It happened a couple of weeks ago. I was waiting for an autorickshaw to get to office and as usual either they didn’t like my face and buzzed off or quoted a sum that sounded like the price of the auto.
Nearly 20 minutes had passed and my patience was wearing thin. I was getting ready to explode with the choicest of gaalis should the next one say no or ask for more money.
But along comes this autowallah, who sort of politely says he can’t go towards my office but could drop me at the nearest metro station. I was tired of waiting so got in.
On the way he asked me if I took an auto to office everyday. He did a bit of calculation and said so you spend nearly 2,000 every month on commuting to office.
I was in no mood for small talk so I cut him off. But he made an offer that got my attention. He said pay me a thousand bucks and I’ll drop you to office for a month.
At this point he stopped the auto and turned towards me. That was the first time I noticed his face. He was probably in his late thirties with a kindly face and a disarming smile that appeared genuinely pasted on his visage as he elaborated on his proposal.
“Sir I need Rs 1,000 urgently. I have been driving since 5 in the morning and have managed to earn only Rs 600 half of which i have to give to the owner of this vehicle,” he said with pleading eyes the smile still in place.
I said i wasn’t carrying so much money. But he pleaded again, “Sir you would do me a great favour if you help me. I promise to drive you to office every day. You can take my mobile number and my address and also keep my driving licence as security.”
I was not convinced, after all this is Delhi where you could be conned anywhere anytime. As if reading my mind he said, “Sir I know this is Delhi and i am making a strange request but I felt as if I could ask you for help. I will never forget this favour.”
At this point I was reminded of a Nepali guy from a village near Siliguri whom I had similarly helped some years ago in Kolkata.
I was smoking outside The Telegraph office with a friend when this guy came up to me and said, “Dajju hum aapko ek baat bolega?” in his broken Hindi ( can I tell you something?)”.
I nodded and he narrated his tale of how a friend brought him to the city promising a job but ran away with all his money and belongings.
I had noticed this man standing near me. He looked like a kid trying to summon enough courage to tell the teacher that he had not done his homework. When he finally approached to ask for help, it appeared he was swallowing his pride in seeking help from a stranger.
He showed me his wallet which had some money and asked if I could help him with the rest to buy a bus ticket to Siliguri. The bus fare wasn’t much. I gave him a hundred rupee note, which was more than what he needed. He wanted to return the extra but I told him to keep it and eat something on the way. He had said he hadn’t eaten since last night.
The man was so overwhelmed he didn’t know how to thank me, with tears in his eyes he took the money, shook hands with me and said in his broken Hindi that he’ll never forget this favour.
I felt good.
But my friend wasn’t impressed. He thought I was duped and said as much. I told him if that man duped me it was only a hundred bucks, but if he was genuine than I helped a man in need. I was willing to take that risk.
Back to my autowallah in Delhi. I wanted to help but still wasn’t sure. This time it was a question of a thousand rupees. In another attempt to fob him off I told him to drop me at the office then I’ll think about it.
He readily agreed and said you won’t have to pay for today. I asked him why he needed the money so desperately. Reluctantly, he said, “I need to pay my house rent by this afternoon otherwise the landlord will throw my family out on the roads. I have a kid and my wife is pregnant.”
That did it. I gave him the money. He profusely thanked me and gave his mobile number. He also wanted me to keep his driver’s licence but I decided to trust him.
The next day when I called on that number a woman picked up and said no one by that name lives here.
I wasn’t really shocked because I knew I had knowingly taken the risk of helping an unknown autowallah for humanity’s sake.
Just as I was cursing myself for being so gullible, he called to say he was coming to pick me up. For the next 10 days he showed up regularly.
But it’s been more than a week since he last showed up. I don’t want to think that he conned me. I want to believe that he has gone to his village where there is no mobile network and will come back one of these days.