Drifter

I met R at an alumni meet of my institute. She must have been 8 to 10  years my senior. For some reason she was unable to get guesthouse accommodation for the first part of the day and so somehow landed up at our home. Her train had been late, had stopped away from the station, she had got down and walked to the station and was tired. For someone with an IIT education, work experience at another IIT and research at a national institute, she appeared to be in a terrible financial state. My husband G, was quite impressed by her (she was so utterly impractical, quite like him) and somehow strongly connected with her. I was intrigued with her personality and worried about her too.

Several years later, while having coffee in the open veranda of another institute I saw an unusual sight. A beggar with a plastic bag in hand was entering the institute guesthouse, what was weird was the beggar had the sense to wipe his footwear on the mat before entering. A while later as I was entering the institute I came face to face with the beggar, it was R. That is the one and only time in my life that I have felt faint. She must have noticed  my face going white. She asked me why was I so affected. We chatted, I was wondering if she was mentally stable. She appeared to be sharper than an average person. She was penniless and was living at the railway station for several months. All those years later, she still remembered my field of research and my supervisor’s name. She asked intelligent questions and made intelligent comments (Had I been living penniless on the railway station, I am sure I would have forgotten even my mother’s face).  She refused money (“someone will sure steal it”) and refused the offer to stay with me for a few days and see if we could do something. I offered to support her for a few months, till she found a job, she said, she will think about it. Meanwhile some well-meaning (?) people got her admitted to an institution and I lost touch with her.

Much later after several other weird interactions with her (most of the time I met her, she would remember the tiny amount I had given her and promise to return it), I heard that my friend and junior S had managed to support her in some way. She was employed, though unhappily. Today reading the story of a drifter reminded me of her. I hope she is better off now.

***

Life is such a complex place.

Saved in Time ?

Reading about single person acts of terrorism (I don’t like the name lone wolf, there is a hint of heroism in that, senseless violence does not deserve it) makes me think of a sequence of events years ago. Most of what I describe here was told to me by friends whose interpretations I trust.

The story is of a friend. A very quiet, sincere and deeply religious guy, I shall call him “I”. We all were mostly a bunch of rebels (not too extreme, but compared to the Indian back-grounds we came from). Criticizing and making fun of fellow friends was a normal part of the day. “I” was while generally well accepted, did get laughed at a lot (…and  also criticized)  due to his deep religious beliefs.  During the course of time, for some reasons (possibly due to a strong difference of opinion with a senior) “I” moved out from the housing complex where we all lived. He, with his newly married wife went to live in a much inferior place, to be closer to his spiritual support system. He started donating regularly to the religious cause from his tiny income and appeared to be content with his new lifestyle.

A year or two later, his wife fell seriously ill. The community to which he was making regular donations distanced itself from him (In India most religious institutions have very little money). It was the bunch of old friends, including those who regularly ridiculed him, who stood by him. It changed his perspective and brought him back to live in our housing complex.

There are times, I have wondered, what if things went slightly differently ? How different a person would “I” have become ? But then I don’t want to think about it.