No rupees for an auto-rickshaw ride. No debit card to withdraw cash. No conceivable way to walk to my guesthouse. No iPhone with which to Google a solution. No family or friends to call on for help.
How on earth was I going to get back to my guesthouse? Nightfall was rapidly approaching, and my calm demeanor was disappearing with the rays of sunlight.
Panic set in as I found myself up a creek without a paddle. In my case the proverbial creek happened to be a middle-class neighborhood in Delhi, and my would-be paddle was the small amount of rupees I so desperately needed.
So I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment — I asked for help at a convenience store. After I casually asked for the number of a cab company that might take credit cards, the cashier had no numbers to give me but a million questions to ask me:
“Madam, what is this taxi service?”
“Yahaan se kareeb rehti hain?” (Do you live near here?)
“Kahan jaana hai?” (Where do you need to go?)
“How about bus?”
Slowly, but surely this conversation had gained the attention of the employees, all young males, who had been milling around the store. All eyes and ears were on me: the non-resident Indian, the foreign tourist, the single female with the accented Hindi, and the nervous voice.
I had just exposed all my vulnerabilities in front of every single person in the store. This is when something terrible is supposed to happen to the foreign female in India, right?
Ask anyone around you these days what comes to mind when they hear Delhi or India, and I guarantee you one of the first answers will be “gang rape.” The heinous crime that outraged Delhi and the world almost destroyed my love for this culturally and historically rich city. Almost.
Long before this horrific assault and murder of a young female became the rape heard round the world, I had adopted Delhi as my second home. Born and raised in Alabama’s Deep South with no immediate family remaining in India, I came to love my solo trips to Delhi. The trips were for public health research projects using surveys or open-ended interviews with patients, and they were part of medical school research rotations.
For one to two months at a time, I immersed myself in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Delhi, all formerly unknown to this American Born Confused Desi. But in today’s environment, my trips would all read DANGER: unaccompanied South Asian American female on a solo trip to a third world city with a terrible reputation in the international press. That’s the danger I felt the day I found myself stranded on the streets of Delhi.
Shortly after listening to my plight from a distance, one of the employees walked up to me and handed me 40 rupees. His kind offer, exactly what I needed to get back to my guesthouse, moved me to tears. Forty rupees roughly equal one American dollar, but for a struggling teenager working in this Delhi convenience store — every rupee must have mattered. And he was willing to share 40 of his hard-earned rupees to help a stranded foreigner.
This kind of compassion and generosity can be found all over India, but it will never make waves in international press headlines. But the world should know about this side of Delhi, the softer side that reflects the generosity of spirit that dwells deep within the hearts of so many Indians. With one simple gesture, this young man reminded me all over again why I had become hopelessly captivated by India on my very first trip so many years ago.
Unfortunately, he was not at the convenience store when I returned to repay him days later. I left his money with the head cashier, but I left the store with feelings of guilt over not being able to properly thank my rescuer.
With this story, I hope to convey my thanks to him and to all the gracious Indians who I have encountered on my trips.
Farah Naz Khan is a soon-to-be medical school graduate and future medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, she returned to her Alabama hometown for medical school where she was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian flair that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter @farah287 or read some of her thoughts at farah287.blogspot.com.