Since the last two days, it’s been raining in Karachi. It’s a certain kind – rarely soft, and mostly loud. It brings with itself thunder and lightning, slams down onto the metal roofs, crashes its way into houses that are too weak to resist the constant downpour.
A day ago, my family – all four of us – were in our car, my father in the driving seat, when the rain grew particularly hostile. All windows turned foggy, and the vipers seemed too slow. He kept on driving, as our destination was nearby, but there seemed to be sheets of water all around us. *
It had been quite a while since something of this sort had happened – that you’re sitting in a vehicle, and it suddenly starts pouring. The last time I had experienced this – it was in a different setting.
It was 2014, and I was in the ‘Dosti bus’ enroute Delhi. My mother and brother were there too, as well as other passengers. It was dark outside, and the bus that had to reach Delhi at 6 p.m. was already late. I do not mean to say that we were in a dark place, merely that it was not afternoon or evening, so all we could see was the highway lit by the streetlights, or headlamps of cars, buses and the bus we were travelling in. There were of course, the police jeeps too, that escort the bus throughout.
It had started raining before we entered Delhi. However, as we approached the city, it began to grow more ferocious. There was no active SIM that we could use to call up someone and inform them that we were yet to reach the bus station. Delhi was merely our point of entry/exit, and we were to travel onwards to Bangalore. This was the second time we were travelling in the bus, and don’t have family or friends we could rely on to welcome us and take us to the airport. Hence, we’d asked someone who usually travels to Pakistan via the same route if they knew someone in Delhi who could volunteer.
It was not a fool-proof arrangement. Imagine a friend who lives in another city asking you to collect acquaintances arriving from another country. In this case, we are talking of three people arriving from ‘that country’ across the border, laden with suitcases, in a bus that never arrives on time, at a bus station that is functional at best. Also, these three people eat beef, and you don’t.
We were already around two hours late. In the heavy downpour outside, when the streetlights and headlights could only be seen as yellow dots with blurred outlines, and when the rain muffled even the sirens of the police jeeps as they tried to make way for our bus through the Delhi traffic, we were not really expecting someone to be waiting for us at the bus station. Or atleast, I wasn’t.
I could finally sense gates opening for us, and the bus slowing down. Once the suitcases were out of the luggage compartments, we pushed our trolleys to the gate, where a few taxi drivers and hosts for the other passengers huddled together in the rain. And in that chaos, with heart beating fast in panic, what a relief it was to hear someone shout my brother’s name. My qualms were proven wrong as our host was very much there – Mukesh uncle. He had evidently been waiting since a long time, as his clothes were wet but even in the noise and utter confusion, he gave us wide grins and welcomed us without any hesitation. We had never seen him before, just knew that he would be there and knew our names.
He could sense the hesitation we felt, however, and kept speaking happily at how glad he was that we’d reached safely. It was still raining, but Mukesh uncle was not concerned. He was just too excited at the prospect of hosting us. After making sure that our suitcases were tied up, and were sitting comfortably, I expected him to just head off into the direction of the airport. He had other plans, however. He wanted us to relax at his place, have a large meal, and then he would drop us off. My mother explained that our flights were not booked, and that had to be done instantly. He offered to accomplish that too on our behalf. We insisted that he could not be burdened any further, yet he refused to give in. He did relent, but on the condition that we would have dinner with him somewhere in the city, atleast, if not at his place. But it had to be the airport – we finally persuaded him.
It was not an easy drive, considering that the rain was pouring relentlessly. We did not know anything about Delhi’s roads, had no access to Google Maps – he was our angel in disguise. The drive, I will always remember, was a relaxing and enjoyable one, as Mukesh uncle struck up a conversation with us even as he navigated the roads, informing us about almost every street we would reach, explaining why it was named a certain way.
The airport came into sight, and we were ready to hop off. Yet, he repeated his request that he could take us for dinner – “Aap saath tou chalein, mein aap ko Karim ka khana khilaun ga”. At that point, it looked like he had a Muslim chef, and wanted us to know so that we would agree on having food at his place. (It was later that I realised Karim’s is a well-known restaurant in Old Delhi.) After thanking him and saying goodbye, we entered the airport, but were not allowed further inside unless we booked the tickets.
It is not a good state to be in, when you are in your point of entry, have yet to book tickets for further travel, have to report within 24 hours at your final destination, the airport is not welcoming you with open arms, and you are dying to go to the washroom. We had waved Mukesh uncle goodbye it seemed, but as the booking process began, we spotted him still waving at us from outside. His fears had not been allayed even though we were a little at peace. A quick meeting with him and he was at it again – why don’t you come along after booking the flights? After much ado, he was finally sent home. On our return trip, he happily arranged things for us though he was out of the city so that we could tour the whole of Delhi in a single day with my grandparents.
It was a strange city but a stranger welcomed us, spoke to us in our language, drove us with all our luggage to where we wanted to go, did everything he could to make us feel comfortable and left an indelible imprint on my mind. I yearn for more of such people to show those who flash their jingoist rhetoric that humanity certainly doesn’t have borders. It may sound clichéd, but I’ve been waiting to write this out since a long time. So perhaps I will let the clichés be.