22 November, 2005

When the heart is kind

I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in the kindness of human beings. Pearl S. Buck

A few days ago, I watched a lovely film Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) by the Spanish Director Almodovar. In it, one of the characters - Huma Roja (a theatre actress, played by Marisa Paredes), utters the famous line originally attributed to Tennessee Williams.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

The line stayed with me long after the movie ended. It brought back countless small acts of kindness that I had received over the years from people over whom I had absolutely no claim. They were people I met on the roads, who, after having helped me, moved on without expecting any returns. This is my tribute to all of them, whoever they may be.

It was a grey morning when I decided to cross over to Laos from the Chiang Khong border in Northern Thailand. The plan was to take a speedboat from Houei Xai right upto Luang Prabhang. The ferry point at Houei Xai was a makeshift one. It lacked proper steps leading down to the boat station. It was a path that perhaps had been created over time simply by people walking down. I had only one bag on me, and till then I had not had any trouble carrying my own luggage.

But that morning was different. The downward slope was slippery. Try as I might, I simply was not able to walk down to the boat station with my bag in hand. I fell behind the other passengers also heading for the speedboat. Suddenly there was someone by my side. It was a young man with a pleasant face. He was wearing jeans, T-shirt and carrying a heavy backpack. “Need any help?” he asked.

I felt embarrassed to add to his load so refused politely and he moved on. Nimble-footed, he reached the station quickly and then looked up and saw me struggling, trying to steady myself each time I slipped. Suddenly, he was beside me again. “Just let go” he said, grabbing my bag and before I knew it he was back at the station, a big grin on his face. I followed sheepishly. Without the bag, I was more sure-footed but kept my eyes on the ground to prevent myself from falling flat in the mud.

“I must thank him profusely” I thought to myself. “Also next time I will wear better shoes!” Reaching the station, I picked up my bag. The first boat had left. The young man was nowhere in sight.

The party at my friend’s place went on till about 11.30pm. It was raining outside but I found a cab and soon was on my way home. Or so I thought. About five minutes down the road, the cab driver said there was some problem in the engine, dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and sped away.

It was a marketplace but all the shops had closed. Overcrowded in the daytime, the place was dark and empty by night. A few rickshaws were lined on one side of the road sans the pullers. The rain had petered to a drizzle but there was not a cab in sight.

I did not notice him at first. He seemed to appear out of the darkness and lit a bidi (a local variant of the cigarette). The flame startled me and I looked around. His clothes were tattered and he had a torn gamchha (a thin towel) flung over his shoulders. He just stood there at a distance, smoking in silence.

Honestly, he gave me the creeps at first. All those warnings about dangers of standing alone on a dark road flashed through some corner of my mind. I watched him carefully, praying fervently that a cab come by to the rescue.

“Where do you want to go?” I almost jumped out of my skin. “Where do you want to go, didi (sister)?” he repeated the question. And suddenly, I was not afraid anymore. I told him I was waiting for a cab so that I could go home.

“I don’t think you will get a cab here now. Why don’t you take a rickshaw and go to the main road? There you will get cabs or you could even take a bus.” I looked longingly at the empty rickshaws on the other side of the road.

“Wait here” and he was gone. After a while (which seemed like an eternity) he was back with a rickshaw puller. “Take didi to the main road. It is not safe for her to be standing alone on this dark road.” I climbed onto the rickshaw and then turned around to thank the man for his kindness. But he had already gone. I asked the rickshaw puller if he knew the man and he replied in the negative.

Two different incidents, both acts of kindness by complete strangers. And believe me there are many more. Acts I will never forget. Without being asked, each offered their help at moments when I really needed it, and did not wait to be thanked once the moment had passed. Each gave through their intuitive understanding of my need for help. Maybe that was what was so special about their giving, their kindness and caring. It was simply in their nature to be kind.

I wish we could all be like that.


Anonymous said...

Quite touching and yup so true :-)

Anonymous said...

Simply shows how we take things for granted!! Touching indeed:)

Aparna Ray said...

@sangita & anon - Thank you :-)

SwB said...

i like thsi blog fo yours too aparna. how are you? This was a lovely post. But don't you think w its funny how very often we remember the kindness of strangers and tend to forget the kindness of friends?


Aparna Ray said...

Thanks SWB!
I am still out of work and chilling out. Looking forward to reading more poems from you now that you are back from your trip (tanned and all...lol)

Yes we do tend to forget the kindness of friends, mostly either because we feel we have a claim on them or because we sometimes take them for granted - the two are not very different you will notice. It's a pity though...

Blue Athena said...

Touched some memories. :)

Surprising how a tiny, little deed casts a huge impact on us.

Enjoyed reading this Aparna!

Aparna Ray said...

@BA - thanks :-)

Anonymous said...

Life does reach out and touch doesn't it, in some form or another. There's always a Samaritan when needed. This is both inspirational as also serendipitous, as I had been thinking on the same lines recently.
Very well written a piece. :)

Aparna Ray said...

Yes Avi, life does reach out and touch...I don't know if it is a Samaritan or if we each truly have been given a guardian angel :-)

Thank you!

Shankari said...

So Aparna, how many times have you done the good sam. thing? It speaks volumes about you that you chose to stay quiet about that! Wonder if I'll come across a blog refering to your kindness(es). The world is but round a-round round.

thanks, enjoyed reading this...

Aparna Ray said...

Yes, Shankari, the world is still round though Friedman now says it's flat :-)

Thank you for the kind words.