A chance encounter with a stranger sometimes becomes an experience of a lifetime. I vividly recall one such encounter two decades ago. We were returning to Chandigarh after attending a colleague's wedding at his native place in Pathankot. It was the morning after the wedding and we had hired two taxis.
We were short off Dasuya, known for its premium basmati, when another colleague accompanying me alerted us that the second taxi had been trailing far behind and its occupants were not acquainted with the route. Our driver parked the vehicle beside the road, waiting for the second taxi to catch up.
We stepped out and stretched ourselves, admiring the refreshing panoramic view of the countryside early in the morning. Before we knew it, we were walking through a field of radish and heading for the beautiful sight of mustard in bloom. Enroute, we didn't think twice before uprooting a few radishes.
By now our friends in the second taxi had caught up. As we turned to get back to our vehicle, a strapping Sikh youth, presumably the owner of the sprawling estate, stood watching along with two burly hunks. Surprisingly, instead of raining obscenities on us for trudging into the field and stealing a couple of radishes, they greeted us humbly. "Kithon aaye ho, darji (A Punjabi expression for greeting guests respectfully)?" asked the eldest of them, twirling his salt and pepper moustache. "Chandigarh toan" we replied in unison, holding the bunch of radishes in our trembling hands. They asked us to follow them to a modest outhouse nearby. We did as directed, timidly though.
Soon a beaming octogenarian appeared with a tray laden with silver glasses brimful with piping hot milk. We had our fill and thanked them for their hospitality. We sheepishly left the bundle of radish behind. "Take it along," called back our host, adding "and come again."
I'm often reminded of this chance encounter with our rural brethren, particularly while witnessing the arrogance and rage in city dwellers.
A case in point was how a poor passerby was once waylaid and beaten up by a smalltime politician and his supporters for having pelted stones and damaged a dozen unripe mangoes in his backyard. The victim was trying to take home some ripe mangoes for his children.
Unsatisfied with the dressing down, the city dwellers handed over the mango thief to a police patrol, who let him off with a stern warning.
I experienced another incident that exposed the small thinking of us city dwellers. A teenaged domestic help at a university teacher's house fell victim to physical abuse when he was caught plucking flowers. The boy pleaded that he wanted to offer the flowers at a temple to seek blessings for his ailing mother's recovery. She was battling cancer. The flower thief was let off only after his employer gave an undertaking that he wouldn't steal flowers in future! The boy's mother died but he still nurses the regret that he could not offer the flowers to God that day.
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