I had always been fascinated by people who are able to throw themselves into rescuing someone in trouble, without indulging in a lot of thinking or analysing. Contrast that with people who either panic or act weird when faced with an ask to lend a helping hand. And some, in the attempt to help out end up complicating things. You wonder which category do I fall under.

Last month, the story of a “real life ‘Spider-Man’ saving a baby dangling from a balcony”broke the internet. An immigrant from Mali living in Paris did not blink once before “climbing up four storeys” to save the child. He is seen as a national hero in France and the President has offered him citizenship. Great news, but for some reason I felt something strange.

I knew why. Many years ago, I blinked when I could have helped a truck driver stuck in his seat after hitting a wall. It was not life-threatening and there was a already a crowd looking after him. It occurred at a village road I pass through in my motor bike ride to the Bangalore office. I was in a rush but surely, the heavens wouldn’t have fallen if I had stopped. Looking back now, I feel I could have at least offered to call someone or do something – I had a mobile phone at a time when it was still a luxury to own one.

Figured out later, not everyone at the office behaves that way. At least not my colleague, who demonstrated calmness (and sheer guts) under stress that helped save a life. The office bus that he was travelling in, hit a cyclist who was badly hurt. The driver ran away. The bus stood in the middle of the road causing a traffic jam, while the poor soul laid gravely close to the tyres. Our man didn’t think much before lifting the cyclist into the bus and taking the wheels himself to drive to the hospital.

This sense of guilt has never left me. I do help others but that’s not the point. Its about how I respond under pressure. Its about needing to possess both the instinct and intelligence to make a difference to a worsening situation. Though I did not encounter life-or-death incidents, even odd requests from strangers has left me stumped.

While waiting at the café outside the Brisbane Airport on my way back from an official trip, I had a young man approach me with a request to watch his bag while he makes a quick trip to the gents room. I declined bluntly even as I noticed the couple in the next table happily oblige. Later, my colleague assured me I made the right call, especially being outside an airport: Imagine an Indian caught with a ‘bag’ by the Australian aviation security personnel.

I did have a chance to redeem myself later that year. This too occurred in an airport and it involves my mobile phone which I failed to utilise many years ago. Waiting in the lounge (this time, inside the Canberra airport, having missed my flight) and being the only one present, I watched a lady and her kids approach me as they struggled with their heavy hand luggage. I was relieved when I figured I wasn’t asked to carry anything for them. She said her battery ran out and enquired if I would kindly offer my phone so that she could contact her husband waiting outside. I did not blink, think or analyse before graciously handing out my iPhone. She made a loud conversation in what I assumed was an African language and returned the phone expressing her gratitude.

As I was finishing that eventful day in Melbourne, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise. I would discover soon later that my phone had knowledge of that number, when a male voice with think accent asked me, “Man, my wife called me in the morning from this number. And I waited in the airport for long but she hasn’t turned up yet. Where is she ?”