One’s look may be misleading. It is our illogical notions about people that are to blame. I realised this one night.
It was the last day of a conference. By the time the banquet ended it was 11pm. It was drizzling outside and the delegates ready to depart stood waiting for taxis at the Taj International. Taxis were few and delegates were many and so there was an air of competition among the delegates to hail a taxi on hire. Whoever entered a taxi first succeeded in leaving early.
I met with success at long last. “Hotel Rosewood, near Mahalaxmi race course,” said I to the driver as I sank into the rear seat.
But soon I shuddered as the figure of the robust fearsome looking man with flowing beard and twirling moustache loomed before me at the wheel. All horrible stories relating to the plight of a lone passenger travelling in an unknown place at night crossed my mind. Visions of such passengers being strangulated and robbed of their belongings by fearsome looking ruffians began taking shape before my eyes. To please the man and draw his sympathy so that he would spare me unharmed, I lied that I hailed from his state and told him how I had drifted into difficulties ever since I came to Mumbai.
He began sympathising with my narrative, adding how in order to earn a living he had come from a remote village in UP and had been staying in a slum with utmost frugality to send money home. How he had been often reminiscing about his little son who he had left a year back at home and hadn’t seen him since, and so on.
But I was taking his entire version as the tactics of a cunning rogue.
The taxi stopped. “Your destination has come, sir,” said the man, breaking my uneasy silence after sometime. “But sir, how would you go, it is raining heavily?” he asked thoughtfully.
As I prepared to get out, he stopped me and ran in the rain to fetch an umbrella from the hotel. He then led me to the hotel holding the umbrella above my head all along. The umbrella was just sufficient for a single person. He protected me from being drenched, not caring for himself getting wet. While departing, I gratefully offered him some money as a reward but with a modest smile on his lips he refused to take a single coin more than the fare I owed him.
I stood watching the man as he was returning to his taxi. A feeling of guilt for suspecting a nice man tormented me. How we suspect people for their looks unreasonably—the thought kept repeating itself in my mind all along.