‘Take care,’ ‘Give me a call when you get there,’ ‘Be safe.’
At some point, we all have experienced care expressed by someone near and dear. At some level, it is perhaps natural and therefore expected. But to be touched by random acts of kindness by strangers is neither completely natural nor expected.
I have met some of these strangers. These are seemingly unknown faces from different places around the country encountered at different points in time with just one thing in common – genuine concern for another’s well-being (who is equally as much of a stranger to them). I have been that fortunate stranger, that recipient of care, concern and warmth.
Samaritan # 1
‘Just leave your bag here and there’s a seat over there. Why don’t you go sit?’
Who: Passive-looking but equally concerned bus conductor (on seeing a 50ish kg me lug a 60ish litre backpack in a moving vehicle)
When: En route to Mangalore aboard a KSRTC bus.
Where: Madikeri (Coorg), Karnataka.
Samaritan # 2
‘We saw those men approach you. Are they with you all? No? Then let us know if anyone bothers you. We are here and will take care of you all.’
Who: Friendly fellow serving our table at a shack.
When: New Year’s Eve.
Where: Baga, Goa.
Samaritan # 3
‘Yes, accommodation is available. How many persons should I block the reservation against? Just one? For yourself? Okay. You needn’t have to worry ma’am our facility is absolutely safe and suitable for a solo female traveller. Would you prefer a pick-up from the railway station?’
Who: B&B owner confirming my reservation over the telephone.
When: Planning yet another solo trip.
Where: Wayanad, Kerala.
Samaritan # 4
‘Hope you all have had a good time. Your train should arrive in another 15-20 minutes. You’ve saved my phone number? Okay. Give me a call when you come by again.’
Who: Smiley-faced auto rickshaw driver who ferried us from the station and agreed to stay back to drop us later in the evening.
When: Over a day trip to Sula Vineyards.
Where: Nasik, Maharashtra.
Samaritan # 5
‘Why are they at your table? They are not with you. Should I ask them to go sit somewhere else?’
Who: Young lad who brought me my lunch.
When: Travelling solo during a long weekend.
Where: Gokarna, Karnataka.
Samaritan # 6
‘Do call us and let us know that you’ve reached home safely. Okay? Do come over again. And keep in touch.’
Who: Homestay hosts.
When: When it was time to leave.
Where: Every single one of them through Kutch (Gujarat), Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Spiti and Manali (Himachal Pradesh), rural interiors of Maharashtra.
So when I am asked, ‘I do not understand how you are not afraid of travelling all by yourself!’, regardless of whether I’ve travelled solo or not — I’m not sure how to respond.
Be it through conversations – just like the ones above – and through gestures that sometimes revolve around drivers doubling up as local guides, who tell me more about a place than any guidebook) or simply watching over me only to ensure I safely get off one mode of transport into another, I’ve realised that I am indeed grateful for their company. They probe you a little and in turn allow you a glimpse into their own world filled with hope and questions.
This reminds me of our jovial Sardarji driver from Delhi to Chandigarh. He had spent some of his early years driving a taxi in my very own city. And in spite of his hoarse itchy throat we did chat about how drugs have infiltrated the minds and lives of the youth in Punjab.
Somehow our travel stories tend to veer mostly only around the places we see and the things we do. Anecdotally, may be, (and that too occasionally) we hear about the people we encounter. But they deserve more than a fleeting mention. For it is these ‘invisible people’ who I have encountered during my travels have become my guardian angels in a day and age when mass media seems to suggest that this isn’t a country for women.
On your next road trip, I do hope you take the time to not just notice these invisible Samaritans, but also know more and remember them.