Scenes from Life: Miracles Do Happen
It was Sunday, February 21, 2010.
14 days after my Mother passed away.
My son, Vidur and I visited the Seva Sadan (a girls’ orphanage) in the evening around 7.45 pm. We sponsor the breakfast, lunch and dinner once a month and on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and other significant events. This is a lovingly run Home for the destitute and orphaned.
We thought it might be a good idea to drop in during dinner and help serve the children. The lady in charge at the Home only speaks the local language and looked blank if I spoke in any other tongue, so I usually managed with my meager grasp of the language she understood.
We were asked to wait for a few minutes in the lobby after they sounded the gong for dinner and five minutes later, we were invited into the dining area where we heard the children beginning their prayers. I have to tell you, there is something about children praying or singing in a group that makes me feel all choked up and tears stream out of my eyes. I used to be embarrassed about it, but now I’ve stopped being conscious about it.
So – back to dinner. We saw 58 children seated in four rows with large steel plates in front of them. At the far end of this room was a large Prayer room, very nicely maintained – and gave the place an air of – for want of a better word – blessing. As these children sang their prayers, three of the older girls started serving the rice on their plates. Next, these girls brought sambar, which is a kind of mixed stew with vegetables and began to serve that. I was pleased to see them asking the kids where to pour this, as some kids wanted it on the rice, some wanted it by the side, some wanted it partially on the rice and partly near it. The affection in the atmosphere was tangible and that made me feel good.
Around 8.10 the girls finished serving…and after another short prayer, the children began to eat. And during all this, Vidur watched curiously, while I –well, I cried my eyes out. I felt a bit ridiculous about this later but at the time, I just could not control myself. I kept thinking of how lucky I was, to stand there, clothed, fed and with a family of my own. I thought of my Mom who had suffered much early in life and somehow managed to give us both a decent life, the fantastic friendship we shared. I had a medley of thoughts in my head. I thought, I could have very well ended up in an orphanage, or worse. I couldn’t help recalling a childhood incident. It is very strange how certain early memories are almost imprinted in the head in minute detail.
The year was 1965. I was two years old, and my mother and I were in Delhi at her in-laws’ place, as is the custom in India. Odd that I never thought of them as my grandparents.
I will never understand why my mother was married at 13 to a man who obviously did not want her. Almost everyone in that family treated her badly, sometimes with violence, and yet my mother always put up with the abuse, because, as she told me decades later, she had promised her dying father that she would not complain, no matter what. My biological father left for the US just three months before I was born and never returned. He lives there, with an American wife and daughter.
Yet, after he left, rather than send my mother off to her mother’s house, her in-laws insisted she stayed with them. I’ll never understand why, since they were never kind to her.
Many atrocities later, Mom was dumped in a mental institution by her mother-in-law. Fortunately the kind doctor there helped her escape and she returned home. Naturally she was worried about me. She was not allowed to enter the house; I remember I was sitting outside in a chemise, and was thrilled to see her back.
Then my mother’s father-in-law took pity on us and escorted us to the station, and got us a ticket for Mumbai, where my Mom’s mother, my grandmother lived. We got on the train, soiled and exhausted, but hopefully on our way to safety.
Through the two-night journey on the train, Mom’s health was sinking. The mental hospital had infused some gas through her mouth that made her gums bleed. We didn’t have anything to eat and managed with a suraai, (pot with a long neck) of water that a co-passenger was kind enough to give us, along with a small pack of biscuits we bought while boarding the train. I have a vague memory of a nosebleed, and another co-passenger giving me a cut onion to hold against it.
Somehow we made it to Dadar Station, our destination, where we got off the train.
Believe it or not, I still remember holding the little suraai that someone in our compartment gave me and refused to let go of it. As we got off the train, Mom just fainted while I stood nearby and cried. A crowd quickly gathered. And, miracle of miracles, God arrived in the form of my uncle, Kondu mama, mom’s brother.
A word about Kondu mama here. A wonderful human being, he was the sort who would help the homeless – feeding them, giving them money or taking them to the hospital for emergency treatment. It did not matter to him that he didn’t know them. He was just being human. So imagine his shock when he realized that the battered and bleeding form lying there was his little sister and the pathetic and helpless child standing there was his favorite niece!
Well, long story short, he got us into a taxi and took us home. Apparently I kept chanting that I hadn’t eaten for two days. (six biscuits are not the dietary recommendation for a two-year-old for two days).
Once we got home to my grandma, Mom was rushed to the hospital. I was bathed and fed. Mom was in hospital for a few days until she regained consciousness and was brought back home, to be nursed back to health.
I wonder –
What if my uncle had not turned up?
What if someone else had found us first?
What if nobody had bothered to help us?
What if Mom had not recovered?
So – each time I think of this, I cry tears of gratitude. If my uncle had not turned up at the station, I can’t even begin to imagine what track our lives could have taken! I felt grateful for all the things I have. And a little ashamed of things I complained about.
My mother, who was a seventh grader when she got married, continued her education and took up a career as a school teacher. Life was not easy, but when you have an attitude like my Mother’s it is very hard not to be happy.
I’ll never understand how she managed to always smile, no matter what. She would often tell me I was the reason she survived.
I’ll never forget her words, “Vidya, I never thought it was my duty to look after you. I did it because I wanted to.”
She was a generous person, in life and in death. She passed away on Feb 8, 2010, and as per her last wishes, we donated her body to the St. John’s Medical College here.
God cannot be everywhere, so he made Mothers.