She was an endearing figure as she stood in the open ground, hand on hip, her flimsy peach chunni pulled firmly over her head. She had a beige shawl draped loosely around her shoulders to keep out the winter chill.
“Please, my girl,” she implored.” Drop me off at the ‘samagam’. Such a long way from here and I can’t walk that distance for the life of me!”
There was a young girl next to her in side-plaited hair and traditional attire. Probably her granddaughter, looking visibly embarrassed.
A request I could not refuse
It was ‘Gurpurab’ day, and I had taken time out from office to pay obeisance at the venue where the community celebrations were on. The afternoon winter air ruffed my salwar-kameez and chunni as I sat astride my scooter. I had just exited and was riding back to my workplace when I met her.
I looked into the clouded eyes of the old lady and couldn’t help smiling. You could easily see that she was speaking the truth. Now the old lady wanted me to go all the way back again. Yet, something tugged at my heartstrings at her evident eagerness, and I found it hard to refuse.
“Can you manage on my scooter?” I asked as I turned and pulled up closer to her.
My Punjabi comes haltingly and I am conscious speaking in the language with stark strangers.
“Oh yes, my girl,” she replied without missing a beat and confidently perched herself on the pillion seat of my vehicle.
“All the same, Mata ji, you must hold tight around my middle,” I responded not wishing to take any unnecessary chances.
In a matter of seconds, we sped away towards the brightly coloured shamiana of the ‘samagam’.
Two strangers bonding over a scooter ride
Kolkata maidan, large and mostly untended, is full of undulations. I made my way gingerly through throngs of garishly dressed women, their burly, turbaned husbands and excitedly shrieking children. From time to time, I respectfully moved aside to make way for the odd sparkling luxury car. Throughout the journey, the old lady sat behind me, holding tight.
We travelled for about a kilometre, two strangers, two devotees brought together by an unusual divine intervention. The short journey was replete with her blessings from start to finish. For a happy and prosperous life, for a good, caring husband and for adorable kids. They held meaning and significance for a woman of her generation. Life has changed considerably in modern times, and we have managed to add many more things to this list, I thought to myself, smiling.
Soon, we were at the venue. She jumped off and smiled gleefully like a little one, relieved that she had reached her destination.
“Thank you, child. You must come and meet me in Salkia,” she commanded. I imagined myself roaming the lanes and by-lanes of Salkia in a bid to locate the old lady’s house by merely describing her. It didn’t seem appealing in the least, and I let it pass.
The young girl would take a while to reach. I was getting delayed for work. I wondered what I should do next. How could I desert a seventy-plus lady in a crowded, noisy place? What if she fell sick and needed urgent help? She however insisted that I should leave.
“They are all our people,” she said, gesturing at folks around the place.
“I will be fine. Besides, my relatives should be here somewhere,” she said vaguely. But not a single relative walked up to us though while we waited there for quite some time.
I had taken permission to be away for a certain time and was getting distinctly uncomfortable. My boss was not a nice person to deal with if one took liberties with him. I wondered how I would explain the situation when I got back to office.
I asked her to wait near the main gate and decided to retrace the path, hunting for the young girl whom I had seen for just a couple of seconds. Would I be lucky enough to spot her in the crowds? What if she was untraceable or I failed to recognise her?
All’s well that ends well
Just then, a young and flustered face appeared, breaking into a smile upon seeing us. It was her! I jumped for joy on behalf of the old lady.
Quickly, I said ‘sat sri akal’, took my leave from them and sped off towards my office. I knew that I would never meet the duo again, but I would always remember the incident. It made me feel good, knowing that I had done my good Samaritan act.
From journal entry of January 2003: The majority of us, even in a metro city like Kolkata, did not have mobile phones then. On occasions like the above, one stood hoping that the person you were waiting for, would turn up at the exact spot, relying on common sense and instincts!