25 years ago, my home was said to be in the outskirts of a city. It was on a highway with a Km. No. 14 milestone right outside the house and that exactly was our address – Km. No. 14; Tonk Road; Jaipur. City buses didn’t come till Km. No. 14. The last stop was about 1.5 kms away from our home so every morning and afternoon me and didi(my elder sister) would walk those 1.5 kms both ways while going to the school and coming back from the school. Mornings were fine, our mom used to feed us a good breakfast that would make that 1.5 km walk fairly easy. But in the afternoon, weighed down by our hunger, our heavy bags (In those days, school bags in India could actually be a workout for many!) and the afternoon sun shining bright right down on us, we would keep looking back for some approaching vehicle.
Since it was “the outskirts”, the vehicles were also fairly limited, especially on a hot Rajasthan summer afternoon! Be didn’t shy from asking anyone and everyone for a lift… We have taken lifts from bullock carts, camel carts, scooters and even bicycle goers! Cars were a rarity back then. On days when we failed to get a lift, we would sometimes leave our bags at some random shop on the way and say that someone will come and pick them up later. Then in evening mummy would send somebody to pick up the bags. We never once hesitated in knocking at stranger’s home and asking for water.
And then time changed. The city expanded. Km. No. 14 was no longer in the outskirts. City buses came up to and went beyond our home. We no longer needed to walk that distance, our interaction with those stranger friends who so easily stepped in to help us, stopped. And then something else happened. Morning newspaper stories started highlighted how a girl was kidnapped while walking home alone, how another one was raped when she took a lift from a car, how some children were poisoned when they took something to eat from a stranger…
The stranger was no longer a friend. The stranger was someone to be suspicious about.
“My mother says I should not be talking to stranger” “My mother says I should not take anything to eat from strangers”
A few weeks back I was remembering how much fun our childhood was, partly because we were not living our lives protecting ourselves from strangers all the time. So I decided to do a little experiment. I was going to a friend’s place who lives about 7 kms from my home and I decided to take only lifts (or else I would just walk the whole way).
And I was in for a total surprise! I had the most amazing time talking with strangers that day. It was a little difficult to ask the first one, I kept thinking what would the other guy think? Why can’t I just take an auto rickshaw. He would think I’m trying to save money or what? But then I just stuck my hand out and he stopped. I asked him if he could drop me till the next signal and he said of course! After dropping me, he took a U-turn from the signal! And I was surprised that he actually was not coming all the way to the signal but he came just to drop me! Then onward it was total fun! One elderly uncle stopped and all during the 3-4 minutes that I was on his scooter he was advising me that girls should not take lifts
“What if the person is not a nice person like me? What would you do if he just doesn’t stop his vehicle? Would you jump from a moving scooter… Beta you should be more careful”
Another girl was going for her tuition and she said how her mother makes her take tuition in every subject even though she is doing okay in most subjects.
One young man stopped just because I was the first girl who has asked him for a lift ever!!! He said girls just don’t ask for lifts. Sometimes, during rains, he himself offers lifts if he sees someone walking by but they look at him with so much suspicion that he quickly leaves from the scene :D.
For myself, I found a lot of trust that day. I found that the world is still quite the same as it was 25 years ago. Yes I was careful from whom I was asking a lift. I could not totally let go of my last 15 years of conditioning so I took lifts only from open vehicles. Even there, there was always an eye contact, a silent communication with the person who was stopping that told my heart “it’s safe”.
The stories in newspapers are not false but there are a lot of positive stories also that are never told. I can’t deny that we don’t need to teach our children to be careful. But maybe we also need to teach them and ourselves to trust a little. Trusting sometimes is so much easier than suspecting all the time! Listen to your heart. Trust it.
As a group we have joined in a lot of experiments to reach out to strangers and trust them like writing letters to strangers and spreading a little magic with smiles and free hugs! Join in 🙂 Have you been moved by a stranger’s act recently? Share the story. Stories can really change the world!