When I moved to Kalimpong on a rainy June evening, I had my heart in my mouth. I was going to live there with my two little girls. A sleepy, laidback West Bengal town, it figured on my map because of my younger daughter. She has a medical condition that demands the cleanest air for breathing and aren’t the hills the best bet for that? For reasons outside my control, I was without any family support and I had no soul to call as my friend there. My husband was posted on the Indo-China border and this was the closest I could stay. So I headed there with baggage, a dog, and ourselves.
One fine evening as the sun folded itself behind the pink and purple skies, my daughter fell sick. I was still a novice at driving; leave aside the treacherous hilly u-pin bends and the roads as narrow as veins. There was no way I could take her to the hospital in my car. I stepped out on the road and tried hailing a taxi. Kalimpong, as a town, shuts off by seven in the evening. The Maruti Omnis that ply on the roads and zip through the narrow streets are the local transport. Since it was much beyond seven, the roads were barren.
Standing there with prayers shooting off my head like SOS calls on a sinking ship, I saw a pair of headlights approaching. It was a local fellow heading home. When I told him the issue, he promptly turned back and took me to the hospital. Now came the issue of medicines. The doctor, a revered fellow in that small, close-knit community called up a pharmacist who opened his shop to provide me with the medicines. All three of them shared their numbers for future emergencies. In a world largely paranoid about privacy and harassment, who does that anymore? And yet, they did.
I have had the most life-affirming experiences in the last couple of years. When I would travel out of Bagdogra airport, the airhostess would provide me with the most spacious seats. It would be a part of their training to help me out, but if they saw me struggling with two young kids, wailing at the top of their voices in the plane, they would take charge of one while I appeased the other and we tried to soothe them both down. Here I was so close to living every mother’s travel nightmare and I avoided that catastrophe because of them. The story was no different at other airports. Random strangers have genuinely asked if I needed help with the bags or the kids (this makes my daughters sound like they are the naughtiest girls on the planet but they are just like other toddlers – want the world and want it now.)
The help I received from the maids, electricians, plumbers, shopkeepers and the rest of the people that I have come across has been tremendous. A leaky faucet, a persistent electricity issue or a trip to the hospital in the middle of the night can put even the strongest of us on the back foot. The news around would like us to believe that there is no hope for us. But I have lived a life of no familial support and I disagree with the cynics. I couldn’t have survived all the medical emergencies or the travel tantrums or the everyday struggles that a single parent goes through, without each of these strangers extending the kindness that I felt I didn’t deserve but what I truly needed.
There is much that ails the society- corruption, poverty, unemployment. In the face of all that, my experiences seem like a utopian possibility. But I have lived this and I know I can believe in this country. It is a country that helps me with my luggage at the airport through the crowd as I balance both my kids. It is a country that offers to stay at my bedside when I am writhing in agony and sponges away my fever when I am so far from home. It is a country that offers to drive me out of harm’s way in the face of a possible ten-day bandh.
When I started out from Delhi that June morning with fear seeping out of every pore in my body, I should have known better. I was scared- for myself and for my girls. What if I could not stand up to the task? What if I failed? But I should have remembered all the tales of kindness from my grandmothers that I had grown up on. I should have thought of that magnanimity of spirit and the generosity of hearts that our India is known for. Because at every step that I felt the need of family or friends, strangers stepped in and made me realise that we don’t give credit to people outside our circles. But there they are- ready to help, should it be sought. With its touching humanity, its frail hopes, its unabashed generosity, its indefatigable spirit to matter, and its one-more-attempt to right the wrongs, this country has not let me down.