Traveler’s Karma: a story from India

Cow in street, Mumbai, India

It was my last day in India, and I’d just had lunch with an Indian friend. As I was walking back towards my hostel, I noticed a foreigner standing in the middle of the sidewalk—a rock in a river of pedestrian traffic. He wore raggedy khaki shorts, a green t-shirt with the collar cut out, and brown sandals. His dark curly hair was messy and the shirt was askew—one side of the collar all the way against his neck, the other falling off his shoulder. He was glistening with sweat and he looked obviously distressed.

For whatever reason, his eyes were pinned on me.

I should stop and tell you here that I have a bit of an unwritten traveler’s code I live by:
1) Whenever I’m in a group, if I see a traveler who isn’t, I invite them to join me/us.
2) If I ever see a traveler in distress, I approach them to see if they’re OK or if I can help.
3) If someone approaches me, I always try to be as friendly and helpful as possible.

But seeing this guy on the street made me hesitate. He looked like he was crazy or on drugs, or both. And I had a plane to catch that night… what if he dragged me into some sort of bizarre situation I couldn’t extricate myself from and I missed my flight?

Makeshift shrine, Mumbai, India

As I approached him, I thought to myself that I had two simple choices in this situation: I can avoid him or I can be Buddha-like and karma-minded and stick to my traveler’s code.

Not that he gave me much of a choice. As I passed, he grabbed my arm and launched into his story, babbling away at me in Hebrew. I stopped him, telling him I don’t speak Hebrew and the story came in a gush of English instead: he needed to find a cheaper place to stay than the one he was in because he was almost out of money and he was sick and his girlfriend had left the day before and they’d been traveling together in India for a year and he didn’t know what to do without her and…

You get the idea.

So I took the poor guy, Amit was his name, and lead him to the Salvation Army Hostel. When we arrived there, Amit stood, wordless at the check-in counter. The clerk looked at us expectantly. I looked at Amit expectantly. Nothing.

“Do you have any beds left in the dorm?” I asked the clerk.
The clerk wobbled his head in response, a gesture that can mean a hundred different things.
“For him,” I added, pointing to Amit.
The clerk wobbled his head again and asked for Amit’s passport.

We both waited while Amit watched the air around him.

Finally, I said, “Amit, your passport, please.”
“Oh!” he snapped to attention and fished through his money belt, producing a beaten looking passport and some tattered rupees.
“Where’s your stuff?” I asked him as the clerk took down Amit’s information.
“Gone.”
“Just gone?”
“Gone,” he repeated.

I thought maybe he was gone, too.

Once Amit checked into his room, I never saw him again. But I like to think that I helped him in some way, however small. It was my duty as a fellow traveler.

What about you? Got some stories about a time you helped a traveler or a traveler helped you? I’d love to hear them…

And if you ran into Amit, let me know how he’s doing!

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