It was 10 minutes past two on January 4, just another Monday afternoon for 40-year-old Palash Chakraborty, a traffic sergeant of Kolkata’s South-East Traffic Guard Division. On duty since morning, Chakraborty was about to head to his office for lunch when he saw a commotion unfold on the Dhakuria flyover.
A female pedestrian, in scruffy clothes and unkempt hair, was behaving in an eccentric manner. Old and fragile in appearance, she was picking up the divider cones on the flyover and hurling them towards oncoming vehicles, disrupting the flow of traffic. One such cone dropped right in front of a motorcycle, forcing the rider to brake hard. The irate rider got down from his motorcycle and started to charge at the woman when Chakraborty intervened.
The female pedestrian approaches Chakraborty to talk to himIndira Kanjilal (Facebook)
What followed was a rare gesture of composure and kindness. Chakraborty did not scream or shout at the woman. Instead, he spoke to her like someone would speak to a family member, trying to understand her problem. Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, Chakraborty calmed the woman down and got her to move away from the middle of the flyover.
On Facebook, writer and social worker Indira Kanjilal wrote about the incident as seen from her window overlooking the flyover.
When My Kolkata spoke to Chakraborty, he acknowledged that “the woman was not in the right psychological state. In that situation, a bit of kindness can never do any harm”. The following is an approximation of the conversation between Chakraborty and the female pedestrian as recollected by the former.
Palash Chakraborty (henceforth PC, going up to the woman): Hey, are you okay? What’s wrong? Why are you throwing the divider cones around?
Female Pedestrian (henceforth FP, edging close to Chakraborty): You all are very bad (before proceeding to hurl a few abuses at Chakraborty)!
PC (politely): Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something?
FP: No, I won’t eat anything… They’ve taken everything from me.
PC: What have they taken? Who are they?
FP: They took away my nightgown.
PC: Don’t worry, I’ll take you to Gariahat. We’ll get some nice nightgowns for you from there.
FP: They also took away my blanket. The people who are with you… they took everything. They beat me up, too.
PC: You come with me. Come to the side of the road. Then I’ll take you to Gariahat and buy whatever you need. Blankets, quilts, anything you need… But please don’t stand in the middle of the road, you’ll get hurt. Come with me to the side, let’s get down from the bridge. I’ll give you something to eat as well.
FP (refusing to come down from the flyover): I want to ride your bike.
PC: I see. But the clothes you’re wearing right now are not suitable for riding a bike. Also, you don’t have a helmet. So it’s not safe for you to get on a bike… Let’s take an auto and go to Gariahat and get some shopping done for you.
FP: You’re not a good person. You are not good at heart… otherwise you would’ve let me ride your bike.
PC (taking out some money from his pocket): Okay, here’s something small for you. Please take this money and get something to eat. Then in the evening we’ll go and buy blankets and nightgowns for you.
FP (accepting the money and hugging Chakraborty): Where do you stay? What do you do? You know… nobody has cared for me like this before.
The pedestrian about to embrace ChakrabortyIndira Kanjilal (Facebook)
After their exchange and after the woman had finally come down from the flyover, Chakraborty asked her to grab some food before promising to meet her in the evening.
At the appointed hour, Chakraborty, who had managed to buy some nightgowns and a blanket for the woman in the meantime, tried searching for her, but to no avail.
“She seemed to have disappeared,” sighed Chakraborty.
Has something like this happened to the sergeant before?
“Oh, yes. These things keep happening. I remember just before Durga Puja when I came across a similar woman. She was shouting and abusing fellow pedestrians. I went up to her, gave her some tea and biscuits, after which she cooled down and gently walked away,” narrated Chakraborty.
Praising Chakraborty for his behaviour, his supervising officer Moloy Roy, the additional officer-in-charge of the South-East Traffic Guard Division, said: “Palash has always been exemplary in the way he treats people around him. He is responsible and humane. We are proud of how he conducted himself, although we wouldn’t expect anything different from someone like him.”
Refusing to take any credit for his actions, Chakraborty added that “this is the least I could’ve done. With how everything is nowadays, most people have their own set of anxieties. It’s only human to understand that and help another person deal with it.”