The engine spluttered and my car came to a halt in the midst of heavy traffic. Not understanding car mechanics remotely even I asked for help. A few men tried pushing but failed. A young teenager opened the bonnet, tinkered around and to my dismay announced that the car had run out of fuel. Looking palpably helpless I was relieved when he offered to go fetch some.
Dusk was settling and winter darkness creeping into everything. Years of terrorism in Punjab had led to paranoia and I wanted to reach home fast .Wondering if the boy would come back or was angling for money, I hesitated. As the jam worsened, the honking and angry shouts of other drivers decided matters. Pushing the car aside, he found a bottle in the boot and asked for money. Sceptical, I gave him barely enough for rickshaw fare and petrol, cursing myself for being such a gullible fool, for a bottle of petrol would get me nowhere.
Tired and chilled, I almost took a rickshaw when he arrived. As I watched puzzled he fixed the bottle upright, connecting it with some rubber tubing somewhere to the engine and started the car. Doubtfully I asked if a bottle would take me up to Model Town. He offered to drive me down even as I looked at the youngster and wondered if he had a driving license.
Sitting beside him while he drove, I was suddenly seized with panic at my folly. I broke out into a cold sweat, my hands cold and clammy, as a knot of fear formed in my stomach. Times were bad and everyone suspect. Money and vehicles were the most targeted and I had jeopardised my own safety in the hands of this total stranger .I kept making small talk and learnt that his name was Tejinder Singh .
As we drove into my hospital gates I cursed myself for suspecting this good Samaritan. Giving me the car keys he asked for some medicine for fever. Seeing his bloodshot eyes and the thermometer I told him to stay the night at the hospital for treatment. I wanted to repay his favour but he had to catch a train to Dehra-dun for a training camp he said.
I gave instructions to the nurse about his medicines and dinner and thanking him, told him to rest awhile before leaving. Another patient required my attention and I went to her.
Suddenly I heard a terrible commotion and saw Tejinder fleeing, panic and frenzy written on his face. He tripped, straightened and shot out, disappearing into the heavy traffic. I stood numb and confused as a police constable ran after him, followed by many more led by an officer. As I hurried out I saw something on the floor where he had tripped. Flipping it over I almost tripped myself seeing on the laminated card Tejinder’s picture and the words “Khalistan Commando Force.”