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Kindness of a Stranger

Member (Account Deleted) Guest , 03 August 2012  
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It was 2004 and I was barely 18 when I came to India for my studies from Nepal.

Having studied Science till 12th, I had planned on going to the United States to pursue a degree in Electronics Engineering, like most of my friends, but a sudden change of plans in the end moment and I together with my family’s advice decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy in Mumbai instead.

The first thing that stroke me when I landed at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai was how friendly the airport staffs were. There was one gentleman who asked me as to why I had come to India and his small story about how cold he was during one of his trips to Kathmandu during one winter as he had forgotten to carry warm clothes with him and then there was another lady who greeted me with a Namaste and such a whole hearted smile that I couldn’t help but smile so widely making me genuinely happy from within. I didn’t even realise, I was already feeling at home.

Within a few days, I went to Institute of Chartered Accountants of India office at Cuff Parade and got myself registered for Professional Education Level 1 and also took admission in one of coaching classes at Andheri.

I started my coaching classes and they were good and I enjoyed every lecture. Changing tracks from Science to Commerce was difficult but very much manageable. I could understand Hindi as Bollywood movies and saas-bahu serials are widely viewed in Nepal as well but I could speak it with considerable difficulties, making a lot of mistakes and giving my coaching classmates a lot of laughing opportunities. I preferred communicating in English but my classmates felt I was being too snobbish.

There were 2 girls in particular (one Marwari and one Gujarati) who constantly made fun of my pronunciation. When that happened for the first time, I was disturbed and felt very very sad, left out: but then I was ok with it. Plus the Marwari girl was the most beautiful girl in the class, tall, fair, oval face with wonderful hair and in a race of guys vying for her attention, I didn’t mind I was getting one, although not in the way I would have wanted but something better than nothing, I thought. (We didn’t talk to each other for years and when we were together in CA Final Classes, we were seeing each other, hanging out at Juhu beach early in the morning, movies, train rides etc. etc. Sitting in McDonalds opposite Andheri Station, one day in January 2009, I remember how difficult it was for me to convince her as to why my earlier seven relationships had failed and why it won’t be the same with her but that’s a whole different story. But what I really really miss about her was the way she used to tell the story of a movie when she went and watched it in theatres; she had done that for “Rab ne bana di Jodi”, “Ghajini” and when that happened I used to feel sheer bliss.)

And in a metropolitan crowd of people from different parts of India, I seemed just another face and I wasn’t complaining either.

A couple of months in coaching classes and I thought I was perfectly adjusting to Indian conditions. I was gaining more confidence, making new friends, understanding the whole education system, gaining confidence in travelling in cramped and crowded second class compartments of local train, getting used to listening gaalis in train and learning to stand my ground in case of minor disputes in trains or buses. Life seemed all on track.

Chartered Accountancy (CA) Students also pursue B.com studies simultaneously with their CA degrees which is mostly done through colleges rather than distance education like the CA course. The college admission timeline was approaching and I had photocopied all my certificates, mark sheets, transfer certificates from my Nepali College etc. required for admission.

On the day of admission, with my new found confidence, I stood in line just like the other guys at Nagindas Khandwala College, Malad West. Since I live at Kandivali, I wanted to start from the college that was the nearest. As I stood in line, I talked to those others in line, most of them being Junior college students of the same college about the cut off percentages in previous years, the medium of instruction, size of classrooms etc. And with my percentage, I was confident of easily getting admission in the college.

It had already been 2 hours that I had been standing in the queue. There was nothing unusual, just students queuing up, submitting admission forms, paying and collecting acknowledgement receipts. A guy who was standing just in front of me had one year break in between after completing his 12th and was worried if he would be admitted. He was without any questions whatsoever.

When I reached the admission counter, I handed over my documents to the admitting officer and he, having glanced at my certificates asked me if I was from Nepal. When I answered positively, he asked me to stand in a side so that he could admit other students, while he thought about my case and asked me to remind him in 15 minutes.

As I stood patiently beside the admission window, I could hear some murmurs from the students in queue as to why I was standing in a side. Some asked me directly and I politely replied with a disheartened “Nothing, Thank You”. Some guessed I must have forgotten my money, others my photo and that I might be waiting for someone to come with money or photos.

 When 15 minutes had passed, I showed my face to the admitting officer from outside the counter. He looked at me and said, “What?”

“Sir, admission applicant from a Nepal, you asked me to remind you after 15 minutes”, I responded.

“Wait, I will call you he said”.

I managed to say a faint “ok” and stood in the side of admission counter again.

It had already been 45 minutes that I was standing beside the admission counter. In all that time, nobody was asked to wait, and I was still not called by the officer. Everyone came, submitted their applications and went happy with an acknowledgement receipt.

I decided to peep in again through the window. Before I had uttered even a single word and on seeing me the admitting officer shouted, “Didn’t I say I will call you? Standing on my head won’t make things any easier.”

Everyone stared at me and I was embarrassed. I put my head down and stood by the counter. I didn’t know what to do. This was the first college I had come for admission and it had eaten up all my confidence and taken a toll on my mood. I was already feeling guilty about all this false confidence that I had harbored, I felt like a self-projected cool confident dude whom others disagreed upon. For a brief moment, I even thought of opting for correspondence course. Standing beside the window, I felt humiliated and ill-treated but I didn’t know what to do. For another brief moment I felt as if I should walk away but I didn’t.

Everyone waiting in the queue was admitted by now. There was no one standing in front of the counter except me who was standing beside it.  I had been waiting for 1.45 hours now.

 “Oh Nepali, ohh Nepaleeeeeeeee.”, I could hear someone shouting in a disinterested tone.

“Yes sir”, I managed as I handed over my application.

“Application is not filled in black writing, we don’t accept blue, and we only need black. Pata nahi kaha kaha se chale aate hai? (Don’t know where from these people come)”, he lamented in a disappointed tone. He got up and left the counter.

It hurt me a lot. I was 16, 3 months old in a new country and what was even more hurtful was the way he differentiated me. Nothing was mentioned in the application about the ink colour and plus standing beside the admission counter, I had seen numerous applicants who had filled the admission form in blue. I was not asking for any favour, nor requesting one. I was just another boy standing in a queue waiting for my application to be accepted. If I fitted in the admission criteria, I would join, if I didn’t I wouldn’t.

My eyes were welled up with tears and I felt like crying. I wanted to call up someone and cry but I hadn’t been so close to anyone as yet. And the worst was whatever little confidence I had put up in these 3 months, was all washed away in the form of differentiating tears flowing out of my heart.

I still had to go to other colleges for admission procedures. I didn’t want to, I felt emotionally crushed but anyhow I took a train from Malad and got down at Andheri. I had to go to classes but before that I wanted to go to Chinai College for an enquiry.

I was very low when I entered Chennai college gate. I was mostly preoccupied with the entire fiasco as to how someone can be so rude when I bumped into something, someone actually.

“I am sorry”, I was occupied with something else.

“Not an issue dude. It’s our age to bump into each other”, he replied with a big grin.

I smiled back at him. He was weirdly dressed in an army three fourth, a black pullover, yellow shoes and beard, the design of which I cant explain.

“You a student of this college. How’s it like? I mean the cutoff percentages, classrooms, medium of instructions etc.”, I asked in a barely audible voice.

He happily answered all my questions with a smile flowing after every sentence. We even had tea from a stall outside the college. I felt so happy and anyone could make out that I was so sad earlier in the day.

After he cleared all my doubts, he smiled back at me, shook hand and spoke three words, words I took so lightly until then, that not only brightened my day but rebooted all my confidence, “Take Care Man”.

I had read somewhere that the only thing we as human beings want is the feeling of being cared and appreciated  but didn’t know that it had such magical effects when it came from unexpected source at the most unexpected time.

I don’t know his name, he doesn’t know mine. Probably he wont even recall this meeting now. And he may not even have realised how much he helped me in those moments of grief. How I understood then that we don’t need to climb mountains or invent things to help mankind; one small deed and one small smile of kindness can change someone’s day.

I submitted my application in Chennai College, (so did I in half a dozen other colleges in Mumbai) and yes they accepted my application without any fuss whatsoever and headed to my coaching classes. Upon entering the class, I saw my Marwari princess, dressed in a black Punjabi dress and her newly coloured red hair shining like sunset from the setting sunrays coming from the adjusting window, silently looking here and there in the crowded classroom as if waiting for someone. I opened the door and as our eyes met that evening, not only she blushed and broke into a wide smile but also shouted to her Gujarati friend, “kancha is back”!

Ashok Paudel (ashok@paudel.in)

Email: www.paudel.in

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