Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Watching a blind man

After driving for the last two and a half hours in miserable traffic, we were stuck at what seemed to be the never-changing traffic light. I was in a bit of a daze, staring blankly out the window. Something moving much slower than the other objects on the sidewalk caught my eye. It was a blind man taking very small steps while trying to unfold his cane. He had apparently stepped out of one of the shops lining the sidewalk. He was pretty close to where the sidewalk ended on a side street. Luckily for him the sidewalk was pretty even and without holes where he was walking. He stopped, fumbling with his cane. A well-intentioned bystander took him by the elbow and guided him off the sidewalk onto the side street.

So now he was in the street and still had not managed to get his cane unfolded. He was trying with his right hand to get the cane unfolded as traffic approached from his left, oblivious of the uncooperative cane. As you may have heard, crossing the street in India is quite like the game Frogger. It requires a fair amount of agility and multitasking. You have to avoid contact with the moving vehicles and people, leap gracefully over the potholes and, not land on the stray dog or cow that may be resting in the middle of the street. Incidentally, points are awarded to drivers that manage to side swipe the faster moving pedestrians without seriously injuring them. But back to the story. I watched in alarm as two motorcycles approached him. One was barreling down the middle of the street right toward him, revving and downshifting with all the enthusiasm of a teenage motocross rider, fully expecting the (blind) man to jump out of his way. The other motorcyclist was on the far side of the street from the blind man, but he had stopped to answer his cell phone right in front of the sidewalk. I was about to jump out of the car but knew it would be futile. At the last minute, our motocross rider swerved around the blind man while braking hard, staring daggers, possible honking, and/or cussing him out. A good thing he did not make contact as there were no points to be gained since the blind man was moving waaay too slowly. And had he hit him, he would have received some immediate pedestrian vigilante justice. And it would have been much worse when the vigilantes would have set eyes upon his cane.

Nevertheless, our blind man was still fumbling with his cane and slowly moving toward the stopped motorcyclist who was engrossed in his cell phone. He got the cane unfolded when he was within arm’s length of the motorcyclist who looked up at the same time and warned him to stop. Cell phone motorcyclist pushed his bike forward and got out of his path. Now the motocross rider, who had stopped a few yards away, was looking over his shoulder and talking to the blind man. The blind man answered and then walked toward the rider. At this point my curiosity was seriously peaked. Did the rider insult the blind man and was the blind man going to hit the rider?

Next thing I know, the blind man was sitting on the back of the motorcycle and the racer was sedately merging with traffic. Was it guilt or was he just a nice guy? I will never know but I do know this - I was much more appreciative of my chauffer-driven, air-conditioned car than I was the 30 seconds prior to that incident, and I continue to be. Hats off to the handicapped people everywhere who try, but especially to the blind in India!

Big drop-off on the sidewalk.
On the walk home from the bus - "perfect place to hide a body"
according to the kids in our group

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