Saturday 3rd October evening was perhaps one of those strangely ‘normal’ evenings that one could experience in Mumbai. It was hot and humid and several of those I had encountered that day were complaining about ‘the terrible weather’. I was at St. Andrews Church early that evening for the funeral mass of my dear friend, mentor and guide Bishop Ferdie Fonseca. After mass, there were the happy encounters with both friends and strangers and then a visit to the Sisters of the Holy Family Hospital, just down the road.
When I finally left the hospital around 7.00 that evening to move towards Andheri, a steady drizzle had begun. The Sisters insisted that I carry with me one of their umbrellas (of course it was a lady’s umbrella, apparently gifted to them by the local Jesuits on some Feast Day). With great reluctance I accepted their kind offer and walked outside the gate hoping to jump into an auto to my destination. There were several autos outside but every one of them was “full” with passengers. I began walking down the road in search of one but did not meet with any success. I was also carrying with me a rather heavy bag of snacks generously bought for me by some friends from the famous ‘Hearsch’ Bakery. Suddenly, the skies broke open and it began to rain not only ‘cats and dogs’ but ‘elephants and rhinos’. In a matter of minutes I was drenched to my bones. That beautiful umbrella could hardly withstand the onslaught of the torrential rains leave alone protecting me!
In my bravado, I decided to continue walking ahead and not to turn back to the hospital. I also felt that if I did not get an auto, I would hail a taxi which I thought would be much easier to get. Well, that again proved to be as elusive as a dream. Due to the rain, the traffic had become choc-a-bloc. I started getting a bit worried because I still had to attend to a couple of other things that evening. The footpath did not seem very conducive to walk. The rains had increased even more. The going had become tough indeed!
Suddenly from out of the blue, there was a beautiful young lady in front of me asking me in Hindi “Uncle where are you going?” I am not very used to total strangers asking me such questions; however, I did not even think of ignoring that question; eager to be ‘rescued’, I said “Andheri”. “What a pity”, she said, “we are not going that direction; but come along, we can see what we can do”.
Guess I was totally helpless! The rains did not seem to relent. So like a drowning man, clutching to the proverbial straw, I meekly followed the young lady not knowing where she was heading. “Damsel in distress” is a well-known phrase in English literature of a beautiful young woman being ultimately rescued by a ‘hero’; the plot scripted that evening was totally in reverse. A ‘damsel’ rescuing a senior citizen who was stranded! She walked ahead of me, a few metres up the road, where a car was parked. She opened the door of the car and asked me to get in: totally soaked I was just not going to say “no” fully aware that I was wetting the upholstery of the class Volkswagen Vento. There was a young man behind the wheel; the lady in the meantime took a seat beside him and without even batting an eyelid, they were unanimous in their generosity saying “don’t worry sir, we will make sure to reach you to an auto or a taxi to take you to your destination.”
He started the car but it was difficult for him to negotiate the terrible traffic even as the rains continued to pour. It was then that I noticed it: hanging on their inside rear view mirror was a rosary! ‘My goodness’, I said to myself, ‘they must be Catholics’. By nature, I am an inclusive person. Some of my closest friends are non-Christians and even those who do not believe in any God. I do not think that one should wear one’s religion up one’s sleeve. So I took the next step and asked their names. ‘Andre Lobo’, he said and she ‘Rhianna Prabhu’; then like one of those difficult puzzles we began connecting the dots and crosses. Small world indeed! I asked them, “why did you have to stop?” “So what if there was a stranded stranger at the kerb?” “Why were you willing to take the risk?”; their answers were not easily forthcoming but basically they said, they just felt that they just wanted to do something for someone. Andre very generously conceded that “it is Rhianna who is touched and oozes with compassion”.
They had to drive quite a distance almost to the highway before Andre could step out and find an auto for me. But all the way, they were cheerful enough to make me feel that I was not a bother at all; I was aware though that they were going out of their way – to be of help to me!
That evening and even now as I write this, I have been reflecting ‘what if there were no Rhiannas and Andres in Bandra and Bombay, in India and in the rest of the world? They had the guts to share the comfort of their luxurious car with someone they really did not know; all they saw was a ‘drenched stranger in distress’. It reminded me of Pope Francis’ call to every Catholic Parish in Europe to take in at least one refugee family from Syria. Discipleship is about witness; about concrete tangible expressions of reaching out to others. Rhianna and Andre, (though I still know fairly little about them) seemed to be doing well in life, educated and more than middle-class. They had a choice that night. They chose the harder option.
I see the rosary dangling in the inside of their car in front of them both. They surely need not have put it up there; but once again, they have made a choice! Was that rosary a sign of their motivation; of them wanting to help others! A reminder of Mary: that all – embracing woman, the Mother of Jesus – who reached out to her kinswoman Elizabeth and ultimately reached out to all? Is it a reminder to them – and to all of us – that little selfless acts of kindness help in making our world a better place?
October 7th is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in a month which has been dedicated to the rosary. Many of our families seem to have done away with the time-tested practice of the daily recitation of the rosary in the family; however, there are still some who faithfully carry it in their pockets, wear it around their necks and even hang it out on their inside rear view mirror of their car. I am not one who is easily given into ritual or religious props. Some years ago, I had written an article entitled “Is the Rosary in my pocket?” Today, after that memorable experience with Rhianna and Andre, I ask myself, “do I see a rosary in your car? or if you don’t have a car, is there one in your pocket? And if so, does the rosary motivate you to reach out to others?”
(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He is the recipient of several national and international awards including the Legion of Honour from the President of France and the Kabir Puraskar from the President of India)
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