This was two years ago. It was like any other day, I was running as always to reach before time for the Conference. It is really satisfying for me to reach the venue before time and make good observations.
At times, finding a cab in a city like Mumbai can really test your patience so much so that one starts hating all cabbies. That said, on a sunny Saturday under the scorching sun, I approached a cabbie who had parked at a nearby cab-stand, asked if he could drop me to a place which was 3 kms away. He was is no mood to speak so just shook his head ‘no’. How arrogant, I judged him. He was dark skinned, wrinkled, a head wrap tied on his forehead, looked quite older than his age, maybe he was in his early 50s but looked very weak.
After waiting for about 15 minutes, the same arrogant cabbie called me and asked me to take a seat. I couldn’t believe my luck and happily hopped in the cab. Now that happiness was really short lived.
As he started driving, he started coughing non-stop, the speed of the car never crossed 30 kmph (something like 18 miles per hour) and I was a bit frustrated with the speed as I did not want to be late for the Conference.
Then I noticed something weird, while he drove at a low speed, at times he would just halt, remove a cloth, soak it in kerosene (I could smell it) and then he would pat the cloth on this foot (I assumed that as he would bend). Now that’s something I have never experienced and it did freak me out. I wanted to run but then there were too many thoughts before I spoke to him.
Me: You seem to be unwell. You may stop here. I will find another cab. Don’t worry, I will pay entire fare to you.
Cabbie: Dead silence.
Me: Excuse me. <<Repeating the same sentences again>>
This time a bit scared as he was neither responding nor stopping the cab.
Cabbie: (Started crying) Will you help me? I am in pain.
Still scared as at that moment I needed help to get out of the cab and that situation too.
Cabbie: Please, don’t refuse.
I was trying to convince myself that there is no point in getting scared. Very softly, I asked, how can I help you?
Finally, he stopped the car and started sobbing. And what he spoke thereafter, shocked me and left me with a creepy feeling.
Cabbie: Beta, mere pair mein se keede nikalte hai (Child, maggots erupt out of the infections in my feet)
Unwillingly though, I looked at his feet and that sight cannot be described in words. I was frightened, clueless and caught in that cab. I tried to calm myself. I needed someone to handle that situation so I called my friend. We helped him financially and moved on.
When I was walking on the street, the entire episode was running in my mind. I would re-play, stop, think and re-play what had just happened. I realized, that it is so easy to judge people. I thought he was arrogant when he refused for the ride. I was frustrated when he drove at the speed of 20, without realizing that he was in pain. I was too engrossed in my phone and thinking about the Conference, oblivious to people around me.
Every person fights a battle we may not know about. And little kindness towards people, or may be just kind words may make a difference to someone’s life.
And as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, says, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”