The unexpected challenges of travel bring the best kind of people across your path.
The adventure began with a quick, four-day stopover in Mumbai. India had a lesson for me to start me off on my journey. This was not my first visit to India. I had previously spent about one year and four months in the country on four different occasions, for volunteer work and study.
India is like no other country I have ever been, where the only thing that can be expected is that things will be unexpected. It always seems like fate and extraordinary experiences follow you wherever you go in India. Life there is both richer and harsher than anywhere else I know.
This trip was just a quick bonus visit to one of my Indian friends who I used to study with in Delhi. When I arrived, Mumbai’s roads were running like rivers from the monsoon rains. Traffic was more hectic than I had ever experienced before. People from all over India have flocked to the Bollywood city in search of a brighter future, but the growth rate has been unsustainable. As a result, a sea of slums made up of small shanty houses with blue tarpaulin roofs stretch for miles across the city.
On this particular day I had planned to meet my friend Supriya for lunch nearby her office. We had arranged the time and place and as my phone didn't have an Indian sim card Supriya told me to use the pay phone across from her work so I could tell her to come down and meet me. But of course, nothing goes to plan in India.
I travelled almost an hour in the crazy traffic, trying to shelter myself from the rain that poured in through the sides of my door-less auto-rickshaw. I finally reached Supriya’s office gate with only a small amount of difficulty. Fortunately I remembered enough Hindi to help in getting to the right place. I knew even then that it had been too easy so far and that India must have some obstacle in store for me. But I set off hopefully into the rain, with my umbrella clutched tightly in my hand, on a mission to find the payphone.
I went to the shops directly across from Supriya's office. This is where the phone was meant to be. “Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai?”, I asked the shopkeeper where the phone was, all too expectantly. He simply replied, “Phone yahan nahin hai” (There is no phone here). He pointed up the road, as if to indicate that there was a phone not far off. I walked on for a few metres and asked again, ““Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai?”. I had played this game before and knew that it was not wise to trust the directions of one person alone. Again I was waved on and directed by a man who spoke rapidly in a thick Hindi accent that I pretended to understand. This process repeated itself until I was 200 metres down the road, around the corner and standing in a muddy alleyway with no payphone in sight.
In a miserable monsoon-soaked mood I decided to try one more time. I asked a nearby shopkeeper, “Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai? Mera phone kharab hai.” (Brother, where is the payphone. My phone is not working). He looked up at me with a smile and without hesitating he pushed his phone towards me. I took it gratefully and called Supriya. There was no answer. But I had found myself in good hands. The shop keeper, aptly named Lucki, took it upon himself to make sure I got in contact with Supriya, who, as it turned out, was stuck in a meeting. For the next half hour I hung out at Lucki’s shop while he called and messaged Supriya repeatedly with his phone. Meanwhile he chatted to me politely and fed me Mentos, with no expectation of getting anything in return. He kept on saying to me as he struggled to get onto Supriya, “This is India!”. He explained also that although India has some problems there are good things about the country as well. And for me, Lucki was a perfect example of that. We did get onto Supriya in the end and she was very apologetic as we went for lunch.
I know that there are bad people in the world and that, at times, it can be very hard being a traveller. But Lucki was a reminder for me, at the beginning of a very long journey, that no matter where you go, there will always be good people who will help you out when help is needed. I’ll never forget Lucki’s kindness.