This is about 20 years back, in 1994. My mother, who was part of the Armed Forces services, was posted in Guwahati, Assam. We were on our annual vacation to Chennai, our hometown, which also happened to be the place where my father was employed with the Railways.
I was about 10 years old then, and was sad about returning back to Guwahati, leaving back an entire group of relatives - aunts, uncles, cousins & my father. For the next 1 year, until we returned back to Chennai on annual vacation, I just had my mother, grandmother & toddler brother, to refer as family.
We were all set to make the 3-day journey back on train. As the train pulled out of the platform, we waved goodbyes to my father & other relatives who had come out to send us off. Being a 3-year old, the event did not make much sense to my brother, but the rest of us felt the gravity of the situation, and pulled ourselves back into the compartments, as the platform disappeared into the distance. Time passed by, and we were getting ready for dinner & the subsequent tuck-in. Just as we were coming to terms with the separation, something much more sinister, hit us. My brother, who as a kid had gorged on a variety of eatables in Chennai, got down with a bout of diarrhea. What had started off as a minor illness turned out to be a series of loose motions, and got worse with time.
We were somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, when my Mother sensed that it might be a life threatening situation, if not attended to, quickly. My brother was losing strength and by then had become something of a bundle of clothes lying still, on the lower berth. His eyes looked lifeless & his pulse was getting feeble. In spite of travelling in a 2nd class compartment during the Indian summer, his body was cold. She took a decision - we would need to get down at the next big city, Vishakhapatnam, and take my brother to the nearest hospital. However, she had just 3000 rupees on her. The concept of credit card or plastic money had still not come into place in India. With so little money and just an old lady - my grandmother and a kid - I for company, she was under some serious stress.
Even though, the train was jam packed & everybody was able to see what we were going through, nobody came forward to offer any help or any piece of advice. Just when my mother was doing some serious thinking about the imminent decision she was about to make, one of the guy from upper berth, came down & thrust 10,000 rupees into her hand. This, he explained was for any medical expenses that had to come. He had sensed that we didn't have enough cash on ourselves. My mother thanked him profusely and exchanged addresses for references. With nothing more than an address & our word for collateral, the stranger parted with 10000 rupees, which 20 years back was a big sum.
It was well past midnight, the train stopped at Vishakhapatnam, and we got down, wondering how to get to the nearest hospital. Just then, a person travelling in our coach happened to get down in Vishakhapatnam, saw our plight & offered to take us to the nearest hospital. We were a bit apprehensive about taking voluntary help from a stranger, in an unfamiliar city at an ungodly hour. However, we didn't have a choice and took his offer.
He took me on his scooter, while my mother, brother & grandmother followed us in an auto rickshaw. We were relieved to see that he took us via the main road, and realized that he was genuinely trying to help us. He took us to a couple of private clinics, each one of which declined to admit my brother looking at his condition, citing the reason that they don't have "specialty" doctors at the moment. The stranger, without caring about the time it took, kept helping us persistently, until we reached the "Seven Hills" hospital, which happened to be a “specialty” hospital. He stayed with us until my brother got admitted & the formalities were over. We thanked him for his help & let him go. Unfortunately, we were too bothered with my brother’s condition and did not take down his address or contact details.
The doctors immediately set upon treating my brother, and did all the right things to get him back to normal. Later, we were told that the mangoes, which my brother had consumed in large quantities, were most likely the cause for a bacterial infection harboring in his colons, causing the incessant diarrhea. He was put on heavy antibiotics, and given plenty of fluids to aid the recovery process.
Mobile phones were still not freely available in India, and not many people owned one. We called up my father in Chennai, from a STD booth, and informed him of the situation. He caught the next available flight & landed in Vishakhapatnam, the next morning. It took another 3 days for my brother to recover fully, and we resumed our travel to Guwahati. A couple of months later, the gentleman who had lent us the 10,000 rupees so generously, came over to our house. We treated him to a sumptuous lunch, and repaid him the amount with gratitude. There wasn't anything we could do to equal his act of kindness. We kept in touch until a couple of years later, when he moved away & we lost connection.
For me, it was a memorable trip for many reasons - getting my brother back from the clutches of death, being helped by total strangers in unfamiliar territory, and the experience of witnessing such an incident at such a tender age.
The whole incident strengthened my belief in random acts of kindness. If not for those 2 gentlemen on that particularly fateful day, my brother may not have lived to experience the life he's living today. Unfortunately, we absolutely do not have a clue where the 2 gentlemen are these days. Wherever they are, they need to know that there's a family here which is indebted to them for life. And, that they are the unknown angels, people usually look forward to, when facing extremely difficult times in their lives.