I was feeling helpless and alone. The way you do when you're slumming all alone in a new city and don't yet feel confident about yourself. Especially when you're from a religious minority and it kind of shows in how you look and the way you talk.
The call had come sometime in the first few months of the NDTV broadcast training programme in New Delhi. It was from a family friend I had known for a brief period in my childhood long ago in Muscat, Oman. She was now married and settled in Lucknow but was in Delhi for her mother's cancer treatment. She had been bringing her mother, whom I had known for a longer period of time in Muscat but had not met in years, to Delhi regularly for treatment. Every week from Lucknow, which was 6 hours away by train one-way.
Aunty needed blood. In the next few hours. Her daughter wanted me to get the word out somehow about her mother's blood type. My blood wasn't the correct type, and I didn't really know anyone in Delhi. Except the young kids who were in training with me, but I didn't know them well enough to ask for their blood. How does one approach someone for blood? I didn't know what to do. I felt helpless and alone.
I've heard stories of people, particularly in India, refusing to donate blood to people they know, friends or respected elders even, just because they were of a different religion or caste. When the time came, they would draw that line. These were often-repeated urban legends from the motherland that would make their way to the diaspora overseas, particularly during times of ethnic tensions. I heard these growing up outside of India.
I was the only Muslim in training at NDTV. I felt self-conscious about it anyway. It was one of the reasons why, after the phone call, I suddenly felt helpless and alone, and why Delhi felt extra empty and foreign.
I hung up the phone. Three of my closest friends at the NDTV media institute crowded up to me and asked me what the matter was. I told them. Turned out that two of them had blood of the very type that was needed. I didn't even get to ask them to donate, they volunteered the minute they found out which blood type it was. They were ready to leave for the hospital immediately. I would've only needed one person to come along, but both my friends with the required blood type decided to go with me. The third friend wanted to come along anyway.
All three of my friends were born and raised Hindus. Bengali, Gujarati, and Rajasthani. The cancer-stricken lady I knew for a while in a past life was a Muslim. They didn't know her, yet they offered her their blood without even being asked. They offered a part of their own personal bodies. They never even let me get to asking them.