Have we lost faith in humanness?

This is one of my first posts. I am re-posting it since the incident is still fresh in my mind after all these years and I want to share it with more people.

V and I were going home after attending a seminar on children’s literature in her car, an ancient Fiat. Her driver was new — she had hired him only the day before. About a kilometer away from my house, there was this terrible knocking sound. My heart missed a beat. Had the axle broken? Had the wheel come off? Had the engine burst? The driver kept driving without reducing the speed and it took two women screaming at the top of their lungs to make him pull over.

It was a lonely and dark stretch. It was about 7 PM.  To make matters worse, dark clouds gathered swiftly and threatened to pour any moment. Two middle-aged women, an incompetent driver: that was the score. We asked the latter what the matter with the car was. He shrugged. Turned out that he had no clue about Fiats.V was getting  tenser by the minute. Back home she had a nonegarian uncle-in-law, who was alone at that time.

We got down to inspect the car, not that we knew anything except maybe a burst tyre — when the first drops began falling. And a scooter screeched to a halt behind our parked car. A man in his late 30s got off the vehicle. “Having problems, madam?” he asked briskly as he went to the car. This is all we need now — a con man or a thief, trying to make the most of the situation when two women are alone on a lonely stretch, I thought. V said nothing — her look said it all — ‘We don’t trust you.’

He told us that he was a mechanic and he knew Fiats as well as the back of his hand. “I was coming behind your car from the traffic lights and heard the knocking. It is the so-and-so of the car that is defective. We need a replacement for that,” he told us matter-of-factly. We both looked at each other. He looked a decent sort of person, but then you can never tell with con men, can you?

He told us that he could get the required spare part from the auto market which was some distance away and that he could repair the fault in no time once he got it. We had no choice. V wanted the driver to go with him. “Madam, you can trust me. I’m a family man and am not out to cheat you. I’d suggest the driver remain with you since you are alone. You ladies sit inside the car and lock the doors.”

How much money would it cost, V wanted to know. “It would be about Rs.300,” he said. She handed out the money and he kicked his scooter started telling us that he would be back soon.

We sat inside the car; it had started to pour by then. We began talking about how this man turned up like the answer to a prayer and how he went out of his way to help us. But unspoken, just beneath my words lay my doubts.  ‘Wasn’t it lucky that he was a Fiat mechanic and happened to be just behind our car?’ we asked each other. ‘And look at how he offered to even go and get the part,’ we marvelled.

Though I was speaking normally outwardly, I didn’t’ let on that I was nervous.  I didn’t say that I half expected the man not to come back. He had made a cool 300 bucks hadn’t he? But I didn’t’ say any of these things, as if by keeping my fears unspoken the fear wouldn’t come true. Besides I didn’t want to sound like a doubting Thomas. I suspected that she was having similar doubts too but neither of us voiced our innermost feelings.

She worried about not being able to contact her uncle. My battery of my cell phone had just croaked; she didn’t have one.  We talked about the seminar, about the interesting papers that had been read out, about the story telling sessions that had been enormously enjoyable – everything, but the man.

No, it wasn’t the money that worried either of us.  It was a small amount in itself. It was something more than that. We had trusted a man, albeit reluctantly, and if he didn’t come back he’d have betrayed that trust. We talked some more, but soon began voicing the unspoken fears that that has lain just beneath or spoken words.

“I think he’s just gone home. Why would a man be foolish enough to come back in this rain?”

“Three hundred rupees for an evening is good money. I think he just made his profit for the day.”

As the minutes ticked away, the words and their indictment also grew harsher.

“I knew the moment he offered to help, that he would try to swindle us.”

“It was too much of a coincidence — the man behind us was a mechanic and a Fiat mechanic at that!” We laughed mirthlessly.

It was nearly three quarters of an hour since he had gone and the auto parts market was just ten minutes away. It never occurred to us that he might have had to search for that particular part (remember I told you it was practically an antique car?)

I told V that I’d try and ask someone in the taxi stand some way on the opposite side of the road. Since it was raining, I took an auto that was luckily passing that way. When explained our problem one of them said he could try to fix it. I asked to come with me.

When we approached the car, I saw that the man was back! He was under the car on the muddy road, fixing the fault. Guilty as hell, I quickly sent the new mechanic on his way in the same auto, pressing a 50 rupee note into his hand and paying the auto fellow too. I fretted that the man under the car would discover our distrust of him.  agonize

Wasn’t it funny? All this time we had been agonizing and condemning him as being unreliable, a con man no less and when he proved our assumptions wrong, I didn’t want to offend his sensibilities!  Needless to say,  I felt wretched.

Here was this good Samaritan, lying on the rain soaked road without even a sheet under him, working in the flickering light of a torch light so that two women could reach home safely. We looked at each other guiltily and shamefacedly.

What had prompted him to do it? After all, spending the money for the petrol and the spare part wouldn’t have left him much for his service. That only meant one thing. He was a genuine human being who wanted to help another in their hour of need, regardless of the return he was going to get out of the gesture. When we offered him another hundred bucks, he politely refused, his shirt all mud spattered and his hands black with grease. Only after de drove away did we realise that we hadn’t even asked his name. I felt rotten.

The whole incident left not only a sense of humbleness but also one of disquiet. We have heard so much about con men  and cheats, that when we meet a sincere and honest person, we not only fail to recognise him or her for what they really are, but also attribute ulterior motives to their actions, doubting their sincerity and integrity.

On the other hand is it prudent to trust anyone who is ready to help?

Guys, I don’t know the answer to this one; do you?

20 comments

  1. Thank God Murphy’s Law did not come to pass on that desolate stretch that day! You indeed were so fortunate to find good samaritans to help you at such a terrible time. You could be excused for not getting their names — I could not, since I was hale and healthy 😦

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  2. hi..just catching up on your blog, after a long trip I had. Do check out some pics and a note on my visit on my blog too. Interesting blog this one is. Did you know in Mumbai there was this whole racket set up to con motorists? There used to be 3-4 people along a road, who point to one targeted motorists saying there’s smoke coming out or something. The hapless motorist on being signalled by so many people would get out. The third guy would then offer to get a ‘mechanic’ to fix the problem and swindle the poor guy for no fault of his or the car! With cases like this, it would be difficult to react even if there were indeed something wrong!

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    1. I will hop over and have a look at your blog. I haven’t checked my mail yet. I must have got the email notification of your new post.

      When we see the shows like ‘bakra’ or candid camera, we can have a good laugh. but when we are the butt of real con artists, we can only grit out teeth and bear it, as you point out.

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  3. We listen to our hearts but sometimes heart doesn’t know. So maybe we take a mix of what the heart and the mind together tell us 🙂

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  4. Any one can doubt in such a situation but its only our intuition/third eye which guides us to take a decision , either this side or that side!

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  5. Yes, we are increasingly distrustful of others nowadays. But we hear so many stories of people being conned that it is natural, I guess.

    Perhaps we should go with our gut feeling. If we really feel we can trust someone, then we should. Because how sad it would be, to go through life distrusting everyone we happen to meet!

    Thought-provoking post!

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    1. You are so right about the sadness of going through life without being able to trust’anyone. We win some and lost some, as Suchismita has commented.

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  6. We do tend to be cynical, don’t we? Hearing about all the unscruplous people around, we do tend to distrust everyone. I guess most of us would have done the same in your situation – assume that he had vanished with the money – but it is heartwarming that there are some genuine, honest people who just want to help…

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    1. I myself had been conned many times, which is why I was understandably cynical. But I still felt guilty because this person went to so much trouble and made the physical effort to help us out.

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  7. Once while traveling from NOIDA by Delhi Metro, I saw a young girl apparently being helped by some mawali looking boys. Since she was new to Delhi, they offered to help her reach her destination, which could be reached by changing the metro twice. Coincidentally, I had to go to the same station. The mother in me rose, to the occasion and I pulled her towards myself. Naturally the boys didnt like it & started grumbling. The girl also looked puzzled. Like a school teacher, I scolded the boys & told them to be away. And told the girl to be with me & that I would help her reach safely.
    I was amazed at that stupid girl. She instantly believed me. While changing the metro, she was left behind, but I soon found her. She then told me that her uncle had called on her mobile and that she told him not to worry as she was with a ‘reliable aunty’ and was reaching home. I leave it to your imagination as to what her uncle felt. No, I dont blame him.
    When we got down at the station I saw her worried uncle with a group of equally worried friends, all ready to encounter the ‘reliable aunty’. When I handed over the girl to them, the relieved uncle broke down. I was embarrassed as well as happy that I could be of some help to her.

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    1. I hope you also scolded the girl for being so gullible and not vigilant enough. And yes, you must have sounded like one helluva suspicious ‘aunty’ indeed 😀 Lucky for her a school teacher rescued her else what might have happened is anybody’s guess. Hey next time you come to Delhi, let me know. we can meet up.

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  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vineet Rajan, Vineet Rajan. Vineet Rajan said: Have we lost faith in humanness? http://goo.gl/fb/MPiiP […]

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  9. I know that feeling…you feel terribly ashamed when you realize your suspicions were misplaced, when you whizz past an accident hit vehicle…when you don’t know whether you should listen to that woman with beseeching eyes…

    But all the times I listened to my heart overriding my cynicism, I felt good. What if it’s me on the other side of the window, asking for help?

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    1. I am a sucker too for sob tales and sad looks. Once i was accosted by a group of gypsies at a signal, who were begging for money to take their companion to the hospital. She had a huge belly and in agony as if she was about to deliver. Alarmed, i gave them Rs.50 ( a big amount 20 years ago) for the auto fare hoping she would reach the hospital in time. A few weeks later i saw the same group at another intersection begging with the same writhing woman by the roadside, but couldn’t stop to take them to task. And i still wonder how the woman had such a big belly!

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  10. We hear of so many terrible happenings that it is hard to trust easily. I think each situation has to be taken as it comes.. you win some and lose some..

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    1. Welcome here Suchismita. I guess we have to take our chances but take whatever precautions we can take. In our case, it was not the money, but our sense of trust that would have been violated. Times are tough indeed.

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  11. You cant help it.. Being cynical about things is the best way to be cautious nowadays when almost everyone is out to con you. There are very few genuine people left who will really want to help.

    As a personal example, I was once at New delhi railway station where one autodriver – polite and speaking perfect english – was asking Rs 300 from a foreigner to go to Airport; when the fare shouldnt logically exceed Rs 120-140. When I advised the person to go to the pre-paid stand instead, the polite auto guy started going all verbally crazy on me. I didnt want to argue so went away quietly but realised that people are seldom trustworthy.

    In all, i wl just say that cynicism acts as a sort of defence.. effective one if not totally foolproof.

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    1. Maybe you are right — better be safe than sorry. But one feels helpless when one makes a wrong choice or avoids trusting someone believing them to be bad. In your case, the foreigner was the one who would have been in a dilemma about you, right? But i bet he or she would have thanked you after taking the prepaid auto, i am sure.

      These auto fellows not only fleece unsuspecting tourists, but curse those who pull them up as being traitors, did you know that? I have had experience of that 🙂

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  12. cynicism is inbuilt now. i have gone through a similar experience but have been conned. hence it is a tough call.

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    1. But the feeling of guilt and shame is very strong when we are proved otherwise, just as the sense of betrayal is strong when we are conned.

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