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'Stranded on the highway, I met God'

June 01, 2010 12:24 IST

Abhishek Mande shares his experience of the time when he was stranded in the middle of nowhere and was helped out by a bunch of unknown people. Do you have a similar story to tell? Share it with us.

It started out as just another day. I was recently in Pune for a story and had to travel to Patas, a village on the city's outskirts along the Solapur highway to interview a family who had lost their only son.

Patas, I was told, was about a 35-minute drive from Pune. So I decided to drive there on a Kinetic scooter I had rented the previous morning.

Something told me that all wouldn't be well on this journey, but I ignored the nagging feeling and set out around 2 pm.

It was a hot and dry afternoon and I maintained an optimum speed, unsure of how the rented Kinetic had been maintained. The speedometer wasn't working, but the tyres looked alright and the engine sounded fine. Besides it was just a half-hour ride. I'd ridden much longer in Goa during my trips there and in my hometown, Mumbai.

At one point, I pulled over to refuel. The moment I turned off the engine, the attendant pointed out that my fuel tank was leaking! Horrified, I asked if there was a mechanic around. He pointed in a random direction. I headed there to find a makeshift garage with a few bikes in various stages of repair and explained the urgency of the situation to the owner in Marathi.

Much to my surprise, the fellow -- his name was Ashok Garg -- spoke impeccable English and assured me that it wouldn't take long. We made small talk about what a Mumbai boy was doing on the Pune-Solapur highway and the weather. Before I knew it, the Kinetic was ready! He charged me a small sum, assuring me that it was safe to take the vehicle to the village. "It's a little over an hour away," he said.

Hold it! An hour? It turned out I had been misinformed earlier. The village was over 50 kms away from Pune! I had already travelled half the distance and didn't want to risk parking a scooter that wasn't mine in a place I wasn't sure I'd be able to find on my way back. So I decided to go ahead anyway.

I kept searching for the village by the milestones and stopping by to ask if I was on the correct road. After about an hour, I saw the name of the village for the first time on a milestone -- Patas: 6. And at that very precise moment, as if by a strange quirk of fate, the scooter engine spluttered to a halt. I looked at the fuel meter; it was fine. I checked the tank; it was full. So it was some other problem! Thankfully, I was in the middle of a village square and a mechanic was not difficult to find. But there was still another twist in the tale.

Kinetic Hondas, it seems, are not very popular on the outskirts of the city. Ergo there weren't any mechanics well-versed with the functioning of the engine. One of the friendlier ones struggled with the machine for about 45 minutes and gave up. I drove another 50 metres and the scooter stopped. It was past 5 pm now and I had to get to my subject's house soon.

My only hope was Aashiana, a bungalow on the other side of the road. I dragged the scooter there and asked if I could leave it there till I returned, although I still wasn't sure what I would do when I came back.

Back on the highway, I stuck out my thumb. After some waiting, a gentleman offered me a lift on his bike. It had a 'Press' sticker on it. His brother was a journalist with a local newspaper. Eager to help me out, he even offered to take a detour and got me to my destination.

The family I was to meet was in mourning. I spent about an hour with them. At the back of my mind I was wondering how I'd get back to Pune...and whether I'd get back the same day at all! I contemplated hiring a tempo, loading the bike on it and dumping it on the guy who lent me the damn thing.

In passing I mentioned this to one of the members of the family, asking if they knew someone. Much to my surprise, the boy's uncle, Nanda Kumar, offered to help me out. Soon enough, I was riding pillion on his Hero Honda.

There was more to come. The weather decided to intervene and strong winds began to blow. At a distance I could see storm clouds gathering. It was evidently going to be a long journey home.

Kumarji suggested we wait it out. I wasn't going to argue with him, even though time was slipping away. After about 30 minutes of anxious waiting, we set out again. We reached the spot where I'd parked the scooter -- I secretly heaved a sigh to find it in one piece there -- but we still had no mechanic.

The men of the house had gone for a wedding and the womenfolk had no idea about bikes or cars. Meanwhile, Kumarji went to the nearest village square and magically returned with a mechanic. The chap looked at the Kinetic and smiled. "Where did you get this from?"

"I rented it," I said sheepishly.

"You know, they don't ride these here."

I simply nodded, not liking where the conversation was going.

"I used one of these till a few years back. Let me take a look," he said and started opening up the two-wheeler.

It was getting dark and the only lights I could see were of the house we had camped in. The wind wasn't as strong anymore, but it was beginning to get cold.

Soon the menfolk returned. I explained my predicament. Both laughed heartily.

"Stay as long as you want," the father assured me. He was a teacher in a local school and a well-respected figure in the village. The son was a fellow who seemed to enjoy a good chat. They kept us entertained as the ladies brought in refreshments. Had the mechanic not been there, I'd have forgotten the crisis I was in.

After what seemed like ages, the scooter engine whirred to life. It was fixed! We lingered around for a little longer. Strangely, none of us wanted to leave. I was invited by the family to stay back for dinner. Kumarji insisted I return to his house and spend the night with his family. I had had long day and was dying to get back to a familiar environment. Numbers were exchanged, promises to meet again were made and we parted ways.

Still unsure of the scooter's condition, I offered the mechanic an extra sum to accompany me to back to civilisation in Pune. He readily agreed and we were off.

Driving back on the dark road with trucks for company and trailing the mechanic's pilot vehicle I thought of what had just happened. I hadn't known any of the people I'd just met. The journalist's brother, the dead boy's uncle Kumarji, the teacher and his family were all unknown people. Yet each of them went out of their way, helped me out and made me feel at home.

They say God resides in people's hearts. On a Saturday evening, somewhere along the Pune-Solapur highway, I met God.

Have you been stranded in the middle of nowhere and been helped out by absolutely unknown but wonderful people? Share your experiences with us. Write in to (subject line: 'Stranded and rescued') along with your photograph, or a pic of those who helped you. We'll publish the most interesting stories right here.

Abhishek Mande