In honor of Neville Longbottom

So today morning I was gazing into the eyes of that toothless old goat Gigi and humming “you make me feel so young…”, Gigi gazed back affectionately into my eyes. We both were happy. I due to my newfound friends, she because I was feeding her brussels sprouts. Thanks James Carter for introducing me to Gigi and your beautiful gift of suitcase from the town dump. I really appreciate them both. Don’t anyone ever forget Neville Longbottom, he is the most courageous of all.

The Beggar

One of my happy memories is that of a beggar. We were all kids about 10 to 15 years old. A bunch playing football in the yard of a neighbor at the end of the street. It was so much fun, dodging (my favorite), chasing, running. At that time a beggar boy about 12ish (?) came and stood at the gate. My friend P’s mom being a kind hearted woman asked the boy if he would like to eat something. The boy said no, he does not want food, wants to play. The sweet woman said in that case come on in and play. So for the next hour or so, the boy played football with us. At the end of the game he walked away without much ado. It is the kindness shown by my friend’s mom, a new knowledge that poor people don’t always need what you think they need and the fun of the game and friends (and possibly many other things, everything is multidimensional whether you can see them all or not) that makes it such a happy memory.

(As always comments are appreciated)

Recently I asked one of my students to use dh instead of th becasue it makes people smile (in Gujarati the two letters look similar and confusing), she said dhankyu

*You don’t have to be on word-press you can follow also using your mail-id”

Spunky

I asked her how old was she, she said some ridiculous number like 15 or 16, she did not appear to be more than 12 to me. I hated the idea of having someone so young to do household work at my home. I needed someone as most of my time and energy were needed to care for my infant son. If I did not employ Spunky (on yeah, she has so much spunk, I love spunky kids), someone less charitable would employ her, I would be an idiot to lose a nice girl like her. So I employed her at my home. As an atonement to my sin (sin or no sin I would have always done that) I told her my house did not need cleaning everyday, so alternate days she need not work, I shall teach her basic reading writing and number skills. She was quite an enthusiastic student, she insisted that she will spend an extra hour, do her work everyday and also study. I got books for her, with nice little rhymes and we started off. She learnt quite a bit. One day she proudly told me, “now my village people bring their letters to me for reading”, my proud little Spunky.  She taught me a lot about her village and the mentality of villagers.

A traditional masseur “B” from village used to come everyday to give a massage to my 3-4 months old baby, she needed the work and I liked the idea. Spunky told me that B has 9 children (quite likely all illiterate). She told me that in the village, people keep on having children because a house with more sons is perceived to be more powerful (especially when it comes to blows), that most houses had 7 to 10 kids, even when they did not have resources to feed them, that her parents were not like that, they were two siblings, a brother and her.

She would always come back to me with a ready retort when she disagreed with me, I loved that so much and hence the name Spunky. She was terrified of entering a house which was occupied by a single man. I could see that on her face. I often had to be inside when she came, she would enter my room with trepidation and then her face would relax and break into a smile on seeing me.  To put her at ease, I started referring to my husband as “your brother” to her, she liked it and loosened up a bit. I became her sis-in-law. One day I took her shopping with me to the city. The “city” was about 10 kilometers from the village in which my institute was located. In her little 12ish year old life, she had not been there. I asked her to get something for herself, she bought a plastic lunchbox for her brother. We got late getting back, so G went to drop her to her village. G loves authentic villages and authentic people and enjoyed the trip.

So many villages in India and so many Spunky kids. They need nutrition, education and affection.

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.

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Life is such a complex place.