Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Safe in His Arms

This is a guest post by Mr. Benjamin Soans (Benjy), IT Manager, Emmanuel Hospital Association (of which NJH is a part). Many of us regularly travel by the Indian Railways. Benjy had a very terrifying experience couple of months back. He narrates his tale here. Lots of lessons for each of us here. Worth reading . . .

I was on annual leave and traveling to my brothers house from Delhi to Aurangabad (Maharashtra) by the Amritsar - Nanded Sachkhand Express (Train Nos. 12716). I usually prefer the upper berth so I can enjoy reading or doing something else away from noisy groups of people discussing things which I am not interested in. This time though, I had a smartphone and Tablet with me so I was mostly online and my batteries were soon depleted. The charging sockets for mobile phones/laptops were below the windows. Since the side lower berth had a free seat, I sat down there and plugged in my phone for charging. 

A man sitting on the next seat who was slightly older than me started a conversation and asked me to continue using the seat as it was vacant and as it was quite hot in the upper berth on account of it being close to the roof of the train. I had my lunch sitting in the upper berth. He passed me his bottle of drinking water and kept insisting I drink from it as the water was cooler than that in my bottle. I took the bottle, but placed it in the bottle holder next to my berth and drank from mine as I am not too fond of cold water. 

The next morning, around Manmad, a few hours away from my destination, he took out a pack of biscuits from his back pocket ate one and offered me half of another. I must have taken it out of politeness as I normally don't eat processed/packaged foods and also maybe because I was overconfident since I travel regularly by train and that only 2 to 2 1/2 hrs of my journey were remaining. In addition, it was broad daylight and there were other families around. I had barely put the biscuit in my mouth after dipping it in tea that I blacked out.

Two days later, I started having short periods of consciousness which I could later recollect. I realized later that the soles of both my feet were badly blistered so there must have been episodes of consciousness and walking around in the hot sun that I don't recollect. My first memory is of someone throwing water in my face. Then I remember the sun shining in my eyes and me asking God what I was doing here and had the awareness that I should have been in Aurangabad but was in some other place. I remember my shirt being badly shredded and some one offering me one of his shirts to wear (one of my treasured possessions). 

The last few memories are of me seated in a train on the floor near the door and drinking water from the tap in the washbasin and frequently asking other passengers how far away Aurangabad was. They kept telling me it was quite a distance away and that I should go inside, but I was worried that if I passed out again, I would miss the station. I must have passed out again for the next thing I remember is walking towards the exit in Aurangabad station hoping that the TT would not ask me for my ticket. Then I remember asking the autorikshaw drivers whether they would take me to my brothers house. Finally one person asked me whether I had any money and when I told him I'll pay him at home, he agreed to drop me home.

I reached my bothers house, drank some water and passed out again and woke up in the ICU of a nearby hospital. I spent approximately two days there and another two days in the ward after which I was discharged. It took me almost a month to recover and walk normally and the eyesight in one eye is still not perfect although it has improved quite a lot.

Materially, I lost close to about 250,000 INR worth of stuff, none of them which were obvious to the eye. Some of my stuff was brand  new like my new goat skin Cambridge KJV reference Bible  or just a couple of months old like my Google Nexus 7 Tablet, and some were well used... All of them would be pretty expensive to buy again. I wasn't terribly upset about the loss, but it does hurt to know that whoever stole it would hardly get around 25,000 INR for all the stuff. 

Even someone who bought it from them would have no idea about its quality and the months of research which culminated in the purchase of that product. In addition, the loss of my Nikon SLR camera also turned my expensive Manfrotto tripod and Nikon Flash into paper weights. These were supposed to be one time ecofriendly purchases which I opted for against disposable products which I would use for a year or two and then discard. I did think of such an eventuality, such as my house being burgled, in which case I would lose very few things as some of the other things like my wallet, look shabby, although it came with a 100 year warranty.

Spiritually, I thank God that I've had peace all through this time. I know for sure that unless God allowed this to happen and open the hedge a wee bit, this would not have happened. This incident however impacted other areas of my life. 

I'm a naturalist by nature and also a survivalist. I've spent a lot of time and money learning and practicing traditional survival skills, researching wild-foods and medicines available in nature. If I'd have my way, I'd be running around bare foot in the forests and living the life of a hunter gatherer. The backpack that I lost too was a tactical bag. I took it for testing as I wanted to use it as my 72 hour bugout bag. Thankfully, there was no survival or camping equipment in the bag. My bookshelf is littered with SAS survival guides , US army declassified documents, ethnobotanical and zoological guides. The secret was to base my knowledge on things that don't change. I thought I was ready for every eventuality until I was stumped by this event. 

My motto was always, “In a survival situation, you always default to your level of training and preparation”. What I learned here was that if you are out cold, no level of preparation can prepare a person for anything.

On the bright side, I discovered deep rooted survival reflexes like the need to drink water when I was dehydrated even though I wasn't aware of where I was and even if I had footwear or clothes on. 

A dog never looks at the sun and decides to drink water n times a day. He drinks only when he is thirsty all through the year. The added advantage was that I discovered that even a very large blister heals completely by itself. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive that the doctor didn't treat it.

I thought long and hard as to what one could do to prevent such an occurence and couldn't come up with much. Although the railway police denied that such incidents happen, I overheard them discussing a case in Marathi about someone who was drugged with a packet of Lassi. Among the suspects shown to me there were also women who had been caught drugging presumably other women. After returning back, I heard stories of such incidents even in other classes and one incident in which the whole compartment was gassed at night and the thieves decamped with everyone's luggage.

There are only a few things one can do and hope for the best.
1. Refuse anything that anyone offers you.
2. If possible carry your own food and water.
3. Protect your food and water -It is so easy for someone to switch your mineral water bottle with an identical bottle when you go to use the toilet.
4. Don't trust pantry food. These guys are often in cahoots with the robbers and it often involves the Train Ticket Examiners and the Police as well.

Thankfully, I had the good fortune of knowing that God was still looking after me when I was totally vulnerable. Schemes and preparations are fraught with failures, and God will allow only as much as he knows is necessary. I'm more stronger now than I was before this incident and have only lost material things which can be bought again. 


  1. Thanks a ton for this post... I think in the synopsis of 4 points inthe end...your point 3. and 4. are really important as those are the things which we dont usually do. Glad you are back.

  2. Thanking God that you are alive. Very scary but a real experience in this fallen world.