I was 16 and in my last year of school when the first incident happened. School had finished for the day and I was waiting for a rickshaw outside my school to take me to the railway station, from where I would take a train home. Hearing a rickshaw approach behind me, I turned hoping that it would be empty. It wasn’t and as it sped by me, I saw a horrific sight. A man and a woman were struggling in the rickshaw and the man had a knife in his hand.
I saw all this in a flash and for a moment I thought that I had imagined the whole thing. But then I reasoned that I couldn’t have imagined the glint of the knife, could I? Just then an empty rickshaw came and I saw to my relief that the driver was someone I knew, in the sense that I had travelled in his rickshaw many times.
I told the driver about what I had just seen and asked if we should give chase. The driver said that I must have imagined the knife and what I must have witnessed was some friendly “wrestling” between a couple. Besides, wouldn’t the rickshaw driver have done something if he sensed that there was something wrong going on? No, no, I must have had a stressful day, and it would not do for a girl like me to have such an active imagination. I should concentrate on my studies and try to get home as quickly as possible. With these words of advice, he dropped me off at the railway station.
During my train ride home and later, I could not help thinking about this incident. My family was also inclined to believe that I had imagined the whole thing and advised me to forget about it. But how could I? The next day, newspapers carried a story of finding the body of a woman who had been stabbed to death. I was really shaken up and my family tried to reason with me that I had no proof that it was the woman who I had seen in the rickshaw. But then again there was no proof that it was not the same woman.
Years passed. But the guilt that I carried with me over the incident did not pass that easily. I always felt that I could have and should have done something to save that woman. Then another very different incident happened about 15 years back, when I had just joined the organisation that I currently work in.
I was running late that day and had to take a taxi to work. I gave the taxi driver the general area of my destination and settled back for the 15–20 minute drive to work. As we neared my office, I told him exactly where I wanted to go. When the driver asked me if I worked there, I said yes. As he switched of the engine of the taxi outside my office gates, he turned around to face me, and said, “Sister, I will not take any fare from you.”
I was startled to see tears in his eyes. “Why not?”
“Sister, your organisation helped me and my family and my neighbourhood during the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai. I can never take money from you.”
“But, bhaiyya (brother), I didn’t do anything to help you then. I wasn’t even working in the organisation, you see. If at all you want to waive the taxi fare, it should be of someone who actually helped you and your neighbours. They should at least have been working in my office,” I protested.
“So what, sister? You are part of that organisation and that is enough for me. This is my way of saying thank you and reciprocating that gesture. I don’t know who exactly from your organisation helped us and I really don’t want to know. All I know is that I will never accept money from anyone connected to your organisation. God will never forgive me if I do,” he retorted.
I continued, “But bhaiyya, God may not forgive me if I don’t pay you.”
“God knows everything, sister. Every person has his own way of showing gratitude and this is my way of saying thank you and caring for the people who helped me. You find your own way of caring for people and saying thank you. It does not have to be the same person, you know. As long as you help and care for others, God will understand. If you are so uncomfortable about not paying me, why don’t you help out someone who needs the money more?” he reasoned.
We argued some more, but Hanifbhai (that was the cab driver’s name) was adamant that he would not accept even a single paisa from me.
That day, I learnt an important lesson from Hanifbhai. He did not just teach me the art of saying thank you like I really meant it, but he also helped me resolve the question of “helping” others in need. I realised that my guilt was stopping me from responding to those I could have actually helped. Not being able to help that woman in the rickshaw did not mean that I could not help others. From that day onwards, the guilt over my response to the knife incident lessened, to the extent that when I read about stabbing incidents or acts of violence in public I don’t feel guilty. I feel sad, frustrated, angry, despondent but not guilty.
Just as Hanifbhai advised, I found my way of “helping/caring” for others. I realised that it doesn’t have to be giving chase in a rickshaw or storming a perpetrator’s house. My way of helping is to let the competent authorities know, which is why I have the helplines of organisations looking into various issues and causes. If I come across people requiring a specific kind of help and it is beyond what I can do, I immediately make that call to someone who can help.
I have often questioned myself if I have taken the easy way out by referring “the problem” to others. But over time, I have realised that I am not necessarily the “doer”. What I am is probably the “informer” or the “observer”, who is also an important cog in the helping and caring wheel. What I do is to be informed, vigilant and observant and help others around me to be the same as well, and let the competent authority know and do their job. I also follow-up, which is an important aspect of caring. Writing in forums like this is also a way of reaching out and letting others know.
I have also realised that helping someone in need or caring for someone in need cannot be measured in either quality or quantity as every small gesture helps. It could be giving up your bus/train seat to someone who is less able to stand or reporting about an eve-teasing incident, even if the victim herself is not willing to register a complaint. Hanifbhai made me realise that everyone needs to find their own way of helping others and caring for others. There is no such thing as the right way or the wrong way. Every gesture helps.
This post has been submitted for the BlogAdda and Jaago Re “Too Busy to Care” contest. I am
not too busy to care, but want to do something. Jaago Re and BlogAdda.com are helping me do my bit for the society.