Four tales of kindness. Extraordinary or not, you decide.
Chandigarh. September 2015.
I was fleeing my birthday that year too. To the mountains. It was our first Bed and Breakfast (BnB). I booked a room with AirBnB, our first time. Before the whole flee-to-the-mountains plan, we had to halt at Chandigarh to attend a Gospel Revival Conference by the Billy Graham Association. My brother Abhishek had no idea till the day we landed in Chandigarh, what BnB really meant? Homestay, I told him.
Satwinder Singh, this sturdy Punjabi man in his early fifties received us at his doorsteps in Sector 45. His warmth was contagious. He helped us with our luggage to his beautiful apartment. A stunning 30-something woman greeted us. Her flawless skin was the next thing I noticed. Flawless skin is the first thing I notice anyway.
“I am Rupinder Kaur. Please come,” she said. We were shown our small cozy room. A wooden book shelf had all the Harry Potter books. We were famished by then. It was 10.30 am. I had the quickest shower. Within minutes we were downstairs for breakfast in their dining area.
Rupinder Maam served us Aaloo ke paraathe while Mr Singh inquired about our travel. He then went on to tell us witty stories about ‘sadde Punjabi’ (our Punjabi people). I don’t know which one was more delicious – her parathe or his stories. While sipping Chai and chatting with these two-beautiful people, we felt home. We felt love. We felt a connection we didn’t know then was meant to last.
“So, what’s the secret?” I asked her.
“Of everything. You don’t look like you are the mother of two adult children. Both of you have this weird couple equation that I haven’t seen before. How?”
Satwinder Uncle (he debarred me from calling him Sir) then, in his signature humour, replied,
“She likes most people instantly. And I am no exception.” Another burst of laughter.
“Come on, there’s more to it,” Abhishek insisted.
“No really. She never keeps a grudge against people. That reflects outside. As a couple, we travel a lot together. And every day we take a walk together in that garden outside. And our number 1 rule is: we will NOT discuss any work-related things or politics. This has worked for both of us so far,” he said and Rupinder Maam agreed.
Is it that simple? I have always wondered. Uncle is a consulting engineer for various water projects in the state of Himachal Pradesh. That means whenever work calls, he tags along Rupinder Maam.
“We literally keep our travel bags on the ready. In the 28 years of our marriage, she has never asked ‘where’ whenever I asked her to come with me,” he said.
“The key is to involve each other in everything and yet give each other a personal space,” she said.
The three days we stayed with Satwinder and Rupinder Singh have been etched in my memory. That memory is full of crazy travel stories, lots of Parathe, her genuine affection and his relentless care. I cried when we left their home.
Four years later. September 2019.
I was fleeing my birthday. Again. To Himachal. Again. I called him first, hoping they were still running their BnB. They were not. But Satwinder Uncle, in his signature Punjabi accent, said –
“But ofcourse beta you are staying with us.”
I didn’t dare say No. You don’t say No to Punjabis. They were both genuinely disappointed to NOT see Abhishek this time. Okay, so here’s the thing about Broda. He is every parents’ “dream son”.
So I was at the receiving end of – Why didn’t you bring Abhishek along? He should have come too. I so wanted to see Abhishek– rants for the zillionth time.
“But I brought Prashanti,” I offered, introducing my travel partner and good friend.
It was now Prashanti’s turn to get absolutely flooded with an overwhelming kindness sprinkled with lots of Desi Ghee. From modifying our private bus ticket to Himachal Pradesh State Tourism bus to calling us from time to time how we were doing to picking us back up from Chandigarh at 4.30 am – Satwinder Uncle and Rupinder Maam (I just cannot call her ‘aunty’) ensured we didn’t miss our families.
While saying ‘goodbye’, they reminded me how much they missed Abhishek. I know they meant it. I know they would have shed a tear or two when they turned their backs. Because that’s how they are. They love with all their might.
The unpretentious kindness
Indore. It’s my usual car garage in Telephone Nagar area of my hometown. I stopped and spotted a new guy. He saw me park and instantly took out the air pipe. I told him that the front left tyre needed air. I asked him how much, as if I already didn’t know. I handed him a 10-rupee Indian coin and started to reverse the car.
I was now on the road, ready to roll. But then I saw him running toward me. “Madam”, he waved at me. I killed the engine.
“Aap khulle paise bhool gaye.” You forgot the change.
“Arrey rakh lo.” Keep the change.
“Paanch rupaye mein kaun gareeb kaun ameer ho jayega madam?” How will a 5-rupee coin make anyone poor or rich?
I smiled and took it. He smiled probably at the profundity of his statement. I watched him return to the garage.
Did I hear it right? Is my life’s just naturally dramatic?
The reluctant kindness
Dharmshala. September 29 2019.
It wasn’t the best day to visit the famous Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium. That’s because the mountains at the backdrop disappear in fog. Yet, when Prashanti and I stopped an auto rickshaw to take us to it, the driver agreed.
It was bad timing O’clock. When we arrived, the stadium was closed for lunch. So, we asked our Rick guy to wait. Here’s the thing about waiting. You will feel hungry – pangs of hunger, like stomach cramps. So we told him to wait there untill we found a restaurant.
Good 2 kms of walking yet no restaurant in sight. What the hell! We could have just used our rickshaw. We finally found a good hotel, ate our lunch. But it was close to one hour.
We literally ran to the stadium amid downpour. The Rick guy looked furious. We apologised and asked him to get some lunch while we toured the stadium. We offered to give him part of the fare but he refused saying he trusted us.
Why? I almost asked him. Anyway, we toured the stadium. No mountains at the backdrop. But touristy bucket list ticked off.
We quickly got into the rickshaw.
That’s when we asked him his name. Rajeev. He didn’t ask our names. Instead –
“Madam, pura din waste ho gaya.” The entire day was wasted madam.
“To kitna hoga ab?” How much it will be?
“Rs 100 extra.”
I felt like he could have charged us way more than he quoted. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was just being a typical tourist with little idea about local rates.
You see, in desperation, the mundane becomes kindness.
October 1st 2019.
Our last day at Dharmshala. It was a clear sunny day. We had spent almost half the day admiring the Dhauladhaar Range, which was finally visible. We had no major plans. We finished our exquisite lunch from Cafe Illiterati and were just out for a stroll in the hills.
That’s when we spotted the cricket stadium again. It looked so tiny from the mountain. Prashanti looked at me. I nodded. It was our last chance to see the stadium in all its glory – the way we had seen in the pictures.
Here was the real challenge, though. No rickshaw in sight. We had walked far without realizing how we would get back to the main city.
After almost 40 minutes of trying to stop any and every vehicle, we were on the verge of despair. Just when Prashanti screamed. I felt like someone died in that moment.
I turned around to see a very sorry looking Rajeev in his rickshaw. It wasn’t the face of a rickshaw driver happy to get a new ride.
We were ecstatic though.
“Aaj kahan chalna hai madam.?” Where to madam today?
‘Wahin bhaiyya, stadium” Same stadium.
He made his disappointing gesture clear to us. But not a word.
We sat in stressful silence the whole time.
Upon arrival, Prashanti did the unthinkable.
“Aap rukoge kya bhaiyya? Aaj zyada der nahin hogi.” Will you wait brother? We won’t take long today.
This time when I watched the stunning cricket stadium at the backdrop of the magnificent Himalayas, my heart silently thanked Rajeev. I said a small prayer of gratitude.
We were back in straight 20 minutes. Rajeev had still waited for us without taking any advance fare.
In no time, he dropped us to our next destination – the main Dharmshala Market.
We just couldn’t stop thanking him. He was a native of Dharmshala. He had two children – a boy and girl – who were at school. We paid him a little extra. It was such a lame way to repay the kindness he had shown to us girls.
The kindness that surpasses all understanding
I was watching Indian actor Sonu Sood tonight on a television talk show. He was invited to share experiences about how he managed to help thousands of Indian migrant workers reach home during lockdown. This man is extraordinary, a real-life hero, an amazing example of kindness.
You know while helping those migrant workers, Sonu Sood didn’t care about how good those workers were in their jobs. He just knew that they were stranded due to a sudden lockdown and should be with their loved ones in a global pandemic situation. He did what he, along with his friends and family could, to make sure the migrant workers reached home.
All the above examples of kindness make sense to some extent. But then I am immediately reminded of a Biblical fact: man was created in God’s own image. We are kind because of God’s image living within us. I doubt that our deceiful hearts are capable of everpresent kindness. This is why even the most seasoned criminals are capable of some kindness. And we read examples of the kindest people doing evil things (Latest example being Ellen De Generes).
Personally, I don’t think I am capable of ANY kindness. The only times I am able to be kind is because Jesus Christ lives in me. Every morning I pray: God I am not capable of any goodness, I need you to help me.
I want to tap into the immense love and the immense kindness God has shown to mankind. This kindness surpasses all understanding. It’s the kindness that’s rooted in deep love, a love that’s heavenly, a love for which we were created, a love so unconditional that no human being is capable of it.
It is of the Lord Jesus Christ who died for the sins of the world while the world was still living in sin and shame. The Bible says –
But God demonstrates His own love in this: while were were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8 NIV
Imagine what love! Imagine what death. Imagine what sacrifice! Imagine what life!
If you think your life needs such unconditional kindness and love, invite Jesus into your life.
He won’t judge, He promised.