What does three seconds mean? Probably one twentieth of a minute, if not anything significant in particular. Well that is how much it meant for me as well, till today’s afternoon. I was zooming past at 72 kmph to work- when in a matter of few seconds,three to be precise -the speed went from that to zero. I had driven without petrol for the past few days. And my Pulsar- older than sum of all my functional relationships put together -diplomatically protests in these kind of non verbal ways. Especially in routes with no semblance of a fuel station for the next few kilometres from all four sides, to gently remind me to not take it for a ride.
So here I was with a bike with a vapid tank, weighing just the same at the Madhya Kailash to Tidel Park stretch. For the uninitiated non-Chennaites, this particular stretch is notorious for its stagnating traffic. If that opening scene from La La Land was to be recreated, this stretch would be a top contender, notwithstanding Bangalore and Mumbai. And did I mention it was in the afternoon? A humid, sweaty one. With the pores in my body over-timing to compensate for the lack of dampness in the air. And it really didn’t help that I was wearing a white translucent shirt.
And like that, the afternoon’s journey had passed from warm wind blowing against the face to trudging in search of the nearest fuel station. And to add salt to the wound, the Talaash songs were still playing on my earphones. Karma’s a bitch.
It was not until I was at the end of a two kilometres dead rubber walk, did I get my first rendezvous with humanity. There was this gentleman, in cheap clothes, on his bike who seemed to be stalking me from a few metres on his bike. I stopped. And he came from the side and offered to toe my bike to the nearest station; still a kilometre and a half away.
Wow! I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the gesture for a moment. To actually offer a ride to a sweaty stranger while he pulls his bike from the side is no mean thing. One, it’s inconvenient. Two, it makes you look silly. And three, I wasn’t even his friend for him to go through the inconvenience or silliness. Yet he did. I certainly wouldn’t have, not even to a friend had I seen him drag along on a Thursday afternoon. I profusely thanked him and continued to drag along.
By now, bathed in my own sweat, I was beginning to vicariously go through Christ’s last moments uphill; just that I was dragging a bike instead of a crucifix with absolute certainty of not turning God to a new faith. That’s when the second intervention happened. The station though not in the viewing perimeter was under a kilometre away, when an auto slowed on my side to offer to toe till the station. The driver was a dark man, with a stern but kind face. He had a passenger, yet he offered to chip in. I politely refused his generosity and thanked him. Not someone to take a “no”, he insisted again and I thanked and continued to drag. Disappointed he drove past. He must have thought of me to either be high handed or a masochist. Rightfully, so. To me, this was as moving as the former gesture. Actually, a little more considering the fact that he had a passenger and was still willing to do this. Guilt was eclipsing me as I thought of the number of times I’d condescended auto-drivers for the low lives they were on road.
I’ve fed pets, given money to homeless elders and sometimes even offered them a ride on my bike. I’ve always thought of myself to be a good person on the basis of these rudimentary acts. Yet there I was stranded, ego crushed, never having felt smaller. These men who stepped out of their comfort zone for an absolute stranger, were way better men than me. Maybe the rights and wrongs I was seeing from the high horse of my moral compass were ill founded from the vantage of my comfort zone. While I’ve frequently chipped in for someone from the warmth of my comfort, not once have I left it to lent a shoulder to someone outside of it. Maybe I needed to come down, introspect, learn and more importantly unlearn from better people like them.
Reality had dawned upon me before the fuel station could. Coming to think, the entire afternoon was after all not about getting petrol alone. Obviously, I’ll be more vigilant over the fuel meter. But that was just a ruse to a more pertinent internal journey. A reality check of sorts to become a better person. Baptism under the sun if I may.