You may like to read part one and two first…
The December evening air had dropped in temperature along with the sun. Tyrhone sensed my sadness, though he had tried to laugh off the uncomfortable conversation with Raju.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said and my heart swelled.
“Really?” I asked, expecting him to talk me out of it. We still hadn’t said it, but we both knew what the elephant in the room was. We wanted to buy Raju a boat.
“Let’s do it”.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I gave Tyrhone a tight hug. I had somehow wanted to make my birthday count for something, to symbolise a change in direction. I wanted to help someone else, I just didn’t know where to start.
Now let’s get one thing straight. I am not a do-gooder. I don’t believe I can solve world poverty, or that some poor soul out there is just waiting for ‘Saint Sarah’ to come along and save them from their pitiful lives.
Raju had accepted his lot in life. He seemed content. Not over-the-moon happy, he just accepted the cards he was delt by life. And they weren’t the worst cards in the deck. I mean, we had witnessed abject poverty on the streets of Delhi. We would witness much more throughout our journey through India. But there was something about Raju, a deep sadness despite his calm demeanor that made us think that the guy could do with a break.
PART FOUR (This story will end at some point, I promise!)
We awoke to 2011 well rested, with clear heads and that sense of newness that comes with the first day of the year. We headed out to the Lotus Lounge, a great roof-top restaurant next to our hotel, strewn with cushions and low lying tables. One wall was covered in mosaic tiles, forming the image of a sitting Buddha. Over coffee and warm chapatis we reflected on the previous day’s events.
We discussed the ‘lets buy Raju a boat’ plan. Our sentiment had faded somewhat from the night before. I’m a bit embarrassed to say, but this idea of giving Raju a lump of cash to buy a boat was actually starting to hurt a bit. Realising that being a philanthropist wasn’t meant to be easy, we weighed up the pros and cons.
Pro- Raju might buy a boat, and be able to make a better living for himself.
Con- Raju might be an alcoholic or a gambling addict, and our money would just add fuel to the fire (unlikely).
Pro- We could actually make a real difference in the life of someone who is doing pretty tough.
Con- Raju might be insulted that we consider him a charity case (would we, if someone gave us a small fortune? Again unlikely).
Pro- Even if Raju doesn’t buy his boat, the money could make a big difference to his extended family (we weren’t going to dictate how he had to spend it, merely suggest it).
Con- Perhaps there might be some unwritten rule that Raju would be expected to hand over some of the money to the old man’s evil sons.
Pro- I had wanted to help someone out here in India, in honour of my birthday milestone. Here was a perfect opportunity presenting itself.
Con- We could put the money towards all manner of bills, the mortgage or our next holiday.
Throughout the course of the day, Tyrhone grew tired of my obsession with Raju.
“Just make up your mind, I don’t care anymore, just do it or don’t do it. You’re not a bad person if you decide not to, we gave him a huge tip and I’m sure he’s happy with that. ”
He was right. This decision was starting to bug me too. I decided I was being silly. Who was Raju to us anyway? We were just another couple of tourist he took up and down the river. We’d probably never see him again, and the money might cause him more trouble than it was worth. What if he felt like he owed us or something? The whole thing was starting to make me feel uncomfortable now.
We continued our day, and Raju was off the list of conversation topics.
I thought back to that moment on the boat, when I prayed for meaning in my life. I knew my life certainly wasn’t meaningless per say, just that it was lacking something. I think I wanted to be a better person, to have my life count for something.
I realised then and there that I was asking for meaning, but not willing to make any sacrifices to get it. That night, on my thirtieth birthday, I had felt compassion for Raju, and I wanted to help him. I had asked the Mother Ganga, the holiest river in the world, for meaning, and within a few minutes she had given me a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.
And then I had gotten scared. Scared of losing out, of making the wrong decision, of offending the person I wanted to help. I had let fear get in the way of doing something good, like I had my whole life. Maybe that’s what I was lacking, the courage to be who I wanted to be.
So I Made My Decision…
The next morning we asked Raju to take us to the other side of the river bank, where we hadn’t been yet. It was eery and deserted, compared to the bustling city side. After a short walk on the riverbank, we boarded the simple wooden boat to return to the hotel. Tyrhone had the money, wrapped in a hand written letter.
Tyrhone presented Raju with the small packet, telling him that we hoped he could buy his own boat one day, if he wanted. Raju was a little confused. I don’t think he understood how much money we were giving him. He put the packet straight into his pocket, and stifled a grin. We shook hands profusely at the end of our journey. “Thank you sir, thank you sir” said Raju, and we made our way back up the steps to the hotel.
When we were almost there, we turned back to the river, where Raju was waving excitedly from his boat, and we waved back wildly. We continued this over the top display of waving, with Raju’s arm looking like it was going to fall off, until he was out of view.
We never heard from our boat rower again, but that is okay. We may never know if he managed buy his own boat, or even if that was the best thing for him, but we hope that in some way, Raju got something that he needed that day on the banks of his beloved Ganga. I think I did.
THE END (FINALLY)
Have you ever made a tough decision to help someone whilst traveling? Were you happy with your decision?