I am quite pleased when I am on the road and some passer-by walks or drives up to me to ask the way to a place they are looking for. At the same time, it upsets me when I have to say "Sorry, I don’t know." It is always followed by a sad smiley, to put it in the internet-ese.
Thank goodness, more often than not I know the way and am able to help.
Once I was on my way to office when a taxi carrying some foreigners pulled close to me and a young man seated in the front said something in half-Arabic-half-English, "Sir, do you have the biggest note in Pakistani currency?"
I told him Rs5,000 is the biggest note in our currency but I didn’t have it in my pocket at that time. He told me he wanted to exchange his (as yet unidentified) currency note with Pakistani rupees. I told him he had better go to the Duty Free Shop on Cooper Road.
When I discussed the story with a friend in my office, he said, "You are lucky you didn’t have the note or you would have flashed it to him and landed yourself in trouble. He would snatch it and vanish." He was speaking from his personal experience, he added.
On another occasion, while I was returning home late at night, six youngsters packed on bikes intercepted me near a hotel on Empress Road and asked, "Can you tell us where we can get girls for a night?"
I was shocked. What nonsense! I wanted to tell them off but chose a safer way. I pretended as if I hadn’t heard them correctly.
"Are you looking for a store?" I bluffed.
They started laughing and went away.
Days later, I still ask myself why the boys wanted to know about the girls from me. Perhaps, I was the only one around on the road at that time. Or, did they take me for a ‘customer’?
More recently, a well-built man, apparently in his forties and not looking as ragged as the beggars normally do, sitting by the roadside, beckoned to me. As I approached him, he stretched his hand to touch my feet. "Please give me ten rupees," he murmered.
I fished for the ten-rupee note in my wallet but found none. So I turned away. Just then the man started yelling, "If you don’t have ten rupees, you can take the money from me!"
I was in one of my mischievous moods. So I turned to him and asked for the note. The man searched his pocket and said, "Sorry, I don’t have change."
There have been more interesting incidents. Once I was stopped on the road by a man standing at a nearby petrol station with a woman and two kids. They were on a motorbike and decently dressed.
The man said beseechingly that his bike had run out of petrol but he had no money on him. "I am sorry but I forgot my wallet home," he explained to me.
This time over, I didn’t argue and gave him some money. A few days later, I spotted the same couple at another petrol station, talking to a man who was in a car. I am not sure if they were up to the same ‘trick’ but I let out a spontaneous laugh.
When you are on a bike, you usually run into random people on road sides who need a ride. Helping them can often prove to be a wrong decision for you. I remember being stopped on the road by an old man. He had successfully hitched a ride (from me) to the railway station. On the way, he was continuously chatting. By the time we reached the railway station, he had almost convinced me to give him some alms also.
I realise it now that it was a mistake, that there were people like that old man who are compulsive (or ‘professional’?) beggars, old or young.