Sunday, May 6, 2018

"From Bombay to Bangalore...."

Sudha Murthy is the Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. She often writes about real life experiences. The passage below is one of her own. Please read it till the end. It will be worth it. 

It was the beginning of summer. I was boarding Udyan Express at Gulbarga railway station. As I boarded the train, I saw that the second-class reserved compartment was jam-packed with people. I sat down and was pushed to the corner of the berth.
The ticket collector came in and started checking people's tickets and reservations. Suddenly, he looked in my direction and asked, "What about your ticket?"
"I have already shown my ticket to you," I said.
"Not you, madam, the girl hiding below your berth. Hey, come out, where is your ticket?" I realized that someone was sitting below my berth. When the collector yelled at her, the girl came out of hiding.

She was thin, dark, scared and looked like she had been crying. She must have been about ten or eleven years old. She had uncombed hair and was dressed in a torn skirt and blouse. She was trembling as the collector started forcibly pulling her out from the compartment. 
I stood up and called out to the collector. "Sir, I will pay for her ticket."

The collector looked at me and said, 'Madam, if you give her ten rupees, she will be much happier than with the ticket.'

I told the collector to just give me a ticket to the last destination, Bangalore, so that the girl could get down wherever she wanted.

Slowly, she started talking. She told me that her name was Chitra. She lived in a village near Bidar. Her father was a coolie and she had lost her mother at birth. Her father had remarried and had two sons with her stepmother. But a few months ago, her father had died. Her stepmother started beating her often and did not give her food. She did not have anybody to support her, so she left home.

By this time, the train had reached Bangalore. I said goodbye to Chitra and got down from the train. My driver came and picked up my bags. I felt someone watching me. When I turned back, Chitra was standing there and looking at me with sad eyes. 

I told her to get into my car. I told the driver to take us to my friend Ram's place. Ram ran shelter homes for boys and girls. Infosys Foundation supported him financially. I thought Chitra could stay there for some time. We could talk about her future after I came back from my tour.

Over the next few months, Chitra adjusted well at the shelter. Ram suggested that Chitra could go to a high school nearby. I agreed and said I would sponsor her expenses as long as she continued to study. I left the shelter knowing that Chitra had found a home and a new direction in life.

I got busier and my visits to the shelter reduced to once a year. But I always enquired about Chitra's well-being over the phone. I offered to sponsor her college studies if she wanted to continue studying. 
"No Akka," she said, "I have talked to my friends and made up my mind. I would like to do my diploma in computer science so I can immediately get a job after three years." She wanted to become economically independent as soon as possible. Chitra obtained her diploma with flying colors. She also got a job in a software company as an assistant testing engineer. When she got her first salary, she came to my office with a sari and a box of sweets.

One day, when I was in Delhi, I got a call from Chitra. She was very happy. "Akka, my company is sending me to USA! I wanted to meet you and get your blessings but you are not here in Bangalore."

Years passed. Occasionally, I received an e-mail from Chitra. She was doing very well in her career.

A few years ago, I was invited to deliver a lecture in San Francisco for Kannada Koota, an organization where families who speak Kannada meet and organize events. The lecture was in a convention hall of a hotel and I decided to stay at the same hotel. When I checked out of the hotel room and went to the reception counter to pay the bill, the receptionist said, "Ma'am, you don't need to pay us anything. The lady over there has already settled your bill. She must know you pretty well." I turned around and saw Chitra standing there.
She was with a young white man and wore a beautiful sari. She was looking very pretty with short hair. Her dark eyes were beaming with happiness and pride. As soon as she saw me, she gave me a huge smile, hugged me and touched my feet. I was overwhelmed with joy and did not know what to say. I was very happy to see the way things had turned out for Chitra. But I came back to my original question. 
"Chitra, why did you pay my hotel bill? That is not right," I said.
She started sobbing and hugged me. "Because you paid for my ticket from Bombay to Bangalore..."