4 Lessons I Learnt From A Helpful Stranger Before He Revealed Who He Was

4 Lessons I Learnt From A Helpful Stranger Before He Revealed Who He Was

Then I learned a fifth one.

It was the 90s. 

Days of doing what the heart desired. Way before mobile phones took that away.

College was off. And interminable summer stretched ahead.

It meant reading, hikes, and nighttime meet-ups with the gang. 

And ideas that turned into plans within minutes.

And I wanted to see the Gateway of India by night but I lived 200 km away.

Spoke to a friend that night and a plan was made.

I’d travel to Mumbai by bus from Pune. He’d arrange for a two-wheeler to go around and visit the Gateway.

I landed in Mumbai in the sickly heat, enough to melt the ice cream on the billboard ads. My friend and I went to grab a bite and a cold drink from a small cafe near the bus station before anything else. 

And to see if the air con would chill us enough to brave the heat again. 

Good thing too.

He’d not been able to manage the two-wheeler. I was a little short of mad.

We debated using the bus, or the train, but I had decided to do this on a two-wheeler.

It was that or nothing. 

While we were arguing away and I was trying hard not to raise my voice, a guy from the neighboring table walked up to us. 

“You can have mine”, he said, tossing us the key to a Bajaj Pulsar bike. 

“It’s parked right outside. Drop it back here when you’re done. Fill it up, no other cost.” he said.

We looked at each other and then back at him.

Why is he doing this? Is the two-wheeler stolen? 

And, uh, who is he?

Does it matters when you are helped?

Plans in minutes, remember?

No point in letting this chance go. We told him when we would be back by, grabbed the keys, and rode away.

If you’ve been to Mumbai you know the distances are as long as the heat is oppressive. 

Buses, taxis cars, rickshaws, and hawkers jostle for space 24 x 7. 

We had a long ride ahead of us in the humid weather. 

Flyovers were still a pipe dream passed on from one party in power to the next. 

And Google Maps? Forget it.

We stopped at every major junction for directions and by the time it was about 6 PM, we reached the magnificent Gateway of India.

They lit it up just soon after. Juxtaposed with the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel, it seemed punny in comparison but still looked grand. 

In the background, the Arabian Sea extended to the far horizon. No sunset here, but the jetty was busy and the boat movement made the waters choppy. The lights danced in the waters as boats entered and exited the quay.

An item on my list was ticked. 

The area is a popular tourist destination and was thronging with people. We munched on peanuts as dogs, fancy cars, and fancier people passed by. We admired the quayside buildings and managed to snag a savoury snack from a cart. 

Then we watched some more. The heat, and the passage of time were forgotten.

When the cool sea breeze began blowing, it brought us to our senses. It was almost 9 PM. We started our ride back to the cafe and to return the bike.

He was having his meal as we walked in. A couple of men were chatting him up. Others waved to him as they walked in or out.

Popular fellow, we thought.

He asked us to join him at the table. We gave him the keys, told him the tank was full. And thanked him for being kind and fulfilling my wish. 

He smiled.

For a moment there a silence. “Why did you give it?”, I asked. “What if we had never returned?”

Does it matters how you are being helped?

He smiled some more. Asked the server to take our orders and said, “I know people”.

“In my trade, it is a must. On both sides of the transaction. It is a matter of life and death. One rotten person spoils everything.”

Before we could ask him what his trade was, he continued “I observe people, look at their gaze. Their eyes tell me everything I need to know.”

“If you ever need to know if you can trust someone look into their eyes. If they look away, then you should not trust them.”

I looked at my friend. We must have passed this ‘eye’ test earlier today.

Does being helpful have shades?

Our teas and buns arrived.

A man came over to our table and a hushed conversation ensued. We heard a sum being agreed on and our friend gave the man an address in return.

He turned to us.

“I am in a business in which both parties know what they are getting and getting into. Our transactions are far more honest than any other business transaction I know.”

We pounced on the buns, wanting to hear more.

“Judge all you want, but… ”

“Oh, we are not”, my friend said between bites, “we are just grateful that you’d allow strangers to use your bike like that. You know, just because you heard our situation. And we are curious..”, he left the last words unsaid.

Does it matter who is helping?

“We help when we can.”, our new friend continued sipping his tea, “Most of the time, we don’t get any help in return, neither me nor my customers or my workers. But we watch out for our own and as much as we can, others too.”

“The society needs us, but we are that part they would rather push under the carpet.”

“You must’ve guessed what my business is, eh?” he said smiling and looking at us pointedly.

We looked at each other. 

How do you tell a dealer that you know he is a dealer, but a nice dealer and thank you for lending the bike?

“You deal in arms?”, I ventured. 

He laughed, looking at the table across ours and repeating my words to the men seated there. “Do I deal in arms?”. 

They burst out laughing too.

“Pimp. I am a pimp.”

“Never would have guessed, would you?”

All we could do was shake our heads as we continued to look at this man in a new light.

“If you had known then, would you have taken my bike this morning?” He asked, making us squirm despite the air con.

I looked him in the eye. 

“Bhai, I was hell-bent on seeing the Gateway on a bike. I would have taken your offer even if I had known.”

He got up, shook each of our hands, paid for our food, and left.

Can we learn to take help as it comes?

It’s good that book covers don’t reveal all that is inside them. It is easy to judge but difficult to know unless you turn the pages.

Many years have passed since that visit to Mumbai to see the Gateway of India. 

I have been there several times more and even had a meal at the Taj Mahal Hotel.

But I have never seen the monument the way I did on the day we rode a bike borrowed from a kind stranger who helped two fools with a wish list.

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