Friday, December 25, 2009

Good Samaritan or Nosyparker ?

It was 6 pm on Christmas eve. I decided to go jogging to the Theresienwiese (October fest grounds) since the winter festival was over and the place will be deserted - no people and more importantly, no small annoying dogs. As I expected, there was no one in the whole place. If you know the Theresienwiese there is an alley of trees with a path in between (shown in the photo), which runners frequent. As I was going down this path, I spotted someone in a distance standing and looking at something. As I got nearer, I got scared. I was seeing an old man staring at a park bench and on the park bench was a transparent plastic bag and inside it was a man - all weird thriller movies flashed through my mind in a few seconds. But curiosity got the better of me and so I approached the old man. He turned to me and he looked so benign that I felt a little less scared. Then he points to the park bench and says ''es gibt's doch nicht'' (roughly equivalent to ''can you believe it?''). Then my heart rate slowed down and I saw that a man was half-lying half-sitting on the park bench, with a huge plastic cover for warmth. I tried to talk to him but he appeared to be sleeping, so I just murmured ''schade'' to the other old man and continued jogging.

After finishing the 2km stretch of the alley, I was jogging back home and it was getting much colder (It was -2 deg c) and while I crossed the park bench, the fellow was still sitting (still inside the plastic cover) there. This time I decided to find out why he was there.

Me: Ist alles in Ordnung ? Is everything ok ?
Him (peeking out of the cover): Ja
Me: Frieren Sie sich nicht ? Are you not freezing ?
He just grunts, so I continue
Me: Sie werden hier nicht übernachten oder ? You are not going to spend the night here, are you ?
Him: Doch. Yes
The St.Paul's church is a 2 min walk from there. Being Christmas eve, I knew it would be open through the night.
Me: Warum gehen Sie nicht in die Kirche, da ist es bestimmt warm. Why don't you go to the church, it would definitely be warm there.
Him (raises his voice): Ich gehe da nicht hin. I won't go there
Me: Möchten Sie jemanden erreichen ? Do you want to contact someone ?
Him: Nein

Since I didn't know what else to do, I continued home. After coming home, I had to close all the windows and turn on the heater since the temperature had dropped a few degrees and I thought of the old man.

I made up my mind and first called the red cross. I couldn't reach anyone. Then I called 112 assuming I could reach first aid (yes, this is not a first-aid issue but I didn't know who else to call).

Me: In der Theresienwiese liegt ein Mann mit einer Plastiktüte als Decke. Er muss nicht da sein, er wird sich bestimmt frieren. There is a man lying in the park bench in Theresienwiese. I don't think he should be there, he might freeze to death.
112: Ist er bewusstlos oder krank ? Is he unconscious or sick ?
Me: Nein
112: Hat er Sie um Hilfe gebeten ? Did he ask you for help ?
Me: Nein
112: Scheint er so aus dass er Hilfe braucht ? Does he look like he needs help ?
Me: Ich weiß es nicht aber wenn er da übernachtet.....I don't know but if spends the night there....pause
112: Wir können nichts machen wenn er selber keine Hilfe wünscht und bewusstsein ist. Sie können die Polizei anrufen und sie können vorbei schauen. We can do nothing when he wishes to have no help and when he is conscious. You can call the cops and they can check on him.
I am silent and he continues...
112: Sie sind bei der ''....'' ? You are calling from ''....'' (he says my address) ?
Me: Ja
112: Sind Sie Frau Gopal ? Are you Ms.Gopal ?
Me: Ja
112: Also, bei der Polizei melden. Danke. So, call the cops. Thanks.

This time I dial 110. I repeat the whole story again. After hearing me out, he starts talking
110: Ihre Adresse, bitte. Your Address, please
I am thinking - I call from my landline and you do not know my address....dhoda ! Then I give him my address
110: Ihre Name, bitte. Your Name, please
110: Wie sind Sie da gekommen ? How did you get there ?
Me: Ich bin joggen gegangen. I went jogging
110: Wie alt ist er ? ein 50ger, 60ger oder 70ger mann ? how old is he, would you say 50s, 60s or 70s ?
Me: Er wird mindestens 50 sein. He is definitely over a 50 years old
110: Ist er Wohnungslos, was würden Sie sagen ? Is he homeless, what would you say ?
Me: Keine Ahnung. No idea (Since it was dark and he just peeked out of the cover, I couldn't even see his clothes right)
110: Die Theresienwiese ist echt groß. Beschreiben Sie bitte so genau wie möglich wo er sitzt. The Theresienwiese is really huge. Please describe exactly where he is sitting.
I describe the alley, the position as detailed as I can
110: Alles klar, wir schicken jemanden hin. Wenn alles in Ordnung ist und er keine Hilfe wünscht können wir leider nichts mehr machen. Ok, we will send someone to check on him. If he is fine and needs no help, we can do nothing more.
I thank him, hang up the phone and went deep into thought.

He could be there for a number of reasons - homeless, drunk, fight with the family, something against christmas, visiting someone (but has no money for the hotel) etc. But it bothered me so much because it was cold and he was old and I think dying without food or shelter is the worst form of death.

Then I felt horribly guilty as my mind wandered on to when I was in Nainital 4 years ago in November. I was visiting a cousin and we were shopping along the banks of the lake and it was getting chilly by the minute. As we were hurrying home, I noticed a number of huts and a huge number of people sleeping on the platform. We talked about how terrible it would be for them to stay outside in such temperatures and then got on with our work. I didn't think of calling anyone or doing anything about it.

When I am ready to spend so much effort on one man who is lying outside and who assures me he is all right, why did I not think of doing anything then ? Is it because in someway I am more socially responsible now or is it because I knew that my phone call here would make a difference while no amount of phone calls would help those people ? I don't know......

Today I went jogging along the same route and who do you think I saw ?? The same man, with the same plastic cover and he was drinking what looked like a coffee. He has survived the night, the visit from the cops and is braving himself for what looks like another night......this time I just shook my head and went on running. God and people can help only those who help themselves....


  1. Shuld appreciate you first.. many ppl have this concept" namaku ethuku vambuu" so they dont even dare to glance the other way... good.. u r so brave.....

  2. don't want to comment about the contents; though it is very thought provoking and all that...

    however, the only comment i would like to make is that you would make a great columnist or a short story writer...guess u have a gift for writing or mabbe u r consciously improvising... any-which-way u rock gal!! proud of you.... Vikrama Narayanan (FYI)

  3. just found out your blog by, good story, guess a lot of people would have just passed by. I realize that is a 1-year old story, how long have you been living in Germany?

    take care

  4. @Gabriel
    thanks, I have been living in Germany for nearly 7.5 years now


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