When Strangers Help

Ashwin and I headed to Uran one weekend on bike. It’s quite a long ride and it takes about 2 hours to get there from Mumbai suburbs. To get some good birding done, its best to reach the place by 7am. And so, we set out at 5am on a cold Saturday morning. At around 7am, we had almost reached our destination when the bike started to act funny.  My suspicion proved right when 5 minutes later, we found ourselves pushing the bike. We were out of fuel. It made sense to think about fuel after we finished birding else we would miss the first light of the day and the bird sightings it brings. We had less than 100 metres to walk, after which we would park the bike and head to bird. The location “Panje” was a fishing village with many of the elders still dependent on fishing for their survival. Some of the youngsters have moved out for further education. While many move to the city for work, some choose to come back to the village. The younger generation are logistically and technologically well equipped.

Panje village is one of the last remaining birding hotspots in Uran

Two boys, one aged around 15 and the other in his early 20s were practicing (cricket) bowling. They saw us and the elder one asked in Marathi:

 “what happened, petrol finished?”

“yeah.. how far is the nearest petrol bunk?”

“It is far, near the town. This is a village, you don’t have petrol bunks here sir”

“Yes I am aware, I actually come here very often… today somehow I miscalculated the petrol I had in my fuel tank”, said an embarrassed Ashwin.

“The nearest bunk is the other way… go straight and then left. But it’s a long way off.”

“That’s ok, we will manage. We have come to see birds. That’s why we wanted to be here in the morning”, said Ashwin.

“Ohh ok, you have come to see the birds”.

The locals are familiar with city folks coming to see birds in their village. Just then, a bike with 2 more youngsters passed by. Our new acquaintance stopped them and mumbled something to them, we could not decipher what exactly. After a few seconds, the two got off and started looking for something on the ground. Our new acquaintance said, “they will give you some petrol, enough to get you to the bunk”.

“Oh thanks so much!”, we both exclaimed!

The bike guy found an old 7-up plastic bottle lying around and starting filling it with petrol from his fuel tank. When it was almost full, he said that, that would be enough to reach the bunk. And automatically, our hands went to our pockets. Obviously, we were going to pay for the petrol. But as Ashwin reached for his wallet and took out a few notes, all the boys started nodding their heads– No no..no.

पैसे घेतले तर आमच्यात माणुसकी कुठे राहणार ?
“If we took money, where would our humanity remain?”

We looked stunned yet embarrassed. They meant every word they said. We did not insist. We profusely thanked them and continued to push our bike to a parking spot when our new friend shouted out- “don’t spend that petrol on roaming around and seeing birds, get to the petrol bunk first!”

Rest assured, after 3 hours of birding on foot, we used the bike to reach the nearest petrol bunk and refilled our fuel tank. I cannot even imagine anyone in the city giving you even a little bit of liquid gold for free, just to help a fellow citizen in a time of crisis. Coming from a city, we even think twice to help those in need because of the fear of getting conned! Such is our unfortunate conditioning.

This was such a welcome change. It was a wonderful day. Experiencing the warmth and hospitality of these young boys reignited my faith in humanity and leaves me feeling grateful, reminding me that -be good, do good, always.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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