Will you talk to strangers on a bus?

Posted on February 2, 2009

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On a warm day in March 2006, I got off an airplane belonging to the newly launched Kingfisher Airlines, at Mumbai. I was visiting my friend in Colaba. As I was contemplating a cool cab or a regular black n yellow, I saw this really bright and shiny BEST bus standing outside the airport. I had only seen buses like this in movies! This was an airbus, designed with multiple levels to avoid congestion even if the bus was fully packed with standees! And I asked where this bus was going, and to my relief and great joy, I found out it was going to Colaba as well.

I got on. As I bought the ticket for Rs. 14/-,I was half proud that I had saved myself Rs. 286/- and half elated that I would get to “experience” Mumbai! I took the last seat on the right. Ahead of me sat a white couple, 50ish. After a few restless stationary minutes, I asked them, “When is the bus going to leave?” They said, “Oh, we don’t know!”

The bus finally began rolling and I enjoyed the stale spring air, the hullabaloo of the rush hour and generally smiled at every person who hopped on and hopped off. On this long and tedious ride (and because I am a nosy Indian), I got talking to the couple in front of me. I learned that they were psychologists from the UK and they were on their last leg of their first visit to India (They’d been to Kerala) and were flying out the next morning. I was quite interested in talking more to them because I graduated as a Medical and Psychiatric Social Worker the previous year.

I shared with Fiona and Dave the work that I did with Dream A Dream and they shared with me some of the work they did with the government, back in the UK. The pleasant ride, became quite stimulating and I generally was happy to have met such interesting and friendly people!

A week after returning to the routine of the job, I got an email from Dave and Fiona, saying they wanted to come and volunteer with Dream A Dream sometime in January 2007 and asking if we could use their expertise in any way. They also said that they’d participated in a cyclathon and raised £200 for Dream A Dream! I didn’t know what to say. My boss, Vishal, was even more incredulous when he heard my strange story. And neither he or I or even Dave and Fiona could ever have fathomed the events that would transpire.

Vishal eventually met them when he was visiting the UK in autumn 2006 and they finalised the psychologists’ stint at Dream A Dream in Bangalore, India! (I left my position at Dream A Dream in the summer of 2006.)

That was three years ago. Dave and Fiona are now on their fourth trip to India and on their third stint with Dream A Dream. They’ve been instrumental in designing Dream A Dream’s flagship mentoring programme where volunteers from the community are trained to take on mentees from vulnerable backgrounds.

I participated as a mentor in the programme last year. And I know that volunteers walk out learning to form healthy relationships with adolescents using strategies to strengthen their circle of influence and improve their social abilities.

But that’s not all with this lovely couple! They have bought a 1976, Enfield (Bullet) and have travelled to Kerala and back on it. This January, they travelled 800 kms and had some really fun experiences to share!

Dave and Fiona are two people I will never forget in my entire life and I am sure, I am one person they cannot get rid of even today. Their dedication to our cause, and their contribution to each of the volunteers’ lives has been long lasting, which in turn has helped Dream A Dream impact the lives of many adolescents on the brink of entering the Big Bad World!

So whoever said it’s best to avoid talking to strangers is a fool! I think it’s time for me to take a bus ride again 🙂

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