During my return journey on from Mumbai to Surat on the train recently, I got wondering about life in general, the lessons we learn, and the impact they have on our thinking and experiences. This thought took me back to my college days in Allahabad. I started thinking of the various events that shaped my thinking and the value system that I have adopted. One incident captivated my thought process and I thought I should share this event with all of you.
On a sunny morning some times during November-December of 1980 I stepped out of my dorm room (hostel) to grab a cup of tea on University Road. This was an accepted culture among the students who lived in the university dorms and it was also a place for a lot of friends to meet and exchange views on issues from administrative services to politics. It was also a place for free debates among students. While I had just got my cup of tea which was normally served in a small pot made out of mud (This was supposed to be very hygienic system of service), I saw an old couple approach us from the other end of the road. They were in the age group of 65-70 years. They started talking to us and we found out that they were from the state of Karnataka and could not speak English or Hindi. Fortunately I had lived in Mysore (Karnataka) for 14 years and thus was able to understand the language. I engaged them in conversation but most of my friends left and they could not follow anything they were saying.
The old man told me that they had come to Allahabad to have a dip in the holy river Ganga at the Sangam (Hindu mythology indicates that a dip in the river Ganga at Sangam can wash away all you sins). When they reached the city of Allahabad all their belongings had been stolen in the train, someone had got off with all their belongings. He started crying and said that he did not have any money and he wanted help in reaching back home to his family. His wife was also sobbing and was desperate for help in a land that was alien to them. I had heard a lot of stories of how people use this trick to fleece money from strangers especially in the City of Allahabad which attracts millions of pilgrims during the bathing season. I was hesitant to fall into the trap and my friends who had walked away and were sitting on a different tea stall and waving to me indicating don’t fall for it. I started to walk away and as I had walked a few steps, I looked back to find that the four eyes of the couple were fixed on my movements and there was such disappointment on their face as if everything was lost for them. I turned back and walked to them and asked “how do I know if you are telling me the truth”. The man just continued to look at me with no words and then he said “to me you are God sent, if not how is it possible that we met you and you are the only person who can understand our language”. He continued.. You don’t have to help us but can you buy us some food as we are very hungry. This was testing time for me; I had to take that leap of faith or just walk away and leave the two to their destiny. I decided to do something about it and told them ok I trust you lets go and see if I can find food for you. We walked into the Jagati Restaurant on University Road. I had a credit account with the restaurant which was normally settled at the end of the month. This was a common practice with students those days as having money all the time was not the norm.
Once the food part was done I could have walked away but I decided to take the leap of faith again and took them to the railway station and purchased them a railway ticket back to their hometown. I did not have that kind of money so I had borrowed from some friends (it was about Rs. 180 in those days). This was a lot of money for that time considering that we paid only Rs. 100 for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dorm for the whole month. I used to get about Rs. 250 for my monthly expenses. Now I had spent everything and had borrowed Rs. 100 from my friends which I had to give back. When I think back today, I am glad I did it but still don’t know why. While I was leaving they asked me for my address which I gave them and they said they will send me the money once they reach home.
Time passed month after month and there was no response from the old couple. I assumed that I had got taken for a ride and my friends started making fun of my gesture of goodness. But I thought that the leap of faith that I had taken was in the spirit of compassion and expecting a return is not compatible with the spirit of goodness. Well I did pay of my debts to my friends and went on with my life thinking that I should not ever get into such a situation ever again. A year passed and life went on and I forgot about the incident.
Some times during the end of 1981 around noon time I was told by the dorm staff that I had a visitor. I never expected visitor in my dorm as my family was away in Japan during those days. I went to see who it was and discovered that there was a young couple waiting to see me. I did not know them and had never seen them before. I asked them who they were and they started asking me if I was the named person that they were looking for. I said yes... I am the person. He said we just came to clear a debt that we have to you which was passed on to us by my father. He then sat down and started narrating the whole story.
The essence of the story is that he was the son of the old man that I had helped a year back. He said that his father after returning from Allahabad fell seriously ill and then never recovered from it and had passed away about a month back. While on his death bed he had given me a piece of paper with your address on it and told me that I need to give Rs. 180 to you and that you had helped him when he was in trouble. With tears in his eyes he continued... these were the last words that he spoke to me. He told me that he had come to Allahabad to put the ashes of his father in the Holy River Ganga and though that he should meet me and clear the debt so that his father’s soul can rest in peace.
I was taken aback, did not know what to say and tried to convince him that it was not necessary but he said that he wants to fulfill his father’s last words and that as a son it was important. Reluctantly I took the money so that they feel that they have done what they needed to do.
As I sat in the train and now think about it, I feel so good to have done what I did at that time. I had taken a leap of faith to help someone and was not let down. Life can create situation where this leap of faith becomes necessary and we as individuals have to make that judgment calls and make the right decision. If you ever come across such situations in life...face them and take a decision based on compassion and goodness. If I had not got the money back...i would still be what I am today. But having helped someone in need has given me very valuable lessons and has brought me closer to my inner self.
I still remember the face of the old couple and it will stay with me all my life... always do something in life for others that will keep you engaged for a life time.
TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH TODAY….AND DO SOMETHING GOOD FOR OTHERS