As my mobile phone rang, I picked it up in a half-awake state and heard on the other end, "Didi, I am outside. Good morning." It was Pathankotia, the well-known cart-puller in our small town of Abohar. Since it was my first visit to the bus stand alone to board the 4am bus to Chandigarh, his call woke me up.
This interesting man was a midnight cart-puller who never seemed to age and was young at heart. The first thing that greeted you at opening the door was his wide smile. He had been entrusted with carrying young and old, married and unmarried women to the bus stand and help them board the bus after placing the luggage in the bus carrier.
All the way to the bus stand, he kept talking about the government, forthcoming elections, and his opinion on social issues and how he has seen me growing from a child into a little woman. That day he had his music player on and kept humming to the song, 'Zindagi kaisi hai paheli' through the silent midnight market streets, fondly remembering Rajesh Khanna.
Seeing him you thought as if he never slept. That day, we were behind schedule, so he kept rushing through the lanes. While we reached the bus, he quickly took on the role of a coolie and swiftly put my luggage in the carrier. The moment I entered the bus it started moving and it struck me that I hadn't paid him. I shouted through the door, "Uncle, your reward." He replied back smilingly while waving his hand, "It's OK. Did I ask you for it? I'll take it next time."
I was moved by the generosity of the man at a time when the first sign a new shopkeeper puts is of "No credit and no discount." The likes of Pathankotia have kept kindness and humanity alive. That one man, insignificant to the world, continues to hold a place of deep affection and respect in my life. Though I never thanked him, I realise the gratitude I hold for him on behalf of all the women of my town.
During the recent times of turmoil that our nation faced, I was reminded of him and felt all the more thankful to him for being a man of honour and for his proletarian generosity. At a time when we are faced with gender discrimination and crimes against women, there are men like him who sincerely carry out the responsibility of protecting women that they are entrusted with.