January 6, 2015
This piece of writing is an outcome of the appreciation I unexpectedly received from a classmate of mine saying that I had changed her life. It was one day, years ago where I had confronted her when she used to go about saying it was her grand-mother who used to attend the Parent-Teacher Meetings at school. The last of 9 children, her mom was naturally a tad old, a widow, with shades of grey hair and as compared to other parents, she indeed looked like a granny. This made my class-mate uncomfortable. Being the class-leader of Std. IV then, I had given her a pep-talk trying to make her understand that ‘however a mother looked in her physical appearance, a mother is a mother, nothing can change that and no one else can take her place.’ More than three decades later, I find this message on my Facebook inbox - ‘Hi Stephen – Let me introduce myself. I am so and so, your old class-mate in …. remember me! I take pride in letting you know that I looked after my mother until her last breath. Thank you for changing my outlook in life.’
“Life is the most patient teacher as each and everyday of our journey is a learning process for us all …
Presented with the same experience over and over again … we always remain the students of life!”
Moving forward, I take this opportunity to jot down a few instances whereby I was at the receiving end.
A Bus Journey:
This is a story when I was studying in high school. Once in every year or two, I used to visit Bombay (now Mumbai) where many of my close relatives reside. Those days, the popular mode of travel to India’s commercial city from our coastal town was by undertaking the journey on the private buses. The booking for these buses was done months in advance for the peak travel season. Always, I made sure I booked well before, so that I could avail a window seat for such a long overnight strenuous trip.
This particular incident happened on an occasion during my return journey. I had booked in advance and had reconfirmed my ticket for the window seat in question. When the bus arrived to the pick-up point in Andheri - Mumbai, I boarded and had my window seat occupied. As the bus proceeded to pick up the other passengers, at another point, a lady boarded the bus who had the same seat number as mine. Obviously, the Agent had double booked and the Conductor was adamant that I should vacate the seat for her simply because she was a ‘lady’ and offered me a side seat at the very back. I gave him a good piece of my mind, did not budge from my seat and sensing this, the Conductor relented and offered the lady another window seat. What happened when the person having the number of that window seat where the lady was now seated boarded the bus in the outer suburb of Sion is another story with the middle-aged passenger and the Conductor almost coming to blows.
The bus proceeded to Mumbai’s fringes and was somewhere in Kalyan when it slowed down to pick up a passenger standing almost in the middle of the road. Dressed in a white long sleeve shirt with unlocked buttons and a white bordered mundu, he brought the bus to a halt with his outstretched right hand while controlling the luggage on his head with his left hand. Soon, a conversation followed in Malayalam between the driver and the prospective passenger. I could sense the driver saying, the bus is full and if he wants to get in, he still needs to pay the full fare and plus the fare for the luggage as well. The next thing I knew was the man handing over cash to the driver and then the passenger in no time was inside the bus. He travelled the entire journey sitting beside the bus’ iron pole, clutching it .. his seat being a huge empty silver tin of Marie Biscuits. Every time his head hit the pole when the bus braked or negotiated a pothole made me feel ashamed as I was sitting close by holding on to my cozy window seat with some warm air gushing inside.
I pondered – The man had a definite goal or purpose in life. While I went for comfort, wondering whether I would reach my destination without a window seat, the said man wanted to reach his endpoint by any means and perhaps had a mission to fulfill.
Moral: Wherever you sit in a vehicle, whether you are comfortable or not, you will reach your destination. Likewise, whichever position you are in life, nothing is impossible from that point upwards. You need to take a risk, sacrifice comfort and the success will inevitably be yours.
Apna jeb sambalo!
As narrated above, I have never lived in Mumbai to etch a living but only used to visit the city during holidays.
Travelling in the overcrowded trains was part of my experience in Mumbai commuting from one place to the other. It was a salary day - the first day of the month. The train on the Western line which I was travelling was jam packed and as usual commuters were dangling onto one another for support and I was no exception. Suddenly, a guy screams – ‘Apna apna jeb sambalo …’ and a few travellers by sheer reflex action place their hands where they had their wallets/cash to see all is well. Perhaps, in the modus operandi of the pick-pocketeers, the screaming person was the support guy whereas the other criminals would have mingled with the passengers who were discreetly watching their prey. When I alighted the train after another 4 stops from there … a fella who got down with me placing his hand on his pocket discovered his wallet missing. I for one instantly knew where it had gone …
Moral: Body language is the most important thing. Do not let the other person sense what you possess, what you are thinking and what you are upto. If then, you may be at the losing end of it.
‘Pass it on’:
In the Arabian Gulf, we were based in the capital city Abu Dhabi for nearly 15 years. It was one Thursday evening (weekend) where we had to drive from Abu Dhabi to another emirate Ajman to attend my wife’s relative’s communion party. The get-together was at 7.00 p.m. at Ajman Hotel. Since I had not met my two sisters based in Dubai for quite a while, decided to start a bit early, to meet them on the way with my family. Once I caught up with them, it was time to proceed to our destination in Ajman. Somewhere while exiting, I must have missed a curve or taken the wrong turn and that was it … did not know which way I was headed to. To add to my woes, that particular road which I entered was a heavy truck road, riddled with stones and perhaps nails and bolts. It did not take me long to realise the rear right tyre of our car had got punctured. What next? Already running late, was not aware where I was and this thing happens. To make matters worse, I was supposed to be compering the get-together that evening.
Running out of ideas, came out of the car, held a handkerchief in my right hand and being a bit apprehensive started waving at every passing motorist to draw attention and get some help to have the tyre replaced and fixed. It was already twilight - each vehicle big and small passed with atrocious speed - some honking for nothing, some drivers deliberately barging their heads out of their automobile windows as if an alien had descended from above waving at them and some others putting their headlights in high beam for no reason. With a result hardly in sight, as I was about to give a call to my brother-in-law in Dubai, a four-wheeler came from nowhere, parked behind our car and there got down a couple of men of Middle Eastern descent and started approaching me. I had heard of so many scary stories, the first thing I did was to lock my car to secure the occupants inside.
Looking at the concerned look on my face, one of them said – Don’t be afraid, brother! What’s wrong with your car? I pointed to the flat tyre at the back. Do you have the tools, the other asked? I do not have the jack, I replied and that is the problem (I had lent it to my neighbour the week before and he had yet to return it). They brought the jack from their vehicle, removed the spare tyre and other tools from the boot of my car and started to fix it without another word. It would have been better for them if the occupants had come out, but they hardly bothered and even barely noticed who were inside. Within 10 minutes or so, all was done!
I offered them cash for their services while both pushed my hand simultaneously aside saying ‘La La’ (meaning ‘No No’ in Arabic). As I saw their backs while they proceeded towards their vehicle, squealed at them saying ‘Alf shukran habibi’ (Thank you a thousand times dear). At this, one of them took a few steps back, held my left shoulder and uttered, ‘Look brother, the next time you find someone stranded on the side of the road, with hazards on, looking for some help - stop, enquire and simply PASS IT ON. Within seconds, they drove away.
Moral: If you notice people stuck on the road, please stop and enquire what the matter is – may be you can be of little help in their difficult circumstances. Pass it on!
The midnight call:
Our friends are very dear to us and thus we do not miss any occasion to wish such as birthdays, anniversaries and the like. Moreover, we make it a point to do that in style at dot 12.00 at midnight because that is where the significance lies … after all they are our friends, the call being mere wishes for an occasion and it is taken for granted they would not take any exception for it. It so happened that a particular friend’s wife was having her birthday next day. They do sleep early as we know and that’s why we avoided wishing her the previous year at midnight as we did not want to annoy waking them up. When we mentioned about it calling them the following day, the wife had said that it is not always a standard practice to sleep early, they were awake and we would have called. Hence, when her birthday arrived the following year, taking the cue, we called at dot 12.00 midnight to wish and the husband happened to be on the other end of the phone. To our disbelief, he had many things to say raising his voice regarding the timing of the call and virtually did not give a chance for us to explain.
Well! Being friends it could have been an emergency. Who knows? When my wife took over the phone he said, ‘Your husband seems to be out of control. See that you manage him!’ This was from a dude who would hardly remember any of our important days over the years, although we seldom failed to wish them year after year covering all occasions, a few times even visiting his house for a bouquet wish.
Moral: You can take a chance of disturbing your friends at midnight but not their spouses. Leave them alone … or be prepared for the fallout!
Tale of a ‘Queue’:
In October 2006, we migrated to Australia and for the first 8 months, my wife and I were jobless. I was always deemed to be overqualified and my better-half was dubbed to be underqualified and thus wherever we went for a job interview, we did not even get past the initial phase. Having come from the Middle East, we did have a bit of savings, and that kept us going though it was getting depleted every passing day. We were aware of the government help through Centrelink – a government Organisation where various types of assistance was granted for struggling families. I was of the opinion that it was not needed and as a reason I never registered, but things were not looking all that rosy.
Reluctantly, one day I went quite late to the Centrelink office to register. Here most offices commence at 8.00 in the morning and close at 5.00 in the evening and being a federal government department, Centrelink was no exception. When I entered inside, my gaze fell on the long queue - wondered so many people without jobs lining up to avail assistance to sustain them. Nevertheless, joined the queue that moved at a snail’s pace. When there were 15 minutes to 5.00, I could see that there were still half a dozen people in front of me and another dozen or so people behind me. Concluding that, my job will not be get done today and with an intention to start early the next day, left the queue, went to the wash room on the other corner, reading some leaflets on the way. When I came back to exit through the front door after a good 5-7 minutes, I was in for a shock! To my surprise, the queue behind me where I was standing had not moved an inch and the gap in the middle was so yawning. Confused, I do not know myself, how I rejoined the queue. Only, once I had stood at the end of the first half of the queue, the lady behind me moved forward and together with her the other eleven or so making it a continuous line. There was neither a murmur nor a whisper … I had my job done that day!
Back in the United Arab Emirates, I recall reading an instance in the Indian Consulate in Dubai. Two men dressed as Arabs came in and went straight ahead to the counter ignoring the long queue while others made way. They spoke to the Indian Officer in Arabic and had their work done within a splash. While going back from the counter, they could not contain their excitement of having fooled everyone in the queue so much so they forgot to keep mum blurting loudly in their mother tongue the instant success they have had with their act.
Moral: It is the people who make the society great with their behaviours and that responsibility is of each one of us.
I was brought up in Bangalore from age 4 to12 as dad was a State government employee in the Town Planning Department and used to get transferred to different cities. From our house, the shops even for basic necessities were a bit farther away. Except for an Ambassador Car that used to take my dad to and fro to his office and home, we did not own any vehicles then. My legs were the vehicle which used to run household errands. Whenever needed, I used to run on the so called footpaths making a scooter sound from my mouth that gave the much needed boost to my running. The same thing while returning carrying all the stuff as well and thus in a short time the job was done.
Our residence was across the Wilson Garden Electric Crematorium, adjacent to the BTS Road that joined the Double Road. The grocery shops were 3 crosses farther on the left. Our favourite was Kamath mam’s shop, a native of Mangaluru, opposite the Wilson Garden Police Station. My leg-scooter was reaching that destination on normal errands … was just about 50 metres or so to reach that shop to do my purchase when an unknown person deliberately put his leg right on my way and I just tripped and crashed. What happened after that I do not know … but the good old Kamath mam had nursed my wounds, had that guy thrashed with the help of others and had handed him over to the police station. That effectively put an end to my running on the crowded roads while I still continued to run on the deserted ones.
Moral: Sometimes, you need to keep your talents for yourself. Look around for any dangers and take care. There are all sorts of people around.
Story of two brothers:
This is about two brothers from Moodabidri – only offsprings to their parents. It was a crazy time those days I am told where people were making a beeline from the undivided South Kanara District to have a crack at the Gulf, especially Bahrain and Kuwait. First, the eldest son went to Kuwait and then a little later he took his younger sibling and he too settled well there. Being in respectable positions, both used to visit home every year. The eldest one came with a lot of goodies distributing to his near and dear ones and to everyone whereas the younger was just the opposite, a stingy of sorts where he kept all for himself.
Then, unfortunately the Gulf War of 1991 broke out and Saddam Hussain’s forces from Iraq invaded Kuwait declaring it as one of their extended Provinces. The brothers, caught up in the war had to return home as refugees. Looking at them the town went into a tizzy. Seeing the eldest one, each and every person evaded him as they thought having nothing; he might now ask for help from the same people he had shared things when he was doing well. The younger one, having invested nicely during his hay days, roamed around freely, mixing with people around who did not mind as he had nothing to give and thus he would be having nothing to ask of them.
The elder one came pleading to my dad for any job in his Consulting Engineering Office for he was of some Civil engineering background and narrated his story of how he is forced to live a life of a beggar with even his brother whom he had shown the way before not coming to his aid. He was prepared to do anything to keep himself afloat until he found an opening in the Gulf.
Moral: Make enough for yourself when the sun shines before thinking of others. Know not what lies ahead in store for you tomorrow.
This is a true story from Abu Dhabi during my bachelorhood days, though you might have heard it elsewhere. The voice of a Filipina girl calling out for ‘Sandwiches’ was a familiar voice in our building where I was residing. I used to do my own sandwiches and hence this familiar voice every morning did not bother me. However one morning, having overslept, decided to purchase them from the Filipina who was doing her rounds. But, since I did not like the look of them on her tray when I went to buy it, decided against going for it. The Filipina went away smiling saying - ‘Thank You, Sir. Have a nice day.’ Well, I thought … that was a nice greeting even though I did not end up buying anything.
As the same Filipina continued to visit the building calling out in her familiar voice for Sandwiches, one blithesome day I heard another strange calling, this time the feminine voice sounded like an Indian or from the sub-continent after the Filipina had just finished her rounds. She was selling Samosas. Samosas … why not! that sounds good … why not I purchase a few and keep so that I can relish them in the evening after I return from office? I am always particular of the look of the food and again, the look of the Samosas was not something I expected and did not go for it. When conveyed that I do not want them, the female’s face changed as she was upset and angry, went away murmuring audibly as to why I had called her in the first place if I would not purchase, wasting her time.
The next time I purposefully bought the Sandwiches from the Filipina and the same response with a smile, ‘Thank you Sir. Have a nice day.’ How different the approach of the two? The Sandwiches were actually unbelievably good and moving forward, I became lazy so much so I continued to purchase them almost every alternate day. It crossed my mind that perhaps the Samosas might be good too … but did not venture to give a call out to her again because of her attitude.
Moral: Always have a positive approach to life … and you will ultimately come out as a winner; Looks may be deceptive - whatever does not look good at first sight may not always be so!
Readers may share their own experiences in the ‘Comments Section’ below so that we can all further experience how wonderful the world is.
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