The trusted stranger

Unlike politicians, ‘trust’ for the common man means a thing of virtue on which hinges the meaningful and cherished values of our day-to-day life, thus imparting an ethical sheen to our existence. This ‘trust’, held sacred by all right-thinking people, is not only limited to close intimate dealings, but holds good in interactions even between total strangers.

Several decades ago, I happened to travel from Madras central to Nagpur with my wife by the Grand Trunk Exp-ress with rather heavy luggage. Waiting alongside us at the platform for the train was a friendly Punjabi gentleman with whom we struck an instant rapport. We had confirmed reservation in the first class coupé, while he had been placed at No 1 in the waiting list. He was quite anxious about this since he was undertaking the journey on a pressing errand.

Madras being the originating station for this train, enough time was left for its arrival at the platform. So, we decided to have snacks by turns at the restaurant housed on the first floor of the waiting room located at the far end of the station. Our new friend suggested that we go first while he looked after our luggage, which incidentally contained valuables.

While getting down the stairs after having refreshments, my wife accidentally missed a step and badly twisted her right ankle, the massive swelling of which rendering her immobile. As advised by a doctor – who luckily for us happened to be at the waiting room – I rushed out of the station to the nearest medical shop in an auto to get a crepe bandage and pain killers.

It was only after this first-aid that we managed to move towards the platform. Since devices like cell phones were unheard of those days, I had no means to communicate with our new friend, and by the time we reached the platform the train was whistling for departure!

Worried, we looked around, expecting to find our friend busy with the TT to get his reservation, leaving our luggage unattended (understandably so); but what we saw was unbelievable. He was still there guarding our belongings, anxiously waiting for us! By then, unfortun-ately, the TT had allotted the only vacant berth to the next one in the waiting list.

Deeply touched by his angelic gesture, we urged him to just get on the train with us without a second thought. Once inside the bogie, we managed to accommodate him in our reserved coupe. Indeed, this was the minimum gesture of gratitude we could show for his gracious act of honouring the trust we had reposed in him, even at the cost of his own accommodation (notwithstanding his urgent errand at Nagpur).

This was destined to be the beginning of a much cherished friendship of a lifetime. For the next half a century we kept in touch with each other, our closeness growing deeper by the year to the extent that we intimately confided and shared even our respective family problems, though we very rarely met.

Last week, I was immensely saddened to hear from his son – with whom he had settled down in Houston – about the sudden demise of my trusted friend, releasing the floodgates of memories and prompting me to pen this article.

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