The thing I’ve noticed about a place like Aurangabad is that, in some ways, it’s still a simple place, belonging to an older era, when people had time for each other and had big enough hearts that led them to help out strangers with a generosity not so common anymore.
I was at an ATM kiosk earlier this evening, wanting to withdraw some cash. The machine, unfortunately, was not working. As I walked out, I let know the man waiting to go after me. He looked crestfallen, upon hearing the bad news. I suggested he try another one up the road, and he said he’d already tried it, it too was not working. As we both mulled on what to do next, he asked if I knew of any more kiosks. I pointed him towards a bank branch in the opposite direction. That’s when he surprised me.
“Are you going there?” He asked me.
“Er, no,” I stuttered, “I haven’t brought my car, so I can’t get all the way there.”
“You don’t have your car…” He murmured. “Well, would you like a ride?”
I was startled. It’s not a common gesture hereabouts. Generosity and helpfulness take different forms, but giving a total stranger a ride does not figure among them. It’s just not part of the customs.
I looked at him. He was neatly dressed. He didn’t look like a ruffian. He had also shown some good manners by waiting outside the ATM kiosk instead of barging in (as had happened to me earlier in the day at another ATM kiosk), and speaking politely.
“If it’s urgent, I’m happy to take you there,” he offered.
I let my guard down for a split second. He seemed to have offered from a good-hearted place, one human being reaching out to another to ease the everyday troubles of life that we all carry. Our eyes connected, we both smiled. And then my guard was up again.
“Thank you, but I’ll manage. It’s not urgent.” I responded, politely and I hoped, with warmth and gratitude apparent in my voice.
“Okay, no problem,” he said, cheerfully. He got on his motorcycle and sped off.
I looked after him, warmed by this tiny exchange. It was without the stuff we’ve come to expect – aggressiveness, haste, rudeness, self-centredness. Instead, I had experienced gentleness, openness and generosity.
As I write this, I wonder if I’m just being foolishly sentimental about something ordinary. But that’s just it, these encounters with strangers are not so ordinary anymore.
I hope the ATM machine was working when he got there, and that he got the cash he needed.