I wanted to join the navy after I finished school. This meant a long journey from Kerala to Lonavla for the entrance test. The only language I could speak was English besides my mother tongue. I came from a poor family and was the oldest of six children. I was keen to get started in my career and help my father.
He could give me only a small amount of money as travelling expense. My enthusiasm and self-confidence ompensated for my lack of funds. I had hoped that I would be selected and wouldn’t have to return to Kerala. But I got a thumbs down. I had exhausted my limited funds. I was waiting on the railway platform to commence my return journey, disappointed and depressed.
There were 30 to 40 other boys, returning to various parts of the country. For many, this had been an adventure trip. They were joking and playing pranks on one another to kill time. I was sitting alone, brooding, wondering how I could manage the long return journey with no money. I was also worried about facing my father.
A middle-aged man came and sat close to me. He spoke in Hindi. When he realised that I didn’t understand the language, he switched to broken English. He asked me why I was looking so dispirited. I was reluctant to confide in him but he extracted the truth from me.
He removed a Rs 100 note from his pocket and extended it towards me. He didn’t seem well-off. I declined his offer. But he insisted I take the money. I agreed on the condition that I would repay him. But he refused. He said, “No son, I don’t want the money back. There’s little possibility of us meeting again. But in future, help someone in a similar situation. That will be enough for me.” He wished me best of luck and walked away.
A year later, I joined the navy. I pass Lonavla station often. The memory of my stranger friend-cum-well-wisher remains with me. He reaffirmed my faith in human beings.