Some six years back, when I had just moved to Mumbai for work, I had a train to board for my hometown in 30 minutes—and I was still at the office!
With a force that, at any ordinary time, would have cracked my shoulder blade, I lugged my bags onto my shoulder and set off. For this was no ordinary time, it was an “emergency” and I was “She-warrior” in “Metal armor.”
I don’t quite recollect my attempts to grab a cab. All I recall is: I was at the station and it was 10 minutes to board the train which was stationed at the last platform.
Looking around frantically, a tug at my luggage made me spin. I was now facing a dejected looking porter. “Do I need one?” I contemplated. I didn’t, but before I could speak, he grabbed my bags, and heaving them eagerly on his head he inquired about my platform. His adamant nature bothered me; what unnerved me more was his eagerness—he seemed to be begging. I winced with discomfort.
“First tell me how much will you charge?” I asked, mustering authority, and relieved to register the fact that he was wearing a uniform. I had to soothe both my fear and suspicion. He in turn shocked me by scolding, “Do you wish to miss the train.” It wasn’t a question. Then he charged toward the train with my luggage.
Being shouted at somehow helped me adjust my focal lens on the bigger picture. Click. Adjust. Look. What do you see? My Train!
Six minutes for the train to depart; I was sprinting. The porter was soon way ahead of me. I was panting but kept pace—I had to. He urged me to be faster and I suddenly felt glad he’d pursued me to hire him; I could see how genuinely he wanted me to board the train. It seemed his only mission in life.
Finally, I reached my compartment; he had already hauled the luggage inside, and was waiting for me. I had decided to pay him 50, 20 more than the usual 30 bucks. I handed him 100, the only denomination I had. His face fell instantly. “I won’t get change! It is a big note! Keep it!” he said.
I was quick to realize that the porter could have promised to return the change and escaped. To my surprise, he had no such intention. I was so taken aback that I asked him to keep it all. He seemed restless at first, but then he snatched the bill from my hand and disappeared in a flash.
The train was late, but it had just started. I was at the door, about to go in when I noticed the porter running toward the train as it caught speed. I was confused. “Was the note I gave him torn? Did I drop something?” But surprising me even more, he extended his hand to return the change. “I had had no work since morning, I was desperate. Thank you,” he confessed with a smile. He used his words with earnestness in a way I had seen very few do.
As I left behind a panting man on the platform, I turned into a speck, appearing small instead.
Standing at the door, I wished to remember his face so I could spot him later, narrate this incident to his family, and help them in some way. Now as I write this, I feel horrified; I hope he does have loved ones and has known days of joy.
Sitting comfortably and in time for the journey that I had secured because of the porter, I felt sad to realize that it is often a lack of discernment in people that lets heroes die unsung. Just like the porter questioned my judgment, and even in commotion, left me with his integrity for an answer, there are so many people eager to be of service on our mission and often do so without expecting anything in return.
We often fail to acknowledge their being or feel grateful for their role.
I hadn’t developed my discerning eye and almost not recognized someone for who they were. I had been unmoved by the eager eyes, the uncertain smile, the quivering hands, the persistence at an old age. I had taken the hopeful readiness as signs of weakness. While it was not him who shed his composure in chaos to be so easily ruffled, it had been me.
I silently welcomed a peep at life through their eyes. The sight may not be from as great a height as you think you are or want to be, but it is surely worth the notice.
Author: Malvika Vazalwar
Editor: Catherine Monkman