In 2001, I was on a short sabbatical and traveling to New Delhi from Mumbai; in train. Our Indian trains are really one of the wonders of the world. If you don’t believe me, get on it once. Nothing bad, it’s just really a joyful roller-coaster ride.
I was traveling in class II sleeper coach where there are usually double the people than the seats. The journey was of around 1,200 km and there it was vacation time. So, it felt like all the 1.072 billion were in that coach. I was enjoying as usual. The heat was killing and we were passing the hottest zone of the country.
On a particular station, a small group of young men entered the coach with a blast. They were strong, stiff and disciplined headed by another young man who was a little older than the others. I figured that these are military men but was reluctant, and little afraid, to ask. My curiosity was increasing, I had to do something to get the answers. So, I gathered all my courage and asked the elder man about their existence. To my surprise, I was right and they belonged to the military—Indian Air Force.
I greeted the group with a salute and we started talking. In a little while, I came to know that they couldn’t manage a reservation and would be covering the entire journey standing or sitting near the corridor. I was upset about this fact that our soldiers are guarding us all day and night but we don’t even have few seats for them. While I was thinking all of this, my heart told me to stop blaming and BE THE CHANGE!
I took a spontaneous decision and offered my seat to all the officers. It wasn’t a long seat but good enough to seat all of us. The group head agreed—not easily— after learning my selfless intentions. We all sat on the seat the whole evening and night till next morning. The group head was Sheel Tyagi who was leading this team of young officers. They had gone for a training regarding missiles and were returning to their base camp. I don’t know but for some, or obvious, reasons they didn’t have a reservation.
Sheel was the first military officer whom I interacted for such a long time. He was huge, powerful like a mountain and soft, compassionate like a fruit. He spoke with respectful language and with utter confidence. His team was equally disciplined, soft-spoken and little naughty. After they got down at their station, they invited me to their camp to spend few days with them. In fact, I went to their camp some days later but that’s another story.
After they went, I was only thinking about the good time we had together and also how bad we treat these officers. I have traveled widely in India by train and always have noticed military men standing the whole night without getting a berth to sleep or sit. From that day, I made myself a promise that whenever I travel, I’ll offer my berth to any such military officer who is facing reservation issues. Till today, I see same issue and I always get some officer to honor my berth.
But, do you think I was the giver? I think the giver was Sheel who gave me an opportunity to offer my service and learn a lesson of a lifetime. It was this young Indian Air Force officer who offered an ordinary civilian like me to be of use to the nation; through this random act of kindness. I salute to our military forces and many-many officers like him who don’t get basic facilities while traveling and still don’t say a word. They just keep mum and serve the nation.