Random Acts of Kindness

A story from India

On a rainy night after the day-long “india close” strike, where all public transport across the country protested rising oil prices, a few co-interns and I piled into one of the few auto rickshaws available to go home. With our numerous bags (including a suitcase), we barely fit. To save space, I put my laptop in the back. As we pulled up to the gate after a rainy, rickety ride, I hurried off with the suitcase in one hand and mango + purse in the other.

Photo by Alice Zheng

Halfway down the slope to our compound, it suddenly hit me – where the f** is my laptop?? still in the auto!! I throw down the mangoes and run up the slope to chase the auto, but it’s nowhere in sight. In strappy sandals, with a bag flapping at my side, and drenched by the rain, I turn and run down the pot-hole filled road. Desperate thoughts fly through my mind: I backed everything up a few weeks ago…but I’ll lose pictures from this summer….and the hours and hours of data cleaning/manipulation…and I wouldn’t have a laptop to use for the internship…what a waste of a summer…!#F!#*$@!#$%^ [repeat expletives]…

At the deserted intersection, I whip my head in one direction, then the other, straining to see if there are autos anywhere. Suddenly, a man on a motorcycle approaches, also drenched, and asks what’s wrong. “My laptop is lost in some auto!!” I wail. “Come, I will help you,” he says, beckoning me to hop on. Without even thinking, I do, and we speed further towards the main road.

Photo by Alice Zheng

To put the situation in context, autos are a form of transport entirely in the informal sector. despite the fact that auto drivers’ wives are our target customers at LifeSpring, some of my most frustrating experiences in india have been with autos – negotiating prices, getting lost in the defunct landmark-based navigation system, and fearing for my life as we swerve between cars, sometimes against traffic. Recovering a lost laptop from one of the 1238904274e3819 untrackable autos in Hyderabad would essentially be impossible.

A few hundred meters away, I see an auto parked in front of a small shop. I hop off the motorcycle and frantically question the auto driver, who looks at me confused. still getting rained on, I forego the conversation and look behind the seat. And there it was – my lone laptop in its case, a miracle to have in my hands again. I thank the random motorcycle driver and start to walk back, but he insists on driving me to the compound.
India is chaotic – true. The masses of people, the conglomeration of cars, autos, motorbikes, cows that form impenetrable traffic, the petty traders soliciting you to buy bangles, fruits, garlands (with a “foreigner’s tax”) as you squeeze by – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And yet, a simple, random act of kindness by a complete stranger, who surely had better things to do than ride around in the rain with an absent-minded foreigner, reminded me of the order within the chaos.

Photo by Alice Zheng

The next day, I was struck by another random act of kindness. After arriving at a store that took too much effort to get to, I stood staring at it from across the one-way street. pacing back and forth, I tried hard to figure out HOW the hell to get across. the traffic moved by fast enough that I was too timid to step out, but slow enough that it streamed by continuously with no breaks. My usual trick of crossing with other pedestrians would have failed – the slightest lag in timing or step makes all the difference.

After I stood foolishly for at least ten minutes, defeated and gaping at the traffic, a nearby auto driver jumped in front of me and motioned his hand towards me. I followed in his step as his outstretched hand momentarily slowed traffic, overcome with gratitude by his random act of kindness. As I watched him weave back through the traffic to his auto, I couldn’t help but wonder where else in the world this would happen. That a man who makes 4000 Rs ($88) a month, instead of soliciting business and attending to his vehicle, would inconvenience himself to help a visibly incompetent (and likely rich) foreigner do something so simple as cross the street, and for no more remuneration than completing the act. He barely stood at the other side of the road long enough for me to thank him.

Photo by Alice Zheng

The entire night I thought about the dynamics of human behavior in overcrowded countries like China and India. When I experience an unruly situation, I often attribute it to the necessity to fend for oneself, citing that circumstances do not allow for much regard for others. These two recent incidents may be anomalies, or they may illustrate the pervasive human concern that contrasts with the chaos and crowdedness of everyday life. Either way, they make me deeply appreciative of my experiences and interactions in india.



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