Human beings generally like to be helpful, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in more major ways. We Indians are notorious for giving wrong directions to a lost motorist in the overriding impulse to be helpful. Or as is the case in the mountains, the villagers feel almost compelled to encourage you by telling you that the place you are wheezing your way to is just 5 minutes away, just over the next rise or around the corner. If you’re lucky and the path is not too steep, you reach there within an hour.
When I first started living in the Himalayas, I would often use the bus service to make my way around. However, there were times when the colourful local bus would not make an appearance because apparently the driver had more important things to do than transport passengers from point A to point B. Those were the times I would flag down a car (always a small one because the drivers of bigger cars apparently also had better things to do).
One fine midday, when I was rather frantically trying to get to a client in the next valley and no bus was in sight, I thankfully hopped into a car that had stopped to give me a lift. It was only when I was sitting comfortably in the empty backseat and we were on our way that the alcoholic fumes hit me from the passenger in front. A little concerned, I looked over at the driver and asked, “Coming back from a function? A marriage or had a devta (local god) come visiting?” These are some of the occasions when men start drinking from the morning till they eventually pass out or weave their inebriated way home. The driver replied that they were returning from a feast. Being of a certain mature age, I find I’m permitted to ask impertinent questions without the other person taking offense so I promptly asked the driver if he had also imbibed. The waiting client could wait, I was going to save my skin.
The amiable driver replied that he didn’t drink and I sat back to enjoy the scenery. That’s when his companion stirred himself to start a monologue. He told me about his recent retirement from a government job and how he had refused to cooperate with the arrogant sub-divisional magistrate in the last one year and how he was so glad to be out of all of it.
“Didi (sister),” he then said in a tone that was going to make an important pronouncement, “didi, I am so happy today because in all my 60 years, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to call someone my Didi.” Something that I seriously doubted because I had discovered that most men in these areas have at least a couple of ‘rakhi sisters’ that seem to enjoy almost the same status as the real sisters. But he went on, “Didi, do you know we are 5 brothers and NOT ONE of us has a sister?” He tried to twist around in his seat to ascertain whether I was truly grasping this incredible fact. Then he pulled a wad of notes from his back pocket and threw them onto the backseat with a flourish.
I usually let people in such a condition ramble on without too much interference, especially when I can’t escape it but when the retired government employee stopped the car to buy me a carbonated drink and some hard stuff for himself, I thought it was time to state how I really needed to get going or I would be late for my appointment. To which he magnanimously replied, “Didi, you take the car and carry on, we’ll catch the bus later.” Turning to his companion, the driver whose car it was, he said, “Let’s give her the car because she’s in a hurry. We’ll stop and have our drink.” To which dear friend agreed. I somehow don’t think he could have done anything else because the front seat passenger had a certain imperiousness about him that demanded agreement.
However, it was soon clear that though he sincerely wanted to help this new Didi, warning bells were ringing in some more lucid part of his brain. “Didi,” he said again, “you take the car but leave the car keys on the table with us. Yes, you do that – you take the car, your problem solved and you leave the keys with us.” After which, he commanded his friend to stop the car for the fifth time and with an apologetic backward glance at me, the driver stopped the car.
As I walked on, I reflected that day on this desire to be helpful. It had been quite presumptuous of me to try to insist that we drive on when he clearly wanted to stop for further celebrations. But the desire to be helpful had battled with the desire for more drink and come up with what he thought had been a perfect solution.
People in these parts are generally more than helpful. Perhaps it is because they haven’t lost a sense of being part of a community. Fortunately for me, it seems I’ve become a slightly strange addition to it because they all seem to have adopted me, much like a stray who’s wandered into these parts and seems set to become a resident. May all strays be just as welcome!
The thing about being helpful is that it gives as much happiness to the giver as to the recipient. There is a certain happiness that arises whenever we help out another, even in the simplest of ways and for the briefest of moments. These moments dilute the harsh critic that resides within and place us in a higher frequency that immediately transforms the next few moments, hours or day in a happier, more fulfilling way.
Pass it on – the acts of kindness and consideration. They are truly invaluable!