Wednesday, 10 September 2014

When you lose everything, you have so much to gain - by Shaizia Jifri



After my father passed away, my mother and I had various property issues that needed to be sorted out. One such issue involved a flat in Bangalore that had belonged to my father. We wanted to sell the flat  But the documents to clear it were with a friend in Chennai who were the original builders of the apartment building.

I was 19 years old at the time and not very familiar with Chennai. I had always visited with my parents, which meant a flight or train in and then being whisked away from the airport or station in a car to the Madras Club. On this first trip alone, I took a bus there and got down and took an auto to the YWCA where I was staying. At the time I didn't know the YWCA was walking distance from the bus stop and railway station. All good auto drivers can smell opportunity and an outsider. So it was inevitable that I managed to find one who drove me around for a good half hour before dropping me off, so I never really had my bearings of the city from the word go.

I managed to some how get my work done there and get what I need within a day. I had already booked my return on the train and already had my ticket with me. So it turned out that I had a morning free to myself in Chennai, since my train ticket was booked for 1:00pm. I decided to checkout of the YWCA and spend some time at Landmark Bookstore till I had to leave. I knew Landmark because Mum and Dad used to always take us there on our family trips to Madras(before it became Chennai).
Somewhere between getting out of my auto, going into Landmark and going up to pay for my books my wallet had gone missing with all my money. I had put all my money in one place and had nothing else on me. It was the sort of mistake only an inexperienced traveller makes.
With much embarrassment I put the books back and walked out of Landmark. Outside I discovered that all I had was a pack of cigarettes and ten rupees that had been stuffed into the right pocket of my jeans. So I flagged down the nearest auto and offered him both the money and cigarettes in return for a ride to the railway station. He smiled and nodded. Half way through our auto ride he rotated his head around to leer at me and pointed at my breasts and started making lewd kissing noises. He then and pointed to my boobs and to my horror asked if he could suck on them in Tamil. In shock and horror I asked him to stop the auto. As I'm tumbled out of the auto this sick old pervert told me to look up because we had reached the station. Sure enough I was at the side entrance to a station. So I ran up the stairs slightly jelly legged from my experience and pulled my train ticket out of my bag. The ticket said Platform 3 on it and I looked up and it turned out I was standing on Platform 3.
I settled down on a relatively clean and empty space on the floor, with my bum perched on my backpack since the station was fairly full. A train to some tiny place in Kerala came and left. Then a train to Salem. Then one more train to Kerala. 1:30 came and there was no sign of any train to Bangalore and the station had emptied quite a bit.
Tears of sheer desperation were now welling in my eyes. I really just wanted to get on a train and get home. So I went to the station master. He saw me and instantly took pity on me. He asked me what happened. I tried to explain in my incoherent Tamil, with English smattered generously in with it. I also told him I had to get home to Bangalore. My story must have had an effect because he clicked and tutted and head waggled with the deepest of sympathies as only a Tamil man can. He shook his head once more and replied that this was Egmore station and that I needed to get to Chennai Central.Then he pulled out fifty rupees from his wallet and gave it to me. He then proceeded to call the station peon. He narrated my story and more clicking, tutting and sympathetic head waggling happened. after which he instructed the peon to take me via inter-city railway to Chennai Central and put me in seater class for any train bound for Bangalore. Apparently on seater class I could get away with a Bangalore bound ticket from any train going on the same day. There was hope.
There aren't too many people who's feet I have touched. But I hugged him and touched his feet before dashing off behind his rabbit of a peon.
The peon turned out to be as much of a gem of a man as the station master. He asked me what happened and between mouthfuls of air as we darted along and wind blown shouting on the inter-city railway I tried to explain again as best I could about what had happened. I tried to use all the Tamil I know to make it a bit easier for him to follow. When we got to Chennai Central he put me on the Lalbagh or Brindavan Express. I can't remember which one, but I know it was named after a botanical garden. He then grinned at me and dipped into his shirt pocket for 10 rupees. Probably the biggest note in his pocket that day. He shoved it into my hand and turned and darted away.
On the train, I happened to sit down next to a drunk. The drunk as it turned out had the same ticket situation as me. He had a ticket to Bangalore for a train that day and not a ticket for that particular train. The T.T came round and took one look at his ticket and tossed him off the train.
I hurriedly moved across to the old couple sitting opposite me and asked them if they would help me translate to the T.T because my Tamil was terrible. Through them I told the T.T my story and all three were sufficiently moved as only Tamil folk can be. There were deep exchanges of head waggling, clicking sounds, eiiyoos.....oooo...ooos...mmmms and aaas, in my direction. At the end of this long exchange the T.T let me stay. The old couple turned out to be truly generous. They fed me. Gave me a blanket. Fed me some more and chatted away at me. I confess that I was the one interjecting with mmms..aaaa..aaas...eiiyoos and head waggles of my own to keep pace with their stories.
When we got to Bangalore the old couple had a driver coming with their Maruti 800. They dropped me home and drove out of my life forever. In one day I had lost everything and been given more than I needed and delivered back home all in one piece. The world is a generous place and when you have lost everything, you really are open to all it's unexpected gifts of kindness from those around you.

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