Thanks, Thank you, and a Smile…

Sometimes, we go out-of-the-way to help total strangers. Even though all you get is a thank you, it makes your day and makes you feel good about yourself. Let me tell you three such incidents. The first one happened when I was doing by B.Tech, second one when I was working in TCS and the third one after my accident. The third incident is my favorite.

When I was in my 4th semester, one day I was returning to college from home. It was a Sunday and I boarded the Island Express from Bangalore. Even though, the name of the train has an ‘express’ in it, it is slower than an ordinary passenger train. It will stop at all stations from Kottayam to Trivandrum. I usually avoid this train, but that Sunday, when I reached the station the train was just arriving and I boarded it. Most of the passengers from Bangalore were alighting from the train at the different stations. By the time the train reached Mavelikkara, the compartment was almost empty. I was sitting on the single seat on one side of the aisle. The seat opposite to me was empty. As soon as I sat down, I took a novel that I had with me, lit a cigarette and started reading. I didn’t look at the passengers on the other side of the aisle. After sometime, I felt like somebody staring at me. I looked up and saw a dignified-looking lady in her late 30s staring reprovingly at me. She was quite good-looking, wore a simple but elegant cream colored saree and very thin gold chain with butterfly locket around her neck. If I had been a few years older, I would have immediately stubbed out my cigarette or moved to the door and would have come back only after finishing the cigarette. But when one is in his 20s and trying to rebel against the entire world, etiquette and good manners usually takes the backseat. So I continued puffing away reading the novel aware of but ignoring the eyes burning holes on my head. There were four other passengers with the lady—a man, a woman and two kids. From their interactions, I got the impression that they were part of the same group. At the Quilon (Kollam) station, all the other passengers except the lady got out. It was 5.45 in the evening and Island Express as usual was running late. The compartment was almost empty. I got a cup of coffee, lit another cigarette and continued reading. Once the train left the Quilon station, it was slowly getting dark. After about 30 minutes, the lady tapped me on my shoulder. I looked at her quizzically. She had lost most of her hostility. “When will the train reach Trivandrum” she asked. “Around 7” I answered. She just nodded and then went back to her seat and I resumed reading. Then the train was stopped at some station so the Executive express could continue its journey uninterrupted. Our train was again delayed and the lady was getting agitated. From her expression and body language, I knew that she wanted to ask me something but was not doing so because of her earlier hostility and my lack of manners. So I closed the book and sat with my best possible ‘I won’t bite you’ expression. I didn’t have to wait too long. The lady asked again, “When will the train reach Trivandrum?” I told her that it will be around 7.15 because of the delay. She was visibly upset. She said she was going to meet her daughters who were staying in Trivandrum. It was her first trip to Trivandrum and her daughters had promised to wait for her at the railway station. Since hostel in which her daughters were staying required all inmates to return before 7, they would go back and she didn’t even know where the hostel was. I asked her the name of the hostel. She gave me a name, it was one of the well-known ladies’ hostel in Trivandrum and like any other student who have spent a few years in Trivandrum, it was very familiar to me too. By around 7.20 the train reached Trivandrum. The lady asked me if I could stay with her until she checked whether her daughters were still waiting in the station. I said yes, as I didn’t have anything urgent to do after reaching the hostel. Since the platform was almost empty, checking was easy. Her daughters had gone back to the hostel. The lady started crying as she didn’t know what to do. By then, it was completely dark and she was very afraid and was on the verge of panicking. So I asked her to phone the hostel and see if her daughters were there. She didn’t have the number. So I took her to a telephone booth, got the directory, found the number and gave it to her. She called the hostel, asked for her daughters and finally spoke to them. They told her that they waited till 6.45, but returned to the hostel. They told her to take an auto and come to the hostel. By the time she replaced the receiver she was sobbing uncontrollably. I didn’t know whether it was from the relief of talking to her daughters or because of the fear of taking an auto at that time of night. So I told her I would take her to the hostel. She readily agreed to that. I called an auto and got inside as she would be getting out first. I told the auto driver, the destination and since he didn’t know the way, I told him how to get there and we were on our way. On the way to the hostel, she started calming down and asked me what my name was and what I was doing in Trivandrum. I told her my name. I told her that I was studying and was staying in a hostel nearby. She was silent and soon we reached the hostel. Her daughters were standing at the gate and she jumped out of the auto and a hugging session ensued. I also wanted to join the party as the girls were pretty, but couldn’t do it as nobody invited me. I got out of the auto as she had forgotten her bags in the thrill of seeing her daughters. I handed the bags to her and returned to the auto, asking the driver to take me to my hostel. Only when the auto started moving and I called out “Good night”, she came to her senses. She started shouting ‘stop’, ‘auto charge’, ‘money’, ‘thanks’, etc. I waved and soon the mother and daughters disappeared from my view. I didn’t know the name of the lady and nothing about her, except that she had two very beautiful daughters studying in Trivandrum. When I told my roommates about the incident, they nearly killed me for not asking the names of those beautiful girls…

It was the 24th November, 1993. I was working in TCS. It was the pre-cellular phone era and whenever I wanted to call home, I had to go to a public telephone booth. Since the public booths were too crowed during the evenings and nights, I usually called home in the morning. I used to make the call around 6 AM. At that time I was staying in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. I used to call from a telephone booth just outside Gandhi Nagar. After making the call, I will have a cup of coffee and then go back to my apartment. That particular day, it was raining heavily. When I started from the apartment, there was no rain. But once I got into the restaurant after making the call, it started pouring. I waited for about 15 minutes. It was about 7AM and the rain was showing no signs of stopping. So I decided to brave the rain and started my journey back. When I entered Gandhi Nagar, the first sight I saw was two kids—a boy and a girl—in white school uniforms trying to push a car—a Fiat. I was astonished as I knew that however hard they tried they would not move the car an inch. But I was more interested in finding out the idiot who sent the kids to do the job while sitting comfortably in the car. I stopped by the driver’s side and looked inside. I saw a lady in her late 20s, sitting inside and crying. I had learned driving at a very early age and that too on a Fiat. I was a pretty good mechanic too. I immediately knew why the kids were outside trying to move the car more by willing it to move than by pushing it and why their mother was sitting inside the car coaxing it to start. I got off my bike and put it on the stand. The kids and I were completely drenched as rain was still pouring heavily. I asked the lady what the problem was. She told me that she was taking the kids to school and the car stopped suddenly. I asked the boy how they will go to the school as both of them were completely wet. He told me that they had a spare set of uniforms at the school. I said I would join them and all three of us started pushing the car. I have done this exercise several times as our Fiat had done the same thing many a time. On a level surface, I could push-start a Fiat single handily. It involved pushing the car with the driver’s door open, steering the car while pushing and jumping in once the car has gained enough momentum and then quickly putting it in gear and releasing the clutch. It is an art that I had perfected over the years and since I had managed to start our Fiat on the bumpy village roads, this was like a walk in the park.

We pushed the car so the lady could start, once it had gained enough momentum. But even after pushing the car for about 30 meters and even after the car has gained enough speed nothing was happening. So I stopped pushing and asked the lady what the problem was. She said the car was not starting. I didn’t get the jolt one usually gets when the clutch is released and asked the lady what she was doing. She told me that she was turning the ignition key ever since the car has started moving and nothing was happening. I couldn’t believe my ears. I had pushed the car almost 30 meters and all lady did was simply turning the ignition key. The expression on my face must have told her something was amiss, because she immediately told me she was doing this for the first time. I asked her to put the car in second gear, turn the ignition key and keep it in the ON position. Then I asked her to depress the clutch fully down and keep it there until the car gained sufficient momentum and when I gave a signal by knocking on the side, take her foot from the clutch while slowly pushing the accelerator down. I told her that once the car started she should engage the clutch once again and keep revving the car. I repeated the entire sequence once again to make sure she understood the method clearly. So the kids and I again started pushing the car and when I gave the signal she did as told. The car sputtered and coughed, then finally came to life. But instead of depressing the clutch again and slowly applying pressure on the accelerator pedal, the lady panicked and applied the brake. The car went dead. I was furious. I had already pushed the car almost 60 meters and finally when the car started, she blew it. I wanted to shout at her, but seeing the expression on her face, I gulped the venom and told her that we will try once more. She said no, as, she was afraid that she would mess it up again. So I told I would give it a try. I asked her to join her kids at the back, and I kept the driver’s door open and all of us started pushing the car and once the car gained speed, I jumped inside and tried to start it. But this time, the car refused to respond. The engine won’t even make a noise, or attempt to crank over. The only outcome of that exercise was that we got the lady also completely wet. I asked all of them to get inside the car as there was no point in all of us standing in the rain. I opened the bonnet and started my troubleshooting sequence. Immediately I could see what was wrong. The delco (distributor coil) was full of water. The car won’t start until it was properly cleaned and dried which was impossible with such heavy rain. I told the lady the situation and asked her what I could do to help her. She was toweling her kids and told me that she needed to get her kids to school as they had some exam that day. I said I would get an auto. Since we had pushed the car for about 100 meters, I could only see an outline of my Kinetic Honda in that rain. I ran back to my bike, started it and went to the nearest auto stand. I asked one auto driver to follow me and by the time we reached the car, the mother had toweled both the kids. The car was right in the middle of the road. I asked the lady to get the valuable items from the car and get into the auto with her kids. The auto driver was a nice man. Together we pushed the car to one side of the road. I locked all doors, the boot and handed the key to the lady. She said that she lived in the same colony and would sent the mechanic to pickup the car once she reached home after dropping the kids at school. She said she was very thankful for my help. While the auto started moving, the kids poked their heads out and called out “Thank you unlce…”. During the next few days we crossed paths and I was always greeted with a “Good morning uncle” from the kids and a warm smile from the mother to the amazement of my roommate. That was the last incident where I helped somebody physically as on the 2nd December I met with my accident and was reduced to a state where I need somebody’s help even to get up from the bed.

After the surgery and physical rehabilitation, I rejoined TCS. I used to go to the office in a hand-controlled car. During Sundays, my brother and I would go to the Basant Nagar beach. We would first drive to the church, stop in front of it for a few minutes to pray and then drive to the beach and would spend about an hour there—sitting inside the car watching others strolling down the beach and kids playing in the sand. One day, while we were sitting inside the car sipping a can of 7Up, a kid from the nearby slum came to my window and asked me (in Tamil) whether I would give him the empty can. It was 1994, and the soft drink cans were just being introduced and were a novelty. I looked at the kid. I didn’t want to give him the empty can as it was too cruel. I told him that if he brought me another can from the shop I would give him the empty can. He said he would do it. The cost of one can was seventeen rupees. I counted seventeen rupees and gave it to the kid. He took the money and went to the shop. The shop was about 10 meters from where I had parked the car and slightly inside. I could see the kid till he entered the side road of the shop. I didn’t know whether he would come back or would go away with the money. After a few minutes, the boy reappeared on my rearview mirror with a 7Up can in his hand. He gave the can to me and was waiting expectantly for the empty can. I handed my can to my brother took the can from the kid, opened it and gave it back to him and told him that he could take it. His face lit up with pure joy. If I had a camera with me and were able to capture that smile, I would have won many a photography award. He took a sip. I asked him how it was and he told me that it was excellent. Then he slowly strolled towards the beach sipping the drink. There was a spring in his step and a smile on his lips. I think I was lucky to be at that place at that day. The smile the kid gave me was priceless…

36 Comments

  1. Quills Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 1:19 am

    It is indeed a great privilege to help someone in need without expecting anything in return. The happiness you feel at that moment is truly priceless.

    I really enjoyed your three short but true stories. The first one brought back memories of my own train journeys while in college, from Cochin to Trivandrum many a time in the dreaded slowcoach called Island Express. The second was also hilarious and it now gives me information on how to handle a stalled car with manual shift in the rain. And the last one is truly priceless and I can just imagine the smile on that boy’s face. :)

  2. James Bright Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 4:34 am

    All the three incidents were very gripping!
    I also liked the last one most.
    But you are still helping people Alexis, through whatever you are doing now!
    May God give you plenty more resources in your fertile life!

  3. silverine Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 8:01 am

    Priceless…that’s what these memories are. You must feel a certain satisfaction that somewhere you made a difference to somebody even if it was for a moment. I would call these life altering moments for the people you helped.

    “I also wanted to join the party as the girls were pretty, but couldn’t do it as nobody invited me” ROFL :)

  4. Mahout Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 10:56 am

    Fascinating! Each of them was unique in its own way, and so I liked them all. A heartfelt “Thank you” from a fellow being is probably the sweetest thing one gets to hear. I respect you even more after reading this…

    Paappaan

  5. Paresh Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 10:57 am

    Classic!! Vintage Alexis… Helping others without any personal motive is the best. And, if you’d waited for a while… you’d got a hug from the old lady at least

  6. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

    Quills: Yes it is a nice feeling to help a total stranger. A fellow traveler on the Island Express… And now you are in US. Just a guess from the ‘manual shift’ usage in your comment :-)

    James: Thank you James. I am glad you liked the post.

    Silverine: Yes, these memories are priceless…

    Paappaan: Thank you. Yes a heartfelt thank you can make your day.

    Paresh: If I have waited for a while…Yes probably, but then the story wouldn’t have been this interesting. ;-)

  7. Unnikrishnan G Nair Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

    The interesting part in all these incidents is that the people who helped you might not know you, but you can be sure that they will remember your face, whenever they want to think of something that touched their lives. And you can be sure that they will be trying to repay you by helping someone else in a similar position like they were. You just kick started something good. ;-)

  8. Unnikrishnan G Nair Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 3:53 pm

    Oops… sorry, a small mishtake… Correcting it in this comment!! :-p

    The interesting part in all these incidents is that the people who you helped might not know you, but you can be sure that they will remember your face, whenever they want to think of something that touched their lives. And you can be sure that they will be trying to repay you by helping someone else in a similar position like they were. You just kick started something good. ;-)

  9. Quills Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

    Aha! Good one, Alexis “Holmes” Leon. :) ) I was in the US but now in Canada.

  10. Kesi Said,

    March 15, 2006 @ 10:47 pm

    The theme of trust resonates throughout all three stories. In the first two narratives, the ladies placed their trust in you, a perfect stranger to them. In the first story especially, a lady who is a foreigner to the area and having not even the slightest clue as to where she was being taken but making that decision to get into the auto with you really shows the amount of trust that she placed in you. When we visit Kerala, my old-fashioned and extremely conservative grandfather is always warning us (even my mother) never to get on an auto-riskshaw if we are traveling alone.
    I shall always remember your third story because it tugged at my emotions. Even though you don’t have a photograph of the little boy, I have a clear image in my mind of the way he might have smiled. Because you have told the story so well. The little boy must have (maybe only subconsciously) sensed that you (the perfect stranger) were putting your trust in him to make that purchase of the soda and return back. He also put his faith in you to give him an empty soda can when he returned. His trustful and trustworthy nature really touched me.

  11. Mayacassis Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 2:14 am

    I loved your stories.They kept me rooted to my seat.
    It was really nice of you to help these people.There are hardly many people who are so kind these days.The term ‘gentleman’ has no meaning in this country anymore.
    And ofcourse imagining the smile of the boy in the last story made me very,very happy.:)

  12. Suji Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 9:05 am

    Touching stories! Its incidents like these that make life worth living and renew our faith in the goodness of mankind.

  13. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 11:24 am

    Unni: Thank you. We all do what we can to help others.

    Quills: Thank you :-)

    Kesi: Yes what you had mentioned is true, even though I realized it only after reading your comment. I still don’t know what made the lady to get into an auto with me, even after forming a very bad first impression!!! Regarding the kid what you said is absolutely true.

    Maya: Thank you for dropping by. Nice to know that you liked the stories. Yes the smile was priceless.

    Suji: Thank you Suji.

  14. Geo Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

    Nice post Alexis…
    This world will be a better place if everybody starts following your example….

    Now a days, even I make it a point to help others as far as possible… If we can spend something as trivial as 15 mins of our time or 10 rupees from our pocket, sometimes it makes a big difference in somebody else’s life…

    And your train episode brought back some nice memories of journeys between Kottayam Station and Trivandrum Jn… Thanks ;_))

  15. Sreejith Kumar Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

    WOW! The last one is simply great! Very well written down too!

    BTW, you gave pesticide to a child, didn’t you? ;-)

  16. Mind Curry Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 9:13 pm

    that was really touching..its so true that it doesnt take much to be nice, be helpful and respect others, but yet, that is the last thing we do. we are always caught up in egos and constantly keeping a score card in life that its sad to watch people at times. but i am glad to hear your simple yet lovely stories, and i hope there are plenty more like you around.

  17. Jo Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 11:54 pm

    1st incident — She was fortunate to be with you. Otherwise, there are a lot of other possibilities which could lead to a next day newspaper heading “madhyavayaska balaalsamghathinirayaayi kollappettu”. It is so nice of you to help her.

    2nd — Not many people would be ready to help others without being asked. And considering the fact that even being asked only a few would be ready to help, you did a great help to them.

    3rd — You are right. It was priceless. Both his smile and your effort to make him smile. You have proved its a helping mind we need to help someone.

    All these incidents proves who you are Alexis… Am glad I could meet you in the blogosphere. And these incidents make me think what should I do in my day-to-day life.

  18. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 16, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

    Geo: Thank you Geo. Yes the train journeys were fun.

  19. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 17, 2006 @ 12:15 am

    Mind Curry: Nice to know you liked the stories. The name ‘Alexis‘ has Greek origin and its meaning is Helper and Protector of Mankind. ;-)

    Jo: Thank you Jo.

  20. arvindh Said,

    March 17, 2006 @ 1:13 am

    Fantastic stories! Very touching. Great description!

  21. anu Said,

    March 17, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

    great post..!!
    i am deeply touched..

  22. -poison- Said,

    March 18, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

    u r a good man…

    :-)

    pushstarting the fiat is an art :-D
    good thing that u help people genuinely, not expecting rewards. deduced that from the hostel episode. i love that concept.

  23. venus Said,

    March 18, 2006 @ 9:08 pm

    WOW! I don’t know waht to say.
    Thank you for sharing these incidents with us Alex.. What you did was more than wonderful, not many have this kind heart to do things like you have done. May god bless you.
    I don’t want to be rude, but wishing from the bottom of my heart that your disability was temporary.

  24. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 19, 2006 @ 10:29 am

    arvindh: Thank you arvindh.

    anu: Thanks anu.

    -poison-: Thanks -p-. I was sure you could identify with Fiat as you too are an expert in The Art of Fiat Maintenance ;-)

    venus: Thank you. Yes I too wish it were temporary. But God must have some other plans.

  25. pophabhi Said,

    March 19, 2006 @ 6:25 pm

    There is a story/film by the name “Pay It Forward”. I am sure that a person like you who has been amongst books/movies must have heard about it. Man – You just started yet another one.

    Wonderful experiences – The tiny bits and pieces that we do without expecting anything in return. And the fact that they get returned to us, to complete the cycle.

    Some forces that force these things….Great writings from a great person, Alexis – It feels like life, going through your writings. I dont need to say more – Hats off!

  26. Venus Said,

    March 20, 2006 @ 7:18 am

    May God bless you Alex.. there is a reason for everyhting, i believe.

  27. chackochan Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

    ……… i dont have any words………..

  28. chackochan Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 5:23 pm

    BTW ..what about the book u were involved with ????

  29. Deepa Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

    Hey

    :)

    What can i say except that u r probably one of the most helpful persons i have heard of ??

    btw , i thot the time for the TVM-BLR express was 3:15.
    i rem once tho that i sat at the station w/ my dad till 7:15 for the train … my aunt was on the train … this was some 15 yrs ago … i think we are talking abt the same day / period ?!!

    yes , what abt the book u mentioned in ur prev-previous post ?

  30. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

    pophabhi: Thank you very much. Yes I have seen the movie “Play it Forward.” Nice one. But that was much after these incidents and much after my accident. Thanks once again.

    Chackochan: Thanks. The book is being printed. It should be out by the end of this month or first week of April.

    Deepa: Yes Deepa, we are talking about the same period. It must be more than 20 years ago. The book will be released by the end of this month or first week of April.

  31. pophabhi Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 7:12 pm

    You are right, Alexis. It was much after our accident, I guess. Any details about the book that is being mentioned above?

  32. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 7:55 pm

    pophabhi: It about the book that I finished last week. It is Database Management Systems. You can see more details here.

  33. Deepa Said,

    March 22, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

    okie !! (abt the book)

    and , what a coincidence :)

  34. Alexis Leon Said,

    March 23, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    Deepa: What is the coincidence?

  35. BalC Said,

    March 23, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    Hi Alexis

    I am an old friend of yours. Someone recently forwarded me your web site URL. I have been reading quite a bit of it.

    These stories are really touching. I enjoyed them. Good web page as well!

    If you remember me and get the time, do write a few lines. I could not find an email for you. Maybe I didnt look properly.

    More later.
    BalC

  36. Ram Said,

    April 8, 2006 @ 7:34 am

    Thanks for sharing those thoughts with us Alexis. Everyone has those “moments” in life which help shape them and it was interesting and gripping to read about some of yours. REst assured that you are continuing to help others – in different, but maybe more profound ways.

    Is there anything more joyful then seeing a smile on a child’s face? Rock on!

    Ram

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