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The Kindness of Strangers

Readers share life-altering encounters with Good Samaritans. Here are 11 stories that restored our faith in humanity

 


THE BODYGUARD

Sudden, unseasonal rain was pouring down on Mumbai. I was in the seventh month of my pregnancy and had to attend college to conduct the final-year exams. Dadar station, on the suburban line, was sunk in slush and filth, with a stampede of commuters.

I climbed on to the bridge leading to the platform. Worried that I would slip, I gripped the railing with both my hands and held on against the rough, jostling crowds. I was worried my baby would be hurt.

Suddenly, I found a pair of strong arms wrapped around me. At first, I regarded the young man with mistrust but he had already formed a protective shield around my shoulders and was leading me ahead slowly. His body formed a barrier between me and the sea of people around. He helped me coast along the railing, down the stairs and to the platform where the ladies' coach had arrived. I turned to thank this angel but before I could see his face he had melted into the crowd.

Brinda Upadhyaya, Mumbai


THE BOY WHO CARED

Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital, a renowned facility in Hyderabad, treats poor farmers from the surrounding villages. Many of the underprivileged patients, often aged and weak, are left there to fend for themselves.

Three years ago on a visit, I noticed the particularly dismal post-operative cataract ward. As the anaesthesia wears off, howls of pain and agony fill the place. Nurses try to comfort patients and offer them sleeping pills. They doze off, forgetting their lunch. In the evening relatives of the better-off come with milk and bread, the staple diet for cataract patients.

Enter Shareef, the ward boy. He jumps in to help old patients to the toilet. It's not his job, but he collects leftover milk and bread after the relatives have left and redistributes it to the poor, who have had nothing to eat.

Shareef is a ray of hope in a world of darkness.

John Methuselah, Secunderabad

 

THE LADY WHO REMEMBERED

In September 1991, I was travelling to Africa as part of my job with a Singapore-based firm--from Harare (Zimbabwe) to Lusaka (Zambia) and then to Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire (now the Congo).

At the Harare International Airport lounge, I struck up a conversation with a lady. She was Canadian and worked for the United Nations. I mentioned to her my plans of spending a few days in Lusaka before heading to Kinshasa. Before boarding, we exchanged business cards and said our goodbyes.

As I prepared to leave for Kinshasa, the hotel delivered a message from my office in Singapore, instructing me to cancel my travel to Zaire, where a bloody political unrest had broken out. Shaken, I called my office and discovered that Mariam S. Pal, the lady from Harare airport, had received early information and reached out.

The situation in Zaire was horrific. There was looting and mayhem, where civilians were killed and injured. The incident went down in history as les pillages du Zaïre (the plundering of Zaire).
Of course, I called her as soon as I returned home to thank her for saving my life.

Hanumanth Bhounsle, Bengaluru


KINDNESS, IN SILENCE

I was travelling from Kolkata to Chennai in a sleeper coach with my children. My son was nine, daughter, two. A team of football players was with us in the compartment. I soon figured all the 12 boys were deaf and mute.

My son had settled on the topmost berth, while my daughter and I occupied the bottom one. I had a splitting migraine and was barely able to sleep. Suddenly, around midnight, I sensed my son sliding off. I stretched out my hand on instinct, held on to him and started screaming for help. In the blink of an eye, a few hands grabbed him; the entire football team had come to our rescue. I still don't know how they heard our cries.

With swift efficiency, one signalled for a coil of rope they had in their bags. One held on to my sleepy, dazed son, while the others climbed up and barricaded the berth: They had created a makeshift cradle! After that, he slept like a baby through the night.

The boys sensed that I was tortured by the migraine, so they took charge of my daughter and played games with her until she fell asleep.

I was overwhelmed by their kindness. All I could do was thank them and wish them luck for their football match.

Usha Ponnappa, Bengaluru


MEN ON BIKES

My wife and I enjoyed driving down to Kelgeri Lake, near Dharwad city in Karnataka, and walking along the barrage. One evening, about five years ago--I was 80 and my wife 75--we strolled on, not noticing we had drifted far. Darkness had fallen by the time we returned to the car. It wasn't going to be easy driving back, but that wasn't our worry. The front tyre on the left was flat. I tried calling for help but there was no network coverage on my mobile. We were stranded.

We decided to switch on our parking lights and wait for help from passersby. A truck drove past but did not stop. Then two lights approached us. Even as I waved frantically, two motorcycles whizzed by. We were beginning to lose hope when we found the bikes were returning. There were four helmet-clad male figures on them.

"Ajja (grandpa), what's the problem," they stopped and asked. A little tense, I explained our situation.

One of them enquired if the car had a tool kit. As I opened the boot to get the paraphernalia, the young men introduced themselves as Anil, Suniel, Prateek and Vikas. They had gone to visit their ailing ajja in Alnavar, and were on their way back.

As they got to work, it was clear they were no novices. While Anil and Suneil changed the tyre, Prateek and Vikas flashed their headlights on the wheel. Within 20 minutes, the job was done and we were on our way.

We thanked them profusely and offered them a token of gratitude, but they refused. They couldn't take money from their ajja. These youngsters had come from nowhere to help us. Was it a divine coincidence?

Amrit Rao Kale, Bengaluru


SWEET RELIEF

My brother Reetu and I grew up in Hamirpur, a small town in the hills of Himachal. One afternoon, years ago--I was nine and he, four--I was laid up at home sick and Reetu went out to play. An hour later my mother went looking for him, as she couldn't spot him playing with the children outside.

Reetu had gone off to play with them, but no one could remember if he had come back from their trip to the nearby market, immersed as they were in their games. Nervous, mum rushed to the market. She spent an hour searching for him and asking everyone if they had seen him. Unable to find him, she hurried home in the hope he would be back.

Reaching home, she was startled--and relieved--at the sight of a man in our porch with my brother on his shoulders. Reetu clasped a chocolate in his hand. The man had found my brother sobbing outside his shop. He asked the lost boy his name and where he lived, but he wouldn't speak. When the man persisted, Reetu chirped, "I will tell you if you buy me a chocolate."

It didn't take him long to find our house--in Hamirpur, we all knew each other. And so, there they were.

Jitendra Rathore, Jaipur


PRICELESS GIFT

I was on my way to office in a shared cab one morning. Remembering it was International Women's Day, my co-passenger and I wished each other. Midway, the driver made a detour and stopped at a flower shop. While we chatted amongst ourselves, he asked if he could excuse himself briefly.

When the cab reached my destination, he handed me a rose that he'd bought from the florist. "I do not have a sister, and if you don't mind, I would like to offer you this to celebrate you on Women's Day," he said.

I will never forget his gesture. Come to think of it, we may be super successful, but none of it matters if we are bereft of warmth and kindness. This ordinary man made me smile that day and became extraordinary forever.

Niharikaa Sen, Mumbai


AN EVENING IN PARIS

The penultimate day of our Europe trip was in Paris. Armed with a map and a day pass for local transport, we were out and about. Late in the evening, taking the metro from Champs-Élysées to our hotel near the airport proved a challenge. It didn't help that we couldn't follow instructions in French.

As we stood in front of the display board looking lost, a Bangladeshi gentleman came up to us. We needed to change three lines to reach the airport, he explained, rattling off names on the map. Noticing our perplexed expression, he decided to accompany us. We communicated through a mix of English, Hindi and some non-verbal gestures!

We discovered his destination was on the other end of town. Brushing aside our apologies and words of gratitude, he said it was the least he could do--after all, good neighbours help each other out!

Chandrika R. Krishnan, Bengaluru


TRAIN ROBBERY

My sleep-addled brain struggled to wake up, vaguely registering the rhythmic movements of the running train. But the worried voices of my parents pierced through my consciousness. With growing alarm, I peered over the edge of my middle berth and saw my father searching for something under the lower berth. On it lay his leather bag, zipper broken and torn open.

All the money was gone!

The year was 1962 and we were relocating to Guwahati for dad's new job. With four children, aged three to nine, my parents were travelling from Bombay [Mumbai], a journey of over 50 hours. We had covered only a small distance; already out of food, there was a boat ride ahead of us across the Brahmaputra. In short, money would be required every step of the way.

A gentleman, quietly observing our distress, came forward to speak to dad. After a few minutes, he reached into his pocket and, pulling out his wallet, handed five 100-rupee notes to him.

The look of utter relief on dad's face, as he wrote down the gentleman's name and address in Lucknow, was hard to miss.

Even then, I was struck by the enormity of his gesture. He parted with what was then a large sum of money to help a complete stranger, with no guarantee of recovering it, other than a verbal commitment. This kind act witnessed in my childhood shaped my belief in the inherent goodness of humankind.

Parvathi Chandrasekharan, Mumbai


RARE GESTURE

Years ago, my husband and I were visiting friends in Madras [Chennai]. After they picked us up from the station, we all jumped into a taxi, excited about the next few days together.

After lunch when we went into our room to change, we noticed that our suitcase, with all our belongings--cash and some gold jewellery--was missing. Each of us had thought the other had brought it in. We called the local police station and also informed the commissioner, whom our friends knew. None of us slept that night.

The next morning, a taxi pulled up in front of the house and a man walked in with our suitcase. The taxi driver, who had dropped us the day before, had noticed the suitcase late at night in his boot and came back to return it, intact.

Shobha Shivashankar, Bengaluru


WHY I'M ALIVE

When I woke up, I found my left leg on a sling, my rib cage heavily bandaged and bruises all over. I was in a hospital bed, and I learnt from my doctor that two days ago, in the wee hours of 27 January 1982, the passenger train I was travelling in had collided head-on with a goods train speeding through the dense fog near Agra. My last flashes of memory before passing out were that of excruciating pain emanating from the leg, my body immobilized and twisted.

Then my family streamed in. With them was an unknown face with a long, flowing beard. His name was Mozammel Hussain. The rescue team at the accident site had decided to ignore our wrecked coach. However, Mozammel noticed me through a window and reached out.

Retrieving me was a task. But Mozammel insisted, and lent his hand, dexterous at gas cutting [a process of using fuel gases to cut metals]. Eventually they pulled me out in one piece. Everyone, except Mozammel, was sure I wouldn't make it. But his faith kept him going. He ensured that I received treatment immediately, and it was he who had informed my family.

Overwhelmed by his humanity, I wondered what motivated him. I later learnt that he had lost his wife, son and daughter in a similar accident some years ago. He couldn't save them, but he gave me all he had. Although he is no more, this is my way of remembering the man who saved my life.

Dhananjay Sinha, Kolkata

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