I never gauged human behaviour without taking into account the fact that a good percentage of people are uncaring. I first learnt of it when my pen ran out of ink when I was appearing for my Class VII exam and I asked my friend for a spare one. She pretended not to hear me and I lost almost 20 minutes till the teacher came to my rescue.
Each day I read about people taken for a ride just because they were ingenuous, and I can write volumes on our dog-eat-dog world, the dog-in-the-manger attitude or the folks passing by like ships in the night.
But I have undergone a sea change. The world at large has not changed and the dog still eats the dog, but my experience gave me hope that all is not lost. My husband, our three kids and I had gone on a one-week holiday to Bengaluru.
The children were packed into the old faithful Ambassador. They sang and looked forward to shopping and having a view of life different from what it was in Kochi, a sleepy backwater town then.
We shopped to our hearts content, especially the children who found “cool” clothes which they were eager to show off before their friends back home. We dined like kings on exotic foods in restaurants with interiors tastefully designed and beautiful menu statements, something Kochi did not have then.
Then it was time to drive home. The boot of the car was filled with baskets of big tomatoes, fruits and vegetables we rarely saw back home. And so with a full tank of petrol, we left.
Our Ambassador suddenly sank into a muddy hole on the Hosur road. Inspection revealed that on of the tyres had decided to give up the ghost. As luck would have it, there was a good stepney, which two or three local mechanics fixed, and we were off.
Three hours on National Highway 47, at a place called Perundurai, the stepney decided not to cooperate. The nearest city was Coimbatore, almost 50km away. More nerve racking was the fact that between my husband and myself we had money just enough to buy a bunch of bananas.
So, with a prayer on his lips and umpteen instructions to us like ‘sit in the car, don’t get out and don’t talk to strangers’ he hitchhiked on a lorry, hoping to be back before the night fell.
The children had seen a small rivulet nearby and clamoured to be let out. My motherly instincts told me that it was well nigh impossible to rein them in as my words were blown away in the “whys and wherefores” of arguments.
It wasn’t difficult to mind them as they played in the clear water, but my heart was thumping as the sun began to dip in the west. We returned to the car. Then came striding along an ebony, tall well-built man clad in pristine white, accompanied by similarly built companions. They peered at us and the children shushed. And then he spoke, his voice oozing politeness.
Mixing Malayalam with Tamil, I told him our story. After listening attentively, he said he was a village headman and assured us that we would be safe. All we had to do was to honk twice or thrice if we needed help, the man told me, his assuring smile worth a thousand full moons. One of his men would keep watch till my husband returned.
About half an hour later, two teenaged boys came with a brass tiffin carrier and banana leaves and served us a hot meal. When we were full they left with smiles. Among the distant trees I saw the red light of a beedi. It was undoubtedly the villager who was keeping a watch over us. My husband arrived with a new tyre before midnight.
Call it the hand of providence that brought us the new tyre. Searching for his friend in Coimbatore would have daunted even a searcher of the elixir of youth, but, by a happy happenstance, the very friend he was searching for crossed his path. My husband walked the grassy path to the village to thank the headman, and soon we were off on our journey.