Monday, October 31, 2011

Kindness of Indian Strangers

There was one conclusion we reached two days into Delhi as we boarded our first inter-city bus to Dharamsala: we have been sheltered from the chaos that is India the past few days. Not that I did not appreciate what our Delhi host did for us. He practically toured us around and for the most part, it was at his expense. I mean, that goes above and beyond any guest could hope for.

But on that evening, as we tried to locate our bus in that small makeshift bus terminal, which was really a dusty unpaved piece of land adjacent to the Tibetan neighborhood of Majnu Ka Tilla in the Indian capital, we realized what was we got ourselves into.

Not unlike the bus terminal we went to
Photo by David de Mallorca | CC BY

Granted, as you approach the terminal, there will be people asking for your tickets. If they see that you are not a passenger of their bus, they will refer you to another. We were pointed to a middle-aged pot-bellied man in red shirt. We handed him our ticket. He glanced at it, returned it and then told us to wait. This exchange happened three more times before Angelica and I started getting worried.

Do we even have a bus? Is the travel agent that sold us the ticket the night before even legit? I didn’t mind the 1400 Rupees we paid for the ticket. I just didn't want a repeat of our Jaisalmer misfortune the day before.

Our Indian driver, the one that brought us to the terminal, tried to help us at this point. Maybe he thought the man in red shirt was unable to explain to us the whole situation because he has difficulty communicating with non-Hindi speakers like us. So our driver approached the man in red shirt. He was also told to wait.

Now we were really worried. In my case, panic was starting to kick in. Angelica suggested that we drag the travel agent to that terminal to help us. His office was not that far away anyway. But I wasn't ready to give up yet. So I approached another tourist bus to ask for help and there was this official-looking elderly bespectacled Indian man in a beige coat. I never found out if he was a passenger like us or if he was some sort of bus terminal officer. He spoke excellent English and asked us about our problem. He looked at the ticket and without even so much as an inquisitive gaze back at me, he rushed to the man in red shirt.

At this point, they began to argue in Hindi. There was some shouting and finger-pointing, some of which directed at me. The hell I cared, I thought. I didn't know what the man in red shirt was saying anyway. My only concern is that we get inside the damn bus.

Finally and not a moment after they finished arguing, a younger-looking gentleman came down the bus and told us to come in. I didn’t want to question what just happened. I scurried to get my bags from our car and looked back to shout a "thank you" to the official-looking man in brown coat.

"Don't thank me," he said. "This is a terrible country!"

I chuckled at his retort as I rushed farther away from him.

"No, sir. As long as there are people like you, India will never be a terrible country," I thought to myself.

We were spending the next three and a half weeks in India. Something told me that we were in for what may be our biggest adventure yet.

Often when we travel, we are surprised by how total strangers seem to show up at the time of our greatest need and offer their help unconditionally. What stories of kindness from strangers have you ever experienced in your travels?

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