I write about my trip to India a lot. I was there for a month at the end of 2008. And it was an extraordinary experience. Despite everything going on in that country these days, I loved every minute of my trip. Yesterday’s WordPress Daily Prompt “Moment of Kindness”, took me right back there, to one of our many road trips.
“Describe a moment of kindness, between you and someone else — loved one or complete stranger.”
This family came immediately to my mind. But before I get into the story, there are a few things I have to explain.
Getting from “A” to “B” in India is never easy. If you fly, expect lots of delays. And crowds of people like you’ve never seen. And don’t expect your choice of restaurants, bookstores, boutiques, and spas where you can while away a few hours. There’s nothing to do, and there’s nowhere to go in India’s airports. Count yourself lucky if you find somewhere to sit, while you wait.
So we didn’t fly very often. Just a few times, when there was no other choice.
Train travel is something else again. We took the train from Delhi to Agra. Not because we had to. Because we wanted the experience. OMG!! OMG!! I don’t even know how to describe it to you. Old, bare, dirty, stations. Archaic, really. People and luggage EVERYWHERE. Sitting. Laying on the ground. Just piled everywhere. No exaggeration.
We went first class. Believe me when I tell you, it was not even close. When we got to the ‘special’ lounge, after schlepping, with our luggage and the breakfast the hotel prepared for us, for what seemed like the better part of three quarters of an hour, we were greeted with dust, grime, and people and luggage everywhere. No more seats. Which were little more than rickety benches anyway. Don’t ask me about the bathroom facilities. I would have peed in my pants before venturing in, let alone using a toilet.
Again, expect delays. In our case, we waited for more than two hours for the train to arrive in the station. Fog. And then there was fog throughout the entire journey. So a trip that should have taken a couple of hours took all day. We left our hotel at about 4:30 a.m. for the train station and arrived in Agra at about 3:30 p.m. as I recall.
Everywhere else we travelled by motor coach. A van, just for our small group. Actually we had two different vans. One in the North and one in the South. Distances, by the way, are considerable. You’re on the road for hours on end.
In the South, all went well. In the North we did not have one trip where the van did not break down. Not one.
Some of the delays were relatively short. Twenty, thirty minutes. And some were long. Several hours long.
When it happened the first time, it was very early days of our trip. We were still in the euphoric state vacationers enjoy at the start of a holiday. Especially one like this. So we hardly noticed. The second time, there was a bit of impatience. Nothing major. No one said anything. You could just sense something was amiss. We weren’t talking. We’d gone quiet. The next time, people started to gripe. The next time you could cut the hostility with a knife.
By that time, we’d been on the move for a while. And we were a bit tired, I guess. Excitement and adrenaline keep your energy high at the beginning of a month-long (and longer) journey. But once that ‘high’ starts to wear off, about a week or ten days in, you start wishing you could just spend one day in bed. Then you pass that point and you’re okay again.
Clearly we were not yet at the “past-it” stage. Which brings us back to the family in the photograph.
That day, the van died near their farm. The whole family was out, working in the fields. When they saw us all pile out of the van and start pushing it over to the side of the road, their curiosity got the better of them. They stopped doing what they were doing, and just stood and stared at us.
Suddenly the dad jumped the fence and walked over to our travel agent, and the driver. They talked. They walked around the van. They lifted the hood. They poked. And prodded. And stared. They walked around the van. They talked. They opened all the doors and peered inside. They walked around the van. They opened the trunk and looked at all our luggage. They talked. They looked at us. They went back and looked at the luggage again.
In between all this activity, the travel agent was on the phone. At the time we didn’t know who she was calling. We assumed it was for another van. We had no idea how far we were from our destination.
Next thing we knew, our luggage was being removed. The farmer had offered to walk all the way back to his barn, to get his tractor. He said it was big enough for all of us, and our luggage. He’d offered to drive us to our hotel, which was only about twenty minutes away, as it turned out.
Imagine. A total stranger. He didn’t know us from a hole in the wall. He was never going to see us again. Honestly, I don’t know what he was farming, because the land looked pretty dry, dusty and barren to me. And yet he was willing to help us out. We hadn’t asked him. He offered.
As it happened, it was unnecessary. The travel agent had been on the phone with the hotel. They were sending jeeps to pick us up. The man, and his family, stayed with us until they arrived and until he was sure we were safe and taken care of. Then he waited, with the driver, for help.
From that moment on, none of us ever complained about anything again. The van kept breaking down, but we no longer cared. His random, and selfless, act of kindness put everything into perspective for us. It was out of our control. Accept it with grace. Make it part of the adventure.
Look who we’d met as a result of a vehicle with problems. And look what we learned from him.
Believe it or not, we offered him money, and he refused to take it. Even though it was pretty clear he, like most of the villagers we met, had nothing. But true generosity has nothing to do with money. Kindness is free. Ours to give. And ours to receive. Freely. As often as we want. It’s unlimited. It’s something we never run out.
And it took a broken down old van, on a highway in Rajasthan, to teach us an important life lesson I’ll never forget. Whenever I’m confronted with someone who needs help, I remember that farmer. And I thank him again, by following his lead, and offering assistance.