DID WE OR DID WE NOT?

The bike kept on moving with constant, monotonous speed. The journey was enveloped in an unnatural silence. “Do you think we really helped him?” Ashu asked me, while breaking it, as we rode in the darkness, back to his house. It was followed by a momentary silence again, because I could not decide what answer would make proper sense. To me, or to him. It wasn’t something which could be answered in a simple yes or no.
So I decided to reply what I felt was required for us to believe.

“I hope we did.”

—X—

Those were the last days I spent in Bhopal. Everybody was busy then. It was funny because everyone was busy doing nothing. That happens when you don’t know what to do with your life, and you make the decision of initiating a search to find the answer to it. Finally, resulting in spending some more time doing nothing.

At the end of the engineering, everyone was on the same boat. With college ending, we didn’t had an excuse any longer, to hang around with each other all day long. And the excuses were not needed for parents, or for anybody else in that matter. Those were needed by us. We couldn’t justify it to ourselves why we were spending days like these. But, old habits die hard. It wasn’t possible for the habits, religiously cultivated for 4 years, to suddenly wither down.

It was around that time of the evening, when the sun had set, but the sky still had the fading glow seeping out. The routine of going to Ashu’s house was being conducted, which comprised of an important discussion, regarding life and 100 ways to kill time.

While he took a left from the New Market Road towards MANIT, I obliged to do my duty as the pillion rider, i.e. scanning around to see any police check post. The penalty on not using helmet was pretty strict.

That’s when I saw him.

A man in suit, standing a few meters away from a car parked by roadside, waving his hands vigorously and asking people to stop.
Was there an accident? The car looked fine, though quite worn out.
Maybe a medical emergency! But the man looked normal and the car was empty. Moreover, isn’t it the hobby of our countrymen to gather around pretty fast during such occasions? But maybe it was his gender that gave him slower response time.

We went past him as I turned my head towards his car to see the make, and I saw him looking and waving at my direction. Ashu didn’t seem to notice him.

“Did you see that guy?” I asked Ashu while still trying to decide if he waved at me.
“Not Actually. Why, what happened?”
“I think he was signalling us to stop. Maybe needs help or something.”
“Who?” Ashu asked, and the bike started slowing down as he took a glance over his shoulder to get a glimpse of that man who was left quite behind by then.
“That man, who was standing by the car. Did you see him?”
“Yeah.. I think I did spot him. Should we go?”
The bike was completely at halt now.
“Let’s see at least.”

We rode back to him as he stood there, looking at us with a relieved expression on his face.

On a closer look, the man looked a bit shabby with the unkempt beard, and was averagely dressed. As soon as we stopped our bike near the parked car, the man came hurriedly towards us and started thanking us for coming to his rescue.

“Thank God that you guys stopped! I’ve been standing here for a while now but nobody responded to me. Its hard to find sincere people these days! Thank you guys! May I know your names?”

It took some seconds before Ashu responded to this sudden downpour.

“Umm.. yeah. This is Abhinav and I am Ashu.”
“Thanks a lot Ashu and you too Abhinav for helping me. My name is Brij Yadav and I am an industrialist. I have a factory down at Indrapuri which manufactures matchstick.”

“Indrapuri? Abhinav lives there.”
Ashu nudged me as I have been just a mute participant in the conversation till then.

“Where in Indrapuri?”
“It’s in the industrial segment of Indrapuri, just 2-3 blocks away after the residential area ends.”
He answered immediately.
” Actually, my car seems to be out of fuel, and I’ve left my wallet and cellphone at the office itself. Could you please help me?”

That was the tricky part.

Helping just an unknown person is easier, as compared to helping an unknown person, whom can’t be verified for his identification. It’s so easy to get duped these days. There are people who cook up stories what not to get the better of you. Ashu looked at me for any response, then asked him.
“How can we help you?”
“Umm.. If you could let me borrow Rs. 200, so that I can get petrol to go back to my office and get my wallet and mobile. That would help me a great deal!”

When strangers ask you for money in such a fashion, they usually intend to make a fool out of you. But this guy, even though looked a bit shabby, spoke good English and had good manners, how to confirm if he was genuine?

“So your office is in the factory itself?”
I asked, and his eyes turned to me now.
“Yes! I was just on my way home before this happened”
“And where do you live?”
“My house is in Kohefiza. Near Yamaha showroom. Usually I am out of town. I just came back yesterday.”
This reply raised a red flag in my “already on alert mode” brain.
“OK! That colony is pretty well developed. But you took the wrong route to go home.”
“This road goes straight to XYZ right?”
“Yes, but you could have directly taken the route via Ashoka Garden to reach VIP road. This route is just the double of it.”
If this guy is true, why didn’t he take the shortest possible way to his place via the city? My mind started racing while trying to judge him if he’s lying about it all and making things up as they go.
“But that route has heavy traffic usually at this time right? I try to avoid it.”
He answered with a smile.

Oops! He’s right. That didn’t go anywhere.

The sky was getting darker and Ashu took his mobile phone out to check time. This gave me an idea.
“Is there some one in the factory you can call? They might be able to bring your things to you!”
I forwarded my phone to him.
He hesitated for a second and replied.
“I don’t remember their number as I have them in my mobile itself. Moreover, it’s almost time for their shift to get over. They might have already left.”
Ashu had understood my hesitation by then. He came forward again and suggested.
“We were going to get the petrol filled in our bike anyways. You just wait for 5 minutes and we will bring you petrol here itself.”
“Oh please! You don’t need to put that much efforts! I will go by myself.”
He hesitated.
“Don’t worry! We were supposed to go there anyhow. This would be nothing additional.”
I assured him and left with Ashu on the bike while he repeated his requests to let him get it for himself and not waste our time for him.

—X—

As we rode towards petrol pump, mere 800 meters away, Ashu raised his concern.
“Are we doing this?”
“I don’t know. If we give him petrol in the bottle and see to it that he puts it in the tank, that can at least assure that we were not cheated for money.”
“On the other hand he might really be in need.”
“Hmm.. Might be.”
“You still asked a lot for Rs. 200” smirked Ashu.
“Well, I would hate to be fooled while trying to help someone. That would be robbing a genuinely in need person off a possible aid in future, just due to bad experience.”
“Not up to us, is it? Its e
ither don’t help Brij, or pray that if he’s not being honest, we shouldn’t ever come to know.” said Ashu as he started the bike again.
The conclusion led us to fill a 2 liter bottle of petrol and ride back to Brij.

—X—

There he stood in front of his car, gloating. We saw him pouring down every last drop from the bottle in the tank. The bottle was empty, the tank was full, he was all set to go.

“Thanks a lot guys! You saved me. Please give me your numbers, I’ll definitely pay it back to you!” Brij promised, while taking out a pen in his hand to write them down. Before Ashu could utter a word, I blurted out, “94xxxxxxxx.” He scribbled something on his hand and nodded in confirmation that the number was safe with him to be used at his disposal.

“Thanks again for helping a complete stranger out in need. Will contact you soon!” Brij repeated these words, as he adjusted himself in the driving seat and turned the ignition on. The car was now roaring perfectly, good to go. As soon as the car turned distant to the eyes, what should have been a liberating feeling for the heart, turned into a sinking one. I looked at Ashu to know if the feeling is mutual. His face was perplexed and unsure of what just happened. So, none of us was satisfied.

“Should we have checked the fuel in his car earlier?” Ashu asked without shifting his gaze from the direction in which car went invisible now. “Or maybe should have taken his address.”
I knew what he was going through exactly. “We do have his office address. He lives near to my place right? Relax, he’ll give the Rs. 200 back.” I teased him and moved on to the bike. “Now let’s go home before your father’s name start flashing on your phone. We don’t have college projects anymore to save you.”
He smiled and started the bike, and we rode back to his house in a constant, monotonous speed.

—X—

It’s been almost 3 years now. That phone never came. We never got our money back. We never visited the address or tried googling and searching the person on Facebook. (His actual name is not Brij Yadav.. Duh!)
My message from this story is not that any person who asks for your help out there is a liar, scam artist, or is to loot you. Neither it is the fact that you might turn out to be the biggest fool, getting duped like that, or in someway or the other when you think you are looking out for someone.
The takeaway is something which views this incident in retrospect. That sometimes, no matter how good your intentions are, you end up being let down. However it happens only sometimes. And if you end up helping even one person in need, you redeem yourself for hundreds of such let downs. So, be empathetic, but don’t keep the wits at bay.

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