mom's words hammered in my mind. "Don't speak to strangers, don't eat anything that strangers offer," are some of her favourite travel advices. I frowned at him and declined. He didn't say anything. I thought he was cheeky and decided to be at a distance from him.

Meanwhile, mum called up to inquire if I was comfortable. The journey from Delhi takes about 7-8 hours by bus. I had had a long day at office earlier and my head was aching. She adviced me to have coffee during the travel interval. I shrugged it off.

When the bus halted at Chandigarh, many passengers got down to grab eatables. I was dead asleep. My 'friendly' neighbour tapped my shoulder. He got coffee for me. He said, "I heard you talking to your mum. You have a headache. Please have this coffee. It will help you. I heard your mum saying the same". I stared at him. "No thanks. Please keep to yourself," was my curt reply. I cursed the damn Moto-Razer. This guy had heard every word of my conversation. "Thesh damn slim phones. You can overhear every word spoken into them. This guy has a glad eye," I declared in my mind. He left the place.

The journey re-started. Within 4 hours we reached Shimla bus stop. But boy.... it has started snowing there. It was 6am but seemed like midnight. It was pitch dark and dead cold outside. A sheat of snow covered the city. Amazing view, but I was stuck. How would I go home now?
I panicked and called dad. Initially my plan was to take a taxi back home, but then usually no taxis are available in such scenarios.

Actually, it becomes risky to drive in snowy weather. Shimla has very narrow roads, running up and down the slopes. Any vehicle can skid in bad weather conditions. In fact people prefer staying back homes .

Now this was true for dad as well. He asked me to wait for a while at the bus stop. He was hoping the weather would become clearer in next 2 hours, then he could drive down to ferry me. Most passengers had left the place. Most of them were families/couples and had figured some way to get back.

Being a lone woman traveller, I was stranded there. I picked up my stuff and stood in a corner. Along came my ‘friendly'neighbour. I had hoped that he too, like the others would have left the bus stop. He said," I heard you speaking to your dad. Your dad will take time to be here. Why do you want to wait in cold. My driver is coming this way. He's driving a Safari, a sturdy car. It won’t skid. If you wish you could come along."

I was in a hopeless situation. Be with him or stand alone in a bus stop - what could I do?
He was like an albatross. Before I could jump any guns, he declared "You are like my sister. She is married, now lives in the US. She studied in Delhi and often came back home in the night bus. Hence I can understand the challenges of a lone woman passenger. Therefore, I offered you coffee"

Before I could utter anything he left the scene. I was more troubled now. I had nowhere to go.
He came back after five minutes. I hadn't anticipated this. In this meanwhile he had spoken to one more family who were looking for a transport option. He offered them helped and then came to speak to me again.

I just couldn't believe that such people STILL exist. Now, it we were four of us. I felt more secured and agreed to be a part of this troupe. We boarded this guy's SUV. They dropped me first. I invited these people for breakfast and we feasted on hot parathas and tea. Meanwhile it had stopped snowing. The weather had become clearer.

After dropping me, these people left for their avenues.

After this incident, I firmly believe that ANGELS do exist. They are all around us. Just open your eyes, you will be able to spot an angel near you - in your office, your neighbourhood.

Till you find one, or try to be an angel to someone. If nothing else, just be polite to others. What say?



Anonymous said...

Blame this on staying in Delhi syndrome. :)

Goodness still exists in these small towns.. which we are so desperate to leave. I once traveled from Ambala to Shimla (in my student days) in a state transport bus and had no money to pay for the fare. The conductor simply asked me not to worry and took me to Shimla and also offered me food on the way. It is these act of kindness that we are able to sustain as a society!

Yojana said...

Hey Nitin,
Thanks for your insight. Big cities have nothing to offer except good jobs and good education. If you really want to live quality life you should try living in town or small cities - where your neighbours are bothered if you don't turn up home one day.

aarkay said...

Things are fast changing in small towns also but we are still far far better off living in the hills.Your mother's advice holds good even after this wonderful experience.Got wonderful expression!