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Published: January 14th 2018
I don’t think so.
The young man on the scooter stopped next to me as I trudged down the Madurai street.
“Excuse me, can I help you? Are you lost? You look so depressed, is everything alright?”
His English rolled my way and I smiled. I had just seen him at the ATM machine behind me as I sat at the side of the road. I was saying goodbye to my street dog. She had remembered me from last year when I rescued her puppy from a skin wound in the top of its head. After the rescue, she followed me on the street. She always welcomed my touch as I scratched her chin and ears.
So I suppose I was a little depressed, as I sat there at the ATM, stroking her dirty chin and head, cooing to her soft eyes and saying that she’d better be here next year so I can come back and say hello. I even shed a tear or two as I walked away, cursing the plight of the thousands of street dogs in Madurai. She knew it would have done no good to follow me back to
But now Abu, the nice young man on the motorcycle, was showing concern for me, and I started lapping it up, just as the street dog had relished my touch.
“No, I’m not lost, I know exactly where I am. I was just saying goodbye to my dog.”
“Oh, I saw you earlier, and as I drove away, I thought maybe she needs help, or maybe she’s lost, she looks so unhappy, should I ask? No, she’s alright, oh, it wouldn’t hurt to ask, then I turned around and saw you walking, should I ask, I thought, oh, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.” His internal argument amused me. And his smile spread to his eyes.
He wasn’t going anywhere, I decided, so I started talking, non-stop. I talked about saving her puppy last year, and how we try to take better care of dogs in the USA who don’t have homes.
“I named her Zelda,” I said.
He repeated the name.
“I can’t say it like you do.”
But it was close enough.
Abu works for Microsoft in Chennai, on the night shift, helping American customers. He’s one of
those technicians you get when you call for computer assistance. Too many times I’ve heard people complain about getting “some guy in India that I can’t understand” when phoning for help. But now the technician was before me, and his English was perfectly understandable. He knew how to modify his accent, and even used expressions like “you guys” and “that sucks” and “bummer” and knew that those expressions are not for professional communication.
He was in Madurai with family for a few days for Pongal, even though as a Muslim he doesn’t celebrate it. But he doesn’t mind his friends bringing him sugarcane and food and celebrating in a second-hand way.
We chatted on the street, covering many topics—the upcoming Jallikattu—the bull-catching event, would happen in a couple days, and he planned to participate for the first time. That is, run after a big bull, along with scores of other runners, who are all trying to latch on to the hump on his back as he flees amid screaming crowds.
“Do you think that is somewhat cruel to the animal?” I asked.
“No,” he quickly answered, and explained that catching the hump makes the hump stronger. The bull’s offspring, then, will benefit by their father’s added strength.
“Genetically that’s not how it works,” I said with a smile. I didn’t intend to judge, just inform, and somehow knew he would be okay with my comment. “But thanks for educating me on this belief, I didn’t know.” He seemed to think about this for a few seconds, then his radiant smile returned.
I wanted to keep talking, and he willingly sat on his scooter and told me about his life in Chennai, and complained that people thought that Madurai, with its population of over a million, was just a “village.” He really wanted to be living here, near family and Madurai friends, but Microsoft would never establish a call center in a village.
What struck me was his smile, and his laugh. And when he told me about helping a 70-year-old American man with finding his cat, well, I was hooked.
“My cat is lost, he said, he’s in the computer, I can’t find my cat. I finally realized he had lost a photograph of his cat. I found it for him, restored it to his desktop. He called me a ‘messenger.’ You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.”
Young Abu, who is 26 years old, said that as the eldest son in his family, he had a responsibility to help his younger sister and brother. But he also wants to help other people who may be hurting. He sees them, and wants to help.
Well, he did it with me. While getting cash, he saw the depressed-looking American lady, and extended his help.
I accepted his offer for a ride, and he quickly whisked me through annoying traffic to my hotel. We talked a bit more outside the lobby, and his laughter said goodnight.
Thank you, chance encounters, you bring me the people I need when I need them.
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