A series on true experiences
SLICE OF LIFE
HAILING FROM Kashmir has a lethal disadvantage. When the violence around you does not manage to turn you into a misanthrope, the narrative that emerges out of some half-baked news reports makes you cynical. Either way, one tends to view people from outside the Valley with suspicion. However, when one does step out, a whole new worldview presents itself.
I too had one such experience. Having checked in at the Indira Gandhi International Airport’s Terminal 3 on 27 August, I briskly stepped towards the counter with a Delhi-Jeddah ticket in my hand. I had travelled on the same ticket from Jeddah before and expected a hassle-free check in. But it wasn’t meant to be.
As the lady at the airline counter fed the ticket details into her computer, she looked at me with scepticism. “Sir, you don’t have a booking at all. The ticket you have travelled on is one-way,” she informed me, successfully managing to shake the earth beneath my feet.
“You must be wrong. I have a round-trip booking,” I said. Having gone through the details meticulously once again, she reiterated that I had a one-way ticket. “Would that mean I’ll have to move out of the airport,” I panicked. She contacted her senior, a middle-aged lady who maintained the stalemate, but was kind enough to say, “We’ll do something about it.”
Her words offered comfort, until the lady at the counter warned, “You have to buy a fresh ticket and you’ve got to get it quickly as the seats are getting filled.” Helpless, I began to explain to her that I didn’t even have Rs 50 in my pocket and had to board the flight to return to my work in Jeddah. “Well, we can’t help that. Our system shows you only have a one-way ticket. You better call the agent who has booked the ticket,” she advised matter-of-factly, oblivious to the fact that I had no balance in my cellphone to make an international call and no friends or relatives in Delhi who could offer assistance.
Helpless, I decided to buy a fresh ticket for Rs 15,000. “Can I transfer the money via netbanking,” I requested. Seeing my desperation, she punched a password on my laptop that connected me to the airport’s WiFi. I tried to transfer the amount, but to no avail. Meanwhile, the flight was getting full and I was preparing myself for the worst.
“Don’t worry son, I’ll help you with my money,” remarked the middle-aged lady (the senior staffer). For a moment, I was taken aback. Could a stranger really trust me with her money? I wondered. While I was coming to terms with her kindness, she was instructing the counter clerk to issue me a fresh ticket. In the next five minutes, I had a boarding pass in my hand with my baggage already checked-in. Seeing that I had regained my composure, she introduced herself to me, “My name is Harpreet Malik.” I jumped over the baggage belt and asked if I could embrace her. She opened her arms and gave me a warm hug. Later, not only did she ensure that I got comfortable seats, but also came to see me off.
In a country where people are murdered for petty sums, the extraordinary help that was extended to me had great significance. Clearly, it didn’t matter to her that I belonged to a different religion and came from a troubled place.
In a subsequent mail, she wrote to me: “I am a cancer survivor and have survived Stage IV. Therefore, I value relationships far more than material possessions. My way of looking at life is: all that we have is god’s gift to us and if we can’t help others, we don’t deserve god’s generosity.”
I transferred the amount the very next day. I often wonder if she is aware of how big a change she brought to my worldview through her small act of kindness.
M Farooq Shah is 37. He is a journalist from Kashmir, who is currently working at Saudi Gazette, Jeddah